Recent Eats! Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman and Raddish Kids

Checking in after another long hiatus of cooking updates (since January)! As per usual, I was burning through cookbooks that didn't wow me or have more than one or two dishes to report back on - though Bittman's book has definitely turned the tide. 

But first I wanted to give a little plug for this awesome subscription service I got for the kids because they have become increasingly interested in getting into the kitchen. I got a few cookbooks geared towards children and we would help each kiddo make a dish of their choosing. This was fine, but they would inevitably pick meals like breaded chicken tenders or mac and cheese, not really broadening any horizons. I started searching for meal kits for kids (I mean, there are about one million options out there for adults) and came across Raddish - extra D not a typo, as in RAD dish! I got a six month subscription and it has been awesome. 
Each month we get a themed meal kit that includes a kitchen tool (pastry cutter, garlic press, silicone tart molds), a patch for their apron (which comes in the first box), dinner table conversation starter cards, and sturdy laminated recipes for a main dish, dessert and some sort of side or extra that fits the menu. 
I wasn't really interested in getting actual ingredients in the boxes, as I am already a weekly meal planner/grocery trip person, so this was perfect - and not terribly expensive. I also love that the menus are somewhat adventurous but still have kid appeal like mango sticky rice with chicken satay, or rainbow taco salad. Plus, there's no hemming and hawing about their choice - they get what they get and we help them make the meal. 
Not having the ingredients shipped also gives us a lot of flexibility. It's been a little busy around here with Spring Break and school sports, so I've saved the most recent delivery and might hold on to the next month's to break out over the summer. And, I do have a referral code which gives me some $$ off my next boxes if you are so inclined - you can use BB9H2W for $10 off a subscription. All this to say, that even if there was no referral code, I'd still be telling y'all about it! 
Okay, as for the rest of our meals, I have been over the moon about Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. I don't think I've marked this many recipes in a cookbook EVER. Although there are over 400 recipes in there, so... He packs them in by eliminating pictures, long ingredient lists or step-by-step instructions. Just an easy paragraph explanation for each recipe. At first I was a little disappointed, because I usually look through recipe books based on the picture! But, I do cook in a more laid-back way, like the recipes are written. They are all so simple, obviously, but have unique ingredients. I can’t believe I’ve never used a Thai chili before, but I’ve used them twice already in recipes from this cookbook that appealed to me, such as fish with Thai pesto sauce.
And chicken in a basil coconut curry.
We've also used his simple spice rub and sauce for spicy chicken chipotle tacos, which I forgot to snap a picture of before gobbling them up. I look forward to trying at least a dozen more recipes from this book, so good!
I also picked up Milk Street: Tuesday Nights a few weeks ago and so far we've made the Lemongrass Tofu a half dozen times. DELICIOUS. Can't go wrong with America's Test Kitchen/Christopher Kimball.
And, folks inevitably ask about how our kids like these meals. And, I give my inevitable answer: they try it, but get a modified version such as chicken and rice without sauce, or chicken without the chipotle and a quesadilla, or fish sticks and a wee dip of pesto, etc. We might save tofu for a night they're eating pizza, though. Haha! They are coming around slowly but surely thanks to our modeling and their interest in getting involved in cooking!


Books I Read in April

There There by Tommy Orange
I normally love a novel that reads like connected short stories, but this one felt somewhat disjointed. I lost the thread of characters that I wanted to spend more time with, though the ideas within are so important and should be talked about more. 
"The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind of history. All these stories that we haven’t been telling all this time, that we haven’t been listening to, are just part of what we need to heal. Not that were broken. And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?"
I did find the writing to be absorbing and unique. The plot that follows a dozen native Americans on their way to a Powwow, which you can see coming from the first pages, is still a gut punch in the end, which is no small feat. I’m glad I finally read it after it has garnered so much attention and acclaim since it's publication.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Haeger and Barbara Pierce Bush
The audiobooks I listened to in March were on the heavier side, so I was searching for something a little more lighthearted but still interesting. Sisters First definitely fit the bill, although I'd say interesting does not equal informative. I didn't have any grand revelations about the Bush family after listening, but there were definitely a range of well told stories that were funny, sad and heartwarming. Also, worth noting, I was constantly distracted by Jenna's voice because I think she used her television speaking voice (always emphasizing the last word in her sentences) instead of sounding more conversational, like Barbara. Perhaps the hard copy of this one is the way to go!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Confession: I haven’t read Liane Moriarty since I read Big Little Lies, years before the tv show (which I thought was an EXCELLENT adaptation). The buzz around Truly Madly Guilty wasn’t great, so I never picked it up. Then I had the chance to catch Moriarty on tour for her latest, and absolutely loved hearing her talk about Nine Perfect Strangers. And STILL, I took forever to pick it up because of mixed reviews. I finally read it and absolutely tore through the pages. Yes, it’s a little kooky. No, it’s not Big Little Lies. But she writes such fast paced, wholly engaging stories. This one was also exceptionally hilarious, and I often barked a “HA!” out loud. Perhaps I saw Liane in the main character Frances, whom she said she identified with most, and I was able to invest in her journey. Either way, I definitely recommend this book for a fast, fun and crazy ride. Now maybe I’d better pick up Truly, Madly, Guilty...

The One by John Marrs
This book was CRAZY! What if genetic testing existed to find your true biological soul mate, your perfect match?? Marrs explores a whole host of chaotic scenarios that were really thought provoking. I was in the mood for a thriller and this one has a little sci-fi, a little romance, and a lot of food for thought. And of course, it’s coming to Netflix as a series in the near future - I definitely plan to tune in!

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
I was flailing for awhile this month, choosing an audiobook - starting and casting aside several that just weren’t doing it for me after feeling just so-so about Sisters First. I’m SO GLAD Annie Jones mentioned You’ll Grow Out of It on a recent episode of her From the Front Porch podcast! Indeed, this was HILARIOUS and made me guffaw repeatedly. Klein tells the most relatable stories about her career, motherhood, marriage, dating, friendship and just being a woman in the world. ‘Ma’am’ was probably my favorite chapter- highly recommend!

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
This was full of moral dilemmas to chew on, but not full of depth. Full review here!

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? Alyssa Mastromonaco
I love hearing Mastromonaco on Pod Save America and finally picked this one up on audio. This is exactly what I wish From the Corner of the Oval had been! I loved the inside look at the White House, the personal dramas and funny moments that shone through the truly fascinating inner workings of the government. While I found Beck Dorey-Stein frustrating, Matstromonaco comes across as humbled, hard working and full of wisdom from her experience. 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Oof. Home Fire is really well done and so tragic. Going in, I knew it was an interpretation of Antigone as a way to tell a story about immigrants and radicalism. I didn't remember much about it from my college mythology class, though it just so happened that my son was recently on the school production team of Antigone, refreshing my knowledge of the story. Still, knowing the bones of the plot and the ultimate fate of certain characters, it was gut wrenching. Shamsie brilliantly shows how shockingly easy it is to make Antigone relevant thousands of years later.


The Farm by Joanne Ramos (ARC Review)

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Publisher: Random House (May 7, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

The premise of this novel was gripping from the get-go. It certainly mirrors The Handmaid's Tale, and could very well be a precursor to how our society might easily fall into that particular brand of dystopia. The themes are also similar: power struggles between the wealthy and privileged vs the poor and desperate. With a more modern day take, the ethical and moral dilemmas abound, giving the reader a lot to chew on. Ramos' world building of Golden Oaks and all it entails was vivid and thought provoking. 
”Because in America you only have to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.” 
I also thought that there was a lot of food for thought about feminism, misogyny and racism. Yet it felt like more breadth than depth was given to these themes. Ramos utilizes archetypal characters rather than ones that really stand on their own as a fully fleshed out individuals. There was quite a large cast of characters in the book and I felt as if they could've been pared down significantly so that Jane could have been given a bit more oomph. Though she was somewhat unlikeable, Jane's cousin Ate has the most dynamic and full character arc. Alas, she is not who I wanted to be invested in, to be the hero of the story. I also felt frustrated by the ending, Jane's ending, even though it was probably the most plausible outcome for her and I turned the pages pretty furiously to get to the conclusion.
Overall this was an entertaining read that was driven by plot and juicy 'what if?' scenarios. It would make for an good summer read, and definitely a book club pick - lots of moral choices to dissect.
Many thanks to Random House for the complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


Books I Read in March

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
This book was peripherally on my radar for quite some time, but I never picked it up. Perhaps it was the (in my opinion) lackluster cover. It kinda screams cheesy women's fiction, not at ALL a time travel story. And though the writing is not to my taste, a little stilted and melodramatic, the story was super compelling. I am a sucker for a good time travel or alternate universe yarn. If you're looking for a quick sorta sci-fi read, definitely pick this one up!

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
Hinton's story about spending 30 years on death row as an innocent man is a MUST READ. It's infuriating, horrifying, devastating and an absolute call to action regarding our criminal justice system. That's really all there is to say, other than it made for an excellent audiobook.

My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
As the title probably implies, this book is crazy! But not in an overt way - it's written with a subtle, ominously slow build. I had constant simmering anger on the protagonist Korede's behalf, cleaning up after her almost criminally self-centered sister, on top of being a murderer. It's got suspense and originality in spades and I gobbled it up in two days - it's a rather slim volume, too. Yet it's packed with food for thought about gender power struggles and how far we'd go for our family.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I am glad I finally checked this one off my list, but I didn’t love it like I hoped I would. It was a sweet and a lovely little story, but the comparisons to Anne of Green Gables fall FAR short in my opinion. I definitely see the similarities in the protagonists, but the language didn’t wow me and I maybe laughed aloud once or twice, unlike being inside the head of Anne Shirley. Alas, comparison is the thief of joy and perhaps I should have read this one before I heard anything about it!

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The structure of the book, told as an oral history of a fictional rock band, was utterly absorbing. I am a fan of multiple narrators, and usually they alternate by entire chapters. Having each character voice their thoughts from one PARAGRAPH to the next really was impactful and amazing how we can see the same situation in such different ways - so much juicy drama! I loved all of the relationship dynamics - not just Daisy and Billy, but Daisy and Simone, and especially the back and forth between Karen and Warren. And Reid's depth of research into the music and culture of the time shows. So good! I also had the pleasure of meeting Taylor Jenkins Reid at an event for the book and she's a goddamn delight.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Sounds a bit out there, but I think this would make a great pairing with The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir in thinking about the relationship between modern youth and religion... Acevedo touches on other thought provoking subjects like immigration, sexuality, and family loyalty. It's equally heartbreaking and uplifting. I haven’t read a story written in verse since Brown Girl Dreaming and I think I need to rectify this - so gorgeous and immersive.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
This was a sweet love story - full review here!

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
I think that one has to have been living under a rock to not have heard about Elizabeth Holmes and the massive scam she pulled upon creating Theranos. Unfortunately, I think that led to me not being as wholly captivated by the book as I could have been if I didn't already read the news pretty thoroughly. It's an excellent account by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who broke the story, and the second part of the book told from his perspective was absolutely riveting. I wish it had been in that format from the start, but nonetheless, this is an insane story of wealth and privilege that is utterly shocking and we're all better off that it has come to light.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
I stole this graphic novel from my daughter's library stack because it's been getting a fair amount of buzz and is reportedly going to be made into a Netflix film. We both really enjoyed it, especially the power of the Pashmina which had me guessing until the end. It's a lovely juxtaposition of high fantasy and the struggles of the characters everyday lives. Chanani does not shy away from the harsher realities of her culture, nor the beauty. I definitely recommend for adults and kids alike.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
This was was a bit of a disappointment for me. Full review here!


I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (NetGalley Review)

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
Publisher: Atria Books (April 2, 2019)
Description from the publisher: 
Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy. 
But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right,” but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?
In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

This collection of essays was super high on my to-be-read list. Two of my favorite books of 2018 could be described similarly (Heating & Cooling and Tell Me More). And on paper, this practically shouts YOU ARE THE TARGET AUDIENCE. I was born a year before the author and have checked all those boxes and, yes, can sometimes be type-A and a little anxious. Plus she works at Parnassus! It's blurbed by Ann Patchett! Although, while relatable in many ways, it didn't engage me like I hoped it would.
This is most likely boils down to a case of "it's not you, it's me" as I'm rather finicky about my nonfiction. If I'm going to read a memoir, I think it needs to be about someone already interesting I want to learn more about (Busy Philips), a fascinating subject I want to learn more about (any Bill Bryson book, Lab Girl) or really emotionally vulnerable, which I'd argue all of the examples I mentioned fit that bill. These essays, while revealing, felt like quick and fleeting anecdotes that were heavy on her personal philosophy and light on her life experiences. I mean, I feel as if I know Kelly Corrigan's entire network of friends and family and want to hug them all. I can't even remember Philpott's husband's name. Perhaps I should have taken the 'essays' in lieu of 'memoir' in the title to heart. 
I got the impression that the main thrust of the book is that we all have our struggles and we are still valid in feeling our pain, even though it may seem less than others people's pain. This message seemed to repeat in a variety of humorous ways, especially her metaphors: from DVF dresses to buckets of crabs or chocolate chip cookies are utilized in unlikely ways. Though very true, I often thought that she was stating the obvious. I think that's why this collection will resonate for those looking for a laugh. Good humor usually employs empathy, the old "funny because it's true" and we all laugh because we can relate. Witty, for sure, but I didn't feel moved or enlightened. The description also states 'you don't have to set of on a transcontinental hike' to feel satisfied with your life. Yet, essentially, she does run away and has the privilege to do so. Philpott absolutely calls out her privilege, at least, dedicating an entire chapter to the subject. But I am not sure she gets the extent of it, if she doesn't consider being able to flee her life (even if it's for a short time because of a house sitting gig) an enormous privilege that ends up affording her great opportunities. 
If you're a fan of humorously written essays about the everyday struggles of a white, middle aged mom balancing career and family, this would certainly fit the bill. I'd say it's a good read alike to Anna Quindlen's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Definitely well written, just not to my taste.
Many thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the complimentary advance digital copy in exchange for my honest review!


The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (ARC Review)

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (April 2, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.
Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game―and his heart―to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.
Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

To be honest, I was initially drawn into the description of this story because I, too, attended the University of Illinois in the early 90s and lived in the city of Chicago after graduating. Although, save for the mention of a few establishments (Kams most notably), this wasn't a walk down memory lane! Thankfully, it didn't need to be in order for me to enjoy Annika's story. 
Romance isn't my go-to genre, but I enjoy the occasional book that seems to rise to the surface as something a little different, something with a little bit more going on. The last book that seemed to fit the bill was The Kiss Quotient and, funny enough, it has similar themes about a woman on the autism spectrum finding love and finding her place in the world. These disorders were definitely not widely know about back in the 90s, and I felt as if the journey Annika takes in figuring out what makes her unique rang true. 
This is the first novel by Graves that I've read and I thought that she imbued the characters with authenticity and heart. The romance was tender and sweet, sometimes a tad racy. But I especially loved the relationship between Annika and her best friend Janice. In fact, I think I would have liked more interaction between the two, or Annika and her parents. There was a lot to unpack there, yet we get the briefest glimpses into her childhood. The narrative is set in alternating timelines, 1991 and 2001, and didn't leave much room for what happened prior or between those years, which I think would have enhanced the story. Though it made for a fast paced read that I finished in two sittings. The last few chapters of the book flew by (maybe too fast?) and were nail-bitingly tense.
If you are a romance fan or not, I definitely give my endorsement to this novel. I am now intrigued by Graves other work and noticed that her bestseller On the Island is in development to become a film. Looks like it could make for a good summer read...
Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press for the complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review!


Books I Read in February

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This novel had been sitting on my shelves for so long and I finally got the impetus to read it as part of an Instagram buddy read with Read Fine Print, and I'm so very glad I did. Rules of Civility is such a great read and I had every intention of jumping into Towles latest right away. Alas, the description doesn't really scream CAPTIVATING: 500 pages mainly set in one hotel in early 1900s Russia. And yet... If you love witty and endearing, this book has those qualities in spades. I laughed and read passages aloud to my husband constantly. To wit:
"Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. What young lovers have not found themselves at this juncture in a silence so sudden, so seemingly insurmountable that it threatens to cast doubt upon their chemistry as a couple? What husband and wife have not found themselves suddenly unnerved by the fear that they might not ever have something urgent, impassioned, or surprising to say to each other again? So it is with good reason that most of us meet this dangerous interstice with a sense of foreboding."
The count is a character for the ages and completely makes this book. There were a few instances where I got a little restless with passages that felt as if they were lifted from a textbook. But the story of Rostov's relationships and how they unfold into a bittersweet and nail-biting conclusion absolutely stole my heart. 

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
I've been meaning to get back to reading some middle grade fiction and the buzz around the Nevermoor series had me intrigued. This was an entirely engaging story with elements of many favorite fantasy reads, but still felt refreshingly new. Morrigan Crow is a heroine I loved rooting for and I'm definitely hooked for the remaining books!

Calypso by David Sedaris
It has been many years since I've read a Sedaris book, and how I missed him! I must admit that I did try Theft by Finding Diaries and ended up abandoning it, as if felt so scattered and, honestly, not that funny. Not the case with Calypso. This is peak Sedaris that had me breathless with laughter and heartache for the realities he faced about his family troubles. I can't recommend it enough, especially on audio - which should really be a requirement for all of his books.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
I've already blasted this on my social media feeds, but it bears repeating. Stop what you are doing, and put this YA masterpiece on your TBR. I felt a little thrill that I was able to grab it from my local library branch the day after it was named a Printz honor book. I finished it yesterday, and it blew me away. I haven’t cried reading a book in a long time, but this one was so powerful and moving. I am definitely getting a copy to share with my daughter, and probably my son too, when they are a little older (maybe 13 or 14). It is a all-too-familiar look at how young girls carry so much on their shoulders, and the way boys can be wonderful allies but also so very toxic. I am also partial to a book about long distance running, gun reform, and beautiful scenes set in my two homes: Seattle and Chicago. It’s like it was made for me, but I think it’s required reading for EVERYONE.
“She closes her eyes now. Just for a second, she imagines it – letting go. Handing heavy stuff back to the people it belongs to. When she does, she gets the most peaceful feeling, as if there’s a cool and reassuring hand on her forehead. She is safe and OK and the storm is out there somewhere, but not here.”

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Full review here!

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
After a few heavy reads, I grabbed this one off the paperback picks shelf at the library after having enjoyed Love and Other Words by the same authors (yes, they're written by two women). The romance was cute and enjoyable, although absolutely predictable. I didn't love it as much as the former, but it served it's purpose of a fun diversion.