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?