Monday, January 22, 2018

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Published July 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that came onto my radar, got added to my TBR list, and then I completely forgot what it was about. Except, of course, for the obvious title. Even when I chose it for my book club to read, I didn't really delve too much into what it was about (which is risky, I'll admit!). I like to read books that way; it helps me not have any expectations.

As it turns out, that's was a good thing. Kitchens of The Great Midwest made several best-of lists in 2015; had I read it right away, I would have been expected great things. But I can almost guarantee that it will not make my best-of list for 2018. Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it; I did and I was perfectly happy with it because I didn't have too high of expectations.

Kitchens of The Great Midwest is not so much a novel as it is a series of interrelated short stories. Every story centers on one character and one food, with Eva playing some role in every story. Even so, in the end I felt like I didn't know Eva as well as I knew all of the other characters we'd met along the way; she remains something of an enigma. On the other hand, some of the secondary characters really came alive, including one of my favorites, Pat Prager, a small-town, church-going second wife who constantly struggles to live the Christian life she espouses.

I read this with my book club and it was a book nearly everyone did finish and enjoy (although not everyone enjoyed the ending). There were stories in the book that reminded us of other books, there were stories that made us cheer (Chocolate Habeneros with its great revenge and girl power!), and stories that made us sad. For a midwest guy, though, Stradal doesn't actually seem to think much of most of the people who live in middle America. Maybe that had more to do with the food stories he wanted to tell than the people he was writing about.

Stradal is a man who understands the power of food and the ways it can bring out both the best and the worst in people. He is an equal opportunity mocker of traditional comfort "church" food and the "foodies" who often treat food as its own religion. He absolutely made me want to get in the kitchen with a little voice in one year telling me to get rid of all of the less than wholesome things in there and another voice telling me to bake some bars immediately. I certainly can't wait for the farmer's markets to arrive again! And that I have already made Pat Prager's bars.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life: It Goes On - January 21

Good Sunday morning! Waiting for winter to return today after an absolutely gorgeous Saturday with temperatures in the 50's and sunshine. It was just the kind of day this girl needs to survive winter. It was a perfect day to get out and talk a walk with a few thousand of my like-minded friends. Our newspaper reported that 8,000 Omahans turned out for the Women's March yesterday. It's always good to hang out with a group of like-minded folks!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm still listening to The Monsters of Templeton; I'm over half way through it at this point. Unfortunately, I'm not loving it and I'm seriously considering giving it up.

Watching: Longmire, This Is Us (finally finished season 1), West World, The Mindy Project, college basketball, football, Flea Market Flip, Divorce (with Sarah Jessica Parker) and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (just as much fun as the first one!).

Reading: I finally finished Far From The Madding Crowd and I'm starting Julia Heaberlin's Paper Ghosts since it's completely different.

Making: Bread (finally restocked my yeast and now I'm back to learning how to use my machine and tweak the recipes that came with it. Today I'm making a loaf of french bread. Next up will be sourdough. Last night I made the  best chicken pot pie I've ever made; no recipe, just tossing it together so I'm not sure I'll ever be able to recreate it!

Planning: I'm already thinking about a plan of attack for 40 Bags In 40 Days. You'd think that getting rid of 40 bags of stuff every year plus several additional trips to the Goodwill every year would mean it would be hard to find 40 more bags to get rid of but you'd be wrong. How can we still have so much stuff??

Thinking About: Reorganizing my books. Realistically this would mean moving them all into one room for sorting and organizing. Which is why this project is still in the "thinking about" stage.

Enjoying: After the march, since it was such a beautiful day and I was all the way downtown already, I spent about an hour and a half shopping our Old Market area and in my favorite used book store. After just reading that article about how having more books than you will ever read is actually good for you, I didn't feel the least bit guilty bringing home two new-to-me books (John Green's An Abundance of Katherines and Dave Eggers' Zeitoun).

Feeling: Inspired! There were so many people who had brought their young girls to the march, so many young men supporting women, so many older people, and such a great diversity of people. I'm ready to get to work to get out the vote and to help my friend who is running for office.

Looking forward to: Being deputized on Tuesday to register voters!

Question of the week: It's been cold all over the country this week - how are you all finding ways to stay warm?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

It's that time again - time for me to clean up my saved Facebook posts!

* You've probably noticed in my Sunday posts that I'm a big fan of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling's show in Hulu. Love Mindy on that show but love her even more for her very visible book fandom. Book Riot has a list of 20 Books Recommended by Mindy Paling on Twitter and Instagram. There are a couple of Jane Austen books on there so I know Kaling is cool!

* Barack Obama, also an avid reader, posted this list of his favorite books (and songs, but I'm only sharing the books) of 2017. Pretty stoked to find out that three books I read and loved are on this list: Grant, Anything Is Possible, and A Gentleman In Moscow.

During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most. From songs that got me moving to stories that inspired me, here's my 2017 list — I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year. The best books I read in 2017:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
*Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

Author Umberto Eco's library contains some 30,000 books

* As if we needed another excuse to buy more books, this article from Inc. teaches us "Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time To Read."  Yet another way, it turns out, that books make us smarter. 

* Jamie Ford's Love And Other Consolation Prizes was one of my favorite books of 2017. Ford sets much of his story in an early 20th-century Seattle brothel. Messy Messy has an article about the real madame on who Ford based Madame Flor, The Brothel Boss Lady Who Helped Build Seattle. I always love to dig deeper into the historical fiction I read.

* Finally, from Time, KonMari to Hygge: Inside The Lifestyle Guide Boom or Death Cleaning to Hygge: These Books Want to Be The Next Marie Kondo (I have no idea why the link has one name but the actual article another). I never could make myself by Kondo's books but I very much enjoyed Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge and I've been working to bring a little hygge into my home this winter to keep my spirits up. With Forty Bags In Forty Days coming up, maybe I need to get my hands on The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning? I wonder if Margareta Magnusson has tips on how to get your husband on board with the cleaning?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published February 2017 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

"There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones."

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant—and that her lover is married—she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

My Thoughts:
This was the last book I finished in 2017 and what a great finale for the year.
"Pachinko is about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides. Each time the novel seems to find its locus—Japan's colonization of Korea, World War II as experienced in East Asia, Christianity, family, love, the changing role of women—it becomes something else. It becomes even more than it was." - New York Times, Krys Lee
I've struggled trying to describe why this book is so wonderful. This piece of Krys Lee's review for The New York Times explains why. Min Jin Lee has incorporated so much of a history I was unaware of but this is primarily a book about the members of a Korean family forced to build a life for themselves in a country that doesn't really want them and unable to return to their home. Pachinko is an unpredictable game of chance, much like the lives of Lee's characters.

Pachinko is beautifully written but difficult to read. Min Jin Lee's characters are nuanced and complex people who struggle to survive both physically and emotionally. It is both a sprawling sage, spanning seventy years, and an intimate tale. These are characters I will not soon forget: Sunja, who fights for the survival of her family and suffers terribly in so many ways; Koh Hansu, who is both a morally corrupt man and a man who loves deeply; the farmer who saves the family during WWII but who also wishes for the war to continue until he can make enough money to fulfill his grandfather's wish; Noa, Sunja's eldest son who struggles with his personal and ethnic history.

One day, I will start rereading the books that have stuck with me the longest. I have a feeling Pachinko will be one of them.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Life: It Goes On - January 14

Hmmm, well, I suppose it's officially winter now when there are more days in single digits than not and schools are closed for the day. Ick. I just want to make soups. And desserts. The Big Guy keeps reminding me that we don't need either. But I'm making rice pudding today anyway.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been having a lot of fun building playlists on Spotify. Which means I've been listening to parts of a lot of different songs before I decide if they go on a playlist of not. It also means I'm getting a bit concerned about my inability to even focus on three minutes.

Watching: Football (so said that the season is almost over, although, let's be honest, all of the teams I care about have long since been done), Longmire with BG and The Mindy Project with Miss H.

Reading: Kitchens Of The Great Midwest for book club this week.

Making: Chocolate cookie bars. I have no idea what we've eaten this week if that's all I've made.

Planning: After that initial flush of "it's a new year!" planning, I've got nothing. It's a January thing. You'd think that would make me want to plan ahead, wouldn't you?

Pretty much what I've been doing this week, too!
Thinking About: Spending the day with a heating pad on my face. Ugh, I know it's a little thing in the scheme of life, but I'm feeling whiny today.

Enjoying: Got my hair cut and colored yesterday. If I ever win the lottery (although I'm sure you need to play to win), I'm putting my stylist on my staff. Why does someone else blowdrying and styling your hair feel so much better than when you do it yourself?

Feeling: Like spending the next two months inside until winter is almost over. Except for...

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and the Women's March on Saturday. Lordy, I hope it warms up some by then!

Question of the week: For those of you who actually experience winter, what things do you do to make it better?


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - The Best of Lists

I don't know how December got away from me so badly, where books are concerned. I'm only just now getting around to check out all of the "best of" lists for 2017. It's really one of the ways my book nerd flag flies high - I like to make a spread sheet so I can track the books that showed up the most often and make sure I've got those books at the top of my TBR list. Not that that ends up meaning much but I always mean well when I put the lists together. I'm always excited to find books that I thought were great on the lists (like Lincoln In The Bardo which is showing up every where) or books I've downloaded but just haven't gotten to yet (like Andrew Sean Greer's Less).

Here are some of my go-to lists:

The Washington Post's top ten list includes five fiction and five nonfiction.

Book Browse named four award winners but also included a list of 20 top books. Looks like a good source for book club choices.

Of course, the New York Times' 10 Best Books is always a list to consider and I'm excited to find two books I've already read and a couple more I'm planning on reading soon. My uncle's currently reading another; perhaps I can talk him into doing a review!

Harper's Bazaar has a list of the 20 Best Books of 2017 which is decidedly female and fiction oriented.

The folks at Esquire either got lazy and couldn't be bothered to narrow down their list or read a record number of great books in 2017. They have a list of the 50 Best Books of 2017.

If books appear on both American lists and the BBC list of the 10 Best Books of 2017, does that mean they really are great?

My fave of 2017 appears
on almost every list
The Guardian gives us all kinds of "best of" lists, including a the best photography books and favorite reads as chosen by scientists.

The Entertainment Weekly Best Books of 2017 is the only list I've found that includes a graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, except for...

The Boston Globe has an entire list of favorite graphic novels for 2017, as well as lists specifically devoted to fiction, nonfiction, mystery, and sports.

Oh, never mind, Book Riot's list of the Best Books of 2017 also includes My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Hmm, perhaps I need to read another graphic novel one of these days.

The Huffington Post's Best Fiction Books of 2017 includes several books I haven't seen on any other lists (let's be honest, it includes some books I've never even heard of!).

How about you? Do you like to check out these lists? Do they influence your reading choices at all? I'm off now to tally up my spread sheet and see what I need to read first off of it!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

The Wife, The Maid, And The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Published June 2014 by Gale Group
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

My Thoughts:
"What is it with you and graveyards?"
 "They fascinate me."
 "Dead people fascinate you?"
 "No. The stories they leave behind." She peered up at him. "Don't you wonder who they
  were? What kind of lives they lived?"
Lawhon is clearly fascinated by dead people and the kind of lives they lived. In The Wife, The Maid, And The Mistress, Lawhon takes a known details of a disappearance that made big headlines almost ninety years ago and crafts her own version of what might have happened and who might have been involved.

Filled with crooked politicians and cops, bootleggers,  society women and showgirls, Lawhon creates a cast of colorful characters to tell her story. Nearly all of them are liars. Most of them are hiding secrets. Some of them are real. Like Billie Holiday.
"Smoke hung love in the air, and smooth jazz rhythms vibrated through the dance floor, up her feet and thighs, and into her rib cage. It lured her with a serpentine motion, and she leaned into the music. For one brief second, Ritzi forgot her troubles in the seductive embrace of the singer's voice. Tall and waif like and clearly not out of her teens, the black woman had a voice so full of emotion that Ritzi gaped."
I came away from the book with a vivid picture of 1930 New York City, a city where, just a year after the market collapse, there were 700 new buildings being built, where speakeasies were frequented by the high and mighty, and where Tammany Hall ruled the day.

Lawhon builds her story by alternating the stories of the three women coming to a big surprise that is actually so quiet, it would be easy to miss it. It's a surprise that makes you want to reread the book to see what you missed. In retrospect, I feel like there may have been a bit too much going on in the book but at the time I was reading, I was all in for the ride and enjoyed the book a lot. Perhaps my very favorite part, though, was coming to this point:


 Shelby, Iowa. A very small town, about an hour east of Omaha, a speck on most maps and a town that, until a recent surge due to a manufacturing plant locating nearby, was slowing dying. It wouldn't mean anything to most readers. But it's the town that my mom grew up in, the town we went to visit my grandparents in for more than twenty years. What a surprise to find it in a book! It made me like Lawhon's book even more.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Life: It Goes On - January 7


Happy New Year! Hope this finds those of you who've been hit with snowstorms and bitter cold all safe and warm. We are finally heading into warmer temps; I'm so glad to be able to put away my parka for a bit, at least. You know you're starting to get acclimated to the cold when it's 10 degrees out and you decide it's not cold enough to put your hat on!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I started Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton this week. I've only just started the second disc; but, so far, it's hard to imagine that this book was written by the same author who wrote Fates and Furies. I mean, it has a ghost and a giant lake monster. Still, I'm enjoying it, so far.

Watching: Miss H and I turned New Year's Day into a lazy, tv-watching day. We watched an entire season of The Mindy Project and finished a season of Orange Is The New Black. I cannot wait for the next season of that show! The Big Guy and I watch a couple of episodes of Longmire, Craig Ferguson's Tickle Fight (Ferguson is the only guy who can bring me to tears talking about toilets!), and The Zookeeper's Wife, starring Jessica Chastain. Now I want to get to that book. Which is on my shelves...somewhere.

Reading: Still working on Far From The Madding Crowd. I haven't actually done much reading this week - between all of the television watching and focus on putting things in order, there just hasn't been much time.

Making: Bread! Mini-me and Mrs. S gave me a bread machine for Christmas and I'm having fun learning how to use it. I made two loaves yesterday, a basic white loaf and a wheat. I'm getting the hang of this thing and I'm about ready to start experimenting a little.

Planning: I've spent a lot of time this week getting my bullet journal set up for the year. I'm pretty stoked that Miss H has gotten herself a journal as well; she is all in, buying washi tape and stickers.
Mini-me and Mrs. S with their
wedding book

Thinking About: I can't stop thinking about how fun it was to celebrate Christmas with Mini-me and Mrs. S last weekend. Mrs. S was so excited about everything she got, from leggings to a crockpot. It's nice to give gifts so someone who is so demonstrably pleased with even the most utilitarian gifts. Her favorite gift was a book I had made of pictures from their wedding. It was so fun to watch both of them go through it and remember that weekend.

Enjoying: Cocoa, electric blankets, and time with my girl.

Feeling: Sad that we're back to five-day workweeks starting this week.

Looking forward to: The Winter Olympics. I'm seriously thinking about taking a couple of days off work just to stay home and watch curling!

Question of the week: How do you survive the letdown after the holidays? Or do you appreciate a return to normality?


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My One Word

It's that time of year again. Time to pick a word for the year, my one word, that I will do a terrific job of focusing on for a couple of months and then forget about for the rest of the year. I put a lot of thought into my word for last year, "heart." But last year really got away from me on so many levels; I even spent a good chunk of the year with a broken heart. Still, it's a great word. A word that still holds a lot of meaning for me and represents all of the things I want to make this year about. So, my word for 2018 will, again, be "heart."


noun
1. Anatomy. a hollow, pumplike organ of blood circulation
2. the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling, or emotion
3. the center of emotion, especially as contrasted to the head as the center of the intellect
4. capacity for sympathy; feeling; affection
5. spirit, courage, or enthusiasm
6. the innermost or central part of anything

verb
1. after one's own heart, in keeping with one's taste or preference
2. at heart, in reality; fundamentally; basically
3. break someone's heart, to cause someone great disappointment or sorrow
4. by heart, by memory; word-for-word
5. cross one's heart, to maintain the truth of one's statement; affirm one's integrity
6. do someone's heart good, to give happiness or pleasure to; delight
7. to have sorrow or longing dominate one's emotions; grieve inconsolably

I want to take better care of my own heart physically and spiritually this year. But, as I said last year:
"I want my heart to be the center of my personality and I want it to guide me to show my feelings in more concrete ways. I want to live with spirit, courage, and enthusiasm. I want to do the things that do my heart good, that give me pleasure and happiness."
And I want to do the things that will fill others' hearts with joy and to affirm my integrity. To keep me from straying so badly again, I'm going to be putting together a plan that will remind me to stay focused. I'll be incorporating some of what I had planned to do with my Happiness Project last year (another thing that got lost by the wayside) and using  my bullet journal to track my progress. I've always lead with my heart. It's time to put that to good use!

Do you pick a word for the year? If you have, what's your one word and why did you choose it?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best Books Read in 2017


This was meant to be part of December's Month of Faves but, as you may have noticed, December really got away from me blog wise. Still, it's always good to look back at the books that really made an impact in the past year.


FICTION:
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
News Of The World by Paulette Jules
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrente
The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

NONFICTION:
Shrill by Lindy West
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird
Epic Measures: One Doctor, Seven Billion Patients by Jeremy N Smith

AUDIO:
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English by Natasha Solomon
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Ruby by Cynthia Bond

HONORABLE MENTION:
The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
What Is Not Your Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Of my favorite fiction books, Lincoln In The Bardo and News Of The World really stood out; Bardo in no small part because of its unique writing style and News because of Jules' amazing characters. The most surprising books on my lists are The Martian because it always surprises me when I really like a sci-fi book and The Changeling because fantasy is so far out of my wheelhouse but LaValle completely sold me. The most creative book I read this year was Ella Minnow Pea; imagine trying to write a book using fewer and fewer letters from the alphabet.

I "read" far fewer audiobooks this year so there were far fewer to add to my best-of list. Miss Burma is a book that has really stayed with me, particularly given the recent events in what is now Myanmar.  The book that by far and away made me the most uncomfortable was We Were Eight Years In Power. The book that made my heart hurt the most was An Exact Replica of A Figment Of My Imagination.


Monday, January 1, 2018

First Book of 2018!


Sheila, of Book Journey, is once again hosting First Book Of The Year; and I am, once again, slow to post!


Although, clearly, I took my picture bright and early this morning, before hairbrush and makeup and still wearing my nightgown (ok, let's be honest, I have been known to wear my pj's well into the afternoon, on occasion). And, yes, I know I was meant to have read this book by the end of 2017. But...best laid plans and all that. So, my first book of 2018 will be Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd!