Month in review: January 2020

Is it just me, or did this January seem to stretch on for an eternity? It wasn’t a particularly eventful month for me, and the interesting things that did happen in my life were…not great. It was a good month of reading, though, and that’s what this post is about!

Books read:

Books in progress/goals for February:

I’m currently reading Mobituaries by Mo Rocca. The book is a tribute to influential people who didn’t get the obituary they deserved, or whose accomplishments and legacy seem to have been forgotten. I’m really enjoying this book so far, and will have a review up sometime next week.

In February, I plan to read at least these three books: Lot by Bryan Washington, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, and Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow.

Year of Yeh project:

This year, I’ve been posting about my goal to cook every recipe in Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. In January, I made five recipes from the cookbook. If I continue at this pace, I will end up making about 75% of the recipes in the cookbook (which I would definitely be happy with). The recipes I’ve made so far are: spaghetti & meatless balls, plain challah, scallion pancakes with carrot slaw, tahini blondies, and goulash with bread dumplings (pictured below in that order).

Notable blog posts:

I read so many wonderful blog posts and did a better-than-average (my personal average, that is) job of engaging with other bloggers this January. But I forgot to save my list of notable blog posts! I will remember to keep track of them in February.

Quotes/advice that helped me this month:

  • “There will always be someone who can’t see your worth. Don’t let it be you.” (this was posted on Vee’s blog, Millennial Life Crisis)
  • “Empathy without boundaries is self-destruction.” – unknown
  • “All my life had been muck and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.” – Madeline Miller, Circe

January photo dump:

Year of Yeh #5: Goulash with Scallion Knodeln

Sometimes you just need a soothing soup. With colds and flus going around, below freezing temperatures, and few hours of sunlight – now is the perfect time for a warm, comforting bowl of soup. At least, it is for me. That’s why I made Molly Yeh’s “Goulash with Scallion Knodeln” earlier this week! The dish is a hearty tomato-based soup, topped with flavorful bread dumplings.

Recipe: Goulash with Scallion Knodeln
Difficulty level: Easy/moderate
Time: 1.5+ hours (it varies depending on your preparation method)

Nothing about this recipe is difficult…except having the patience/stamina to make it. It is time consuming! I prepared my goulash entirely on the stovetop (as opposed to using a slow-cooker or transferring it to the oven, as suggested in the recipe), and it still took me well over an hour to make everything. The reason why I didn’t use a slow-cooker or the oven is because I made a vegetarian version of this recipe, and the purpose of slow-cooking or oven-braising the goulash would be to tenderize the meat.

And on the topic of modifications, I made quite a few. Here are all of them:

  • I didn’t slow-cook or oven-braise my goulash. I made the whole thing on the stove.
  • I used vegan meatballs (frozen, not homemade) instead of beef.
  • I didn’t have Worcestershire sauce, so I added a mixture of soy sauce, hot sauce, maple syrup, and lemon juice instead.
  • I used fennel seeds instead of caraway seeds.
  • I used breadcrumbs (instead of stale bread pieces) and one extra egg in the knodeln dumplings.
The cooked knodeln/dumplings.

So, this recipe is a bit of work. You need to chop your vegetables, make a soup, make the knodeln dough, then boil the knodeln. But here’s the thing: all of that work is so worth it for this soup! The soup is hearty and comforting and so, so flavorful. And the recipe makes at least six servings of goulash, so you will get a lot of food out of it. I definitely recommend this for a comforting winter meal!

Technical notes:

  • If you want to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, you don’t need to slow-cook or bake your goulash. You can do the whole thing on stovetop.
  • If you want to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, you don’t need to substitute the meat with anything. I subbed vegan meatballs in mine, but the goulash would have been just as delicious without them.
  • Two tablespoons of paprika seems like too much…but it’s not!
  • The cookbook version of this recipe calls for 1/2 cup of red wine in the goulash, but the online version doesn’t include this. I did use wine, and would recommend it. It deepens the flavor nicely.
  • The goulash is a bit thin at first (maybe because I made it on the stovetop), but it will thicken nicely in the fridge (if you have leftovers).

Book Review: Circe

The book: Circe by Madeline Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This weekend, I finished reading Madeline Miller’s Circe. This story takes the mythological figure Circe – the Greek goddess of magic who is most famous for turning Odysseus’ crew into swine in The Odyssey – and imagines her life story from her own perspective. In the novel, Circe is banished to an isolated desert island as punishment for using witchcraft to turn a mortal into a god. Alone on the island, she hones her magical abilities, entertains and helps visitors, and ultimately discovers who she is.

