(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.

Month in review: May 2019

May was a crazy month. Like, truly insane. I embarked on a major move, so – between packing, driving 1000 miles, unpacking, organizing the new apartment, and also finding a new job – there wasn’t too much spare time, especially during the first half of the month. I still managed to do some reading and baking, though – take a look below!

Books read:

Somehow, I finished three books amidst the craziness of May! The books were:

It’s hard to compare these books to each other, especially because Boom Town is so different (historical non-fiction) from The Pisces and An American Marriage (contemporary fiction). I liked each of these books for different reasons, but An American Marriage was probably my favorite. I haven’t posted about An American Marriage yet, but a more detailed review is coming soon!

Bakes inspired by the books:

I baked twice this month, with both of those bakes inspired by books. For Boom Town, I made a strawberry sprinkle cake; and for The Pisces, I baked matcha green tea donuts inspired by Lucy’s “doughnut incident” early on in the novel. I haven’t baked anything yet for An American Marriage, but will do that sometime this weekend.

Books in progress/reading goals for next month:

I’m currently reading Milkman by Anna Burns (current progress: about one third of the way through). My impression, so far, is that this book is unlike anything I’ve read before, and I’m not quite sure if I like it. I also plan to read Normal People by Sally Rooney this month. I’ve heard so many great things about this novel – from reviewers I follow here to the employees at my local bookstore – so I’m really excited for that read. Normal People will likely be a quick read, but I haven’t yet decided what to read after that. Maybe more books from the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist? Or maybe just ANY other books from my exponentially-growing TBR list?

(some of the) blog posts that I loved:

(a few of) my favorite photos from this month:

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.

East coast road trip

The past 10 days have been a complete whirlwind. In these 10 days, I packed up my 1-bedroom apartment, loaded my belongings into my car and shipping boxes, drove 1000 miles from the southeastern to northeastern United States (with wonderful company), began unpacking, and had a job interview in my new location.

One thing that made this transition feel less chaotic was turning the 1000-mile drive into a mini-vacation. Time and money were both limiting factors, but my fiancé and I still managed to stop (even if just for a few hours) in the following places:

  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Alexandria, Virginia
  • Bergen County, New Jersey (not pictured)
  • New York, New York

All the stops provided much-welcome breaks from driving, and the opportunity to explore unfamiliar places. If anyone here is ever planning a large-scale move, I highly recommend driving it (with at least one other person – I don’t recommend driving large distances alone!) and exploring and adventuring along the way!

Here are some pictures from my East coast road trip adventure:

Mystery Blogger Award

Thanks to Reasons2Stay for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award! Reasons2Stay writes a refreshingly honest personal blog, which includes great food for thought and daily doses of positivity.

How the Mystery Blogger Award works:

-List the rules.
-Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
-Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
-You have to nominate others
-Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
-Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice

Three things about myself:

  1. I am in the process of a major move (currently ~800 miles into a ~1000 mile road trip)!
  2. I recently started doing yoga to help with anxiety and insomnia, but it has also made me stronger and more flexible.
  3. I’m indecisive by nature, so I’m having a difficult time choosing a third fact!

Q&A:

  1. How long have you been in your blogging journey? Since December 2018.
  2. Do you like comics, if you do which one is your favorite? I love PhD comics!
  3. Do you think we are alone in the universe? Probably not! The universe is vast, so the possibilities for life beyond Earth (including life forms that we humans wouldn’t necessarily recognize as “life”) are also vast.
  4. Shower or bath? Shower all the way.
  5. London or Paris? Can I pick both?! I haven’t been to either, but would happily visit either or both.

My nominations:

I will nominate the following bloggers for the Mystery Blogger Award 🙂

Questions for my nominees:

  1. What book, movie, or TV show has changed your life?
  2. What combination of three fictional characters do you think describes yourself?
  3. Have you ever overcome a major fear? How did you do it?
  4. What has been the best day of 2019 for you so far? Why?
  5. What is your guilty pleasure?

Month in review: April 2019

Hi readers! I’ve decided to start adding “month in review” posts to my blog. The main purpose of these posts is to keep myself accountable for reaching my reading goals. I’ll also be posting a bit about my personal life, as things going on in my personal life affect how much I read in a given month. Also, I have really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ posts that offer glimpses into their lives, so I wanted to do the same. Let’s review April 2019!

Books read:

In April I finished two books: Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper and Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Both books are collections of essays written by highly educated academics, and both teeter the line between academic essay and personal memoir. I loved both books (I actually rated them both as 5-star books on Goodreads), but I might like Thick ever-so-slightly better because it taught me more and challenged me to see certain issues from a new perspective.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I wrote a “books and bakes” post for each of the books mentioned above. For Hard to Love, I baked a coffee-flavored cake with raspberry jam filling and mocha buttercream. For Thick, I baked chai spice donuts with chocolate icing. Both bakes turned out well, but neither were as “aesthetically pleasing” as I would have liked (something to work on and improve over time). The donuts were the better of the two bakes, but I may be biased since I’m a sucker for anything chai-spiced.

Books in progress/reading goals for next month:

At the end of April I started reading Boom Town, a non-fiction book about the history and culture of Oklahoma City. For several reasons, I was skeptical about the book before I started it…but after reading the introduction I was hooked. I’m really excited to finish reading Boom Town and write about it here. After Boom Town, I hope to read one (maybe two, but that’s not necessarily realistic because May is going to be INSANE) more book in the month of May. Specifically, I’m hoping to tackle a couple books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist (yes, I know that the shortlist has been announced – but the book that I most want to read didn’t make the shortlist).

Blog posts that I loved:

There is so much great content out there in the blogosphere that I can’t list every awesome post that I’ve come across. But that being said, these four posts might have been my favorites of April:

Naty’s Bookshelf reviewed Daisy Jones and the Six (a book that I was intentionally resisting because I am inherently skeptical of hyped-up books)…now the book is in my TBR.

Literary Lizard reviewed The Island of Sea Women and left the review on a cliffhanger, so I definitely plan to read that too!

Pointless Overthinking posted a short, motivational essay about thinking of ourselves as seeds growing through dirt, which is a beautiful way to think about adverse or stressful moments in life as transformative and positive.

And Dopamine Queen posted about how being an “attention seeker” can actually be a good thing.

Anything else?

  • I am officially a master of science! I defended my thesis ~4 weeks ago and submitted the official paperwork last week!
  • I’ve been getting back into a good exercise routine (necessary for maintaining my sanity during busy/stressful times), so I’m really happy about that.
  • I’m about to move ~1,000 miles away (will probably post more about that later this month) – it is an exciting and busy (and also slightly terrifying) time!

(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.

(a raspberry mocha cake that isn’t) Hard to Love

The book: Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper.

I am currently going through a non-fiction phase, and Hard to Love by Briallen Hopper was the first book I read as part of this phase. Hard to Love is a compilation of essays, each of which tackles the topic of love in its various forms. Hopper writes about friendships, sisterhood, and the ways in which these bonds can form.

Hard to Love is a joy to read because Briallen Hopper is an exceptional writer. She is able to articulate her perspectives so well that, by the end of the book, I almost felt as though I knew her. Because Hopper expresses her points of view so eloquently, it is easy to empathize with her. Even when I didn’t necessarily agree with Hopper, I was able to consider new perspectives with so much more compassion. For example, in the chapter “Hoarding,” Hopper defends the practice of hoarding as a means of remembering others by holding on to their physical possessions. I doubt I’ll ever be pro-hoarding, but after reading this essay I no longer feel much negative judgment toward those who do hoard.

In addition to being beautifully written, Hard to Love is refreshing. Our society places so much value on romantic love that other types of love are often-overlooked, despite being equally (if not more) important. In “Lean On,” Hopper argues that it is okay to be dependent on friendships, explaining how she “learned to practice mutual, broadly distributed leaning: to depend on care that was neither compulsory nor conditional” with her friends. In “Young Adult Cancer Story” and “Coasting,” she writes about being part of a close-knit friend-group that formed over a mutual friend’s cancer diagnosis. In “Dear Octopus” and “On Sisters,” she discusses how familial relationships are complex, yet “sustain [themselves] through things that can end or prevent intimate friendships.”

All Hopper’s essays are thoughtful and gorgeously written, but my personal favorites were “Lean On” and “Tending My Oven,” probably because both instantly resonated with me. I loved “Lean On,” because it perfectly expressed my own love for constructing and maintaining meaningful “friendship shells” and “structures of togetherness” with others. “Tending My Oven,” an exploration of why people bake, at times felt like it was written for me (I know that it wasn’t): in this essay, Hopper explains how baking can both “[allow us] to be warm and sweet in a world that so often isn’t, and provide “a space of authenticity and generosity.” These were the chapters that resonated with me the most, but let me reiterate that all of Hopper’s essays are wonderful – even her ideas that don’t resonate with everyone are very thoughtfully written.

By the way, you can read the essay “Lean On” on Longreads!

The bake: (four-layer) raspberry mocha cake

As I mentioned above, Hopper’s essay “Tending My Oven” – an exploration of the practice of baking – strongly resonated with me. In addition to examining the reasons why some people love to bake, Hopper writes about her own favorite things to bake (which include apple bundt cake, chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter cream cheese frosting, and berry shortcake). Of all the baked goods Hopper mentions in “Tending My Oven,” the one that intrigued me most was “Seven-Layer Insomnia Cake with Bitterness Buttercream Frosting.” So I decided to make my own version of it.

To pay tribute to “insomnia,” I made my cake coffee-flavored (as coffee usually exacerbates my own tendency toward insomnia). I followed this recipe from my name is yeh, leaving out the cardamom. To pay tribute to “bitterness,” I modified the recipe’s frosting to be less sweet, and I added about 1 tbsp cocoa powder since dark chocolate, like coffee, is delightfully bitter.

The final cake: two layers of coffee cake separated by mocha buttercream frosting and raspberry jam, and covered in more mocha buttercream frosting.

The recipe that I followed yields two 9″ round cakes, and I ended up being too afraid to slice the cakes into thinner layers. So I merely sandwiched them with a layer of mocha buttercream frosting and a layer of raspberry jam in between. Then I frosted the whole thing with more mocha buttercream. So my cake has either two, four, or five layers depending on what you consider to be a “layer” in the context of cake. I consider both the frosting and jam in between the two cakes to be their own layers.

Regardless of the number of layers, this cake is great. The coffee flavor is strong, and well balanced by the raspberry jam filling. Also, because the cake is made with canola oil, it doesn’t dry out quickly. The best thing about this cake, however, was that I got to share it with coworkers, allowing me to be “warm and sweet” and to express “authenticity and generosity.”