Queenie (plus, a bundt cake fit for a queen)

The book: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.

A couple weeks ago, I read Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. The title character, Queenie, has just separated from her boyfriend of two years, and now must make sense of her life without him. Between her job at a national newspaper in London, some tense familial relationships, and several post-breakup rebounds, Queenie is flailing and struggling to figure out who she is (in a society that will so readily tell her exactly who they think she is).

Queenie was a refreshingly slow read, and by slow, I’m referring to the pace of the plot. The novel wasn’t exactly action-packed or overly dramatic, and I think that was the point. Rather than focusing on distracting action and external drama, Queenie spends most of the book focused on internal issues. I found this refreshing because, in an age of near-constant distraction, a novel stressing the importance of slowing down and focusing on yourself (and not just through capitalistic “self-care” rituals like face-masks) seems necessary. I love the message that prioritizing mental health is a story worth telling.

Between Queenie, The Pisces, and the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (both of which I have written about on this blog before), the topic of internal issues leading to problematic romantic relationships is almost (but not quite) starting to feel like a cliched trope. The topic isn’t cliched though: novels that show characters responsibly addressing their anxieties and traumas are important because they set a positive example for their readers, who may also be suffering from anxieties and traumas.

In addition to addressing mental health, Queenie also takes on sexism and racism. Throughout the novel Queenie is fetishized and objectified by white men, and there is also a scene where she goes on a date with someone who turns out to be a white supremacist. Both scenes demonstrate that sexism and racism are still pertinent issues in today’s society, and that they are intersectional.

Overall, I really enjoyed Queenie. The writing style is easy to follow, and the plot is interesting despite being a bit slow-paced. The novel addresses many topics that are relevant today – including mental health, sexism, and racism – in a really effective and compelling way. Also, many readers will probably identify with Queenie to some degree, because the experience of simply trying to find yourself in your early 20’s is so relatable.

The bake: vanilla guava bundt cake.

For Queenie, I wanted to bake something simple and elegant, that would also pay tribute to Queenie’s British-Jamaican heritage. These considerations all came together in the form of a vanilla guava bundt cake: the shape of the bundt pan makes the cake look elegant, the sponge base of the cake pays tribute to Queenie’s British nationality, and the guava flavor pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage (my friend from Jamaica told me that guava-based desserts are common there).

To make this elegant, British-Jamaican-inspired dessert, I baked this simple vanilla bundt cake from Delish (with one modification: I used vanilla oat milk instead of whole milk, in hopes of giving the cake extra vanilla flavor). I topped it with a guava glaze, which I just made by boiling sugar and guava juice into a simple syrup.

This is a very nice cake! My bundt pan has a sort of non-traditional shape, which makes the cake look elegant, and more complex than it actually is. The cake recipe is also really good, and baking it in a bundt pan makes the final cake slightly crisp on the outside while soft on the inside. The only downside to this cake was that the guava flavor wasn’t very strong; if I were to try this again, I’d probably soak the entire cake in guava syrup instead of just making an outer glaze. But that being said, this cake was still delicious.

The Hate U Give (and red velvet cheesecake brownies that are somehow related to the book)

The book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Earlier this month, I read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a 16-year old girl who is trying to fit into two separate worlds – one, the poor black neighborhood where she lives, and the other the rich white prep school she attends – when she witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend by a white police officer. As the story gains media attention, Starr copes with the trauma of losing her best friend, while also figuring out how much she – as the only witness – should publicly say about the shooting.

I loved The Hate U Give – it was one of those intensely engaging novels that I immediately loved and never wanted to put down. One reason why the book is so engaging is because the main character, Starr, is instantly relatable and likable: she is shy and feels awkward and unsure of her place in the world, but she is also sincere and thinks for herself. Another thing that makes The Hate U Give engaging is the plot. The initial shooting happens early on in the novel, and from there on the book is filled with page-turning events including heated family discussions, protests against police violence, and even high school dances.

While some people might feel desensitized to issues of police violence and racism in America, Angie Thomas does an amazing and responsible job of taking on these issues. By writing the novel from the perspective of a young girl who has lost friends (plural!) to police violence, Thomas allows the reader to understand Starr’s heartbreak and trauma. And since Starr is such a likable character, it is especially easy to empathize with her.