I tend not to read many fantasy novels, but I really enjoyed Circe! While the novel is centered around Greek mythology and contains many fantastical elements, the story is about so much more than fantasy and witchcraft. Circe is a book about finding yourself and staying true to your personal values.

One of the things I liked most about Circe was how author Madeline Miller characterized many of the famous Greek gods and heroes as power-hungry and narcissistic, while showing Circe as soft and compassionate. This portrayal spoke to me a lot, because in history (and in present-day America) we tend to glorify those who become powerful and successful, even though those people are not necessarily morally good. Circe shows that the people we deem “witches” might just be misfits who were never given the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

Circe also demonstrated how any person can thrive when they are in the right environment. Amongst the gods and goddesses, Circe is considered powerless and unlovable by her family, who generally ignore her. It is only after she is banished to the island of Aiaia – away from the influence of her destructive family – that she realizes that she is, in fact, powerful. As she hones her witchcraft on the island, she learns how to protect herself, express herself, and help others. This message is important, too: just because some people don’t see your worth, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

The reason why I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because the plot was slightly too long-winded for me. Specifically, I thought that the scene where Jason and Medea visit the island could have been omitted, because it didn’t add that much to the story (in my opinion). Also, I’m not sure there needed to be two intense run-ins with Scylla…but that might be my disinterest for action scenes speaking.

Overall, I really enjoyed Circe, and the way it retold the story of a supposed evil witch. The book is full of self-discovery and growth, as well as many beautifully inspirational quotes, including this one: “All my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.

Year of Yeh #4: Tahini Blondies

After making three savory recipes from Molly on the Range, I decided it was time to indulge in something sweet! I attempted to make the tahini blondie bars that are featured in the “Tahini Blondie Ice Cream Sandwiches” recipe. I only made the blondies (didn’t assemble them into ice cream sandwiches), though, because it has been really cold where I live (like 15-25 degrees F)! Definitely not ice cream weather!

The recipe: Tahini blondies (as featured in Tahini Blondie Ice Cream Sandwiches)
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 35-45 minutes

This recipe is straightforward. All you have to do is mix your dry ingredients together, mix your wet ingredients together (in a separate bowl), and then add the wet mixture to the dry. But even in a straightforward recipe, there is still room for error! My error was this: I assumed that the full amount of tahini (as listed in the ingredients section) went into the batter – when, actually, some of it is supposed to be reserved for ice cream sandwich assembly (which I didn’t even do).

The tahini bars I made ended up with a crumbly texture…but still tasted delicious!

The result was that I had nearly double the necessary amount of tahini in my batter, making it more like cookie-dough than brownie-batter. The final bake was kind of crumbly, with a consistency somewhere in between cookie and brownie. It was still very good (how can something consisting of tahini, sugar, and butter be bad?), but I wouldn’t say that I actually made Molly Yeh’s tahini blondies.

I want to try this recipe again, especially since I now know what can go wrong (yay, learning from mistakes!). And while I still probably won’t make the full ice cream sandwich recipe anytime soon…I can see how these treats would be absolutely delicious with vanilla ice cream!

Technical notes:

  • The quantity of tahini listed in the ingredients section is meant to be divided: some of it is for the blondie batter, and some of it is for the ice cream.

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other

The book: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Earlier this week, I finished Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This book of short stories – each from the perspective of a different black woman living in modern-day Britain – encompasses what it is like to live in post-Brexit Britain.

Girl, Woman, Other did an outstanding job of portraying many unique perspectives on modern-day Britain. Each character’s chapter reveals how their particular life experiences have shaped their perceptions of today’s world. As women (or non-binary people) of color who immigrated to Britain (or are recent descendants of immigrants), the characters have all experienced their fair share of struggle, and the book consistently addresses the issues that have affected them. Amazingly, author Bernardine Evaristo weaves these issues into the story in a very sincere and organic way – it never feels like the commentary on sexism, racism, xenophobia, or homophobia is forced or out-of-place.

To dig a bit deeper than that, I really appreciated how this book shows multiple perspectives on what it means to be a black woman in today’s world. So often, people of color are expected to be a “spokesperson” for their entire race. By featuring twelve women of color with very different life experiences, Evaristo refutes the idea that there is just one definition of what it means to be a person of color in today’s world.

I also found this book to be overwhelmingly positive, which was refreshing. While, yes, all the characters in this book have faced major obstacles in their lives, so many of the characters overcome those obstacles and achieve wonderful things. Amma, after years of being rejected by mainstream theatre companies, makes her way into the establishment and becomes wildly successful. Bummi, despite being orphaned as a child and then losing her husband at a young age, finally ends up living the peaceful life she has always dreamed of. I absolutely loved that this book balances great struggle with great triumph.

