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 exposé 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.