Friday, October 18, 2019

Recipe Review | Milk Street's Southeast Asian Chicken Salad with Cashews & Coconut

I've blogged a little about my subscription to Milk Street Magazine because the publication is excellent. Not only is it full of terrific, global recipes covering the spectrum from simple to exotic (ingredients, preparation, flavors), it is absent of ads and packed with super "readable" content. I love sitting down with a new issue and simply reading it from cover to cover. Today, I'm sharing a recipe that has become a family favorite: Asian Chicken Salad with Cashews & Coconut. This brightly flavored salad is well suited for warmer days but the rich flavors, generous portion of tender chicken, and easy of preparation make it a regular feature around here no matter the season. I hope you'll try it too.

Southeast Asian Chicken Salad with Cashews & Coconut
via Milk Street, July-August 2019
25 minutes, Serves 6-8
What you need:
1/3 cup unsweetened wide-flake coconut
2 Fresno or jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced (you can see from the pics above that I used jalapeños instead of the red Fresnos)
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/3 cup lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
2 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie)
1/4 medium head green cabbage, cored and shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup roasted cashews, roughly chopped
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil, torn
2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
What to do:
  1. In a small skillet over medium, toast the coconut, stirring frequently, until light golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a blender, combine half of the sliced chilies, the garlic, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl, mix to coat the shallots and chicken and let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands to combine, gently rubbing the dressing into the shreds. Add the remaining sliced chilies, the cashews and coconut, then toss. Add the basil and cilantro and gently toss again.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 10.17.19

  • This moment - On the back porch on a late Sunday afternoon, listening to the rain, enjoying a book, sipping wine, in my cozies, with a lap full of Geneva. Bliss. (And totally wearing the Athleta sweatshirt AGAIN... Also wearing some new leggings from Zyia that I'll test a few more times in my workouts before deciding if I'll recommend them here. So far, they're excellent for lounging!)

  • Date Night at Dogwood - Located in Sharon Square by Southpark Mall, this is one of our favorite spots to end the evening (or spend all evening) when we have a date night. I have enjoyed dinner in the restaurant a few times and lunch on the patio once --but nothing comes close to bellying up to the bar and letting Bryan Lorusso make you a cocktail (or many) designed to delight specifically YOU and based on your preferences. You might consider taking an Uber or taxi --I'm confident you'll want to sample several creations.

  • St. Anne Tote - I got this Barrington bag (first photo) at Christmastime in 2016 and blogged about it before. Now, almost 3 years later, I continue to use it OFTEN. (I added the tassel from Noonday Collection. No longer available but similar here and here.) It has held up so well. It looks like fur but it's not. The print is vinyl and the straps and bottom are leather. This bag is a workhorse. I take it on every trip because it's a great carry-on that I can fit tons inside: magazine, kindle, light sweater, beverage --in addition to all of my regular purse items. I have been tempted in the past 3 years to order another. There are so many variations on the website and you can customize and create the exact style you like. This new print (second photo) has me so tempted but I haven't seen it in person yet so... still undecided. I like that it's similar to what I already have but not the same. Would be a great option for you if you've been thinking of getting "The Bambi" but haven't pulled the trigger. What do you think?

  • The sound of a candle with a wood wick - Have you ever burned a candle with a wood wick? I only recently found out this is a thing. (Am I totally late to this party?) I have to say, I find the gentle crackling noise really suits the cooler weather we've been enjoying. It's literally adding another layer or texture to the enjoyment of a lit candle: scent, warm glow, and a natural sound effect too! Bonus. I made mine at The Candle Bar in Charlotte but you can find wood-wicked candles almost anywhere (again, late to this party) so choose your scent and let me know what you think. Amazon, Target, Walmart 

  • Merida Flounced Midi Skirt - This skirt from Anthropologie is just right to transition into fall. I love the colors and the print. The camel/beige and wine colors against the navy background are perfect and I love the birds. (It's also available in a black, textured, "window-pane" fabric that looks cool.) The skirt is lined and moves well. I think it's feminine and flattering. You could dress it up with a blouse and heels or dress it down with a chunky sweater and booties or boots. I think it would even be great with a white T and sandals, come spring. I happened upon it in the mall --giving me the advantage of trying it on before purchasing which is good because it does not have an adjustable waist. I found the skirt to be "true to size." As I've mentioned before, I'm 5'6" and 140ish. I typically wear an 8 in pants but can size up or (much less often) down depending on the fit and maker (sorry that's not super helpful). I have a smaller waist and generous hips. In A-line dresses and skirts, I'm usually a 6 (because "Pencil" or slim-fitting is not my jam). I bought the 6 in this skirt and it fits great. Check out the reviews at the link to see what others had to say about the fit. And BEST: it's on sale for $80 and they're offering 25% off that price ("for a limited time") bringing it down to $60! As of today, they have it in sizes 2-14.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I've Read Recently // September 2019

Here's a list of what I finished in September. Cheers to all the book-lovers who are as excited as I am that the cooler temperatures might be calling for more time cozying up with a delightful sip and a good story! 

The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo
From Goodreads:
A dazzling, multigenerational novel in which the four adult daughters of a Chicago couple--still madly in love after forty years--recklessly ignite old rivalries until a long-buried secret threatens to shatter the lives they've built.
What I thought: 6.5/10
While I thought the characters were mostly interesting and I loved reading about an older couple who were still crazy in love with one another after decades of marriage and raising four daughters, the pace felt a little slow at times. This was a big undertaking --the story includes tons of dysfunction, a lot of back and forth between characters at various times, and deals with important/heavy themes (grief, depression, secrets, illness, alcoholism, infidelity). I felt the toxicity of the relationships between nearly every family member was overdone. Other reviewers compared the book to binge-watching a family drama series and I find that analogy hits home with me. I was engaged and invested in finding out how all of these people end up muddling through their challenges but this book might be too much drama and not enough fun for a lot of people.

The Cactus, by Sarah Haywood
From Goodreads:
For Susan Green, messy emotions don't fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She has a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an "interpersonal arrangement" that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan's greatest fear is realized. She is losing control.
What I thought: 7.5/10 (Listened on Audible)
The narrator was excellent and I enjoyed the story very much. It felt a LOT like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine; however, the plot was significantly different. The metaphor of the cactus was a nice touch. If you read and enjoyed Eleanor, I think you'll like this too --but probably not as much. If you think you might just read one, I would strongly suggest you read Eleanor over Cactus. If you haven't read either but would like to read both, start with Cactus and then read Eleanor. {Geez. Tammy is so bossy.}

Rust & Stardust, by T. Greenwood
From Goodreads:
Camden, NJ, 1948.
When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth's, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 
What I thought: 6.5/10
This was a difficult read. Having two young teens made it hard to turn the pages at times. I found out about halfway through that the story was true. The brutal details about what happened to Sally Horner would haunt anyone. I thought the writing moved well through the account of what happened --it was compelling and strong. However, as mentioned, the content was challenging because it was so exceptionally heartbreaking. 

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
From Goodreads:
It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts and destroys our lives. It’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.
What I thought: 4.5/10
Ugh. Where to begin? After finishing this book, I'm left wondering, what was the point? Because I had read a few critical reviews of this book before jumping in and I understood that it was the result of eight years of research, I was under the impression it would be an examination of the female perspective from different experiences and points of view --and that somewhere in the storyline/re-telling of at least one of the three women featured, the reader would be able to identify, connect, or empathize with her sexual desire. Not so.
When I could get past the overtly graphic details and into the thoughts/motivations/justifications of these women, I ended up feeling sorry for them --which made me feel like an asshole for somehow missing the meaning and worse, judging them. Thankfully, with Maggie's story, there was more to grab ahold of --details that elicit a response that makes sense. She was a kid. Knodel was a needy, insecure, adult in a position of power who, to varying degrees depending on in whose story you find more truth, did more than "take advantage of" but definitely victimized Maggie. His crime has gone unpunished.
The writing is good at times with imagery and a turn of phrase that strikes home --but it's also confusing because the distinction between whose voice is on the page is blurred beyond any clarity. Is it Sloan/Maggie/Lina telling their story? --Or is it Taddeo shaping the narrative and projecting her agenda on the reader? If you pick this one up, I'd love to know your thoughts!

The Girl He Used to Know, by Tracey Garvis Graves
From Goodreads:
What if you had a second chance at first love?
Annika Rose like being alone. Except that, actually, she doesn't like being alone at all. The Girl He Used to Know is an uplifting novel full of surprising revelations that keep you turning the page. Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes, Gail Honeyman, Jill Santopolo and Sliding Doors.
What I thought: 8/10
I really enjoyed this book. Though it used a well-loved storyline trope (first love, rekindled), I found the protagonist to be original and her perspective made the story feel fresh, interesting, and endearing. The detail of the setting added an emotional touchstone that made the story resonate more deeply and seriously for me --especially having read it in September. If you're looking for a quick and enjoyable love story, add this one to your list!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 10.10.19

  • The Pumpkin Patch - The girls and I took advantage of a teacher work day this week and made the haul (30 minute drive) south to go to Hall Family Farm for some pumpkins and fall treats. Turns out everyone else in Charlotte had the same idea and it was super crowded. While the lines did not move quickly, the smiles, sunshine, and breeze made waiting feel almost effortless. The girls declared that trip was worth it for the Apple Cider Donut Sundae and the Apple Cider Slushy. I think it was worth it for my bright green pumpkin with the fresh-leaved vine attached! The girls were great sports too, letting me take cheesy pictures of them at every turn. We had a relaxing and fun afternoon. The farm has 2 corn mazes, a playground, lots of photo-ops, a hayride, a small gift shop, pedal cars, and corn hole. (I might be forgetting something... face-painting?) Anyhoo... lots to do. But you better visit before this season is over. They've sold the property and will relocate/reopen in 2021 even further South of Charlotte.
  • Swiss Cheese Plant - This is the newest member of our plant family and I love her more than I love Swiss cheese --which is saying a LOT. Her "fancy name" is Monstera Adansonii. Thanks to my enormously talented friend, Laura of City Stems here in Charlotte, this lovely now graces our living room where she can quietly drink in the filtered sunshine and bring joy to my heart.
  • Family Date Night - at the USWNT soccer match in Uptown vs. South Korea. The weather last Thursday was still on the "very warm" side but the game didn't start until 8pm so we were not too melty. It was exciting to watch this team live and the energy in Bank of America Stadium was incredible. I think it's very special that this team has come along at this time in our lives and I especially love watching my girls cheer for them! 

    {photo via}
  • Peter Pan - On stage at Children's Theatre of Charlotte through November 3rd, this show will knock your socks off! It's a big production with flying, sword play, exceptional talent, and so much more. G and I had the pleasure of ushering during opening weekend and the wide-eyed delight of both kids and adults exiting the theater was so fun to be a part of! Tickets here. (If you're in Charlotte and interested in ushering or volunteering at CTC, let me know!)
  • The NY Butcher Shoppe & Wine Bar (Charlotte) - This gem just opened off Park Road. They have a generous butcher counter, a wine bar, outdoor seating, and a huge offering of prepared meals to grab-n-go in a pinch. We headed straight over after a late-evening soccer game on Sunday and I'm so glad we did! We selected marinated chicken breasts, lobster ravioli, alfredo sauce, loaded mashed potatoes, salad fixings (mixed greens, fresh tomato, and avocado), and French baguette. Loaded mashed potatoes might sound a bit out of place but P was shopping with me and having just played an intense soccer match, she was starving and shopping with her stomach. Turns out, they were amazing and must be one of the best deals in Charlotte. Four generous servings was only half the container and the whole container was $7! 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 10.3.19

  • Celebrating 17 - On a lovely fall evening in 2002, I married my best friend. I was barefoot in a simple, perfect, borrowed dress among family and friends seated and standing with us in a public rose garden. Post-reception, we drove ourselves to our wedding-night hotel room (Embassy Suites) in the red Volkswagen Jetta he was forced to finance at 19% interest straight out of college. We laughed about how he struggled to locate the gear shift under the billowing layers of my dress which overflowed across part of his lap as we traveled those very first miles as husband and wife. At the time, I had little idea of what our life would look like this many miles into our journey but I felt confident that we would always be on each other's team and doing our best to enjoy the ride. Our adventure has lead us to different places we've called "home" and into so many more friendships, experiences, and opportunities. Today and (nearly) everyday, I am grateful for our partnership and feel so so lucky to have found "the one." Cheers to the next 17, the 17 after that, and all of the 17s to follow!

  • Keychain - {abrupt change of tempo} What I would really love is a variegated monstera plant... but since I probably will never find one --and even if I do, monsteras and I don't get along all that well so it will probably die --I found this super cute keychain version from Helema to bring a smile to my face daily. In addition to keychains, they make adorable pins, himmeli and sell air plants too. Check them out on Instagram or visit their online store.

  • Truvani Protein Powder - Realtalk y'all: I am not someone who has ever felt it necessary to regularly drink smoothies, juices, protein shakes, etcetera. I have no problem filling myself with "real" and chewable food. In fact, I excel in that department. *It's not bragging if it's true.* However, when my friend Annie (badass spin instructor and supermom) introduced me to this product earlier this year, my whole family fell a little bit in love. The Truvani company is special because of what they leave out of their products (you can read more about that here) but what we found most impressive was how great smoothies made from both the vanilla and chocolate (our fav) powders tasted and made us feel. The "stats per serving" are incredible (if you're into that sort of thing): 20g protein, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 2g fiber, 2g sugar... For our busy family, we regularly enjoy a smoothie for breakfast, after school and before soccer practice, before a soccer game, or after a workout. The recipe is usually some version of this (which I share between the girls at 10g protein each --or serve to Greg as listed): 1 scoop powder, 1/2 avocado, 1 banana, 2 cups fresh spinach, 1 heaping tablespoon peanut or almond butter, 1 tablespoon flax, and 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk. It IS pricey at between $50-$60/20-serving bag, depending on if you subscribe for delivery or order one at a time (on the website or on Amazon) --BUT... our bag, when split "kid servings" are factored in, makes about 30 smoothies and even at the higher price, is only $2 each. And they LIKE it... which for your family might be priceless? {I blogged about frozen avocados a few weeks ago and if you haven't already, DO give them a shot!}

  • Gap Cords - Wide-legged, cropped, fall pants alert! I just discovered these new cords from Gap last week and they are super comfortable and flattering. The colors are perfect for fall (even if the weather is not). I found them to be true to size: I ordered the tan and the navy in an 8 (I'm 5'6", 140ish, with a smallish waist and generous hips). The cropped style is only available online but they come full-length and "flared" as well which might be your jam. 

  • Paper-Source Calendar - I've mentioned my favorite calendar before but it's worth mentioning again. I absolutely love the "Wall Art Calendar" by Paper Source. The 2020 version is available now in case you want to get a jump on your holiday shopping. Just look at October of this year! The other bonus with this calendar is that the back side of every page has a template for repurposing the vibrant and colorful designs into file folders, pillow boxes, book markers, or post cards.

