Books I Read in 2019

Even though I maintain this site as my digital recipe box, the annual post I look forward to most is the collection of books I read throughout the year. In fact, ever since I committed to reading 52 books in 2014, I’ve kept an ongoing list in the notes app on my phone of the books I’ve read. I have a life long love of reading. I was the kid who who would sneak in extra reading by the hall light after bedtime until I could hear my parents’ footfall on the bottom of the stairs prompting me to hurriedly feign sleep. During family road trips after dusk I would read what I could of the Sweet Valley High series & later books by VC Andrews (I’m dating myself, I know!) using the beam of head lights from the cars behind us. While in school for my undergrad when reading was primarily required, I have a hazy memory of my friend Jed in my dorm room, picking up Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning splayed across my stomach where I’d lain it before I dozed off. He gently picked up the book, laid it on my desk, and whispered, “You’re on page 83, Ang,” & then he turned the light off, slipped out the door, & closed it quietly behind him. Those are just a few of the memories I have that involve reading. It’s safe to say when someone has memories of reading, they’re likely a bona fide bookworm. I am what I am & if you’re still reading this chances are you are too!

Without further ado, the list:

  1. Educated, Tara Westover
  2. The Last of the Stanfields, Marc Levy
  3. Evidence of the Affair, Taylor Jenkins Reid
  4. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  5. Not Famous, Matthew Hanover
  6. Dracula, Bram Stroker
  7. Born a Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
  8. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  9. Kindred, Octavia Butler
  10. Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis
  11. The Upside of Falling Down, Rebekah Crane
  12. The Professor, Robert Bailey
  13. The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris
  14. A Curve in the Road, Julieanne Maclean
  15. Mother’s Group, Liane Moriarty
  16. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe The World, Admiral William McRaven
  17. The Eighth Sister, Robert Dugoni
  18. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward
  19. The Butterfly Garden, Dot Hutchison
  20. Pretty Girls Dancing, Kylie Brant
  21. The Short Drop, Matthew FitzSimmons
  22. The Practice House, Laura McNeal
  23. Last Summer, Kerry Lonsdale
  24. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  25. The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing, & Coming Out, William Dameron
  26. What You Did, Claire McGowan
  27. Heartland, Sarah Smarsh
  28. The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice For Making Life Decisions, Emily P. Freeman
  29. Thin Air: A Jessica Shaw Thriller, Lisa Gray
  30. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, Kelly Harms
  31. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, & Our Lives Revealed, Lori Gottlieb
  32. The Friend, Sigrid Nunez
  33. Room To Breathe, Liz Talley
  34. Toil & Trouble, Augusten Burroughs
  35. Heavy, Kiese Laymon
  36. Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell
  37. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
  38. Emily, Gone Bette Lee Crosby
  39. The Like Switch, Jack Shafer, PhD & Marvin Karline, PhD
  40. The Obesity Code, Jason Fung, MD
  41. A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult
  42. A Beginner’s Guide To The End: Practical Advice For Living Life & Facing Death, BJ Miller, MD & Shoshana Berger

My favorites (in no particular order):

“In society we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it effects. We don’t see their face; we don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place: to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight & mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them. If we could see another’s pain & empathize with one another it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

*If you haven’t read this book, or even if you have, I urge you to listen to the Audible version. His style, accent, cadence is unprecedented. Also, you will find yourself pealing with laughter. I promise.

“Even in the best possible relationship, you’re going to get hurt sometimes & no matter how much you love somebody, you will, at times, hurt that person. Not because you want to, but because you’re human. You will inevitably hurt your partner, your parents, your children, your closest friend & they will hurt you because if you sign up for intimacy, getting hurt is part of the deal. But, what is great about a loving intimacy is that there is room for repair. Therapists call this process “rupture & repair.” And, if you had parents who acknowledged their mistakes & took responsibility for them & taught you as a child to acknowledge your mistakes & learn from them too, then your ruptures won’t feel so cataclysmic in your adult relationships. If, however, your childhood ruptures didn’t come with loving repairs, it will take some practice for you to tolerate the ruptures; to stop believing that every rupture that happens signals the end, & a trust that even if a relationship doesn’t work out, you will survive that rupture too. You will heal & self repair & sign up for another relationship full of its own ruptures & repairs. It’s not ideal, opening yourself up like this, putting your shield down, but if you want the rewards of an intimate relationship, there’s no way around it.”