Despite tackling hard-hitting issues, The Hate U Give never feels excessively preachy. The book is full of “teachable moments,” but they are not forced or corny – they feel genuine. Examples of this include Starr’s dad explaining to her how racism is a systemic problem, and Starr explaining to her classmate Hailey how well-intentioned people can still say racist things. I liked these moments not only for the moral lessons they teach, but also because they demonstrated that it IS perfectly reasonable to have genuine and meaningful conversations about racism as part of everyday conversation.

Something that surprised me about The Hate U Give was that it was hilarious at times! The way Starr and her siblings – Sekani and Seven – tease each other is so funny; anybody who grew up with siblings will probably laugh out loud reading these passages. I also found a lot of humor in some of Starr’s painfully relatable teenage behaviors, such as praying that her mom will allow her to miss a day of school.

All in all, I absolutely loved The Hate U Give. It takes the subjects of racism and police violence in America, and makes them so much more real to an audience who might otherwise only see these topics as abstract. The book is also full of sincere teachable moments that are insightful and helpful, but never forced. I can’t recommend this book enough!

The bake: red velvet cheesecake brownies.

I didn’t immediately want to bake after reading the The Hate U Give, because it was a pretty heavy book. But a couple of weeks have passed since I finished the book, and I’m ready to celebrate this amazing novel with a bake! The Hate U Give references Mrs. Rooks’ red velvet cake a couple times (it is Starr’s uncle’s absolute favorite dessert) – so I decided to also make a red velvet based dessert.

Instead of a cake, though, I made red velvet cheesecake brownies following this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I followed the recipe almost exactly, with the only difference being that I used pink gel food coloring instead of red (my local grocery store didn’t have red!), which resulted in the brownies having a milder color. Also, I didn’t use any type of mixer for the brownies – I just waited for the cream cheese to reach room temperature and was able to mix it by hand.

These brownies were so good! Red velvet and cream cheese are a classic flavor combination for good reason: the tanginess of the cream cheese mixture perfectly complements the sweetness of chocolatey red velvet. And putting that flavor combination into fudgey, moist brownies: such a good idea! Although these brownies probably couldn’t rival Mrs. Rooks’ (fictional) red velvet cake, they are still incredibly satisfying – a definite close second.

Red, White & Royal Blue (and an almond cake of those colors)

The book: Red, White & Royal Blue.

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading the wonderful romantic comedy that is Red, White & Royal Blue. The premise of the book is that after a PR nightmare, frenemies Alex (first son of the United States) and Henry (Prince of England) stage a fake friendship to improve their public image. As the two spend forced time together, they actually become quite close and develop romantic feelings for each other. Both being major public figures in their respective countries, Alex and Henry must figure out if they can actually be together.

I really enjoyed Red, White & Royal Blue, and one reason why is the characters. The “White House trio,” Prince Henry, and many of the White House staff are all amazing role models: clever, capable, open-minded, and possessing a strong sense of self. They are also all so much more than just their professional role, especially the White House trio and Prince Henry. I got the sense that these young characters would be still be successful and making a difference in the world even if they weren’t the children of famous world leaders.

This message – that the characters are so much more than just an extension of their famous parents – is actually what’s at the core of this book. As Alex and Henry become romantically involved, they start to imagine themselves as more than just young public figures, and contemplate if a different life – one where they can just be themselves – is a realistic possibility given their circumstances. I really love this message because it is encouraging and inspirational to young readers who could also be struggling with sense of self.

Red, White & Royal Blue is also full of inspiring social and political messages. First, the book takes place in an alternate reality where a woman was elected president of the United States in 2016 after Obama’s term. The novel also describes LGBTQ+ characters really well. Several characters besides Alex and Henry are not straight, and this is a universally understood fact about them, and there’s not much more to it than that. For example: Nora (the vice president’s daughter) is bisexual and that is a part of her identity, but it’s also not the only or most important part of her identity, so her sexuality is mentioned but not fixated on. I think this is important because it demonstrates that sexuality is diverse, and that this should just be accepted without being a big deal.

My one critique of Red, White & Royal Blue is that – while uplifting – it feels wildly unrealistic. Without spoiling too much, this book ends on a positive note (rom-com lovers, rejoice!) – but one that feels more idealistic than realistic. Actually, the entire fictional universe in which a woman Democrat becomes POTUS in 2016 just felt like wishful thinking. I think that is intentional on the author’s part, but I have complicated feelings about escapism which is probably why the idealistic nature of this book didn’t always sit well with me.

All in all, I recommend Red, White & Royal Blue. It is a fun rom-com of a novel, but it also depicts important social, political, and philosophical issues. Also, I hardly touched on this above, but the book is also funny! The characters are razor-sharp, and the way they (playfully and lovingly) tease each other is both clever and hilarious. If you are a looking for an uplifting book to read this summer, Red, White & Royal Blue is a great option.

The bake: red, white, and blue cherry-almond cake.

To celebrate Red, White & Royal Blue, I baked a cake of those colors (and with pink frosting, as an ode to the book’s cover). Cake was a fitting bake for this novel, because the PR nightmare that forces Henry and Alex to become “fake friends” for publicity purposes involves them accidentally destroying a fancy cake. Making the cake colorful was important to me, too, because one of the major themes of this book is expressing yourself and being bold.

To make the cake, I took this recipe from My Name Is Yeh (leaving out the sprinkles, and switching the proportions of almond and vanilla extract), and frosted it with a homemade honey cream cheese frosting. I sandwiched the cake with frosting and fresh cherries, and then topped it with even more cherries.

The interior of the cake. It turned out to be pink, white, and blue – but it still looks pretty cool.

I am so happy with this cake! The interior of the cake ended up being “pink” white and blue (no red), but it still looks awesome; this might actually be the most aesthetically pleasing cake I have ever made. Also, it tastes really good. Cherry and almond go so well together, and the fresh cherries that I used are full of flavor. And since the cake uses egg whites instead of eggs, it is light and airy and not too dense. So to summarize, the cake is colorful, aesthetically pleasing, full of flavor, and not too dense: basically, the perfect bake to celebrate Red, White & Royal Blue.

The final cake! So aesthetically pleasing!

My Sister, The Serial Killer (plus, dainty, delicate treats for a deadly book)

The book: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

The latest book I finished is yet another novel from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite tells the story of two sisters: Ayoolah, the beautiful golden child with an unfortunate habit of murdering her boyfriends out of “self defense,” and Korede, the under-appreciated sister who helps Ayoolah clean up her messes (both literally and figuratively).

The premise of this book may seem a bit silly, but My Sister, The Serial Killer is actually a wonderfully thought-provoking novel! It is surprisingly deep, tackling topics of family, loyalty, and how people respond to trauma. But even if you were read this book without looking past the surface, it would still be an interesting and thrilling read. Several intriguing questions are raised early on in the book, and you will find yourself turning pages to resolve these mysteries. For example: Will Ayoolah and Korede be caught for their most recent murder? Will Ayoolah ever be found out for who she really is? Will Korede continue to clean up after and cover for her little sister? Is Ayoolah an innocent person acting in self-defense, or is she a sociopath?

Going beyond the surface, My Sister, The Serial Killer raises much deeper philosophical issues about loyalty and morality. I found myself wrestling with what the “right” thing would be for Korede to do in her situation. Should she be disloyal to family and turn Ayoolah in for her murders? Or should she protect her sister, and in the process knowingly put more men at risk for murder? I am firm in my answer to that question, but I won’t share it here, because…

…the last thing I want to say about My Sister, The Serial Killer was that I was disappointed with the ending. This isn’t to say that the ending felt like a let-down or weak writing on the author’s part. The ending was well-written like the rest of the book – I just happen to strongly disagree with the choice that Korede made. That being said, My Sister The Serial Killer was an intriguing and surprisingly thought-provoking read, and I do not in any way regret reading it.

The bake: lavender macarons.

In My Sister, The Serial Killer, Ayoolah (the serial killer) is constantly being courted by men, and there are several scenes where suitors show up at her house with flowers. In tribute to that, I decided to bake something floral. Floral desserts are often seen as feminine and dainty, too, which makes a floral bake the perfect antidote to the sinister novel of My Sister, The Serial Killer.

The specific bake floral bake that I decided on was lavender macarons! How lovely and delicate and unlike the novel that inspired this bake! I followed this recipe for the macarons, but instead of making the honey buttercream I just filled the macaron shells with raspberry jam.

Macarons are notoriously difficult, but this recipe does an excellent job of spelling out the steps needed to bake them successfully. Some of my macarons cracked, and not all of them achieved “feet” at the base of the cookie…but they taste so good! Macarons are normally quite sweet, and the addition of lavender brings a pleasant sharpness to the dessert. I suspect I’ll make this recipe many more times in the future!

The final product: two macaron shells sandwiched with raspberry jam.

Normal People (and better-than-normal boozy, caffeinated milkshakes)

The book: Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Even though the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced, I am still reading some of the long-listed books. Most recently, I read Normal People by Sally Rooney. Normal People is the story of two young adults, Marianne and Connell, who share an intimate but secret relationship in high-school, and are never quite able to let each other go.

Normal People is a novel that is driven by its characters. The characters are complex, heartbreaking, and frustrating – or, in other words, painfully realistic. The most frustrating and heartbreaking character is Marianne, who deals with her internalized pain by entering into risky relationships. Watching her make one harmful decision after another was so painful, but I had to keep rooting for her and reading to see if she would recognize or address the deeper issues.

Also heartbreaking and frustrating to read were the tensions that arose between Marianne and Connell, because they could have been resolved so easily with just slightly better communication. In fact, the theme of communication comes up repeatedly throughout Normal People. From Connell and Marianne becoming closer each time one of them shares deeply personal information, to their completely unnecessary fights over perceived intentions, Normal People shows the importance of good communication in a healthy relationship.

Normal People also provides a lot of commentary on relationships and dependence. Throughout the novel, I questioned the healthiness of the various relationships that were depicted. Some of the relationships are clearly unhealthy, while others are more ambiguous. Ultimately, I think this novel shows that no relationship is perfect, and that the timing of a relationship plays a major role in whether it will work: two people can be wrong for each other at certain points in their life, but still have a healthy relationship later on, and vice versa.

Normal People is a completely engrossing read, and it can easily be binged in a single-day. Parts of this novel are heartbreaking, yet the story is so compelling and addictive. The only times I put this book down were to process the emotions that it made me feel (and also sometimes to cry, because it really made me feel things).

The bake*: boozy hazelnut latte milkshakes

*this recipe does not actually involve baking

Two foods that appear throughout Normal People are coffee and alcohol. Because of this, I decided to make something that would incorporate both. And because I’m apparently going through a milkshake phase right now, I decided to incorporate them in the form of a spiked hazelnut latte milkshake.

I didn’t follow a recipe for this milkshake; I kind of just experimented until I liked the taste and consistency. Here are the ingredients I ended up using (to make two small-ish servings):

  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup oat milk
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • ~2 tablespoons hazelnut liquer (optional)
  • Pinch of cinnamon

After that I topped with whipped cream and espresso powder, mostly for aesthetic purposes. The milkshake had a great hazelnut-coffee flavor, and I honestly couldn’t taste the alcohol in it (which could be good, or dangerous, or both). I guess you could say it tasted…normal! Just kidding! It is better than normal 🙂

(tahini milkshakes inspired by) Milkman

The book: Milkman by Anna Burns.

Earlier this week, I read Milkman by Anna Burns. Milkman tells the story of an 18-year old girl being stalked by a paramilitary man known as “Milkman” in the tense political climate of Ireland in the 1970’s. As Milkman becomes more persistent with his advances, rumors spread and lead to life-altering consequences for our unnamed narrator.

Compared to other fiction novels I’ve read recently, Milkman is a challenging read. The writing style wasn’t easily comprehensible to me, especially at first, and I found myself having to re-read sentences frequently. Also, some of the paragraphs in this novel are incredibly long. As in, there are paragraphs that span entire pages, or even three full-pages.

I also found Milkman to be a slow read: both in terms of how long it took me to finish the book, and also the pace at which the plot moves. A lot of Milkman isn’t active plot, but rather the narrator explaining events that previously happened in her town, or giving lengthy backstory about community members. I honestly found that background information to be annoying at first – I didn’t see its relevance – but I eventually came to understand and appreciate the way that these seemingly “irrelevant” details help to paint a very precise portrait of the culture and mindset of her community.

To me, Anna Burns’ ability to create this realistically detailed fictional world was the biggest strength of Milkman. Nearly every detail in the novel reinforces the strictness and tension of the community, and the self-conscious, repressed, and suspicious nature of its citizens. Surprisingly, I often found myself noticing parallels between the narrator’s community and modern-day America (though the latter is definitely not as repressed or tightly controlled as the fictional community described in Milkman).

The last thing that I want to touch on is how funny Milkman was. It took me a while to realize it, but amidst the darkness of this novel there is actually a lot of humor! Burns writes the conversation of gossipy, judgmental shit-starters in a way that hilariously calls them out on their “unintentional” drama-stirring. She also writes the monologues of the narrator’s overbearing mother in a way that is simultaneously funny and infuriating.

Overall, I liked Milkman, but it’s a book that takes time to get into. It is a dense read, but it’s worth the challenge of reading and re-reading paragraphs, because the book provides a moving glimpse into a rigid and repressed society where inaction and obliviousness have unfortunate consequences.

The (not-quite) bake: tahini milkshakes.

Recently, I’ve started going through books at a much quicker pace than usual. Normally, I read two or three books in a given month, but in just the past two weeks I have read four books. Why am I telling you this? Because my accelerated reading pace means that it’s currently not feasible for me to bake something for every book that I complete.

So, for Milkman, instead of baking something I decided to make something much simpler. I went the obvious route of making something milk-based, and decided upon milkshakes. Specifically, I made these tahini milkshakes from Molly Yeh’s amazing food blog (using oat milk instead of regular milk, though).

Approximately 6 oz of creamy tahini perfection!

Milkshakes are straightforward to make, and these tahini milkshakes were no exception: you simply measure the ingredients and blend everything together. In addition to being easy to make, these milkshakes taste amazing! They have a pleasant, but not overpowering, tahini flavor, and they are not excessively sweet. Also, the serving size of these milkshakes is pretty small, making this treat refreshing and indulgent…but not too indulgent. I would say that this tahini milkshake recipe is the perfect accompaniment to Milkman but, honestly, it’s just a perfect summer treat regardless of what it’s accompanying.

An American Marriage (plus, the blackberry jam cake from Celestial and Roy’s rehearsal dinner)

The book: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Last week, I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. An American Marriage tells the story of Celestial and Roy, a newlywed couple whose marriage is put to the test when Roy is sentenced to thirteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The novel shows the effects of Roy’s incarceration on the relationship from the perspective of three characters: Roy, Celestial, and Celestial’s childhood friend Andre.

The chapters of An American Marriage are alternatingly told from the perspectives of each of the three main characters. This technique only works when characters are well-developed, and in An American Marriage they absolutely were. The different perspectives allowed me to gain a more nuanced understanding of situations and relationships, and (usually) to empathize better with each character. I say that the differing perspectives usually elicited empathy, because there were some passages written from Roy’s perspective that made my blood boil. Celestial and Andre often omit or sugarcoat Roy’s undesirable characteristics (egotism and entitlement, to name a couple), so reading chapters from his perspective made me like him much less than I would have if his perspective hadn’t been written at all. But this makes the story more complete, more realistic.

An American Marriage illustrates many contemporary societal issues, and is probably meant to encourage discussion of those issues. With the plot revolving around the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent black man, racism of course plays a major role in the novel. Maybe even more prominent than racism in America, however, is the issue of toxic masculinity. Many of my frustrations with Roy are the result of his outdated ideas about gender roles in relationships. Roy is not solely to blame for his sexist views, however, because these ideas are clearly pervasive in the community where he grew up.

In addition to addressing pertinent social issues, An American Marriage also brings up philosophical questions about relationships and marriage. This novel left me broadly considering the institution of marriage, and what it means to commit to another person forever in a rapidly changing world. I have also been questioning whether Celestial and Roy’s relationship was destroyed by Roy’s imprisonment, or if it was simply a bad relationship that would have failed regardless.

Overall, An American Marriage was an incredible read and I highly recommend it. Parts of the plot might make your blood boil, but that speaks to the book’s ability to pull you in!

The bake: blackberry jam cake.

All my previous bakes have been loosely inspired by books, but this bake comes pretty directly from An American Marriage. At Celestial’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner, her mother Gloria makes a blackberry jam cake with “the aroma of rum, cloves, and cinnamon.” This blackberry jam cake is so special that not only did Celestial’s husband Roy request it as his groom’s cake, but it also played a role in Gloria’s courtship of Celestial’s father!

I followed this recipe for blackberry jam cake (omitting the golden raisins), and frosted it using this white chocolate frosting. Something to note about the cake recipe is that the bake time is pretty long, which may be the result of the jam in the batter. Also, because of the various textures in this cake (i.e. the chopped walnut chunks), it is a bit tricky to get a smooth frosting coat over it. Other than that, it is a straightforward cake.

I had been thinking about decorating the cake with walnuts and blackberries, as I recently adopted the philosophy that cake decorations should be reflective of what’s inside the cake. Unfortunately, I forgot to buy fresh blackberries this weekend, so I ended up decorating the cake only with walnuts.

This cake is very good: the jam keeps it moist, the spices give it a complex flavor, and the walnuts add more texture. I had a hard time picking up the blackberry flavor – the cake tasted like a sweet spice cake to me – but I still like it. In all of its complexity, this is the perfect cake to represent An American Marriage.

The Pisces (and donuts to satisfy her cravings)

The book: The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

This weekend, I binge-read The Pisces by Melissa Broder. I heard a lot of buzz about this novel, because many book bloggers that I follow have already reviewed it. Between their (mostly) glowing reviews, and the book’s appearance on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, I was really eager to read The Pisces. The basic premise of the book is that Lucy, a 9th-year PhD student, breaks up with her non-committal boyfriend of 8 years, causing her to fall into a severe depression. A couple of “episodes” result in her spending the summer in California dog-sitting for her older sister, while attempting to fill her emptiness with sex and relationships.

My first impression of The Pisces was that the narrator’s worldview was pretty disturbing. Lucy is simultaneously emotionally needy and emotionally unavailable, which results in her being infatuated with love and sex, yet also never satisfied in relationships. She is also impulsive and selfish, and routinely abandons all progress toward a healthy mental state at even the slightest hint of a potential romance. Still, I could not help but root for Lucy to break her destructive relationship patterns and make healthier choices. This was part of the addictive allure of The Pisces: Lucy is frustrating, but she is also believable and she’s somebody that you want to be okay in the end.

What I found most interesting about Lucy was that despite being disturbed and depressed, she is still a pretty reliable narrator. In some ways, Lucy deludes herself into thinking that her lifestyle of seeking romance is sustainable, but she also has some awareness that she is deluding herself: “There was something about the morning of a date that tricked me…It punctured the nothingness. Now I felt passion and love for everything.”

This brings me to my favorite thing about The Pisces: Lucy’s profound and relatable descriptions of existential despair. Melissa Broder did such a beautiful job of articulating the despair and confusion that is felt yet unspoken among many, like in this scene where Lucy talks to her sister’s dog while she is sick: “I heard myself talking to the dog, and it reminded me that I existed. Existence always looked like something other than I thought it would.” Or in this scene, where Lucy reflects on her need for romance: “Was it ever real: the way we felt about another person? Or was it always a projection of something we needed or wanted regardless of them?”

While I personally enjoyed The Pisces, I should point out that it is NOT for everyone! Lucy’s impulsive and destructive behavior could be very triggering for some readers, especially those who struggle with sex and love addiction, borderline personality disorder, or severe depression. There are also a couple disturbing scenes involving animal neglect, and several extremely graphic sex scenes. So those are all things to keep in mind before reading this book! But with those caveats, I still enjoyed and would recommend this book.

The bake: matcha green tea donuts

At the beginning of The Pisces, when Lucy has just broken up with her boyfriend and is severely depressed, she craves donuts and drives to buy them while under the influence of Ambien. It is this donut-incident that indirectly results in her spending the summer in California and spinning out. My bake for The Pisces is a tribute to that “donut-incident”: matcha green tea donuts with chocolate glaze. (Note: the flavor of the donut isn’t symbolic of anything in the book; I just recently bought a lovely matcha powder and wanted to use it in baking).

Matcha green tea donuts, glazed in chocolate and dusted with a bit of matcha powder.

To make the donuts, I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour, but I replaced the nutmeg with matcha powder (and also used oat-milk instead of buttermilk, since that is what I had in my kitchen). Then, I glazed the donuts with the chocolate glaze recipe shown here (also from KAF) and sprinkled a bit of matcha powder over them.

These donuts turned out wonderfully! I was worried that the matcha flavor might not come through, but it absolutely did! These were definitely good enough to satisfy my own donut cravings, so hopefully they will be satisfying to others as well. I plan to hand deliver these treats to my neighbors so, unlike in the novel, there should be no incidents of driving under the influence involved with these donuts. 😉

Donuts are best enjoyed with a good book and a cup of chocolate oat milk!

Boom Town (and the strawberry celebration cake it inspired me to make)

The book: Boom Town by Sam Anderson.

After nearly four weeks, I finally finished reading Boom Town by Sam Anderson. The book is a non-fiction account of the history and culture of Oklahoma City. From the city’s wild founding in 1889, to the dynamic of its professional basketball team (the Oklahoma City Thunder), to the professional and personal lives of famous Oklahomans, Boom Town truly covers it all.

400 pages of historical non-fiction about a medium-big city in an overlooked region of the United States might sound questionable; I was certainly skeptical at first of how interesting this book could actually be. But Boom Town quickly exceeded my expectations of it. I kept asking myself: “is the story of Oklahoma City really this interesting? Or is Sam Anderson just an amazing writer and story-teller?” The answer, I think, is both.

From the beginning of the book, Sam Anderson’s writing is captivating, punchy, and often humorous. Historical non-fiction can be dense, but Anderson finds ways to lighten it, like when he adds this detail about the first night that settlers moved into Oklahoma City: “centipedes swarmed all over the place, wondering what the f*** was going on.”

Anderson also keeps the story engaging by jumping from one sub-story to another. For example: the first chapter is a (surprisingly interesting) overview of Oklahoma City, the second chapter focuses on a (former) player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then the third chapter switches back to general information about the city. I appreciated this technique, because it helped break up the dense history of Oklahoma City into more digestible pieces. A few chapters focused on aspects of Oklahoma City that seemed irrelevant to the story at the time they were introduced, but Sam Anderson brilliantly connects all the different aspects of Oklahoma City in the last quarter of the book. Everything is interconnected, even if it isn’t immediately clear how.

My only critiques of Boom Town are the following: 1) Sam Anderson doesn’t use footnotes or endnotes to cite his references, and 2) he writes about his personal impressions of famous Oklahomans as though they are objective characterizations. Specifically, I disliked how Anderson was obsessed with finding flaws and secret “not-niceness” in NBA-player Kevin Durant, yet didn’t address any of the nuances in the character of weatherman Gary England (in my opinion, England seems grouchy and disgruntled).

Overall, Boom Town is a great book. It isn’t a quick read, but I wholeheartedly recommend taking the time to read it. The saga of Oklahoma City will leave you sighing in exasperation, laughing out loud, scratching your head, and – when you read the chapter “9:02” – weeping.

The bake: strawberry celebration cake.

For Boom Town, I baked a strawberry sprinkle cake, which is fitting for the book in a couple of ways. First, strawberry is the official fruit of Oklahoma. Second, and more importantly, a sprinkle cake captures the celebratory boom-or-bust spirit of Oklahoma City that was portrayed throughout Boom Town. (Also, there are good things going on in my personal life right now, so the cake was a nice way to celebrate that.)

To make the strawberry cake, I used this recipe from Beth Cakes, but I baked it in two 9″ round pans instead of the 9×13″ rectangle pan as stated in the recipe. I also added approximately 3 tablespoons of sprinkles into the cake batter. I frosted the cake using my own improvised strawberry cream cheese frosting recipe, sandwiched the two cakes with frosting and fresh strawberries, and decorated the cake with more sprinkles.

The frosted cake. I accidentally started assembling and frosting the cake while it was still on the cooling rack!

My only criticism of the cake is that it didn’t actually taste strongly of strawberries! One possible explanation is that the strawberries I used were underripe, and therefore didn’t add much strawberry flavor to the cake. That being said, the cake still tasted really good! It was buttery and rich, and the fresh strawberries and strawberry cream cheese frosting definitely carried lots of strawberry flavor. Overall, this was a very fun cake to make (and eat and share), especially after not baking for nearly a month!

A generous slice that shows: the sprinkle cake, the strawberry cream cheese filling with fresh strawberries, and frosting and sprinkles on top.

(donuts inspired by the cover of) Thick

The book: Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

This week I finished Thick: And Other Essays by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. Thick is a collection of essays that explore what it is to be a black woman in America. Each essay looks at how race intersects with aspects of society including socioeconomic status, profession, and ethnicity.

My first impression of Thick was that the writing style was academic and formal; this wasn’t entirely surprising since Dr. McMillan Cottom is an academic (she is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University). Although the writing is formal at times, Dr. McMillan Cottom also writes poetically and accessibly throughout Thick. She perfectly sprinkles personal anecdotes throughout her essays, allowing the reader to connect abstract ideas to real peoples’ lived experiences.

I also found Thick to be enlightening and profound. Some people told me that Thick didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know, but that was not my experience. This could be a reflection of my lack of expertise in the field of sociology, or perhaps my ignorance as a white woman in America (or, more likely, a combination of both). But even when Thick tackled concepts that I already understood at some level, I felt like I was learning something new: Dr. McMillan Cottom really dissects and examines the nuances of race in America, allowing me (and probably other readers) to process information and expand upon my perspectives that were previously shallow or one-dimensional.

So much of Thick was eye-opening and memorable, but one of the concepts that stuck with me most was that capitalism and racism serve each other in a positive feedback loop. This is tackled in the chapter “In the Name of Beauty,” where McMillan Cottom explains how “beauty isn’t actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that reproduce the existing social order” (the same is true of most “lifestyle” preferences that are promoted by capitalism).

The other idea that stuck strongly with me was one that I already knew (in a shallow way) prior to reading Thick: that white men are more likely to be seen as competent in America, regardless of their level of expertise or their actual competence. Not only are white men viewed as competent, but social order forces women and people of color (especially women of color) into situations where they are likely to fail, resulting in people of power treating them as incompetent. This is explored in much more depth in the chapter “Dying to be Competent.” A major takeaway from this chapter was the importance of listening to people other than white men, especially women and non-binary people of color: because their social status often forces them into positions of less power, it is especially important that we do listen and take them seriously.

Overall, I highly recommend Thick. Dr. McMillan Cottom uses the perfect blend of academic and prosaic writing to illustrate issues of race in America. You can read an excerpt from the chapter “Dying to be Competent” here.

The bake: spice cake donuts with chocolate glaze.

I had a tough time choosing a bake inspired by Thick, mostly because the essays describing systemic racism in America (which I benefit from) did not exactly fuel my appetite for sweets. Eventually, I decided that I would make a shareable treat inspired by the cover of Thick. I ended up settling on donuts glazed with chocolate, and then drizzled with white and pink icing (to resemble the white and pink writing on the dark cover of the book).

The finished donut, next to the book cover that inspired it.

I baked these cake donuts from King Arthur Flour, then iced them in this chocolate glaze (also from KAF). I modified the donut recipe by adding a bit of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. Once the donuts were glazed and cool, I melted some white chocolate chips and drizzled that mixture over the donuts to get the finished, decorated donut. The pink drizzle is just the melted white chocolate with a drop of pink gel food coloring.

My verdict on the donuts is that they are tasty, but definitely not as “aesthetically pleasing” as I had wanted. I am okay with this, because as Dr. McMillan Cottom points out in “In the Name of Beauty,” beauty is a construct. What matters most to me is that the donuts taste good (which they do), so that my friends and co-workers can enjoy them.