  • Creative/Bullet Journaling - This is a creative and completely adjustable way to create a place to organize and catalogue my schedule for the week and/or month, plan and track projects, and articulate goals and thoughts. I've been playing with and utilizing this process off and on for the past three years. As someone who enjoys hand lettering, doodling, lists, and crafts, creative journaling is right up my alley. There's a simple explanation of the format offered here in video form a multitude of ideas and examples if you search through Pinterest, and hundreds of delightful Instagram accounts and hashtags to follow if you want to learn more (like this one, this one, or this one). 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What I've Read Recently // August 2019

My very best and most faithful blog reader (Mr. Jones) had some fantastic feedback regarding the first "Recent Reads" post I made: "Give us less of what Goodreads had to say and more about what you have to say." Noted. Thank you. I love you.

Here's a list of what I finished in August.

One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus
From Goodreads:
The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
What I thought: 7/10
Both Geneva and Piper recommended that I read this YA novel, having read it themselves each around age 12. This would be a good book to read along with your teen (if you're into that sort of thing). I think there are lots of things to talk about and could spark some good discussions around friendship, romantic relationships, social pressure, and trust. Overall, this was a solid mystery. I was captivated by the first chapter and I found the story quick-moving and easy to read. Twists and turns kept me guessing and engaged.

Forever, by Judy Blume
Adapted from Goodreads:
Katherine and Michael meet at a New Year's Eve party. They're attracted to each other, they grow to love each other. And once they've decided their love is forever, they make love.
Forever is written for an older age group than Judy Blume's other novels for children. It caused a storm of controversy when it was first published because of its explicit sexual content.
What I thought: 6.5/10
First published in 1975, the story is full of amazing retro references. These small details were fun in the same way that watching Stranger Things is enjoyable for those of us that remember the fashion, expressions, and decor of the time. I can't believe that I never picked this up when I was a teenager. (Did you?) It was very provocative for the time and banned in many libraries across the country. According to Wikipedia, Forever appears on the American Library Association list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for 1990-2000, coming in at number seven. Juicy. While the book is certainly dated, the overall message of having a healthy, responsible, mutually-satisfying sexual relationship is timeless. I hope my kids read it.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
Adapted from Goodreads:
Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life--its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises.
What I thought: 7.5/10
I found this novel to be totally original and refreshing both in plot and structure --plus it has recipes! Bonus. The story was warm, funny, wry, and quirky. Somehow, it managed to be both light and serious. Eva Thorvald is an interesting character who is introduced to the reader through the memories of the people in her life. It's hard to define her clearly; however, I think it's safe to predict that you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
What I thought: 9/10 (Listened on Audible)
This book came on my radar because the newest Madeline Miller book, Circe, kept popping up in my feed and when I looked into that one, I discovered that she had written Achilles first --and that is where I felt I should start. I loved this book. Having little knowledge about Greek mythology (or ever having read the Iliad), I came to the story with zero expectations or ideas of where the plot might lead--which I understand might be different for readers who are more familiar with the content. I was completely taken away with the story. (It has to be said that the narrator was excellent and that listening to the book definitely added a texture and depth to the story that I may have missed out on, had I read it myself.) The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was deeply human and moving and this novel sits near the top of the list of the Greatest Love Stories I've Ever Read.

The Gifted School, by Bruce Holsinger
Adapted from Goodreads:
Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in their community.
What I thought: 7.5/10
Ooh --this was a really good, quick-paced read that resonated on several levels. My bookclub has selected this for our October meeting and I look forward to discussing it there and hearing everyone else's take. I read it on my Kindle and was surprised to notice afterward that it's such a long book. It did not feel lengthy. Given the current news cycle around the college entrance bribery scandal, this book was especially topical. While it was highly entertaining and felt like a well-done mini series (think Big Little Lies), it also touched on bigger themes like privilege, class, and ethnicity. The parents in the book are outrageous and in all honesty --also relatable. Here's line from the mother of twin boys talking to her friend that absolutely rang through my bones (several passages hit close to home), "Swear to God, if there's one thing that makes me absolutely insane, it's the smug parents of well-behaved girls." Ouch.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Adapted from Goodreads:
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
What I thought: 8.5/10
I received two copies of this book for Christmas and I finally got around to placing it at the top of my What I'll Read Next list. I'm so happy that I did. I can't believe it took me so long --especially having heard so many great reviews from friends of mine whose opinions I trust. I enjoyed the humor, honesty, candor, and reflection that Michelle expresses throughout. I thought the book was warm and inspiring. My only criticism is that I felt the beginning chapters dragged a bit. Once Barack showed up on the scene, the pace and my interest increased. The hardest thing about reading this book was having to pull my focus away from the memories of those years and back to the reality of our times.

Circe, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Rejected by her family and banished to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology. Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 
What I thought: 8.5/10 (Listened on Audible)
I was captivated by the story of Circe, a daughter of the most powerful Titan, Helios (the Sun). Although she was born without any powers, she possesses her own talents and through the course of this epic story, learns how to cultivate her instincts and insights to find/create her place in the world. Circe is an outcast, a feminist, a witch, a mother, a fighter... there's so much here to dig into. Miller's writing is rich and beautiful and I loved listening to every word. Comparing the two Miller novels in this post, I would say that the writing was equally stunning but I feel a little harder for Achilles.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Things I Love Thursday // 9.26.19

  • Rosemary and Garlic Olive Oil - For Christmas last year, we received a jar of homemade rosemary and garlic infused olive oil from our all-time best and most loved babysitter. It went quickly, as I used it almost every time I roasted veggies or needed a dipping oil for crusty bread. I finally thought to ask how it was made and was able to quickly whip up a new batch and the house smells amazing now. If you're interested in making some for yourself, here is a recipe that explains the simple process (I added a few peeled and slightly smashed cloves of fresh garlic).

  • Cheering for Geneva's Volleyball Team - The Jonesies have always been active in sports. From soggy Oregon soccer, tee-ball, little league, warm (too warm?) North Carolina rec and club soccer, field hockey (indoor and outdoor), rec volleyball, and even a quick stint with basketball --we have always enjoyed and looked forward to watching them play. Now solidly in middle school, this season is our first foray into rooting for a school team and it has been so much fun. There is something special about rooting for her school that stands apart from other teams she's played for. The combination of school spirit/pride, being inside the gym with its victory banners and giant mascot on the wall, the players' peers shouting from the stands, and the nostalgia for us parents all contribute to the energy that sets the experience apart from other sporting events. Additionally, volleyball is quick, exciting, and temperature controlled. Ha! G's team is an absolutely blast to watch. They are organized, skilled, and so invested to perform well with and for one another. I love that she has this opportunity to play for her school.

  • Santhoshi's Kitchen Delivery - Santhoshi lives just south of Charlotte and I had the pleasure of attending one of her cooking classes with a group of friends. She hosts the classes in her home and teaches classic Indian dishes. The class culminates with 4-5 traditional dishes, served family-style. Everyone leaves with a packet of recipes and, like me, the intention of making some of the incredible food at home. However, not all of the ingredients are not readily available and for my part, I never got around to it. Now she's offering meal kit deliveries to the great Charlotte area and if you're in these parts --I highly recommend you treat yourself. Our first order was for a large serving of Butter Chicken with naan and basmati rice. The ingredients arrived (placed in the cooler we left out on our porch) prepped and ready for cooking. The instructions were clear and a followup email arrived later that day providing her phone number: should I have questions during the preparation, I should feel free to text her for an immediate reply. The food was amazing. We had four generous servings and there was plenty left over for the girls to both take some for lunch the next day. Next week, we are trying Chicken Tikka Masala. I can't wait!

  • Propagation Success - A couple weeks ago, in an effort to encourage growth from other areas of our big Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, I pruned it back in a couple places. In the past, I've just tossed the trimmed pieces (usually just a leaf or two) into the trash. This time, I placed one of the bigger cuttings into a small vase with water. I've been changing out the water every few days and for awhile, it didn't appear that anything was going to happen... but then almost overnight, it sprouted a flurry of roots and those have increased in length quickly. Admittedly, I have not a clue as to what I'm doing but it seems to be going good. If you have any advice about when and how I should plant my clipping, feel free to share!

  • Scoring this Wrapping Paper - Piper and I were in Marshall's the other day bopping around and looking for a few decorative items she wanted to help change up part of her bedroom. As we were exiting the store, she saw this wrapping paper in a standing box by the door. "Look mom, it's like they knew you were coming." Yes. Yes. It appears they did. I could not have designed a print better myself. And it was $2.99! Winning.

  • The Arrival of Fall - It certainly doesn't feel like fall around here yet. The temperature today is set to hit somewhere near 94º. Ugh. I'm so ready for jeans and sweaters, pleasant soccer spectating, and soups/crockpot/comfort foods. However, despite the delay on Mother Nature's part, the stores are beginning to carry all my favorite pumpkin and spice seasonal items. I'm that person. The one that memes are made for. What has put that smile on my face you catch me wearing everyday before noon? The Pumpkin Spice coffee creamer that I've been enjoying since 6:30am. "Yum. Smells great in here. What is that?" Thanks; I'm baking Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread. For dinner.

Monday, September 23, 2019

What I've Read Recently // Introduction + 10 Favorites

If you're a Regular Reader around here (and thank you, thank you if you are) then you might be aware that I am a big fan of lists. I'm working on a new list for you that I look forward to updating every month or so: What I've Read Recently. Included here will be a short synopsis (provided by the publisher, author, or Goodreads) followed by a few of my thoughts and a personal rating for each selection. If you've read any of the books listed here, let me know in the comments what YOU thought of it (no spoilers). I'm also always looking for recommendations!

For future posts, I will list and discuss the books I read in the previous month (or so) but before we get there, I wanted to do a list of ten of my All-time Favorite Books. This way, you'll have a little taste of what I enjoy and if it differs vastly from the kinds of books you enjoy reading --then you'll know in advance to just skip the post. You can assume that all of the books listed in this post are a solid 10/10 for me. ***Also, this post is longer than I anticipate the average "Recent Reads" --as I couldn't limit my "favorites" to under 10 and there's no way I could read/listen-to 10 books in one month.***

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
From Goodreads:
In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don't know you've lost someone until you've found them. 
1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. 
At Finn's funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she's not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most. 
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.
What I thought:
This is one of those stories that I must have read at the "right time" in my life. It struck a deep chord that continues to reverberate. The book is a coming of age story that gets it exactly right. The transition between childhood and adulthood is often confusing, excruciating, and messy. June, at fourteen, is stubborn, selfish, and lacks self-confidence but she's simultaneously sincere, brave, and honest. As a protagonist, June is far from perfect --but I fell in love with her right away. To be with June through her grief and as she begins to understand herself and how she fits into her life felt like a gift.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
From Goodreads:
On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.
What I thought:
I loved this piece of historical fiction set in the late 1930s NYC. I loved the characters, setting, and the writing. It's hard to decide which character I loved more: Katey or NYC. The only thing that could have made my reading of this book more enjoyable was having a martini in-hand for the duration.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
From Goodreads:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
What I thought:
The Fault in Our Stars was the first John Green book I ever read and because of it, I have read everything Green has produced. This YA novel is breathtakingly beautiful and equally heartbreaking. The writing is sharp-witted and smart. The dialogue is fantastic. The characters are lovely and original. Incredibly, and despite the subject matter, this book is also so so funny. It gave me all of the feels and if you don't want to ugly-cry in front of others, read it alone.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
From Goodreads:
It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.
With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction.
What I thought:
This was a carefully constructed story set in post-war London that illustrated the class distinctions between pretentious upperclass elites and the rising middle class. As historical fiction, it painted a clear and vivid picture of what it would have been like to live in that place with these characters. I was transported and captivated. The story, which I listened to, was full of twists and turns as it dealt with moral issues including guilt, shame, and forbidden love. Ultimately, it could be described as a crime drama --but it was really so much more.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
From Goodreads:
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. 
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
What I thought:
Oh gosh. Where to start? After reading that this book was on the top of several critics' "top books" for the year it came out, I chose it for my bookclub. Then I read it. Then I panicked a little. We were reading it in December and planning to discuss it when we met again in January. Against the backdrop of the holidays, I found it to be a stark contrast to happiness, joyfulness, and celebration. I emailed the group with something like, "Hey... Sorry about the book selection. It's super heavy and so incredibly sad. If you haven't read it yet, maybe put if off for another time?" Seriously. This book wrecked me. I described it as, "Beautiful. Wretched. Devastating. Amazing. Heartbreaking." It is all of that and I loved it. (The club did end up reading it --for the most part. We all agreed that is was SO difficult but ultimately were glad to have experienced it.) It is definitely a book that will stay with you.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
From Goodreads:
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be "human". 
What I thought:
I first read The Sparrow for my bookclub in Oregon, circa 2011. It was someone else's pick and I was rushed to finish it only an hour or so before our meeting (I'm usually not a procrastinator but the girls were six and four at the time). Solidly a sci-fi novel, it was well out of the typical genre I enjoyed. That night, we had a great discussion; however, I really hadn't had a chance to process the story. I distinctly remember rating the book a "7" that night. In the days that followed, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about the characters, what happened to them, and how they faced their challenges. Several days later, I emailed the woman who had chosen the book. I told her that if I had a chance to rate the book again, I would give it 11/10. This book deserves your time.

Harry Potter (all 7 of them), by J.K. Rowling
Adapted from Goodreads:
Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and each book follows Harry and his friends through a year at Hogwarts. As the characters get older, the plot of each book gets a little darker. By the third and fourth installment, tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant series. By the last book, the stage has been beautifully set for a the satisfying ending that this series deserves.
What I thought:
This series is not just for the kids! When I hear about someone reading the HP series for the first time, I'm so unbelievably excited for them to visit the amazing world created by J.K. Rowling. I am such a fan. My girls are both SuperFans (having each read through the entire series five and seven times). I read the first and second books aloud to the kids when they were too young to read them on their own. I remember editing "scary" scenes/dialogue from the The Chamber of Secrets (book 2) to them at bedtime (which seems like such a long time ago but really isn't). The way the characters grow up over the course of the series is believable and enjoyable to witness. I absolutely loved the major narrative threads that develop and twist throughout the seven books and culminate in an ending that lives up to the series.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
From Goodreads:
In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.
Among the hostages are Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Swiss Red Cross negotiator Joachim Messner comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands. Days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months. Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give.
Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects: 
Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.
What I thought:
The language in this novel is unreal. The writing is lyrical and the plot was heartbreakingly beautiful. I found this story to be compelling, dramatic, and full of grace. The lines between good and evil are blurred, as friendship, goodness, and love for others is drawn out of the people on the page. The plot was gripping and the ending was unexpected.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
From Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
What I thought:
This is one of the best YA novels I have ever come across. I listened to this book on Audible --admittedly, the narrator's inflection added a richer layer to the story. Starr's perspective is woven with youthful innocence and jaded reality and is so well done. Through the author's development, the characters are relatable and I cared about what happened to them. The story was salient for current events and I encouraged both Geneva (13 at the time) and Piper (12) to read it too.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
From Goodreads:
David Sedaris' move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section. His family is another inspiration. You Can't Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.
What I thought:
This collection of essays by American humorist, David Sedaris, was the first book of his that I read. I found the stories to be heartfelt, hysterical, and honest. I loved this book so much that a copy of it sits on our guest bedroom nightstand. You can pick up a Sedaris book and enjoy it in small doses or you can sit down and devour it in a day or two. While the stories are sometimes "laugh out-loud" funny, sometimes tragic, and often times uncomfortable, they are always enjoyable.