Books of 2018 & Fave Five

As a lifelong lover of reading, I take joy in books that only another book lover can relate to so I share with you now my list & favorites so another avid reader might find one they love too.

Books of 2018:

1. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

2. Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give A Fuck

3. Tips For Living, Renee Shafransky

4. All The Secrets We Keep, Megan Hart

5. Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler

6. A Dark Lure, Loreth Anne White

7. Go, Kazuki Kaneshiro

8. I Can’t Breathe, Matt Taibi

9. The Book of Joe, Jonathan Tropper

10. Feast: True Love In & Out of the Kitchen, Hannah Howard

11. When Never Comes, Barbara Davis

12. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boon

13. The Light of the Fireflies, Paul Pen

14. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

15. The House By The River, Lena Manta

16. Ten Women, Marcela Serrano

17. All The Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

18. Calypso, David Sedaris

19. Come Matter Here, Hannah Brencher

20. A Place For Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza

21. The House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea

22. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, Michelle McNamara

23. Whisper Me This, Kerry Anne King

24. The Storyteller’s Secret, Sejal Badani

25. The Thinnest Air, Minka Kent

26. Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis

27. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI, David Grann

28. You’ve Been So Lucky Already, Alethea Black

29. Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together, Kara Tippets & Jill Lynn Buteyn

30. The Infinite Pieces of Us, Rebekah Crane

31. Fail Until You Don’t: Fight. Grind. Repeat. Bobby Bones

32. Swan Song, Robert McCammon

33. A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis

34. Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

35. The River Widow, Ann Howard Creel

36. Becoming, Michelle Obama

37. Tears of the Silenced, Misty Griffin

My Top 5, in no particular order, with excerpts & my thoughts:



“What if we all stood equal in one another’s eyes & felt pride at our reflection? I speak of utopia & chance being ridiculed, but sitting in a village thousands of miles from everything, I will roll the dice. For one day only, maybe we could put aside our differences & come together in our sameness. For one day, we could see that past all the variations, we are all the same with similar hopes, dreams, fears, strengths, & weaknesses. For one day, we could stand together, not apart, & treat others as we would hope to be treated.”


A beautifully written novel that weaves together the intricacies of class, culture, love, friendship, & family.

“It’s not that I’ve emerged from my cocoon a butterfly. It’s not that I have escaped the taskmaster that lives in my brain & shouts & shouts an endless loop of fear, worry, shame. But I do know that the taskmaster’s voice speaks only some garbled, deeply skewed version of the truth, and that’s no truth at all. I’m less afraid to fall into the depths of my fear, worry, shame. I’ve been there before, & I know the way back out again. I have a flashlight. The darkness cannot devour me, & it certainly cannot stop me. Every bad moment is not a judgment. Every bad decision is not a life sentence.”

I love memoirs. I tell my children often that we all have our own stories & this one resonates deeply with me. And her writing was purely poetic, I’ve not ever read anything quite like it with its style & prose.

“I keep having the same unkind thought – I am preparing for death & everyone else is on Instagram. I know that’s not fair – that life is hard for everyone – but I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in the world dying.”

“We’re all sinking, slowly, but one day, while everyone watches, I will run out of air. I am going to go under. Even explaining it, I feel more & more frantic. There will be a day when I can’t take my next breath. And I will drown. I can picture it so clearly. People talk about heaven like it’s a hop, a skip, & a jump. A veil between heaven & earth will part & I will pass through it. The promise of heaven to me is this: someday I will get a new pair of lungs & I’ll swim away. But first I will drown.

Another memoir, and this one written by a woman with incurable cancer who, as a new mother, is trying to reconcile a belief she formerly ascribed to.

“At the end of the day, all he really knew was that he was a Mexican father. And Mexican fathers made speeches. He wanted to leave her with a blessing, with beautiful words to sum up a life, but there were no words sufficient to this day. But still, he tried. “All we do, mija,” he said, “is love.” Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.”

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a book reading & signing by this author & if you ever get the opportunity to do it, I’d highly recommend it. As a white girl married to a Hispanic man, I could appreciate the cultural component of this book and laughed & cried throughout.

“Most violent criminals smash through life like human sledgehammers. They have fists for hands & can’t plan beyond their sight lines. They return to the scene of the crime, as conspicuous as tin cans on a bumper. But every so often a blue moon surfaces. A snow leopard slinks by.”

“Tracking back the killer’s predatory development was like watching a horror movie in reverse, but rewinding was important. “A criminal is more vulnerable in his history than his future,” writes David Canter, a leading British crime psychologist, in his book Criminal Shadows. Canter believes the key to solving a series of crimes is to find out what happened before the first crime rather than establishing where the offender went after the most recent one. “Before he committed the crime he may not have known himself that he would do it,” writes Carter, “so he may not have been so careful before as afterwords.”

I’ve always been intrigued by true crime & long fascinated by forensic psychology even briefly entertaining the idea of pursuing it as a career. I can spend hours watching shows like Dateline so this book certainly piqued my interest

especially given the after effects.

Happy reading in the New Year!

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Cranberry Coffee Cake


This coffee cake is a little bit of everything: sweet; yet, tart, & moist; yet, crunchy. It comes together quickly & is perfectly suitable for brunch or a late afternoon snack.


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 tbsps Turbinado or granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 inch pie pan with non-stick spray; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, & salt. Stir in the cranberries & walnuts. In a measuring cup, melt the butter. Allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the eggs, cooled melted butter, & almond extract to flour mixture. Stir, stir, & stir again to incorporate as the mixture will be very thick. Spread evenly in prepared pan.

Using the same measuring cup with the buttered residue, add in 3 tbsps of sugar & stir to soak up any butter remaining in cup. Sprinkle on the top of the batter.

Bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted into middle comes clean.


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BLTA Sandwich

These sandwiches are perfect for a light dinner or summertime lunch. In my neck of the woods, it’s cold & blustery as winter approaches, but that didn’t deter me from making these for dinner the other night. Also, it’s a good way to use the leftover bacon from breakfast/ brunch.


  • Sourdough bread
  • Mayonnaise
  • Romaine lettuce
  • 1 Beefsteak tomato, sliced
  • 2 – 3 slices of cooked thick cut bacon
  • Freshly ground S & P
  • 1 avocado, sliced


With the oven on low broil, place the bread on a baking sheet & toast to a light golden, rotating to toast on both sides.

As the bread is toasting, slice the tomatoes into thick slices. Since I’m not a fan of soggy sandwiches, & tomatoes can make bread soggy, I place the tomatoes between a few layers of paper towels & press down to soak up the moisture. Discard the paper towels & season tomatoes with S&P.

Heat up the bacon. If it’s already cooked, 9 – 12 seconds in the microwave does the trick without making it rubbery.

Remove bread from oven & spread a little (or a lot, if that’s your thing) mayonnaise on one slice of bread. Add lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, slices of avocado & top with remaining slice of bread.


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Homemade Cinnamon Rolls with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting



“Mom, what are you making for breakfast tomorrow?”

”I made breakfast today. What are you making for breakfast tomorrow?”

“I want cinnamon rolls, but those take too long.”

Fast forward to this morning & I’m awake at 6:30am. That, my friends, is sleeping in. The forecast was set for drastically reduced temperatures from yesterday’s perfect 70 degrees, by about 50 degrees, starting with rain, quickly turning to sleet, snow, and lots of northerly winds. AKA: perfect baking weather.

For the record, I tried my hands at cinnamon rolls once a long, long time ago as a new wife so essentially I was starting from scratch. After perusing a few trusted blogs (Add a Pinch, Smitten Kitchen, & I Am Baker) I pulled ideas from each to create my own & I got a big thumbs up from the family. I may have even put my own thumbs up after taking the first bite.

Give yourself ample time to make these, about three hours. It’s a process, but well worth the wait.


for the rolls:

  • I cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 packet fast rising yeast
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for handling

for the filling: 

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

for the whipped cream cheese frosting: 

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup (or 2 oz. cream cheese)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of Kosher salt


for the rolls: 

Warm milk to 110 degrees (not more than 110 or it will kill the yeast) and whisk in the sugar and packet of yeast. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to proof, approximately 30 minutes.

Add egg yolks, one egg, cooled melted butter, kosher salt, & proofed milk, sugar, yeast mixture into the bowl of a stand up mixer & whisk together using the paddle attachment.  Add flour, one cup at a time, stirring to incorporate. Remove the paddle attachment with the dough hook, and knead for 5-7 minutes. The dough should be soft & moist, not overly sticky. Transfer the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl & cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled, approximately 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

Once the dough has doubled in size, transfer to a large, lightly floured surface and roll to to a rectangle that is 18 or so inches wide (the side closest to you) & 12 or so inches long with 1/4 inch thickness.

for the filling: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread the softened butter over the dough and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture all over the buttered dough. Beginning with the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight, 18 inch long spiral. Very gently, using floss and/ or a string (or even a serrated knife sawing gently) cut into 1 1/2 inch sections. (I got a bit wonky with my sizing so I had 15 cinnamon rolls of various sizes, but ideally you’ll want 12). Place in a lightly buttered 9×13 baking dish.

NOTE: if making the night before, stop here, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for up to 16 hours. Allow to rest on counter for 30 minutes prior to baking.

Bake until puffed and golden, approximately for 28-30 minutes, or until thermometer inserted reads 190 degrees.

for the whipped cream cheese frosting: 

While rolls are baking, add the butter, sifted powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, & salt into stand up mixer. Mix on low to just combine. Once ingredients are incorporated, turn mixer on high & beat for 4-5 minutes, scraping down the sides. Frosting will be light & fluffy.

When rolls are finished baking, allow them to cool for 5 minutes in pan before topping with frosting.



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Brisket Quesadillas

Recently, the hubby & I spent a weekend in Dallas. It’s not too far from home & our girls are now relatively old enough to fend for themselves & are more than happy to have their parents out of their hair for a bit. The extra cash we left them was the proverbial cherry on top. While there, we ate excellent Tex-Mex & barbecue. We were reminiscing about the brisket quesadillas we had & opted to recreate our own. They were super tasty, and to be honest, you can’t go wrong with brisket.


  • 5 lb brisket
  • Carne Asada steak seasoning
  • 4 tbsps Olive oil
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • Flour tortillas
  • Colby jack cheese, shredded


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet, add the olive oil & bring to medium heat so that it sizzles when a drop of water is added. While the oil is heating, cut the brisket in half & season both sides liberally with carne asada steak seasoning. Once the oil is ready, sear each side of the brisket for 4 minutes. Add two cups of beef broth to a baking pan & add the seared brisket to the pan. Cover tightly with foil & bake for 3 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle reads between 200 & 205 degrees. Remove from heat & allow to rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Bring a griddle to medium-high heat. Lightly butter the flour tortillas, add cheese, slices of brisket, & top with another lightly buttered tortilla. Toast each side until lightly golden and cheese has melted.

We had plenty left over so I’m envisioning brisket tacos or enchiladas in our future! For the leftovers, we poured the beef broth into the container to help keep it moist.

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Almond Poppy Seed Bread

This is not the picture I intended to use for this recipe, but I’ve had more issues with my brand new phone being sent off & repaired, that I didn’t back it up yet again before they decided to send me a brand new phone to replace the previous one. So far, a couple weeks in & it’s been issue free which is how a new phone should be in the first place. That being said, I managed to snap this one, but don’t let the crappy photo deter you from baking this yummy bread. I had to save myself from myself when it came to this bread. One day I had it for brunch & dinner with nothing else. Yeah, it’s that good.


for the bread:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsps almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups oil
  • 3 tbsps Poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp butter flavoring
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 3 eggs


for the topping:

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp butter flavoring
  • 3/4 cup sugar



Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray 2 bread pans with non-stick spray; set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, & oil until smooth. Stir in the almond & vanilla extract & the butter flavoring. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, & Poppy seeds. Beginning and ending with the milk, alternate adding some of the milk, then flour, stir & repeat. Distribute evenly between the two pans & bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Once the bread is finished baking, remove from the pans & transfer to a cooling rack & place parchment paper underneath. I learned the hard way and added the topping while the loaves were still in the pan and then allowed them to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Once I went to remove the bread, the bottom of the loaves stuck to the bottom of the pans. So trust me when I say, boil the topping ingredients on the stove & then pour topping over the loaves after you’ve removed them from the pans. Allow to cool before slicing.


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Pan Seared Garlic Butter Steak

When it comes to steak, 9/10 Chris fires up the grill & I busy myself making baked potatoes & salad or some other type of veggie, but tonight I changed things up & opted for seasoned & seared steak with garlic butter. That’s right, garlic butter, mmm hmm! When the family declares, “This is so good!” after every other bite, you know you’ve got a new favorite on your hands. This is truly excellent & nearly fail proof.


  • 3 (9-10 oz) Ribeye steaks
  • S&P, freshly ground
  • Olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley


Allow steaks to come to room temperature, 30-60 minutes. In a small bowl, add the butter, minced garlic, Thyme, & Rosemary; stir together until well combined; set aside. Liberally apply freshly ground salt & pepper to both sides of the steaks. Heat a large cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat pan evenly.

Add seasoned steaks to pan, cover, & cook 3 minutes on each each side. Reduce heat to medium-low; add half of the butter mixture; distributing evenly to tops of the steaks. Turn steaks over, spread remaining butter mixture evenly over steaks, remove from heat, sprinkle tops of steaks with parsley, & let rest for 5 minutes.

Note: I only had dried Thyme & Rosemary on hand, so I sprinkled some into the butter. If you happen to have fresh, use 2-3 sprigs of each.

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