Everyday Life and Menu Plan (1.17.17)

A little late on the menu posting, the long weekend had me in a time warp... However, I had to convey how yummy this recipe is:
The Roasted Cauliflower Soup we tried last week was delicious! (Edited to add: I put crumbled bacon on top, which was a perfect accompaniment. Also, I'd advise using an immersion blender - they are invaluable!) 

I didn't put anything new on the menu this week, but I pulled a tasty meatloaf recipe from the archives that we haven't made in YEARS. Speaking of going through the archives, in case you missed it, I posted my annual list of favorite books here.

I got out with friends to see Hidden Figures and cannot recommend it enough. SO WONDERFUL! Go see it!
Yesterday we took advantage of our run of sunny and cold weather to take a stroll around Discovery Park.
We shall see how much rain we get this week...
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Favorite Books of 2016!

Yes, finally! Although, I think I'm pretty consistent with waiting a bit into the new year to reflect on everything I've read. Often, one from December makes it onto the list. Probably because it's top of mind, but this year's will stick with me for awhile. It was a banner year for my reading life - probably the most books I've ever read in a single year. Before I get into the details on the favorites, I thought I'd take a deeper dive than my Goodreads overview.

Yes, I got a little geeky with the numbers:
Books written by women: 43 (70%)
Books written by people of color: 10 (16%)
Nonfiction: 5 (8%)
Advanced copies: 11 (18%) 2 of which were debuts (18% of ARCs)
Debut novels: 13 (21%)
Published in 2016: 32 (52%)

Not sure what I'm going to do with this info, perhaps it will inform me on my goals for the year, which I'm still pondering...

The favorites from this year are in no particular order. I also don't strive for a top five or ten so that I don't add more to hit a certain number, nor do I exclude something that was really great to pare down my list. Some I may have rated four stars or five. But they are all indelible in some way, and are books that I find myself recommending the most. 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
So, I was wondering why this didn't land on any 'best of' lists this year and I realized that it was a 2015 publication and the only one from my favorites that was not published this year! (Which is interesting because I was nearly 50/50 on new releases vs. backlist titles.) I was close, though, since I read it in January. But it has stayed with me all this year as an incredibly unique and moving story. Plus making Pat Praeger's Peanut Butter Bars was a highlight of the year.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My first Book of the Month made quite an impression on me! I read this back in August and it's not perfect, but it was one of the few books this year I read in less than 48 hours and it also has remained top of mind. I think it's a story that would appeal to ANY reader and I recommend it often. It has mystery, romance, sci-fi, and, beneath the surface, a philosophical question about what makes you YOU.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I also read this one in August, and I can't fathom a best of 2016 book list where it is absent. How Gyasi managed to make an epic and captivating story in such a succinct way is a marvel. If there's one book on this list that should be required reading, it's Homegoing.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Patchett might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I just love her. I made a conscious decision to mostly request advanced copies of established authors, and authors that I admire (and now that I look at the data, only 2 of eleven advance requests were debuts). This was my most anticipated novel of the year, so perhaps I went in with rose colored glasses. But, it did not disappoint: a family drama of great characters, writing, and emotional heft.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This was another great Book of the Month pick, which I read in October. It is also a novel that is not lacking on Best of the Year lists, and for good reason. For me, I think held the most highlighted passages of any book I read in 2016. Bennett writes so beautifully, with simple and powerful prose - while also telling a great story. 

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Like Patchett, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors and this was another advance copy I was so thankful to receive. This whip-smart, and fun, romp of a modern day Austen classic is one that I find myself recommending often. 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
As I am susceptible to doing from time to time, I end up putting a December read on my best of list. But! I'm hardly alone, as this one was Goodreads winner for best YA of 2016. I think I sped through this novel faster than any other this year. It was just a wonderfully told story about a subject so fascinating and devastating. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, or your favorite books of the year! 

Favorite Books of 2015
Favorite Books of 2014
Favorite Books of  2013 
Favorite Books of 2012


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.9.16

This has been a pretty uneventful week of getting back into the swing of things after the holiday break. Although my dog Chewie would argue otherwise...

