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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

July is (almost) over, and while sweating through a heat wave, here’s what I have been reading:

The Mimosa Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As World War II rages, the Japanese have occupied Singapore, and Chen Su Lin finds herself coerced into helping them solve the murder of her neighbor, Mr. Mirza. Much grimmer than Su Lin’s first three adventures, this is a sobering look at life under Japanese occupation and a compelling mystery.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, Claudia Gray
I loved this fun mystery (recommended by Anne) that brings together the main characters from many of Jane Austen’s novels for a house party hosted by Emma and George Knightley. Mr. Wickham (that cad!) shows up uninvited, and before long he ends up dead. Juliet Tilney, Catherine’s daughter, and Jonathan Darcy, son of Elizabeth, band together to find the killer. Witty and entertaining, with some interesting subplots. I’d absolutely read a sequel.

Welcome to the School by the Sea, Jenny Colgan
I usually enjoy Colgan’s gentle British rom-coms, often set in charming small towns. This is an older book of hers, reissued, and it shows: there are some fun moments, but the character development is thin, and there is so much fat-shaming. First in a series.

Where There’s a Whisk, Sarah J. Schmitt
Peyton Sinclaire believes she has one shot to escape her trailer-park life in Florida: winning the Top Teen Chef reality show competition. But when she arrives in Manhattan and starts navigating the show’s cooking challenges and interpersonal dynamics, she learns a thing or two she didn’t expect. I loved this sweet, foodie YA novel, especially the way it wrapped up.

Finding Me, Viola Davis
I’ve been impressed by Davis as an actor, but didn’t know her story. She tells it at a sometimes breakneck pace – from growing up in abject poverty in Rhode Island to college to Juilliard to success on stage and film, to marriage and complicated family dynamics. A brutally honest account of her life; so much trauma, so much grit and hard work, and finally some joy. Recommended by Anne.

For the Love of the Bard, Jessica Martin
Miranda Barnes – literary agent, middle child, YA writer under a pseudonym – goes back to her Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for its annual Bard festival. While there, she has to deal with scary health news for a family member, festival committee politics, and – oh yeah – the guy who broke her heart back in high school. I loved this theater-nerd romance with complex sibling dynamics, totally relatable life struggles and a swoony romance. Found at the wonderful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT.

They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom, Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri
Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi made international news after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral. This memoir recounts her childhood, her family’s life under the Israeli occupation, her arrest and imprisonment (and other traumas), and her continuing fight to liberate Palestine. Short, but heavy and heartbreaking. An important perspective we don’t often get in the U.S. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 6).

The Marlow Murder Club, Robert Thorogood
I picked this one up on a whim at the library and blew through it in two days. Judith Potts, age 77, is swimming naked in the Thames (her daily ritual) when she hears a gunshot from her neighbor’s garden. It turns out he was murdered – but by whom? Judith joins forces with local dog walker Suzie and the vicar’s buttoned-up wife, Becks, to solve the case. Witty and clever and so British. I loved it.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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A couple times recently, I’ve heated up a frozen meal for lunch. On the surface, I suspect, that might not seem revolutionary. But it sort of is for me. 

The meals were part of my second shipment from Mosaic (referral link), a plant-based meal delivery service recommended by a friend. Since my divorce, I’ve struggled with cooking for one, especially in the warmer months. I can make big batches of soup in the winter and eat them all week long, but once May hits, I’m sick of soup, and it doesn’t appeal as much in the summertime. So many recipes, like enchiladas and curries and stir-fry, are meant for three or four people (at least), and not all leftovers keep as well as soup. And though I’ve been making Molly’s ratatouille about once a week, I don’t want to burn myself out on it – especially since it’s not even July yet.

My friend Sharon, who also cooks for one on a regular basis, recommended Mosaic, but I was hesitant at first to try it out. For one thing, it felt like an unnecessary expense: I already buy groceries for myself every week and eat out occasionally, and I wondered if putting more dollars toward food would be worth it. I’m aware that I’m super privileged to even be able to consider a fancy frozen-meal service, and I also wondered: isn’t there something I’m missing? Some hidden cache of easy, quick, nourishing delicious recipes that everyone else knows about and I don’t? (If there is, and you know about it, please send it my way – or any particular recipes you love!)

Resorting to frozen meals also, frankly, felt like admitting defeat: like a fundamental failure in taking care of myself. I did a lot of the cooking when I was married, and there were certainly weeks I groused about it, but for some reason, the prospect of cooking dinner for one, an average of five nights a week, every week since my divorce has ground me down. (I do eat with my guy regularly, and occasionally with friends, but everyone’s work schedules plus the pandemic means I can’t count on that more than a night or two each week.) I grew up in a household where my mother insisted on family dinner, and somehow managed to produce healthy, tasty meals night after night. We rarely, if ever, resorted to TV dinners, though we did enjoy the occasional pizza or taco takeout night. So, on some level, even weighing this option felt like a failure. 

I argued myself out of Mosaic for a couple weeks, but after a few (more) evenings of staring morosely at an uninspiring fridge, I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? It’s good. 

The meals are tasty, healthy and hearty (though I’m always keeping an eye on the sodium content, because I know frozen food has tons of it). Some of them, like the noodle bowls, are a little different than what I would make for myself, which is nice. And instead of seeing my use of the service as a failure, I’m trying to embrace it as another tool: a way of caring for myself (albeit a slightly pricey one) for the days when I’m out of leftovers, inspiration, or both. 

Any tips and tricks for a solo cook? Or do you have other prepared meals you really like? 

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We’re nearly a week into May and I have been diving into books when life feels like too much, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Sophie Cousens
Journalist Laura LeQuesne has always believed in love – helped along in part by her parents’ epic love story. But when Laura goes to Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) to research a piece based on her family history, she uncovers some difficult truths. An utterly charming love story set in a gorgeous place, with a really likable main character.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Anne and others recommended this slim story of a middle-aged man in 1980s Ireland, who is forced to make a quiet but important decision. The setting is so vividly drawn, and the main character’s family life is such a contrast to the situation of others in his town.

Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community, One Dish at a Time, Janet Reich Elsbach
Jenny recommended this book of recipes meant for a crowd, whether it’s a community supper, a struggling family or a celebration. Most of these consequently make too much food for me, as I live alone, but there are some yummy ideas in here.

Cold Clay, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow, and when the bones of a moose are discovered in the local orchard, reporter Vera Vixen starts sniffing around for clues. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious new mink in town, and possible romantic trouble for Vera and her beau. A fun, charming second mystery in this series where all the characters are animals.

A Duet for Home, Karina Yan Glaser
Since her dad was killed in an accident, June Yang has been trying to keep her family together. When she, her younger sister and her mom have to move into a family shelter in the Bronx, it’s a tough transition. But June finds friends, a new viola teacher, and her own voice – even while things remain difficult. I loved this standalone novel from the author of the wonderful Vanderbeekers series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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March ended up being a very full month – it included a trip out west to see dear friends in Tucson, the L.A. suburbs and (again) San Diego. Plus a hiring process for a new colleague; lots of running (still building my stamina back after having COVID); both snow and spring flowers, as is normal for March; and dinners with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. Whew.

April is here now, with its blustery winds, sharp spring light and budding tulips (!), and here’s what I learned in March:

  • Sometimes granola needs an extra 10 minutes in the oven. (Jenny’s recipe is my favorite.)
  • I tried this recipe for Thai butternut squash soup – a yummy, spicy alternative to my classic one.
  • Delays can be a chance to explore – as when my Amtrak train in CA was an hour late and I wandered the main street of Moorpark. (And picked up snacks and a yummy burrito!)
  • I might be a legwarmers kind of girl after all.
  • Write it down. You’d think I’d know this, but especially at work these days, if it doesn’t get written down, it flies right out of my brain.
  • I need a bit of margin in my week – especially salient now that the pace of life is picking back up.
  • Just ask. (Still and always working on this one.)

What did you learn in March?

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One of my favorite follows on Instagram is Annie B. Jones, who runs The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Ga., and posts about books, musicals, channeling Kathleen Kelly and other lovely things. Last year, she shared monthly “what I learned” posts, and I enjoyed them so much I decided to try my own. We’ll see if it sticks, but here’s what I learned in January 2022:

  • Slouchy sweaters can be a great comfort, even if you’re more of a fitted-silhouette kind of girl.
  • One green curry paste IS different from another (learned while making this soup several times).
  • Paperwhite bulbs might take a while to bloom, but they – like so many things – can surprise you. (See above – my final bulb is flourishing.)
  • COVID brain fog is real. As are the emotions that come with it.
  • It takes 15 minutes to walk from my house down the Golden Stairs to the end of Piers Park and back. And that is enough when it’s 14 degrees outside.
  • It’s fun to be a beginner again, even – or especially – when it means stumbling through salsa steps with a roomful of other novices.
  • Some books (e.g. The Warmth of Other Suns) are just going to take as long as they take.
  • Just ask. (Still working on this one.)

What are you learning these days?

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Hello, friends. Welcome (?) to 2021.

It’s hard to believe we are only 10 days in. Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has left me reeling. My partner and I both have family members who have the virus, and the general stress and isolation of pandemic life has not let up. If anything, the cumulative weight of the last few months makes it feel even heavier. So I’ve been quiet here, because really, what is there to say?

I still don’t know, but a comment from a reader (hi Mary!) helped remind me that coming back to this space is often a healthy outlet and a source of joy. So I’m starting the year on the blog with a list of the tiny good things that are getting me through, at the moment. Here they are:

  • My paperwhites (above) are finally blooming. Every year this is a miracle, and I have rarely watched so anxiously for those buds and creamy flowers as I did this year.
  • My Christmas tree is still up (oh yes it is), and twinkle lights feel hopeful in this dark season.
  • The fish I am feeding for a friend are all (knock wood) still alive.
  • I started a new journal last week, and this one is Harry Potter-themed.
  • Dinner on Friday was a new recipe from Real Simple, and it was delicious.
  • My new coat does have functional pockets (I had to open them with a seam ripper, but they are there).
  • The fizzy shower bar a friend sent for Christmas is such a treat. (I have a tiny shower and no bathtub, so it’s perfect.)
  • I have been reading some really good books: Elizabeth Wein’s gripping YA novel The Enigma Game and Horatio Clare’s gorgeous, honest memoir The Light in the Dark.
  • My writing class has started back up, and seeing everyone’s faces and sharing our writing is so nourishing and fun.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – with their ethereal, bell-like harmonies – is perfection.
  • My local tea store, Mem Tea, is still faithfully shipping out online orders, and I just stocked up on my winter staples: English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

What are the small things getting you through, these days?

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It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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I’ve lived in my little studio in Eastie for a year now, and for most of that time, I’ve been chucking my fruit pits, veggie peels, eggshells and tea leaves (so many tea leaves) into a countertop compost bin I bought from Target. (No perks or affiliate links here; I just did some searching for sleek, easy-to-clean countertop bins, and I like this one.)

I don’t have space (or need) for a big compost bin of my own, but the City of Boston’s pilot compost project, charmingly named Project Oscar, includes a couple of bins down the hill from my house. Every few days, I tie up the green compostable bag filled with flower stems, orange peels and zucchini ends, and carry it down the hill, where I dump it into the bigger compost bin and hope whoever picks it up is hauling it away to some good purpose.

Sometimes, I think about Natalie Goldberg’s chapter on “Composting” in Writing Down the Bones, where she compares writing (and mulling over your lived experiences) to composting our kitchen scraps. “Our bodies are garbage heaps,” she says, “and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. […] But this does not come all at once. It takes time.”

I like the notion that I’m diverting some of my kitchen leavings away from the landfill, and sending them where they can do some good. Sometimes I wonder who else is tossing their kitchen scraps into the bins over by Maverick Square, and what they will eventually become, and what they will feed. (Sometimes, I simply hold the bag at arm’s length – even pre-compost starts to smell – and promise myself to bring it down to the bins sooner next time.)

I’ve found it difficult, these last months, to create anything of substance, other than book reviews, the occasional meal, and countless cups of tea. I tend to beat myself up about this, but then (sometimes) I remember Natalie and her advice: “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

I’ll keep doing that. And I’ll keep composting my apple cores and bell pepper stems and those tea leaves, hoping they contribute to a richness I can’t yet see.

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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red-kettle-stoveIn these strange stay-at-home days, I’m spending (even) more time in my kitchen than ever before.

In my little studio, the kitchen area (read: stove, oven, sink, cabinets, fridge) is ranged along one wall of the apartment, close to the table where I spend my workdays. As I try to settle into some sort of a rhythm, I’ve been noticing how my kitchen routines have changed.

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My red teakettle is getting a lot of use: I fill it up to half a dozen times a day. Instead of walking over to the shared kitchen in my office building, I’m getting my constant water refills from the kitchen sink. I am eating a lot fewer granola bars for snacks, and more yogurt with granola, or slices of toast with fruit or cheddar or avocado. And while I like to cook normally, now I’m cooking (and/or reheating leftovers) for almost every meal. My Tupperware containers are not getting their usual workout, but my pots and pans are getting washed more often, and my countertop compost bin is filling up much faster.

I’m still using my travel mugs sometimes for my morning walks, and I’m baking a batch of scones or superhero muffins nearly every week. I’ve been cooking mostly soups, stews and other hearty dishes that will last me for several meals, though occasionally I’ll fry up a couple of eggs or make some pasta. I’m also trying to plan ahead for my weekly shopping trips to Trader Joe’s, though I can also get some essentials at the bodega if I run out.

Mostly, it’s a mindset shift: I can’t count on popping in somewhere to grab an ingredient or a meal on the go (not that I’m on the go, much). It’s learning to be here now, as frustrating as that sometimes is (and washing so many more dishes). It’s giving thanks for the sunlight that often streams in the kitchen windows. And it’s reminding myself (again) to fill up that water glass.

How have your kitchen rhythms changed in these times?

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