Monday, February 29, 2016

Recommended Reads, February 2016

I missed last week's recipe and happiness posts because my daughter and I have been fighting the Lingering Cold of Doom 2016, and I spent from Tuesday night through midday Sunday doing as little as possible. This illness, however, led to me getting more reading done than I expected in February, a total of 15 books.

Here are my favorites from those books, in the order I read them. As far as I know, none were actually February releases--I'm rarely quite that up-to-date in my reading--but if your curiosity is piqued, they're all available as ebooks and/or at your local library.

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A memoir of faith by an unconventional Lutheran pastor (her congregation is the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver) that was the perfect read for me at the beginning of Lent. It follows the rhythm of the liturgical church year--which is a big part of what drew me from my very non-liturgical Baptist roots all the way to the Episcopal Church, that whole sense of following an ancient rhythm and set of traditions to mark the patterns of the year--and also features the life-affirming grace and humor that have been a source of joy to me as a newbie Episcopalian. (Episcopalians and Lutherans have wildly different Protestant origin stories, but at least in America have grown quite a bit alike, so there's a certain similarity in style and approach, and our congregations often work together.)

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

I'd never read anything by Butcher before, though I knew him for a popular and prolific author. So I didn't quite know what to expect from this book.

What I found was purely delightful. Steampunk fantasy with airships engaging in duels a la Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin in the clouds! Swashbuckling! Talking cats! (The talking cats were my favorite part of all.)

This book is first in a new series which I expect to follow all the way through, and I plan to check out Butcher's backlist as well. There are few things more delightful as a reader than discovering a new-to-you author whose "also by..." list takes up an entire page.

In Her Wildest Dreams by Farrah Rochon

A contemporary romance novella that packed a lot of romance and character develop into a story you can read in an afternoon. It features one of my all-time favorite tropes--friends to lovers--in a pair of New Orleans entrepreneurs (he's a computer programmer turned chocolatier, and she's a high-end event planner) who support and advise each other as they struggle to balance their longing for independence and self-sufficiency with their needs for community, to care for and accept care from friends and family.

I love that this is a city story, and one where love goes hand in hand with work, ambition, and finding a sense of vocation and fulfillment in their careers for both the hero and heroine.

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, at Home and at War by Linda Hervieux

This account of black American soldiers during WWII, focusing on the experience of a barrage balloon battalion who landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, was fascinating, and it left me gibbering with rage at the culture I was born into--that of the rural white South--for the way those soldiers, American citizens fighting to defend our country and to liberate Europe from tyranny and genocide, were treated. Yes, much has changed (though much still needs to change). But the fact that German POWs were regularly given privileges, kindness, and leisure opportunities that black AMERICAN SOLDIERS were denied? It's sickening. Not surprising, sadly, but sickening. (Not that I'm saying the POWs should've been treated badly, please understand.) And it also made me realize that we're almost as far removed from WWII now as WWII was removed from the Civil War. It seems weird that we're so many decades past WWII that it's starting to feel both distant from our world and close enough to the Civil War that you can clearly see the through-lines connecting them in American race relations and military history.

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner

While In Her Wildest Dreams was a delicious example of one of my favorite tropes, Listen to the Moon took a trope I usually struggle with--a large age gap between the hero and heroine--and made it work for me. (He's 40 and she's 22.) It helped that they met as adults, and she was never in any sense his ward or otherwise a daughter figure to him, so while there was a gap in their maturity and life experience, they still felt like equals in their relationship.

It's also an unusual historical romance in that the hero and heroine are both servants and stay that way throughout the story. In addition to being a sexy love story is something of a meditation on work, community, and finding your true vocation--so in that way it has a lot in common with my other romance recommendation. More romances like these, please!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Making Me Happy, 2/19/16

Happiness Friday!

First of all, I know I raved about Hamilton just last week, but this week it won Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammys and performed the opening number live from the Richard Rodgers theater, so you can see what the staging and actors look like.

This isn't my favorite song from the bunch, but it certainly does an impressive job of summing up the first two decades of Alexander Hamilton's life and foreshadowing the rest of it in four minutes...and it just confirms my belief that men's clothing has been going downhill since at least 1815. I would totally love to walk around in a world filled with men dressed like Hamilton and Burr in that clip...especially if I still got to keep my jeans, at least for everyday. (The big sweeping skirts and corsets might be fun for grand occasions.)

Moving along, I've been on an organizing fit lately, based partly on Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and partly on Fay Wolf's New Order. Right now I've my dresser, the pantry shelves, and the closet and bookshelves in my office the neatest they've EVER been, and it gives me such a feeling of relaxation to look at those neat, well-organized, uncluttered spaces. Hopefully by the end of the year the whole house will be the same way.

Last but far from least, I read my first Jim Butcher book this week (The Aeronaut's Windlass) and enjoyed it. There's always a special pleasure to discovering a new-to-you author with a nice long backlist to delve into.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wednesday Recipe - Shakshuka

Second week of Lent, and it's time for my second vegetarian recipe of the week, from a really lovely cookbook called Breakfast for Dinner. It's a traditional Middle Eastern dish featuring eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, and it's my favorite kind of recipe--quick, fairly easy, but hearty and popping with flavor

3-4 servings

- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 med. yellow onion, chopped
- 2 mild peppers (such as Anaheim), seeded and chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
- 1/2 c. vegetable broth
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 6-8 medium or large eggs (as you can see, I only use 4, because my daughter doesn't like eggs and my husband and I can only eat so many at a sitting)
- 2 T chopped flat-leap parsley
- 1/4 c crumbled feta cheese
- Warm pita bread or baguette, for serving (so far I've used baguettes)

1. In a large, deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers, and jalapeno and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, vegetable broth, cumin, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper. Lower heat and simmer 20-22 minutes, or until thickened.

2. Crack eggs on top of the sauce, cover, and cook 6-8 minutes, or until whites are set and yolks are thick but runny. Sprinkle parsley and feta cheese over top and serve with warm bread.

(One step I do differently is I crack each egg into a sauce or small ramekin before adding to the sauce. That way I can make sure the eggs are good, fish out any shell bits that get in, and add them to the poaching liquid quickly enough that they're evenly done. But if I didn't own a dishwasher I wouldn't bother, since that would mean an extra dish to hand wash for each egg, the odds of a bad egg are fairly low, it's not like a tiny bit of eggshell will hurt you, and all I'd have to do is remember which egg went in first and feed it to my husband, who likes his eggs well-cooked, and take the last one for myself since the runnier the yolk is the happier I am.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Making Me Happy, 2/12/16

Happiness Friday!

First off, I'm happy that I get Presidents Day off work, so this will be a long weekend for me. (The last one till Memorial Day...oh, wait, can't let any sadness into this post.)

Speaking of not allowing sadness into this post, Super Bowl? What Super Bowl? I did, however, see an awesome though too-brief concert with Beyonce and Bruno Mars.

Also, though I discovered it months ago, one thing that's consistently making me happy is the Hamilton soundtrack. Just in case any of you haven't heard about it yet, Hamilton is a hip-hop infused musical about the life, accomplishments, and ultimate downfall of Ten-Dollar Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. It sounds crazy, but most people I've met with even the slightest receptivity to musicals or history fall hard the moment they hear the soundtrack.

So if you haven't heard it yet, here's a taste. "Yorktown" gives a good feel for the overall sound and style:

Here's Aaron Burr's big Act I number, "Wait For It," the most gorgeous villain song I've ever heard:

Trust me. Hamilton. It is made of awesomeness. I'm jealous of all my friends who have seen or will soon see it on Broadway, and I'm already plotting how to see it when it comes to San Francisco a year from now (not with the original cast, though...oh wait, HAPPINESS POST...must stop with the sadness).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Recipe - Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet

So, I'm going vegetarian for Lent. (Well, mostly vegetarian. Per Lenten tradition, I can have fish on Friday, and since Sunday is always a feast day even during a fasting season, I get meat on Sundays.) My goal is to be more mindful about how I treat my body, both as a spiritual discipline and to kickstart my health goals for the next year or so.

Therefore for the next seven weeks, my recipes of the week will be vegetarian. I'll start off with one of my go-to comfort meals from the More With Less Cookbook:

Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet
(4 servings)

Combine and soak 15 minutes:
- 1 c. bread cubes
- 1/2 c. milk

(The recipe doesn't specify a type of bread, but I like to use a firm white bread, like day-old French bread. Basically, anything that would work well for French toast, though since this is a savory recipe you probably wouldn't want to go with brioche or challah.)

Preheat oven to 325F.

Combine in bowl:
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 c. grated cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- bread and milk mixture

(The recipe doesn't call for pepper. I always give it a few healthy grinds' worth anyway. It also doesn't specify a type of cheese. I use whatever I have on hand, usually cheddar or a Mexican blend, though the time I started the recipe before realizing all I had was parmesan turned out just fine too.)

Heat in oven-proof skillet:

- 1 T. butter

Pour in egg mixture and cook over medium heat without stirring, about 5 minutes. When set and beginning to lightly brown underneath, place pan in oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking on top. Turn out onto hot platter, folding omelet in half. (Or, if you're me, just dish it straight onto your serving plates.)


Simple, comforting, and hearty. The bread gives the omelet a certain extra robustness that's nice if you have texture issues with the squishiness of eggs. (I do--I'm adventurous with trying new flavors, but I have Texture Issues.) Outside of Lent, there's a good chance I'd go full-on breakfast for dinner and serve bacon, sausage, or ham with this. And it's equally good with a savory vegetable side--I like to quick-cook some kale or spinach in a little olive oil with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and some cider vinegar and/or lemon juice--or with whatever fruit suits your fancy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Making Me Happy, 2/5/16

Happiness Friday!

Sleepy Hollow is back tonight. Sure, I angst over this show way too much at times. That's life if you're watching a show as a dedicated shipper of a pairing that isn't (yet) canon. (Ichabbie 4EVA!) But the previews for tonight's midseason premiere look really good, so set your DVRs.

Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. As long-time followers of my blog or Twitter feed know, I've been a big fan of Cam Newton since he led Auburn to the national championship in 2010, and I'm rooting for him to achieve the rare (possibly unique?) combination of Heisman Trophy, Lombardi Trophy, and collegiate national championship. I'm sad my Seahawks aren't back again this year (I was hoping for the revenge/grudge match against Brady and the Patriots), but while the Hawks are my team, Cam is my player. And all the kerfuffle over his personality, celebrations, etc. only makes me root harder for him. So....War Cam Eagle!

Last but far from least, I'm SO happy the days are finally getting noticeably longer. I always get the winter blues with the short, gloomy Seattle days six weeks to a month on either side of the solstice. This week was the first in ages where I neither arrived at work nor left it in the dark, and I can already feel my mood and energy levels starting to pick up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday Recipe: Kid-Tastic Pizzadillas

This recipe is definitely a quick and easy dinner recipe whether than one where I show off my mad cooking skills--in fact, it's the easiest recipe in my repertoire outside of hot dogs or adding some cooked chicken to a salad kit and warming up a loaf of French bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic. But I figure most of us need more quick and easy ideas, so at least half of my recipe posts will fall into that category.

Since the recipe is available on the MyRecipes website, I am linking to it rather than copying and pasting here.

As you'll see, it's ridiculously easy. I usually modify it by using regular tortillas and pepperoni rather than fat-free tortillas and turkey pepperoni. And, of course, you don't have to make it pizza-flavored. I'm just as likely to use a Cheddar Jack blend and cooked chicken and salsa for the dipping sauce--the recipe's virtue is in being a quick, idiot-proof way to make a quesadilla. At least, it's about 99% idiot-proof--be sure to check before the stated time to make sure your tortillas aren't burning. With my oven/baking sheet combo it takes closer to six minutes than ten to brown them once you fold them over.

Anyway, it's that easy. Add a salad on the side, and you've got a nice, fairly light weeknight dinner that will leave you with plenty of time to write, binge watch your latest favorite TV show, get more sleep, or whatever your heart desires.