 

“I would learn 15 years too late that asking for consent, granting consent, surviving sexual violence, being called a good dude, & never initiating sexual relationships did not incubate me from being emotionally abusive. Consent meant little to nothing if it was not fully informed. What & to whom were my partners consenting if I spent our entire relationship convincing them that a circle was not a circle, but just a really relaxed square. I’d become good at losing weight & great at convincing women they didn’t see or know what they absolutely saw & knew. Lying there on that floor, I accepted that I’d actually never been honest with myself about what carrying decades of lies did to other people’s hearts & heads.”

 

 

“This has been a book about a conundrum. We have no choice but to talk to strangers, especially in our modern, borderless world. We aren’t living in villages anymore…Yet at the most necessary of tasks we are inept. We think we can transform the stranger without cost or sacrifice into the familiar & the known & we can’t.”

 

A book worth mentioning:

While it wasn’t a favorite of mine, I do believe it’s an important and worthwhile book. I’ve been a hospice social worker for over 3 years now so the information outlined isn’t new to me, but for someone not in the field, this is an essential handbook to help guide people during a time when it’s often difficult to think straight.

“Only a small fraction of us, 10 – 20% maybe, will die without warning. The rest of us will have time to get to know what’s going to end our lives. As discomforting as that can be, it does afford us some time to live with this knowledge, get used to it, & respond. We do have some choice about how we orient ourselves to the inevitable: where we’ll die, maybe, or around whom. And most important, how to spend the time meanwhile.”

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White Velvet Sugar Cookies

It’s possible you’ve already retired your apron for the baking season because you are simply cookied out! I feel you, I’ve been there, read: may be there now. If however, you’re getting a late start or are on a baking extravaganza, I urge you to try these cookies. Afterwards, you might just decide these are your new go-to Christmas cutout cookies.

They are impressive in that you can roll them out thick & they keep their shape while baking instead of becoming a misshapen pool of dough. But more importantly, they taste so, so good! They stand alone on their own. Good enough to eat without any frosting, I know because I’ve eaten my fair share just that way.

Typically, I make royal frosting, but as I mentioned before, I’ve fallen victim to the, “I’m done baking!” So, I made a traditional butter cream frosting & told the fam they could frost & decorate their own cookies, a sort of Christmas cookie assembly line, if you will. Give these a shot, I’m confident you will be happy with the results.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (16 oz) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preparation:

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter & cream cheese, until light & fluffy, 3 – 5 minutes, scraping down the sides & bottom, as needed.

Add the sugar, egg yolks, & vanilla. Mix well, another 1 – 2 minutes. Add the flour & salt. Mix until combined, being careful not to over mix.

Place dough in a Tupperware container, cover, & chill for a minimum of 2 hours. Longer is fine, of course.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters & cut into shape, placing 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until set, but not browned on edges or bottom. Remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

Frost cookies or place unfrosted in a Tupperware container & freeze until you’re ready to frost or eat as is.

Source: melskitchencafe.com

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Caprese Salad – Take Two

The first time I posted about caprese salad it was for a serving of one. I would pack this for lunch during the summertime. It is no longer summer, but I don’t ascribe to the notion certain foods and/ or dishes are only to be eaten according to the calendar. With this dish, I can make a generous bowl of it, eat some now, keep it in the refrigerator, & eat some later.

The cast of characters:

Preparation is easy. I diced up the tomatoes & seasoned them with salt & pepper. Chiffonade the basil. Combine the tomatoes, basil, & fresh mozzarella pearls. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve & enjoy!

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Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns

The moment the weather changes from a bright, warm sunny day to gray, cool, & overcast, you better believe I will be in the kitchen.

Ingredients

for the rolls:

  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 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:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted

for the caramel sauce:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted

Preparation

for the rolls:

Warm milk to 110 degrees (not more than 110 or it will kill the yeast) if taking milk out of refrigerator, heat in microwave at 30 second intervals, testing temperature each time. Whisk in the sugar & 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 after each addition. Remove the paddle attachment & add dough hook, 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.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast pecan pieces for 5-7 minutes, turning at least once. Allow to cool.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, add the butter, salt, brown sugar, honey, vanilla extract, & cream. Stir until melted, remove from heat, & stir in 1 1/2 cup of the toasted pecan pieces. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Spray a 9×13 inch pan with nonstick spray. Pour the cooled caramel/ pecan sauce into the pan.

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the softened butter over the rolled out dough. Whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, dash of nutmeg & 1/2 cup of the toasted pecan pieces. Spread evenly over 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 so that you have 12 rolls. Place rolls on caramel/ pecan sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes, or until thermometer inserted in middle reads 190 degrees. Remove from oven, allow to cool in pan for 20 minutes. If you have a dish long enough, invert pan so caramel/ pecan sauce is on top. I do not have one of these so when I served them I simply inverted a roll onto the plate. Whatever is not eaten the day baked, place in Tupperware container & store in refrigerator. Heat in 30 second intervals. Enjoy!

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Swiss Steak

This dish was in regular rotation while I was growing up. It’s the perfect dish to use round steak with since it simmers & the end result is a super tender piece of meat that you can cut with a fork.

Ingredients:

  • Round steak
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour
  • S & P
  • 1 envelope of Lipton Beefy Onion Soup mix
  • Brown or white rice

Preparation:

Add S&P to each side of the steak, cover each side in flour, & pound down to flatten. Using an electric skillet, heat to 275 – 300 degrees, add a thin layer of oil to brown each side of the steak, a few minutes on each side. Remove any excess oil. Add a packet of Beefy Onion Soup mix & 3-4 cups of water. Simmer for 2 hours, adding additional water as needed. Add rice 30 minutes before end of cooking time until tender & water is absorbed.

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Peach Galette

A few month ago, Chris & I were watching a food show on Netflix & one of the segments showed a woman preparing a peach galette (something I’d never heard of before) but the seed was planted, & for months now I’ve been thinking about this dessert, waiting patiently until peaches were in season. Incidentally, this is the second time I’ve made this dessert because initially I was presented with sour faces from the fam & had to listen to them groan about ‘making something we all like.’ Until, that is, they begrudgingly tasted it & decidedly agreed it was so good & I should make it again soon, like the next day.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, chilled in freezer for an hour
  • 4 – 6 tbsp ice water

For the filling:

  • 4 – 5 peaches, pitted, sliced into 1/4 or 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp butter, cut into little dots

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg
  • Turbinado sugar

Preparation

For the crust:

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, & salt until mixed together. Add the frozen, cubed butter & pulse 8 times until the butter is pea sized. Add the water 2 tablespoons at a time, pulsing after each addition, until the dough starts to come together.

Turn onto a clean, flat surface & use your hands to form into a disc. Don’t over knead; just work it until it comes together. Sprinkle a little flour to dust all sides of the disc, wrap with plastic, & place in the refrigerator for an hour to chill.

For the filling:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, sugars, & cinnamon in a small bowl. Slice the peaches. Add the vanilla extract to the peaches; stir gently. Add the flour mixture a few tablespoons at a time, stirring gently after each addition to coat the peaches.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 12 – 14 inch diameter. Gently lift & place on a rimmed baking sheet or round baking dish. Arrange the peach slices in an overlapping pattern in a single layer in an 8 – 9 inch circle. Dot with a little butter. Fold the remaining outer dough edges in an accordion fashion.

Whisk together the egg for the egg wash & brush the outer exposed dough. Sprinkle dough with Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 17 – 20 minutes, until dough is golden. Remove from oven & allow to cook for 15 minutes before serving.

Slightly adapted from: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/peach_galette/

 

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Blackberry Sangria

I’m not much of a drinker, as a result my knowledge of various types of liquor, spirits, wines, & all alcoholic beverages is seriously limited. In fact, with this recipe, I’ll need to create a new category. With that said, I do know what I like & blackberry sangria ranks high on the list. The upside of making it at home allows you to save some serious cash as well.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 liters Lambrusco red wine
  • 14 oz cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail)
  • 14 oz blackberry wine or monin blackberry syrup
  • 6 oz tuaca Italian liquor
  • Blackberries & orange wedges for garnishment

Preparation:

Add all fluids to a pitcher, stir together, & place in refrigerator. Allow to sit for several hours or overnight before serving. When ready to serve, add ice to wine glass, fill with sangria, add a couple of fresh blackberries & an orange wedge. Sit back, put up your feet, & sip away.

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Leah’s “I luv cake!” Cake

When Leah turned 2, we celebrated her birthday, a small gathering of family & close friends at the house. After playing & presents it was time for cake & ice cream. Situated in her high chair, I gave her a small piece of this cake. Using her chubby fingers she delivered bits of cake hand to mouth. After only one or two bites, her eyes lit up, & she declared, “I luuuuuv cake! Chocolate cake!” We laughed & laughed until our sides hurt as she said it repeatedly. By the time she had finished her cake, there were crumbs all over the tray & smears of chocolate adorned the corners of her mouth. It’s a cherished memory.

The recipe remained in my binder for years, but for some reason, I never made it again. This past school year, Leah was going through the binder & when she found it, informed me she didn’t remember the cake or the story – of course not, she was only 2. She decided to make it for her art club & when she came home that afternoon, proceeded to tell me how the cake was so good! Nevertheless, I made it for her birthday this year & though gone are the chubby fingers & chocolate smeared cheeks, this cake remains a winner!

Ingredients:

  • 1 German chocolate cake mix
  • 1 14oz. bag of caramels
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside. Prepare cake according to package directions. Pour half of the mix into the pan & bake for 15 minutes. While baking, combine the caramels, butter, & evaporated milk together & melt, stirring to incorporate. Pour melted mixture over cake, sprinkle chocolate chips, & pour remaining batter over mixture. Bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle more chocolate chips on top while still warm.

Note: I’m fairly certain the original recipe included pecans as it was likely intended to be a turtle cake, but I omitted them. I think 1 cup of toasted chopped pecans would make a great addition now.

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Layered Mac’n’Cheese

This recipe has my husband’s name written all over it. In fact, he’s the sole reason I’ve made it. Aside for the servings we had for dinner, he ate all the leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Preparation:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray; set aside. Cook & drain macaroni according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef until done. Drain grease. Season with salt & pepper.

In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly, until bubbly. Stir in milk & cook for 5-6 minutes; stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Stir in chicken broth. Remove from heat; stir in cheese. Fold in macaroni.

Spoon 1/3 of macaroni mixture into casserole dish, top with half of beef, layer with another 1/3 of macaroni mixture, top with remaining beef, add remaining macaroni mixture & top with bread crumbs. Bake uncovered 25 – 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown.

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Mocha Cake

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I recently celebrated a birthday and made my own cake for the occasion. Some people are surprised by that, but since I enjoy baking and trying new things, I actually look forward to it & contemplate various ideas throughout the year. I’ve loved coffee for as long as I can remember so it seemed fitting to try my hand at this cake. Happy Birthday to me!

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Ingredients

for the cake: 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

for the buttercream: 

  • 1 lb unsalted butter
  • 2 lb powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream, more for desired consistency
  • 1/2 tsp salt

for the Ganache:

  • 1/2 cup chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

for garnishment: 

  • Chocolate covered espresso beans

Preparation

for the cake: 

Spray 2 9 inch round pans; set aside. When using round pans, I always grease, apply parchment paper, and grease again just to ensure the cake comes out in one piece, but by all means, you do you & spray those bad boys, if you prefer

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa & espresso powder, soda, & salt. Add the milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract & beat on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and slowly add the boiling water, beat on high speed for 1 minute to add air to the batter.

Bake for 27 – 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely.

for the buttercream: 

Sift together the powdered sugar, salt, cocoa, and espresso powder into a bowl. In a standing mixer, whip the butter on low to medium speed for 5 minutes. Slowly incorporate the sugar mixture, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla and cream. I didn’t measure how much, but I added more cream.

for the ganache: 

Heat the cream in microwave and pour over chocolate, cover, and allow to rest for a few minutes before whisking until smooth.

Once the cakes are cooled completely, (I’d even recommend freezing them for 40 minutes to an hour as they can be a bit delicate) apply the buttercream. Or apply a crumb coating first, freeze, and then finish with the buttercream. Using an offset spatula, add the Ganache to the top of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Finish with piping swirls of buttercream on top and place a chocolate covered espresso bean on each swirl. Enjoy!

Recipe for the cake: https://addapinch.com/the-best-chocolate-cake-recipe-ever/

Recipe for the buttercream: https://preppykitchen.com/mocha-cake/

 

 

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