Year of Yeh #8: Cardamom Cupcakes

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! Last week, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and romance and my Year of Yeh project, I baked Molly Yeh’s cardamom cupcakes with jam filling and cream cheese frosting.

The recipe: Cardamom cupcakes
Difficulty level: Easy
Time: ~90 minutes (including inactive time)

Making these cardamom cupcakes was so much fun! In fact, this recipe reminded me how much I love baking. The cardamom cake batter is straightforward and quick to make. Once the cupcakes are baked and cooled, you punch/scoop out a small hole from the top (I used a small cookie cutter, but an apple-corer or spoon would work too), fill the hole with jam, cover the hole, and frost the cupcakes. Adding jam filling to the cupcakes surprisingly doesn’t require too much additional prep time.

One modification I made to these cupcakes was using mixed berry instead of lingonberry jam. I was able to find lingonberry jam at the supermarket, but I thought it was pretty bitter. Since these cupcakes were for other people, and strong/bitter flavors can be controversial, I decided to go with the more crowd-pleasing mixed-berry jam.

These cupcakes were delicious! Cardamom elevates the flavor of the cake so much, and tastes really nice with the cream cheese frosting. Adding the jam filling to the cupcakes made them a bit more challenging to make than regular cupcakes, but not that much harder! And the extra prep time is absolutely worth it for the tart, fruity flavor that the jam contributes. I would like to try this recipe again sometime using the lingonberry jam, because I suspect the contrast between the bitter lingonberry and the sweet cream cheese frosting is excellent.

Technical notes:

The finished, decorated cupcakes!
  • If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use regular milk spiked with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or use half a cup of plain greek yogurt and half a cup of regular milk.
  • Wait for the cupcakes to cool completely before starting on the jam filling! Hot cupcakes will be crumbly and difficult to disassemble, and the heat might melt the jam too.
  • Don’t discard the cupcake pieces that you scoop out! Save them, and when you are done filling the cupcake-holes with jam, re-seal the cupcakes with the pieces you punched out. This will make the cupcakes easier to frost.
  • If you can’t find lingonberry jam (or are skeptical about the flavor), any tart fruit jam (or even a curd) will work well with this recipe.
  • Take the cupcakes out of the cupcake pan before you frost them. It is quite challenging to remove frosted cupcakes from the cupcake pan; I learned the hard way!

(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: August 2019

I finally figured out the secret to adult life: it’s that everyone is insanely busy all of the time. Saying “August flew by” is a cliche, but it’s a cliche because everyone says it, and everyone says it because it’s true because we’re all so busy. The point of this is to say that, once again, I had a very busy month. Highlights included kayaking, going to a wine and paint night, FINALLY having a beach day this summer, celebrating with friends and family at the best bachelorette party ever, and visiting a super cool art exhibit. And spending lots of time with my cats. Low-lights (if that’s a word?) included falling behind on chores, not getting enough sleep, and public transit being slow and inefficient.

Books read:

I finished three books this month, all of which were quite different from each other. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional memoir, that reads more like poetry than a novel – it was my most challenging read of the month, and also the one that I enjoyed most. If You See Me Don’t Say Hi is a collection of short-stories featuring first-generation Indian Americans going through challenging life events. It was a quick, compelling, and stereotype-smashing read – I highly recommend it. Finally, The Truffle Underground is a non-fiction exposĂ© on the corruption that goes on in the truffle mushroom industry – I won’t say much else here, but a post about this book is coming soon!

Things I baked:

Early in the month, I made delayed bakes for two books that I finished in July. I made cheese-scones inspired by Eleanor’s signature lunch in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and a fresh mint cake inspired by Maybe You Should Talk To Someone.

For On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, I wanted to bake something beautiful, so my partner and I teamed up to make an aesthetically pleasing lime-meringue pie. For If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, I baked chocolate-tahini cupcakes with assorted frostings (inspired by the different shades of brown on the cover of the book). I haven’t baked anything yet for The Truffle Underground, but that post is coming soon!

Books in progress/September reading goals:

Right now I’m reading Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. I’m about two-thirds through, and I absolutely love this book: it is gorgeously written, culturally relevant, and generally insightful. I can’t wait to post about this book! In the next month I also plan to read An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. And maybe others if I have time – we will see.

