Books I Read In 2020

2020, what a year! Despite the global pandemic, race riots, & a tumultuous presidential election, some things remained the same. Thankfully, I still sought & gained comfort & joy by reading; whether that was with hardbacks, paperbacks, kindle, or listening to audiobooks. Below is the list of books I read & my top five favorites:

  1. Lost & Wanted, Nell Freudenberger
  2. Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrik Backman
  3. Everything Changes, Jonathan Tropper
  4. Catch & Kill: Lies, Spies, & a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Ronan Farrow
  5. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  6. If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, & An Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood, Gregg Olson
  7. An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business & How You Can Take It Back, Elizabeth Rosenthal
  8. Come Home To Me, Liz Talley
  9. Know My Name, Chanel Miller
  10. Tell Me Lies, JP Pomare
  11. In An Instant, Suzanne Redfearn
  12. Wall of Silence, Tracy Buchanan
  13. My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
  14. Notorious RBG: The Life & Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
  15. Unspeakable Things, Jess Lourey
  16. Three Women, Lisa Toddeo
  17. Stories We Never Told, Sonja Youreg
  18. Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
  19. Under The Water, Paul Pen
  20. Where The Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
  21. The Other Woman, Sandie Jones
  22. Small Great Things, Jodie Picoult
  23. Chasing The Dead, Tim Weaver
  24. Everything is Horrible & Wonderful, Stephanie Wittels Wachs
  25. An Exit Interview With My Grandmother, Lily Meyersohn
  26. What Christians Believe, C.S. Lewis
  27. Hunger, Roxane Gray
  28. My Ex-Life, Stephen McCauley
  29. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman
  30. Sold On A Monday, Kristina McMorris
  31. Beartown, Fredrik Backman
  32. Us Against You, Fredrik Backman
  33. And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer & Longer, Fredrik Backman
  34. The Good Girl, Mary Kubica
  35. The Dark Bones, Loreth Anne White
  36. A House In The Sky, Amanda Lindout & Sara Corbett
  37. Anxious People, Fredrik Backman
  38. The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
  39. How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t), Ross Ellenhorn
  40. Eat A Peach, David Chang
  41. A Single Swallow, Zhang Ling
  42. The Murmur of Bees, Sofia Segovia
  43. How To Slowly Kill Yourself & Others, Kiese Laymon
  44. Resistance, Tori Amos
  45. Emotional First Aid, Guy Wench
  46. Bloodline, Jess Lourey

My favorite five, in no particular order of favorites:

Nonfiction

“It was a consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward that bowed to lawyers & threats that hemmed & hawed & parsed & shrugged that sat on multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct & disregarded a recorded admission of guilt. That language of indifference without ownership upheld so much silence in so many places. It was a consensus about the organization’s comfort level moving forward that protected Harvey Weinstein & men like him that yawned & gaped & enveloped law firms & PR shops & executive suites & industries that swallowed women whole.”

Memoir

“DA: ‘Did you have any intention of kissing the defendant?’ I looked up at Brock, his eyes already on me. I stared back. The thing about victims is that they wake up. Maybe you thought I’d never be able to go through with this. Maybe you thought, she has no memory. But I will never let you forget. DA: ‘Did you have any interest in him at all?’ I wanted to climb onto my stand with a large red paint brush to paint NO across the back wall of the court room in long red strokes, each letter 20 feet tall. I wanted a banner to unfurl from the ceiling releasing crimson balloons. I wanted everyone’s shirts lifted, N’s & O’s painted across hairy stomachs. NO NO NO NO NO doing the wave. I wanted to say, ask me again. Ask me 1 million times and that will always be my answer. No is the beginning & end of the story.”

Fiction

“With the sun on my face & a dog at my side, I have so much capacity for good. There’s nothing else to do but start from here. With the gentle pressure from the leash in my hand, the clink of metal, & click of toenails on brick. Ruby says it will take a while to feel truly changed, that I need to give myself the chance to see more of the world without him behind my eyes. I’m already starting to feel the difference. There’s a clearness, a lightness.”

Fiction

“Bitterness can be corrosive, it can rewrite your memories, as if it were scrubbing a crime scene clean, until in the end you only remember what suits you of its causes.”

Memoir

“I tried to locate what had been good about the day that had just passed. I looked for any moments where my captors had shown their humanity…In the context of the life I once lived, these were small things, ridiculous things, really, but in this place, & under these circumstances, they meant everything. By concentrating on what I was grateful for, I managed to work loose the knots. Each time my captors threw me into that hole, I found another way to climb out. It wasn’t easy. Not ever. Not once. But this way if thinking became my ladder, my doorway. Anywhere, anywhere I reminded myself. I could go anywhere.”

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Butter-Toffee Popcorn

Have you ever noticed how sometimes there is food that people like, but in all actuality, isn’t really very good? I don’t mean preference either, but the food is legitimately subpar, falling into the mediocre, at best, category. I think this type of food conjures up positive memories for people so they equate it with “good” when perhaps it’s more of the feelings associated with it. Think canned chicken noodle soup that maybe your mom prepared for you as a kid when you were home sick from school compared to how that tastes to homemade chicken noodle soup. Or, say, a box of Cracker Jacks at a baseball game you attended with your dad as a kid compared to this homemade butter-toffee popcorn. See what I mean? It’s more the experience & memory than the taste or quality of the food. It isn’t right or wrong, just an observation. Trust me when I say if there were two bowls in front of you & one was filled with Cracker Jacks & the other was filled with this, I’d be willing to bet you’d find this tastes a heck of a lot better. Tastebuds don’t lie & yet, memory is powerful.

Ingredients:

  • 4 3oz packages of microwave popcorn
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Pop the popcorn, remove kernels, & add to a large roasting pan.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, & honey. Bring to a boil & stir constantly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add salt, vanilla extract, & baking soda. Stir to incorporate.

Pour mixture over the popcorn, stirring to evenly coat. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15. Cool to room temperature. Store in air tight container/ ziplock bags.

*This can be made with unsweetened puff corn as well.

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Sausage & Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 30oz package tater tots
  • 1 lb bulk sausage
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp season salt
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 10 cranks of fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dry ground mustard

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in 9×13 casserole dish while heating, once melted, swirl around, add bag of tater tots & toss.

Return dish to oven & bake tater tots for 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop onion & mince garlic & add to skillet along with sausage & cook until browned & onions are soft.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, sour cream, season salt, salt, pepper, & ground mustard.

Once the tater tots are done, reduce oven temperature to 350. Spread the cooked sausage over the tots, sprinkle the cheese, & pour egg mixture over all of it.

Return to oven & bake for 30-35 minutes until set & the center doesn’t jiggle.

Remove from oven & allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Refrigerate or freeze remaining servings.

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Copycat Starbucks Petite Vanilla Bean Scones

I don’t ever buy these scones at Starbucks for myself, but sometimes, I’ll have a bite of Leah’s. Yesterday when she & her friend made a double batch of these, they not only looked great, but they tasted delicious. I enjoyed some again this morning with my cup of coffee & they’re as equally good today.

Ingredients:

For the scones:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 tbsp milk

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt in the bowl of a food processor, & whisk to combine. Add the butter & pulse until mixture looks like course meal. While the food processor is running on low, pour in the cream & vanilla extract.

When the dough has gathered into a ball, turn off the food processor, & divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Flatten each portion into a disc shape, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut each disc into 6 triangles with a knife. Place on baking sheet, about a 1/2 inch between.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until set in the centers & slightly golden on the bottoms. Allow to cool.

In a small bowl, stir the powdered sugar, vanilla bean seeds, & milk together until smooth. Spread glaze onto top of each scone. Repeat as needed until glaze is gone.

Enjoy!

Source: https://www.recipegirl.com/copycat-starbucks-vanilla-bean-scones/

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Cinnamon Crackle Cookies

Back in the day, before one could peruse the internet to their heart’s content, recipes were discovered by way of family, friends, cookbooks, & good ol’ fashioned magazines. People would actually have magazine subscriptions & look forward to receiving it on a monthly basis. In the early 2000’s, I had a Taste of Home subscription for several years where I would dog-ear pages & highlight various recipes. Sometimes after trying them out, the glossy pages would stick together from various ingredients & on occasion, swell & bloat if too much liquid spilled onto the pages. Good times, I tell ya. I discovered this recipe from one of the Taste of Home Christmas editions & made them several times, gifting to friends, neighbors, & incorporating into cookie trays for work. As the years passed, & a couple of moves happened, the magazines were tossed & the recipe was never written down. The other day, during the annual Christmas baking extravaganza, these came to mind, & with a quick search of the internet, I was reunited with the recipe. Full circle, my friends. Full circle.

These cookies are not to be confused with Snickerdoodle, also a cinnamon-based cookie. These guys are crunchy on the outside & chewy in the middle, with the nutmeg giving it that special oomph.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • additional sugar for rolling

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, & sugars until light & fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in the egg & extracts. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, nutmeg, & salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture, until fully incorporated.

Using a 1 inch cookie scoop, form balls, & roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to cooling racks.

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Chicken & Pepper Jack Mac

Need a little comfort food & spice in your life? Say no more. Discussions about what to eat for dinner is a daily staple. Chris, ever the lover of Mac & Cheese, requested white mac’n’cheese with a kick to it. A little internet perusing landed me to http://www.theviewfromgreatisland.com a blog I regularly check out. I opted to throw in some rotisserie chicken & we were both pleased with the results.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb large shape pasta, I used shells
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 lb Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups rotisserie chicken, chopped
  • S & P, to taste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions, 2 or 3 minutes less, for al dente. Drain; set aside.

Over medium heat, using a large pot, melt butter & add flour, stir constantly for a minute. Add milk & stir continually until sauce thickens. Remove from heat & add small amounts of cheese at a time, reserving a 1/2 cup of cheese; stir to incorporate. Season with S & P. Stir in the cooked pasta, sliced jalapeños, and chicken. Transfer to cast iron skillet & top with remaining cheese. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Enjoy!

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Zucchini Bread – Take 5

I’m always somewhat in awe of how recipes that contain the same ingredients, with slight variations in the amount of said ingredients, can altogether alter the taste of the final product. For whatever reason, even though it’s now fall, since this past summer, I’ve been on a serious zucchini bread kick. While I have several zucchini bread recipes, I opted for a new one on AllRecipes labeled, “Mom’s Zucchini Bread” & I am a fan as is the family & Chris’s coworkers. I’ve made adjustments along the way; sometimes using a combination of granulated (1 cup) & brown sugar (1 1/4 cups), instead of their listed 2 1/4 cup granulated sugar, increasing the vanilla extract from 3 tsp to 1 tbsp, & almost always use 2 cups of chopped walnuts as opposed to their suggested 1 cup. Also, even though it says 2 cups grated zucchini, I’m pretty sure I’ve used as much as 3 cups, if not more.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups, packed grated zucchini
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts

Preparation

Grease two standard size bread pans, or spray with nonstick spray; set aside. Preheat oven to 335 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, from the flour to the cinnamon.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, add the oil, sugars, & vanilla extract & blend together. Incorporate the dry with wet ingredients until just blended. Mix in the walnuts & zucchini. Pour batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 1 hour or until knife inserted in the middle comes clean.

You can let them rest in the pans for 10 minutes before removing, but I’ve also removed them right away before to cool on a rack so you do you.

I always like to eat this warm with some butter. So, it heats nicely in the microwave for 30 seconds.

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Glazed Lemon Blueberry Loaf

I’ve always been fond of the lemon & blueberry combo; I find it light & refreshing, & was very surprised to hear from my husband, after sending him to work with the above tray, he’d had 2 slices & liked it as well. Just goes to show you can still learn things about your spouse after 22 years of marriage!

Ingredients:

For the loaves:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups Greek Yogurt or sour cream
  • Juice & zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for tossing of blueberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups fresh blueberries

For the glaze:

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Fresh lemon juice, 1-2 lemons

Preparation:

Prepare 2 standard loaf pans with non-stick spray; set aside or line with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, toss 2 tbsp of flour with the blueberries; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend together oil, eggs, vanilla, sugar, yogurt or sour cream, lemon juice & zest. Add in the flour, baking powder, & salt & mix together until combined without over mixing. Fold in floured blueberries.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes, insert knife into middle of the loaf & if it comes out clean, allow to rest in pans for 10 minutes before removing. If inserted knife doesn’t come out clean, return to oven & bake for 5 minutes more at a time.

Once completed baking, allow to rest in pans for 10 minutes before removing & allow to cool completely before icing.

In a bowl, add the powdered sugar. Based on desired consistency of glaze, start with the juice of 1 lemon, stir, & if too thick, add the juice of another lemon. Pour evenly over both loaves, allow to dry completely before slicing.

Note:

Recipe can be easily halved for one loaf.

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Peanut Butter Bread

 

If you’re anything like me, you just read that, & thought, Wait! Whaaat? Peanut butter bread? That was me last night, utterly intrigued. Upon further investigation, I learned it’s a depression era bread. Makes sense. I also discovered quite a few recipes for peanut butter banana bread & using a blender to mix it in instead of a traditional mixer; of which I found no interest in either of those things. Fast forward to this morning & I was on it.

The sight, texture, & taste of the dough, & the smell of the bread while baking had all of those senses convinced I was making peanut butter cookies at 8am! Rest assured the end result does not lend itself to the equivalent of cookies. The bread is very peanut buttery, dense, & not very sweet.

Ironically, while I did not opt for the recipe of peanut butter banana bread, I did, in fact, make an open faced peanut butter bread with a smear of peanut butter topped with banana & drizzled with honey sandwich. What can I say? For years, when I regularly ate breakfast, my go to was a banana with peanut butter & when my girls were young, I’d serve them “banana boats” (bananas cut lengthwise with peanut butter spread on them, which my 17 year old still requests I make for her).

More often than not, these days breakfast consists of black coffee, but today was not one of those days. After the bread cooled, & while on a conference call (God bless 3 hour conference calls from the comfort of my kitchen) I ate the above around 9:30am & it was so hearty & filling, I didn’t eat again until dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

Blend/ beat together the milk, eggs, peanut butter, sugars, & vanilla extract until smooth. Whisk together the salt, baking powder, & flour, add to the wet mixture & blend until just combined. Transfer dough to prepared bread pan. 

Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan to finish cooling on a baking rack.

Notes to self:

*stick with your baking intuition & reduce the oven temp to 325 or 335 degrees & check for doneness at 40-45 minutes.

*can you say, peanut butter French toast for brunch?

*mini chocolate chips in the dough, please

*Turbinado sugar & chopped peanuts added to the top & swirled in prior to baking for a sweet, crunchy topping & swirl

*toasted with jelly

*forgo the sugars & use honey instead

*peanut butter bread with peanut butter & sliced apple sandwich

The possibilities are endless!

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1, 2, 3 Chocolate Sauce

This chocolate sauce is synonymous with my childhood summers, Christmases, or Spring Break. Basically, any time we went to visit my maternal grandparents on their farm. It was a nightly ritual that after dinner the 5 gallon bucket of Schwan’s vanilla ice cream was retrieved from the cellar, placed in the kitchen sink, & various family members would arrive throughout the night to visit, joke, laugh, & play cards. Someone would inevitably man the stove to create the sauce & one by one, we’d scoop out our ice cream & drizzle with the 1, 2, 3 sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 1 12oz can of evaporated milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

Preparation:

Add & stir together all ingredients in a medium size sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil; then reduce temperature to low. Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring constantly. Enjoy!

Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments