Month in review: December 2019

Happy New Year!!! The celebration of a new year can feel like an artificial way to mark the passing of time…but that being said I truly wish everybody reading this the best in 2020. December moved very quickly for me: wrapping up the last quarter at work and celebrating the holidays with friends, families, and coworkers. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked (do I ever?) but it was a rewarding month, and 2019 was a rewarding year.

Books read:

This month, I finished reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Although dense at times, this biography provided a riveting account of the life of Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who essentially came up with the concept of ecology. Humboldt was centuries ahead of his time in his hypotheses about nature and the world, and it was amazing to learn just how many famous thinkers and scientists he influenced.

I also read The Wall by John Lanchester, a dystopian fiction novel that imagines what life might be like if serious actions aren’t taken against climate change soon. I personally loved this book, but I understand that it’s not for everyone.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I am still so back-logged on bakes. I read a ton of books in November, and my baking never caught up. Early in December, I baked cupcakes inspired by Little Fires Everywhere (a book that I read in early November) – they were chocolate flavored with passionfruit buttercream frosting, and they were delicious!

I also baked chocolate shortbread cookies with chocolate glaze last month, inspired by Ali Wong’s nonfiction book Dear Girls. These cookies were decadent and delicious, and a lot of fun to decorate.

Books in progress/up next:

I am currently reading Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. The book is a detailed, nonfiction account of the now-infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I didn’t know much about Chernobyl prior to reading this book – other than the fact that it happened – and the book provides fascinating historical context for it.

I would also like to read Circe, Mobituaries, and Girl, Woman, Other this month. I hadn’t planned on reading Circe this year – not even this spring/summer when the book was hot – but it ended up on a lot of peoples’ “top 3 books of 2019” list, so I’m curious to read it and see if it lives up to the hype. Mobituaries is a nonfiction book about people or things that are no longer with us, but who should be remembered. The author hosts an excellent podcast by the same name, so I’m really excited to read the book. And I’m interested in Girl, Woman, Other because I’ve heard very good things about it (including the fact that it won the Booker Prize).

Shout-outs to some great blog posts:

  • Chaz wrote about his experience participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – if this is something you are considering, I highly recommend his post which detailed the time and planning that goes into it
  • Ashely explained the science of herd immunity, and why it makes anti-vaxxer logic so harmful to society
  • And Aho wrote a lovely piece about the Polish mushroom dumplings known as Uszka (and the preparation that goes into making them)

Photos!

Revisiting my Autumn 2019 bucket list

At the beginning of October, I posted a list of 8 fun things that I wanted to do this Autumn. With today being the first official day of Winter, I wanted to reflect and see how I did on my “autumn bucket list.” These were items on the list:

Go apple-picking.

This is a classic autumnal New England activity, best done in September or early October (that’s when most apples are in season here). Unfortunately, I was too stressed and busy in September and early October to make the journey to an apple orchard (most of them are a 1+ hour drive from where I live), so it didn’t happen this year. Hopefully it works out better in 2020!

See “Love is Calling” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

This exhibit by Yayoi Kusama opened in Autumn, and it sounded really neat! Unfortunately, this item on the bucket list never materialized either. Fortunately, the exhibit is going to be at ICA until February, so there’s still some time to do this!

See “The Nutcracker.”

Yes! My husband and I went out on a Nutcracker date two weekends ago! The dancing, costumes, and music are all captivating and impressive individually…but the way that they all come together is what makes The Nutcracker a truly magical experience. And as a testament to how much this show stuck with me, I have been listening to the soundtrack A LOT since seeing the show.

Try a maple latte.

I sort of did this one. None of the cafes that I frequent served maple lattes on their menu this autumn…but just three days ago I found this draft maple latte at Whole Foods! It was really tasty (surprisingly not too sweet), and packed a nice caffeine punch for such a small drink. That being said, I am still on the search for a maple latte at an actual coffee shop.

Go on a hike through Fall foliage.

Yup, did this one too! Early in the Fall, I went on a walk with some friends through the local arboretum. Then, a couple weeks after that, my husband and I went on a run through a cemetery in our neighborhood (it sounds creepy, but it’s actually a really beautiful space that feels more like a park than a graveyard). And even just walking around my neighborhood, I saw lots of beautiful autumn colors (so much more vibrant in person than what my phone’s camera can capture).

Do something for Halloween.

This is another “sort-of-accomplished” bucket list item. My husband and I had a couple board-games nights with friends the week before Halloween, and we played a spooky cooperative board game (Betrayal at House on the Hill – SUCH a fun game) at those game nights. But neither of those nights were really Halloween celebrations – they were more like board games nights that happened to take place near Halloween. They were fun, though!

Do a “progressive” Autumn-themed dinner with my neighbors.

We did this! The night started with appetizers (risotto, Caprese salad, and floral cocktails) in one apartment, progressed into dinner (pasta, chili, and wine) in the next apartment, and finished with dessert (cranberry curd pie) in my apartment! This night was an absolute blast – the company, the food, and the drinks were all so nice – and I hope that this becomes a tradition among us.

Have tea-based cocktails at the library bar.

I did this one, too! My husband and I went on a date in October, where we got a tapas-style lunch downtown followed by cocktails and dessert at the library’s tea lounge. This was a cool place to experience – and the cocktails and treats were good – but I probably wouldn’t come back here (it is fancy and pricey and feels a bit touristy), except maybe to show it to somebody else who was interested.

What did you do this Autumn?! What are you looking forward to in the Winter?

Dear Girls (and dear double-chocolate cookies)

The book: Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Last month I read Dear Girls by comedian and actress Ali Wong. The book is a collection of life-lessons that Wong has learned and wishes to share with her daughters. The book covers topics such as dating, travel, and work. The stories are intimate, shocking, often filthy, and pretty funny.

I had mixed feelings about Dear Girls, but one thing that I loved about it was that it’s frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. I read Dear Girls on an airplane, and couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud while reading it. Ali Wong is an incredible stand-up comedian (if you haven’t seen her comedy, I recommend the Netflix special Baby Cobra), and also, somehow, just as hilarious as a writer.

At the same time, Dear Girls wasn’t always funny to me. I found myself surprised and even disappointed by some of the perspectives Wong shared in the book. In particular, she makes light of homelessness a lot and also tells a story whose punchline is essentially: “The guy I was dating turned out to have a personality disorder! Good thing he didn’t murder me!” So I really disliked that.

But what really turned me off of this book was the fact that Wong shares all these compelling stories about the difficulty of motherhood, and what it’s like to balance being a mom and having a career…but never mentions the fact she has a nanny! The nanny is only mentioned in passing in the husband’s afterword. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that there is anything wrong with having a nanny if you have the means, and I don’t think that having a nanny makes you any less of a parent. What I take issue with is the lack of transparency: the barely-mention of having a nanny is dishonest, and makes the book feel insincere.

All in all, I thought that Dear Girls was a funny book, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you like Ali Wong’s comedy, you will probably like her book (some of the stories are easy to imagine in her voice, which makes them even funnier). However, a few of Wong’s jokes are based upon outdated stereotypes, which is disappointing.

3 stars out of 5

The bake: chocolate cookies with chocolate glaze.

With the bake for Dear Girls, I wanted to accomplish two things. First (and perhaps obviously) I wanted to bake something inspired by the bake. And secondly, I wanted to get into the holiday spirit! So I decided to make glitzy sprinkle cookies.

For sprinkle cookies, any cookie recipe and any glaze will work. I decided to make chocolate cookies, because I already had leftover cookie dough in my freezer from the last time I made them. I decided to frost them with chocolate glaze, because I absolutely love a decadent double-chocolate dessert.

These cookies take a while to make – because the dough undergoes two separate chilling periods in the refrigerator – but the rich, chocolatey treats are well worth the wait. And the chocolate glaze on top takes these cookies to the next level; I highly recommend doing the chocolate-on-chocolate. The sprinkles don’t really add anything taste-wise, but they make the cookies look so much more festive and inviting! A glitzy, bold bake for a bold book.

(cupcakes that look like) Little Fires Everywhere

The book: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This fictional book is about a mother and daughter – Mia and Pearl – that try to settle down in a wealthy, meticulously-planned suburb in Ohio after a lifetime of moving every several months. One family in particular, the Richardsons, become especially interested in this mother-daughter duo. As Mrs. Richardson becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of Mia, she uncovers dark secrets about Mia’s past, threatening to disrupt Mia and Pearl’s newly-established life.

Little Fires Everywhere was an addictive and amazing read that managed to live up to all the hype surrounding it. The plot was thorough yet fast-moving; this book contains the perfect ratio of backstory to action. It also succeeds at hinting at soon-to-be-uncovered secrets and building suspense. The result is the perfect page-turner.

Not only was the plot of Little Fires Everywhere compelling, but so were the characters! The characters in Little Fires Everywhere are very realistic and well-developed – as a result, I developed a lot of compassion for each character (even when they were difficult or made morally questionable decisions). In fact, I think part of what made the novel so addictive was this deep understanding of each character, which made me root for them and want to see their individual stories play out positively (all the while knowing that not every character’s story would).

I would classify Little Fires Everywhere as a drama, but it went surprisingly deep, touching on complex moral issues. One of the major questions that this book poses is this: who has the right to an adopted and/or abandoned and/or surrogated child? Can the original parents claim the child theirs whenever they want to? Or should the child remain with the family that wanted to adopt and provide for the child from the beginning? Based on how the book played out, it seems that my answer to this is different than the author’s – but the issue is so complex that there is, of course, no right or wrong answer.

Overall, I loved Little Fires Everywhere. It is fast-moving yet thorough in plot, the characters are realistically flawed (i.e. very human and relatable), and the book raises some interesting moral questions. Also, this book just has that “satisfyingly addictive page-turner” quality about it. I highly recommend this novel for a holiday read (or any time).

The bake: chocolate cupcakes with passionfruit frosting.

For Little Fires Everywhere, my original idea was to bake something with some resemblance to actual fire. So, I baked with cupcakes with textured orange frosting, with the idea that the frosting would resemble flames. I chose passionfruit flavor for the frosting, because passion and love are important themes in Little Fires Everywhere; I chose chocolate as the cupcake flavor because passionfruit and chocolate pair surprisingly well together.

To make the chocolate cake, I followed this recipe from Add A Pinch. I love this recipe, and almost always use it for chocolate cake – it is simple, delicious, and can easily be made vegan. The passionfruit frosting was my own recipe (1 stick butter, juice of two passionfruit, and powdered sugar to taste – enough to modestly frost about 16 cupcakes).

The actual baking process was very straightforward; the only issue I ran into was accidentally overfilling the cupcake tin (I had never adapted this recipe for cupcakes before), which then made the cupcakes a bit hard to remove from the pan. To avoid this issue, fill each cupcake tin only halfway with cake batter.

All in all, this bake was delicious! The chocolate cake recipe I used is reliably fantastic, and it paired so well with the passionfruit frosting. I wish passionfruit were more accessible, so I could bake many more chocolate/passionfruit treats!

Month in review: November 2019

Happy December, everyone! Thanksgiving has passed, and it is starting to snow where I live…it really feels like winter! The first two weeks of November were relaxing, then the second half was a bit crazier. My husband and I went to an impromptu one-week-early Thanksgiving dinner (driving 6 hours each way) the third weekend of November. And we spent the last week of the month in London and Amsterdam!

Books read:

This was my best month of reading in a while! Little Fires Everywhere is a fictional novel about a mother and daughter that move into a wealthy, hyper-planned community in Ohio. I absolutely adored this book and will be posting about it soon. Dear Girls is a memoir by Ali Wong in which she writes about her memorable life experiences, and draws advice from them. This book was okay – it taught me that I don’t really like reading books written by celebrities. Ashley Peterson’s books (Psych Meds Made Simple and Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis) take highly stigmatized and misunderstood mental health issues and provide nuanced, accurate information about these topics. Both books were great, and I can think of many people in my life that I wish would read them.

Bakes inspired by the books?

I baked something for Little Fires Everywhere over two weeks ago, but I still haven’t gotten around to posting it! That post is coming very soon. Still, I am a bit back-logged, with three books completed but no bakes for them yet. I have several bakes in mind, though, so get ready for lots of posting in December!

Books in progress/December reading goals:

I am currently reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. This is a biography of the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who came up with the foundations for the science of ecology and inspired many great thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries (from writer Goethe, to revolutionary Simon Bolívar, to famous evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin). I’m about two-thirds through this book, and find it quite enjoyable.

I also plan to read The Wall by John Lanchester and Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. If I get through all of these with time to spare, I’ll probably try to read more books from the Booker prize longlist (yes – I know that the winner was already announced).

Some (out of many) posts I enjoyed this month:

  • Jan Flynn wrote about how smart people can do stupid things, and why there is nothing wrong with this!
  • Ashley wrote an informative piece laying out the facts about how the influenza vaccine works (and importantly, debunking the myth that the flu vaccine will make you sick)
  • Rachel at pace, amore, libri shared a list of anticipated 2020 book releases – many of which I am excited about too!

(a few good) November photos:

Sunshine Blogger Award #2

Thank you to Sarah for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award (over a month ago, but I’ve been behind on blogging lately). Sarah is an avid reader who talks about books spanning diverse genres. One of my favorite reads this year was Red, White & Royal Blue – a book that I first heard about through Sarah’s blog!

Rules of the award:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated them and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated them.
  • Nominate 11 other blogs and give them 11 new questions to answer.
  • Notify your nominees and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post.

Sarah’s questions (and my answers):

  1. Do you listen to any podcasts? If so, what are your favorites? YES, I love podcasts! My top two favorites are Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (a funny news-based quiz show from NPR) and By The Book (where hosts Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer live by self-help books and reflect on whether or not they actually helped).
  2. Do you genre hop when you read or do you tend to stick to the same genres? I try to genre hop!
  3. What’s the best movie you’ve watched so far this year? I have only watched like two movies this year, but I really enjoyed Always Be My Maybe!
  4. 2019 release you’re most excited about reading? Hmmmm…maybe Frankly in Love by David Yoon.
  5. What’s your favorite way to treat yourself? Once a week or so, I like to treat myself by getting a fancy coffee (such as a malted cold brew or latte) before work. Once a month or so, I like to get my nails done. And I try to sleep in a bit on weekends.
  6. Describe your ideal home in as much or as little detail as you’d like! Big kitchen with lots of counter space; enough room for four cats.
  7. Favorite snack? So…the snacks I most commonly eat are: toast, vanilla oat milk, olives, and cheese. But my absolute favorite snacks are the ones that I don’t actually buy (because I know that it would be disastrous for my health to have them in my apartment). Those are hot cheetos, dark chocolate cookie butter cups, white cheddar popcorn, and dried mangos (If you are thinking “but dried mangos are healthy” – not the way that I eat them).
  8. What’s your favorite kind of weather? I love a sunny, crisp day in the 40’s or 50’s (Fahrenheit).
  9. Favorite book you read as a child? I absolutely loved Harry Potter, and read certain books in the series over 5 times.
  10. What’s your favorite thing about yourself? My favorite thing about myself is that I am kind (or at least try really hard to be as much as possible).
  11. Are you a pumpkin person? In desserts – yes. In my coffee – absolutely not.

My questions for you:

  1. Do you find it easy to advocate for yourself?
  2. Do you consider yourself to be a risk-taker?
  3. What do you want to do before the end of 2019?
  4. Do you enjoy the winter holiday season? Why or why not?
  5. If you could pick up any new hobby or habit in 2020 (and it would definitely stick) – what would you choose?
  6. What is your favorite dessert?
  7. Describe a time when you faced a fear.
  8. Do you prefer text, phone calls, emails, or face-to-face communication? Or something else?
  9. Are you easily embarrassed? What types of situations embarrass you?
  10. How do you think you have changed over the past five years?
  11. What is your favorite quote?

Tagging:

Okay, so I know this is kind of a cop-out…but I nominate anybody who is reading this and wants to participate! If you decide to participate, please let me know so I can see your answers! Or, if you want to participate but don’t want to publish your answers as a post – let me know some of your answers in the comments!

Nonfiction November 2019: week 2

This week’s Nonfiction November prompt is fiction/non-fiction book pairings. To quote the creator of this challenge: “It can be a ‘If you loved this book, read this!’ or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

I was nervous about this prompt – mostly because I am not confident in giving recommendations to others – but I ended up having a lot of fun with it! Here are the pairings/groupings that I came up with:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Queenie, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

I grouped these together because they all emphasize the potential of therapy. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a non-fiction book that looks at an actual therapist’s experience helping patients (and going to therapy herself), and shows how therapy helped both her and her patients. Queenie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are fiction books, and both include the title characters going to therapy to process trauma. If you read and liked either Queenie or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, my guess is that you would also like Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

nîtisânak and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

These books go well together because they are both beautifully and poetically written; and they both show difficult relationships through a very compassionate lens. nîtisânak is a memoir by poet Lindsay Nixon, who writes about the struggles of being queer and native Canadian. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional novel (but based in part upon author Ocean Vuong’s lived experiences) that explores a first-generation American son’s complex relationship with his mother. Both are meant to be slow, thoughtful reads, and both discuss difficult relationships and “taboo topics” from a place of immense compassion. Also, they are both so beautifully written – they would make a lovely pairing.

That’s all I have for this prompt! If you have any fiction/non-fiction book pairings, I would love to hear them!