Could he look any more pathetic?? Poor guy caught his toenail on the back of his crate and it got nearly split in half. Yeah. It was gross. So between my husband and I, there have been three visits to the vet in the last week! To add insult to injury, some idiot rear ended my husband at a red light. Thankfully he's okay, even though it was on a highway off ramp. So we've been juggling one car this weekend. Yay!

Alas, we did a little self care at the bookstore today, so all was well.
This week:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Books I Read in December

So many books in December! This is part of the reason I delay my favorites of the year until mid-January...

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
This was a short and powerful read. However, I found it a little dry and rife with generalizations about many problems we face today. It certainly gave me a new perspective of looking at ways we are a tribal species, and how that helps and hinders our lives. The loss of tribe definitely seems like the driving force of trauma for veterans, but I'm not entirely sold on the fact that our society evolving from tribalism is the root of nearly all of it's ills, the way Junger seems to imply.

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand
Ohhhh, this was such a fun escapist read. I originally gave it three stars, because: total fluff. But this terribly sweet conclusion of the Winter Street series, and the the end of the story for the characters I've become quite attached to, was a wonderful holiday treat. Upgraded to four star rating for humor and heart. Hilderbrand is great with memorable character development, as well as making me feel like I've been to Nantucket - even though I just desperately want to visit now. I'm hopeful she'll start another series for next Christmas!

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bojalian (You can read my review here!)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
I finally caved to finishing this gorgeous YA series and I love these characters SO MUCH. This installment of the Raven Cycle was kinda iffy on plot for me, even with the first three as a benchmark for a lack thereof. Honestly, I'm thinking about it now and can't really describe what the heck happened. There were a lot of loose ends, secondary characters left hanging, new inscrutable ones introduced, and a slapdash solution to the major final obstacle of the book. And yet... I was sucked in as always and turning pages because of the beautiful and nuanced writing, the relationships, the swoon factor for... well, every character - I'm in love with ALL OF THEM. If (when?) she writes more Raven Boys lore, I will read the heck out of it.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
There must be something about reading a WWII novel at the end of the year that lands it as one of my favorites, as with The Nightingale. Or maybe it's because I parse out these novels, only allowing myself one or two a year on this subject. They are usually so good, though! I was quickly enraptured with Sepetys characters and the journeys they faced during Operation Hannibal, the German evacuation of troops and civilians from East Prussia and Poland. I loved the short chapters told from the perspective of each character, each from a different country. I can see how it would be jarring/crazy making for some, but I found myself up late saying 'just one more chapter.' It is fraught with tension and a lightning paced read. It was hard to wrap my head around the biggest maritime disaster in history being so unknown. This book is a must read: fascinating, engaging and bittersweet.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Since my December Book of the Month (Swimming Lessons by the same author) was delayed, I thought I'd read her debut novel that has been on my TBR for quite awhile. This was an outstanding read. This story of a girl taken to the woods to live in isolation with her survivalist father begins with her acclimating to the 'real world' after her ordeal and I thought this was a brilliant way for her story to unfold. As we learn more in flashbacks, it becomes clear that whether or not she returns home is not where the mystery and tension lies, but HOW she gets out of her situation. How does she leave her father? How does she come to understand what is really happening? The ending is pretty harrowing, but following the breadcrumbs of ideas that Fuller deftly drops along the way is RIVETING stuff. I can't wait to dive into her latest novel!

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
This was on my summer list, and it's one I'm glad I finally got around to reading. It follows a amiliar, but fun, 'You've Got Mail' trope: the main character begins a communication via email with a mystery individual. In many cases it may be a secret admirer - see also Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and This is What Happy Looks Like. I enjoyed this as a straight up high school drama, but there was also a lot of good subject matter to chew on about friendship, parenting and loss. Even though the mystery person is pretty easy to pin down, I furiously turned the pages towards the end of the book to confirm my theory. It's just ADORABLE. I was surprised to learn that this was Buxbaum's first YA novel. Her depiction of teen life was evocative of my youth and felt spot-on. 


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.2.17 (and Favorite New Recipes of 2016)

Happy New Year! I'm glad to be back into the swing of things and 'real life.' But, I did thoroughly enjoy our leisurely two weeks of family time together. 

We checked off our list of favorite holiday traditions, as well as slept in, ate a ton, watched movies, went to the Y a lot and did a lot of reading! I got lots of bookish goodies for Christmas, including my now yearly installment of the illustrated Harry Potter editions.
It was an excellent Christmas and I think this one will stand out to me as the year of Snuggles the Puppy. This was the first time my daughter had a highly coveted item on her list. She's usually the toughest to get gifts for: she likes everything, will play with any toy and is not really obsessed with anything, unlike her brother who goes in easy to shop for phases (this year it's all about Halo Mega Bloks).
Getting her this hilarious animatronic dog has been a HOOT. My husband had the brilliant idea to also give her our old soft sided dog carrier with a removable bed and she has her puppy sleep in it next to her every night. She's even started dressing her up with barrettes (that she never uses). 
It's priceless and reminds me of my first Cabbage Patch doll, an all fabric handmade one, and how much I loved her.

If it were up to me, we'd probably have soup or salad every night this week because I still feel full from holiday eating. Alas, I don't think my family would go for that, so maybe we'll have one or two favorites from this year that I've rounded up, as well as get cracking on trying new recipes. I'm finishing up my December book reviews and pondering my favorite reads of the year, but for now:

Favorite New Recipes of 2016:

Tequila Lime Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos from The Cookie Rookie
Spinach Lasagna from Chowhound
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Everyday Life and Holiday Eats!

Last week was pretty laid back - we got out to see some Christmas light displays, had a day date with my husband before the kids got out of school to go see Rogue One (recommend!) and are doing lots of BAKING!

Our first foray into making muddy buddies was a success, and sugar cookie decorating will commence this week.

If you happened to catch my Instagram stories, I made two staples recently: holiday bark and these Linzer muffins. SO GOOD.
I have a tentative menu plan for the week, but since I'm taking a little blog hiatus next week, I thought I'd just link to my favorite holiday meals and treats. 

Christmas Eve is always appetizers (complete with Salami Stacks, of course) and a good Neuf du Pape while watching Love Actually after the kids go to bed. They either eat 'snowman pizzas' where I mold the dough into the shape of a snowman and they do the toppings, or I make them breakfast for dinner.
On Christmas Day, we start the day with either Monkey Bread or homemade cinnamon rolls. For dinner, we have done lasagna in the past. However, after eating a lot of cheese and crackers the night before, a cheesy dinner didn't sound all that appealing. I decided on a tasty recipe for Beer Braised Beef with Marsala Mushroom Sauce and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes that we haven't made in years and is SUPER TASTY.

New Year's Eve we'll make a longtime favorite for special occasions: Giada's Braciole recipe, and I'm not sure about New Year's Day. We don't have any hard and fast traditions other than an indulgent breakfast - whichever of the two we didn't have for Christmas morning. Perhaps I should get a black eyed pea recipe? Or we should just start eating salads every day for January...

Happy holidays to you and yours!


The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian - A NetGalley Review

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday (January 10, 2017)
Description from the Publisher:

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge. The morning of Annalee's disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee's husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs' Victorian home. As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee's disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body? 

It's been a VERY long time since I read a Chris Bohjalian novel, but I've always enjoyed his work. This latest novel seemed to have similarities to some of my favorites: The Law of Similars, Trans-Sister Radio and the widely known Midwives (Oprah's Book Club), where the narrative centers around a mystery with an intriguing medical backdrop. Parasomnia, abnormal behaviors during sleep, is the fascinating catalyst of The Sleepwalker. 

Lianna, the daughter of the missing woman, is the central character and she didn't come to life for me at all. I didn't feel like I could connect with her, or her relationship with the detective working on her mother's case. The unfolding of Annalee's disappearance and the gut wrenching conclusion are well executed. Yet the bulk of the story is this back and forth dance between Lianna and Gavin, and I wanted to be invested in their romance. Alas, it seems the only reason they connect is that she finds him attractive and she can wheedle him for information about her mother. If I had been swept up in their star-crossed story, I might have felt differently. Additionally, the implausibility of his actions, with glaring conflicts of interest as a detective, were hard to swallow.

Bohjalian has such impressive breadth and depth to his body of work, and learning about the condition of parasomnia was rather interesting. But, I suppose not all of his novels are going to be right up my alley. Your mileage may vary!