(just a few of the many) blog posts I loved:

  • Jan wrote an excellent piece about the importance of “wasting” time.
  • Sohpie wrote about the positive impact that blogging has had on her mental health.
  • Ashley wrote a beautiful and powerful article about intersectionality, and the major role it plays in mental health issues.

Favorite photos of the month:

If You See Me Don’t Say Hi (short-stories unified by a single theme, and unique cupcakes unified by a base flavor)

The book: If You See Me Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel.

Recently I read If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, a collection of fictional short stories by Neel Patel. Each short story is told from the perspective of a different character, most of whom are first-generation Indian-Americans. Individually, the stories are shocking, uncomfortable, and above all else, relatable. Collectively, they completely upend some of the commonly-believed stereotypes about Indian-Americans in the United States.

If You See Me Don’t Say Hi was a quick and engaging read. Like many short-stories, the plot in each story moves quickly: some stories span ten or more years in just 10-20 pages. My favorite stories, however, were the ones in which the plot moved just slightly slower; or the stories that provided more time to intimately know and understand the characters. The last two stories in the collection do an especially great job of this; and they are actually related to each other, giving the reader a more nuanced perspective of the characters and their relationship.

What I loved most about If You See Me Don’t Say Hi were the complex (and oftentimes difficult) characters. Each story features a character going through a challenging time in their life: a closeted-gay high school student struggles to cope with bullying and his father walking out on his family; a young doctor becomes completely unhinged and has a mental breakdown following the death of her parents; two young adults become isolated from their community as gossip wreaks havoc on their reputations. The characters behave in shocking, yet completely familiar ways in response to the challenges they are going through. It is through these surprising-yet-not-surprising behaviors that Patel so brilliantly debunks stereotypes of Indian-Americans. Patel’s characters react the way any human being might respond to heartbreak, trauma, isolation, and failure – they just happen to Indian-American.

Overall, I thought If You See Me Don’t Say Hi was a quick and wonderful read. As with most collections of short-stories, some stories are stronger than others. Personally, I liked the last two stories best, because they are connected to each other, and I liked the continuity and nuance of that. Each story is unique and important, though; and they collectively deconstruct the problematic stereotypes about Indian-Americans in the United States.

The bake: chocolate-tahini cupcakes with assorted frostings.

For If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, I was inspired by the cover art of the book, which shows varying shades of brown, caramel, and peach. In tribute to that, I decided to make chocolate cupcakes with frostings in various shades of brown.

Specifically, I made this chocolate tahini cake from flavor-genius Molly Yeh, but as cupcakes instead of a full cake. I frosted some cupcakes with the tahini buttercream that is given with the recipe, but I also made small batches of other frostings to achieve varying shades of brown: chai cream cheese frosting, chocolate cream cheese frosting, and coffee buttercream.

The cake was very straightforward to make – it is oil-based, which makes it much easier to prepare than a butter-based cake. It was also a great cake to eat! The cake itself tasted like a rich, complex chocolate cake. I couldn’t actually detect the tahini flavor, but I’m sure that the tahini added to the complexity. The frostings were also good, with my favorites being the tahini buttercream and the chocolate cream cheese. What I liked most about this bake was that the different frostings lent diversity, while the single cake flavor unified everything. This is fitting for If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, since it is a collection of unique stories unified by a single theme.

I also experimented with different frosting application methods – the frostings that were piped (as opposed to spread with a knife) definitely look neater.

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone (a book about therapy, and a mint cake inspired by therapy)

The book: Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb.

After reading two novels involving characters overcoming trauma through therapy, I decided to stick with the therapy theme, so I read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. The book is a non-fiction account of Lori Gottlieb’s insights on humanity that she gained both as a therapist, and a patient in therapy.

Book cover of "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone."

As I read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I was quickly blown away by Lori Gottlieb’s gift for story-telling. Gottlieb manages to take the journeys of actual patients from her therapy practice, and turn them into incredibly compelling and relatable stories. I binged this book the same way I would breeze through a fiction novel, but the plot was the true story of real peoples’ healing.

In addition to being compelling, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone was very well-structured. Gottlieb takes the journeys of four different patients, and alternates among their respective stories throughout the book. She also includes extensive details about her own experience in therapy, and her journey to becoming a therapist. This was effective, because it broke up the plot and built intrigue, while also allowing me to make connections between different individuals’ experiences.

Finally, I loved the way that Gottlieb explained psychological phenomena! She generally steered away from jargon, and when she did use technical terms it was just to define them in ways that a reader coming from a non-clinical background could easily understand. Some of Gottlieb’s explanations of psychological phenomena helped me understand myself better, and even challenged me to change the way I react to certain situations. In particular, her passage about how people often project their insecurities onto other people (or things) because it is easier than looking internally, challenged me to notice and work on this tendency myself.

Overall, I highly recommend this book! There is so much to learn from other peoples’ journeys through emotional healing, and Gottlieb writes about those journeys so compellingly. Through her explanations of psychological tendencies – and examples of these tendencies as demonstrated by her patients and herself – this book has the potential to be a life-changing read.

The bake: “therapy cake” (or fresh mint cake).

For Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I decided to bake a cake inspired by my own experience in therapy a few years ago. When I left my therapist to move for grad school, she gave me a green stone as a goodbye gift, and when I think of her I often think of that stone. Inspired by my experience with her, and also inspired by the stone, I decided to bake something green and slightly earthy: a fresh mint cake!

To make the fresh mint cake, I used this recipe from My Name Is Yeh. I followed the cake recipe pretty closely (only substituting lime zest for lemon zest), but I baked the cake in an 8″ square pan instead of two 6″ round pans. I also frosted the cake with a homemade lime cream cheese frosting (instead of labneh and honey, as suggested in the recipe), and garnished with fresh mint leaves.

Over two cups of fresh mint on a cutting board.
ALL of this fresh mint (from my balcony “garden”) went into the cake!

I was so pleasantly surprised by this cake. It could have been hit or miss, but it was definitely a HIT! The cake is sweet and minty (the mint flavor really comes through!), while the frosting is deliciously tart. It is also not too rich or heavy, because it uses olive oil (as opposed to butter) as its source of fat. My fiance brought the cake to work yesterday, and it was gone by 11:00AM. I’m seriously considering baking this cake again tomorrow to bring to my neighborhood potluck. Anyway – this cake was surprisingly delightful! It nicely pays tribute to the book (and the individual) that inspired it, and I also found the process of making it to be *therapeutic.*

A square cake, with frosting and mint leaf decoration.
The finished cake, frosted simply with lime cream cheese frosting and garnished with more fresh mint.

Month in review: July 2019

Every month, I find myself writing “this past month has been crazy” – or something to that effect. Well…July was no exception! This month consisted of a 6-hour road trip to Pennsylvania, lots of wedding-planning activities, and a cross-country visit to California. Also, my fiancĂ© and I adopted two cats! They are amazing and adorable and enrich our lives, but adjusting to life with them has certainly contributed to my “busy” feeling. The month also consisted of lots of reading (mostly because I spend virtually all of my commute-time reading now).

Books read:

One of my friends used to joke with me that I don’t have “distinguishing tastes” when it comes to food…but based on this month’s book ratings, that may be true of books too! Or perhaps I just got lucky enough to genuinely love all the books that I read this past month. Something interesting about this month of reading is that three of the four books I read focused heavily on mental health. The Hate U Give was focused more on racism and police violence, but it still touches on mental health (although not explicitly), as the main character of the novel experiences trauma-induced anxiety. I love that mainstream media is portraying mental health issues in a normalizing and empathetic way.

Bakes:

While I did a lot of reading this month, I’ve lagged significantly on baking: I only completed bakes for two of the four books I read. For The Hate U Give, I baked red velvet cheesecake brownies inspired by Mrs. Rooks’ famous red velvet cake. For Queenie, I baked a vanilla bundt cake glazed with guava syrup. Bakes for Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Maybe You Should Talk To Someone are coming soon!

Books in progress/goals for August:

I’m currently reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and – WOW – it already lives up to its hype. I also plan to read Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg, as well as a non-fiction book called The Truffle Underground (which is about truffle mushrooms). I also might check out some of the books that made the Booker Prize Longlist (although I’m pretty turned off by the fact that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous didn’t make the list).

Blog posts I enjoyed…

I have to confess something: I have NOT been a good member of the blogging community this month. I read and responded to some bloggers’ posts this month, but I didn’t engage as meaningfully with other bloggers as I would have liked. I frequently skimmed other bloggers posts, reading and commenting on posts superficially rather than mindfully. I strive to do better in August.

Some photos from July:

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.

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!

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: