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.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (plus, my first attempt at baking something “gorgeous”)

The book: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

Earlier this month, I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. The book takes the form of a letter from a son to his (illiterate) mother, divulging parts of his life to her that she has never known. In the book/letter, he also explains the impact that their family history – starting in Vietnam in the late 20th century – and shared experiences have had on him. The memories he writes about all come together to tell an intimate and moving life-story.

My favorite thing about On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was, without a doubt, the beautiful writing. The writing often felt more like poetry than prose, something I had never encountered in a fiction novel before. Because the writing was so poetic, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was not only a fascinating story, but also tender and moving in a way that most novels are not. The poetic writing style also meant that I couldn’t quickly binge-read this novel (in the way that some fiction books can be binged) – On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book that demands to be read slowly, in order to take in every (beautifully-written) word.

In addition to being beautifully written, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous also feels relevant and important in today’s world. The narrator’s encounters with racism, addiction, poverty, and abuse made me seriously consider these social issues, while really empathizing with those who suffer from them. The passages that deal with these issues never feel preachy or forced, though. They are simply portrayed as part of the narrator’s real lived experiences – part of why he has become the person that he is now.

One social issue that is especially highlighted in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is abuse (and abusive relationships). Without spoiling any of the novel, I will say that certain relationships portrayed in this novel seemed abusive to me, yet the narrator still writes about them with love and tenderness. I am conflicted by this, because I feel that writing about abusers in a loving manner is – in some way that I can’t quite explain – excusing their abusive behavior. On the other hand, though, the narrator unsparingly describes the abuse that he witnessed or experienced – therefore calling out the abusers.

Overall, I really enjoyed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It is a beautifully written book, that reads more like poetry than a fiction novel. The narrator’s heartfelt descriptions of formative life experiences are compelling, and they will stick with you, leaving you feeling like you know the narrator. My only caveat is this: because abuse is dealt with in a very complex way, I might not recommend this book to readers with a history of abuse (or I would least caution them before reading).

The bake: lime meringue pie.

I was inspired by the title of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and therefore decided to try to bake something…well…gorgeous. My fiancé loves to bake pie, so we combined forces to make an aesthetically pleasing lime meringue pie.

To make the pie, we used this recipe from Cravings Journal. My fiancé made the cookie crust and lime filling, and I made (and piped) the meringue. We followed this recipe to the T, with the exception of the meringue topping, which I piped onto the pie instead of spreading as suggested in the recipe. I simply used a star-tip, and piped spirals all over the pie until I had used all the meringue.

Spirals are actually really easy to pipe! It is the perfect beginner’s piping design.

This pie was SO GOOD! The buttery cookie crust, the smooth tart filling, and the crispy meringue topping come together perfectly to create a complex, yet delightful dessert. If I were to make this again, I might add zest of one lime into the pie filling, just to make sure that the lime flavor is bold. But aesthetically, and – more importantly – taste-wise, this truly is a gorgeous dessert.

A slice of the gorgeous pie.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bake: lavender macarons.

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

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

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

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

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

The book: Normal People by Sally Rooney.

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

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

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

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

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

The bake*: boozy hazelnut latte milkshakes

*this recipe does not actually involve baking

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

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

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

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

(tahini milkshakes inspired by) Milkman

The book: Milkman by Anna Burns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The (not-quite) bake: tahini milkshakes.

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

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

Approximately 6 oz of creamy tahini perfection!

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