Finally, I loved the way this book was structured. There are no capital letters at the beginning of sentences, oftentimes no punctuation where there traditionally would be, and interesting line breaks in the middle of sentences. This made the book feel slower, gentle, and poetic – even when the events described in the book were quite dramatic (or traumatic). It also made sentences and stories flow in a way that felt very natural, making the book hard to put down.

Girl, Woman, Other was incredibly ambitious in the stories it set out to tell – and (in my opinion) it was wildly successful. This book is bold and sharp, but also poetic and beautiful. It is also incredibly astute, hitting the nail on the head with regard to pertinent issues in today’s world. I whole-heartedly recommend this book, and hope to see it on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist.

Year of Yeh #3: Scallion Pancakes (and carrot slaw)

This week I continued my “Year of Yeh” project with a versatile recipe that works as a breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizer, side, or snack: scallion pancakes! The Molly on the Range cookbook lumps the scallion pancakes with a maple syrup carrot slaw, so I did the same.

The recipe: Scallion Pancakes with Maple Syrup Slaw
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 1.5 hrs

This recipe was time-consuming, but lots of fun. The carrot slaw that accompanies the pancakes is straightforward: just shred carrots and combine them with the other slaw ingredients (vinegar, maple syrup, and ginger). The pancakes are a bit more challenging.

Fresh scallion pancakes.

First, I found it tough to get the pancake dough to the right consistency. To get the dough to a smooth and “slightly sticky” consistency, I had to add at least an extra half cup of flour to the dough. It also took me a LONG time to understand the shaping instructions (the recipe said to roll the dough like a “jelly roll” and I didn’t know what that meant) – but that is on me, not the recipe.

This recipe was the most challenging one I have tried so far, and also the most delicious! The scallion pancakes are perfect when they are hot off the pan! And the tanginess of the carrot slaw nicely complements the scallion-and-sesame-filled pancakes. I will probably remake this recipe again at some point.

Technical notes:

  • The carrot slaw recipe calls for minced fresh ginger. This was the first time that I used fresh ginger (as opposed to powdered) and it makes a world of difference!
  • The pancake dough recipe as it is listed in the recipe just doesn’t seem right – I ended up requiring at least an extra half cup of flour to get it to a “smooth and slightly sticky” consistency.
  • The pancake dough will seem too salty if you taste it before frying your pancakes. But once the pancakes are fried, they are perfect. Somehow the too-salty taste goes away once they’re in their final form.
  • It is okay if some oil/scallion filling spills out of your pancake. You can sprinkle a bit of flour over it.
  • These pancakes are best when they are fresh off the pan. If you are going to re-heat them, do so over the stove (they don’t microwave well).

Year of Yeh #2: Basic Challah

This weekend, I tackled another recipe from Molly on the Range…with help from my husband, who is an excellent bread baker! There were several bread recipes (especially challah recipes) in Molly on the Range to choose from, but we decided to start with basic challah.

The recipe: Basic Challah
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 3+ hours (but much of that time is hands-off)

This challah was the perfect lazy weekend bake. It was slightly time-consuming to make, but much of the prep time was hands-off, leading to lots of down time while the dough rose. This challah was also a lot of fun to bake with a partner. My husband and I split the dough into two balls, and each braided a challah simultaneously.

On the subject of braiding the challah: that was the most challenging part of this recipe. My husband made a 5-stranded braid, and I made a 4-stranded one, but we both found that our braids were a bit loose on one end (the end where we started the braid) and tighter on the other end. Luckily, the second rise (and the third rise, or the bake) allows the dough to expand and correct any looseness.

Husband’s 5-stranded challah on the left; my 4-stranded challah on the right.

All in all, this recipe took us over 3 hours…and it was so worth it! This challah recipe is honestly perfect. The bread is soft and airy, with a smooth golden crust. Because the challah uses an enriched dough, the bread is rich and just slightly sweet, making it one of the few breads that is enjoyable on its own. But it is also excellent with butter, jam, fresh fruit, or probably anything else you want to put on it.

Sliced challah with butter and passionfruit.

Technical notes:

  • You will need a VERY LARGE bowl if you follow the recipe as it listed in the Molly on the Range cookbook (it calls for 6.5 cups of flour, as opposed to 3.5 in the scaled-down version on KAF)
  • If you have a kitchen scale, weight out your dough so that your braid strands are roughly the same size. This will make the braiding easier.
  • DON’T flour your work surface before you roll out the strands! It’s easier to elongate your dough strands if they are not coated in flour (I learned the hard way).