It’s been a while since I’ve shared my recent reads, and we are also in film awards season, so it’s a good time to write about those two subjects. I have a long list of classic literature that I want to get through and made some headway at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. Do you know I never read “The Catcher in the Rye” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Lord of the Flies” in school? Neither in high school or college! I started with James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It On the Mountain”. First off, I am a HUGE James Baldwin fan. I actually hate that I did not know of him or much about his activism and work until more recently. When I was at a Hank Willis Jr. exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum there was a video montage that used mostly all of Baldwin’s words and speeches to narrate. It was amazing. And awe-inspiring. Baldwin is a true treasure.
I then moved on to tackle some James Joyce, starting with “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. I liked the short story style of “Dubliners”. Next, I took on “Ulysses”. Now, I’ve read Tolstoy, but Joyce’s “Ulysses” has to be the most difficult book I’ve ever read. The stream of consciousness narrative was difficult to follow and the metaphors and hallucinations of the characters and everything else that makes the book legendary also made it very difficult. It’s not that I did not enjoy and respect it, but I was very glad to be done with it. Certainly a challenge.
The final classic I read was “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, which was very good. An excellent dystopian novel for anyone with interest in that genre. Sit it up right beside “A Handmaid’s Tale”. Political and personal preferences aside, I have always enjoyed reading Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing series. I knocked off “Killing England” and “Killing of the Rising Sun”.
After those classics and non-fictions, I took a swing back into some fiction. Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Book of Longings” was great. I was hesitant to read it since I don’t fully believe in some of the story, but keeping in mind it is truly fiction made me appreciate the story. It was a good read for Lent, too, because of the view of Jesus’ life, death and personality.
Back in December I joined a book club with some old friends and former high school classmates. Here’s what we’ve read so far:
• “Vox” by Christina Dalcher (eye-opening dystopian novel, very good)
• “Backstage Pass” by Olivia Cummings (steamy romance novel, if you’re into that kind of thing)
• “The Light in Hidden Places” by Sharon Cameron (YA Holocaust novel based on a true story - fantastic read)
• “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” by Mitch Albom (great writing and a lot going on to keep you intrigued; good, but not the warmest read)
We already have our April pick plus I’m underway on a new stack of fiction, so I’ll be back with all those reads once I get through them!
In terms of film and documentaries, I have a lot of work to do! The Academy Awards are coming up in a month, so I have some time left but need to get watching! I loved, loved, loved, loved “Mank”. If you haven’t seen or don’t fully understand the film “Citizen Kane”, “Mank” will do nothing for you. But as a movie buff (especially the classics) Mank checked all the boxes for me. I already want to go back and watch it again. Chadwick Boseman is a front-runner for best supporting actor, and it has nothing to do with his passing. His performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was PHENOMENAL. And I mean that to the extent of every one of those capital letters! A great August Wilson-based film. If you liked “Fences” from a few years ago, check out this one. I already touched on “Soul” in a previous post, so will skip that here (loved it). “The Prom” was eh. Great cast, but nothing earth-shattering. A fun watch. “One Night In Miami” was excellent. I mean, Leslie Odom Jr. can do no wrong in my eyes so it was great to see him in a big film. Loved the whole premise, the dialogue, the acting, everything.
The only nominated documentary I’ve watched so far is “Time”. It was good, but it struggled to hold my interest at times. The message was extremely poignant in our current society. I’m looking forward to watching a few more in the coming weeks.
What have you been reading lately? I’m always open to suggestions to add to my list. Have you watched any movies or documentaries lately? As always, leave a comment and let me know what you think.
The last weekend of February I took a quick trip to Cincinnati to visit friends and take advantage of some awesome exhibits available at the city’s many museums. It was a very, very, much needed break. I needed some social interaction and normalcy with friends, and I couldn’t be more thankful for everyone who made time in their weekend to see me. Truly, I appreciated it so much.
One positive of the pandemic is that my membership to the Cincinnati Museum Center is still active because it was extended due to the museum having to shut down for a few months. Their OMNIMAX theater is one of a few across the country and I’ve been very lucky to have seen a few movies there. I checked out Backyard Wilderness, which was about all the nature and life going on right outside your suburban window that you probably have no clue exists! As someone who lives and was raised in a very rural area, I am quite aware of my outside environment, but the film was really kid-friendly and appropriate for the area.
While at the CMC, there was a small exhibit downstairs about the women’s fight for the right to vote, with specific artifacts from Ohio. It fit right in with the four-part class on women in the workplace I had recently finished up and my trip to the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum earlier this year.
The CMC is housed in one of the landmark buildings of Cincinnati. It is worth the trip just to check it out. Originally the Union Terminal, you can still see many facets of the building’s original purpose - a train station. It opened in 1933 and the art deco craze was clearly at a high during that time. You step inside a huge, domed main concourse where there are intricate mosaics on the wall. Navigation signs are still up on the walls in art deco fonts. I love that building.
The main exhibit I was excited to check out while in town was at the Taft Museum of Art. Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection was amazing for any shoe lover! The collection included everything from boots from the early 19th century to thigh-high red statements from the show Kinky Boots. One of my favorite pairs in the collection was a pair of leather pumps signed by the 1941 New York Yankees (a favorite for obvious reasons). There was also a display of art deco heels that were stunning! I would love wearing any shoes with such beautiful, intricate bottoms!
If it isn’t clear to you yet in this blog, I really love learning. Any chance to check out something historic or thought-provoking, I jump at. Cincinnati offers such a great array of cultural and memorable gems. I miss living so close to all these places, but I am excited to check out some new museums and centers in WNY to fulfill my interests.
During the weeks of Thanksgiving to New Year’s I really let go of my eating well and working out kick, but with the turning of the calendar I am happily back on board. Meal prep has been a huge part of that. It is so much easier to make food in bulk, throw it in containers and then just pull it out of the fridge or freezer when it’s time to eat. I have meal prepped breakfasts, lunches and dinners and plan on doing a lot more of it! Here are a few of my favorite recipes.
BREAKFAST: Although not a meal prep, I tried out a protein pancake recipe I was hesitant about but ended up loving. It’s simple: 2 eggs, 2 scoops protein powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 6 tablespoons water or milk. I halved the recipe for two perfect sized pancakes for one person. I used Tone It Up’s vanilla protein powder and ate those just with syrup or mixed in blueberries another day. I also used Tone It Up’s chocolate protein powder and added strawberries on top or mixed in some butterscotch chips. For breakfast meal prep, I made two dozen of these baked oatmeal cups. I again halved the recipes to end up with about four of each kind I wanted to try. Then I threw in some labeled freezer bags and was all set! In the morning, I pull out a bag, unwrap, microwave quick and I have an easy, delicious breakfast. Big fan of these.
LUNCH: With snow and temperatures falling I used up some items into a big pot of chicken noodle soup. I used egg noodles and threw in some carrots, celery and kale. I used a basic recipe I found, but I was not a big fan of it. Not enough flavor. I’ve made chicken noodle soup before and it’s been better, so I will not use the recipe I followed for this batch. Definitely need to find one of the older recipes I used before or create my own next time. Nevertheless, it made a lot, and I separated into containers and grabbed each morning as I left for work. An easy and comforting lunch. When I didn’t do a big meal prep for lunch, I would try to put together my lunch boxes on Sunday for two days and Wednesday for the next two days (since I’m just working Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday right now). Again, preparing ahead makes it so much easier in the mornings!
DINNER: One of my favorite new recipes was this one for honey sesame chicken bowls! I had been craving Chinese food, but had never tried making it before. I did these with basmati rice and carrots. They were amazing and super easy! I did make more sauce each night when I pulled one of these out for dinner since they dried up a bit. But it did not take long at all to heat a little bit more sauce on the stove, so still a quick, simple, healthy and delicious meal.
I also made some venison meatballs with mozzarella cheese in the middle. My dad and I ate these as open-faced meatball subs. I love meatballs because you can make a ton then freeze to grab to throw on any pasta or heat up for a sub any other time. I always choose venison when I can since we have a freezer full and it’s better than beef.
I feel as if I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t share at least one fabulous Half Baked Harvest recipe that I’ve tried lately. This time, it is her Folded Buffalo Chicken Wraps. Wow. I tried these out on a football Sunday and have made them a few times since. Again, they are super easy but super yummy. I modified her recipe by mixing Boss Sauce or Country Sweet with the chicken and yogurt. I then did shredded lettuce and green onions. Naturally as a Western New Yorker, I went with blue cheese instead of ranch, then rounded it out with cheddar cheese. I thought this would be a recipe that she claims is really easy but would end up a messy disaster, but she was right. They folded up nicely and were one of the best “football foods” I think I’ve ever made. Definitely a new favorite.
I’m always looking for new healthy meal prep ideas, so please share any of your favorites in the comments below! Or if you try any of the above, let me know how they turned out. Most can be modified to suit different tastes and needs - I’d love to hear what you made!
Since film awards shows are coming up (albeit a little later than usual), I have started my yearly trek to watch as many as the nominated films and documentaries as possible. Even though nominations aren’t out yet, it’s clear what some of the frontrunners will be so I can still get started. A few weeks ago I watched the Pixar animated film “Soul”. I loved this movie so much! Pixar usually does no wrong, and this one did not disappoint. The film was a great reminder to appreciate the little, everyday things in life. It also told how you don’t always have some predestined “higher purpose” in life that you constantly are trying to obtain. While striving to be the best of the best and this sought after achievement, you can very easily miss many wonderful things that surround you day by day. It certainly was a great reminder to me to sit back and take in the beauty around me, whether it be a lightly falling snowfall, a red sky at sunrise, Lola sprinting in the new snow, bright red cardinals eating at the bird feeder.... There really is a lot to take in and appreciate.
Also in the past two weeks I completed an EdX online educational series called “Women Have Always Worked” from Columbia University. It was a four-class series that I started back in the spring. I also finished a Harvard EdX course called Women Making History: Ten Objects, Many Stories. I found all five classes fascinating and learned a lot. It made me look in to taking some actual women’s history or gender study classes to work on another degree… but that’s a ways down the road.
Coincidentally it was a great time to learn about the struggle of women over American history and the fight for equality. When I read all the presidential biographies, women were rarely mentioned, and rarely in positions of power and influence. I realize now it was certainly a male-dominated, white-washed version of US history that I received. These classes opened up a whole different side and an entire new way of thinking. These classes also came at a great time in current history as we have elected our first female vice president to office. All very fitting.
I was itching to get out and about so I took a trip to the “city” on another Saturday. My first stop was the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum. It is crazy to me that this amazing woman and so much history is right in Rochester yet I never knew of it or learned much about it before. So, on a snowy Saturday, I trekked over and received a one-on-one tour. The tour guide was great and it was really cool to have a personalized conversation since it was just the two of us. I highly recommend checking out the museum if in the Rochester area. There were great artifacts from the suffragist movement. It was amazing to know Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass and others spent time and put their brains together with Anthony in that house. Goosebumps!
The main visitor center was Susan’s sister’s house while the other was Susan’s. The museum is nestled in a quaint, quiet neighborhood. There is a park right down the block with a statue of Anthony, clearly telling a man how things should be! And I loved that someone also made sure she was warm on the snowy day and gave her a scarf.
After the Susan B. Anthony trip, I grabbed some Chik fil A and Starbucks, perused through Home Goods and a large antique center and then went home. It was really a great day to just get out of the house and get up and around while still staying safe during the pandemic. It fulfilled some little pleasures in my life, too, just as “Soul’s” Joe and 22 taught me to.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
It's stating the obvious that after a rough 2020, 2021 isn't off to the best start. I never want to be too political here, and try to use this creative outlet to be positive and share a little joy. So, when thinking of what to write to start off the new year my mind kept focusing on the good. What can we do to spread positivity and try to counteract the hate and negativity? Little things cannot solve everything, but what if every person did one little thing to help someone else? Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing with lasting effect? I'm optimistic enough to think so.
Many people are struggling right now and cannot give back financially. But, there are still ways to support our local communities and help those who are even worse shape than we are. Or for those in the worst shape, ways that they can still give back, spread joy and feel connected and tied to a larger cause. I brainstormed some ways to show some love right in your own community without any financial obligation. Interspersed are some of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., who we remember and honor on this day. Let his words sink in, and let's all show a little love this year.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
1. Clean out your closet and donate clothes to a local organization. When I moved back in with my parents back in October, I was putting things away in the front closet and found a few winter jackets of mine from when I was in high school. Obviously, they have not been worn in more than a decade, but they are still in good shape. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has old clothes or coats hanging around. January is the coldest month on the calendar; I know there are people right here in my own community who would appreciate a warm winter coat right about now. An easy way to give back and help yourself get cleaned and organized, too.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
2. Make cards/write letters and send to local nursing home. I know there may be at least one crafter reading this. Pull out your construction paper! Get the kids involved! My heart aches for the elderly community in long-term care facilities that can't receive visits from their loved ones during this pandemic. Even in normal times, there are many that never receive visitors at all. Why not brighten someone's day with a homemade card? No craft supplies? Pull out an old-fashioned pen and paper and jot down a quick message. Tell them who you are, what you do, what your hobbies are. Have your kids do the same and tell what they are learning in school. Bring a smile to someone's face.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
3. Volunteer at local food distributions or soup kitchens. I am in awe every time I see pictures of the cars lined up for the food distributions we have held in my town. The other day on the way to work I saw it first-hand. So many people are in need right now to simply put food on their families' table. I know in my town they are always looking for volunteers to help sort and load the food on these days. Soup kitchens may not be able to operate quite like normal due to COVID-19, but when I've volunteered before I've worked behind the scenes in the stock rooms unpacking and sorting donations. With what is likely an increase in donations during the recent holidays, soup kitchens may be able to have volunteers behind the scenes helping in these areas. A simple phone call could get you that information.
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
4. Volunteer at the local animal shelter. Our furry friends need love, too! There are many ways to help at shelters where there is limited contact with others. Help clean out kennels. Take a shelter dog for a walk. Spend some time petting cats and getting them better acclimated to new humans. Again, a simple phone call to your local shelter will tell you what you can and cannot do and what kind of help they need. Many also appreciate donations of towels, blankets and comforters. So while you're cleaning out your clothes and coat closets, check your linen closet, too.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
5. Donate blood / Join Be The Match / Sign up to be an organ donor. There are things we can do today that can significantly help someone else down the road. With the hospitals crowded, blood donations are still vital to keep patients alive and healthy. Years ago one of the teams I worked with introduced me to the organization Be The Match. It registers people to be possible bone marrow transplants. If I remember correctly, you spit in a tube or swab your mouth or something just as easy, and then they enter you into the system and contact you down the road if you ever show up as a potential match for someone who needs a bone marrow transplant. I was just speaking with someone the other day who's husband has been battling cancer; they were left without many options, but then this organization found a match and the husband had a successful treatment this past week. It really works! I was so proud to tell her that I was involved in the organization. If you're uneasy about donating blood or bone marrow, sign up to be an organ donor. Or check that you are. It's amazing how we can help others stay alive after our time has gone.
“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
After 14 years, 16-ish baseball seasons and eight years as a DI SID, I’ve said goodbye. For a few years now I’ve felt that athletics communications isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life, and I finally came to the point that I needed to get out for my own well-being. The decision wasn’t easy. In fact, it was terrifying. Who quits their job as an assistant athletic director at a rising department in the middle of a global pandemic?! Me. I did.
When I first started out working in baseball, it was an amazing experience working for different teams and organizations and moving to different states. When I made the move to college, traveling and working closely with the student-athletes and coaches was inspiring. But the endless travel, lack of weekends, late nights after late nights and being away from family and friends begins to take its toll after a certain point. I’m well past that point.
I’ve lost count of the weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, showers, etc., that I’ve missed over the last decade or so. My life and my time has not been my own; it has belonged to my job. SIDs don’t often have the option to miss games and events and road trips for personal functions. Especially when you have to travel hours away to be at those functions. Your teams’ schedules define where you are and what you’re doing. Your free time comes fleetingly and not necessarily when you choose it to. I came to a point where I wanted to take my life and my time back into my hands and my control.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. It’s been three weeks and is finally starting to set in. I miss my student-athletes. I miss being at the forefront of sporting events. I miss working with amazing coaches and staff. I miss being a part of teams, or really, families. I miss Cincinnati and city life and my dear friends there. But my friends will always be there. Places aren’t going anywhere, either.
I made a decision to do what was best for me and I moved on. I needed a change of pace. I needed to be back home with my family and loved ones close by. For the first time, I put myself and my happiness first. As scary as it was to send in my resignation letter, it was absolutely the right thing for me to do. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I know I have control of it. Life has slowed down and given me time to realize what’s most important and what it takes to make me happy.
Happiness. That's all I'm striving for in my life, no matter what it looks like. I have no job, everything I own is locked up in a storage unit, but I'm the happiest I've been in a long time.
Most of my fellow bibliophiles know that September 1 is the first day classes start at the greatest school of witchcraft and wizardry, Hogwarts. I completed reading my recent stack extremely quickly, so I decided to go back and reread the entire HP series to save some cash on buying more books. At least it will save me a week or two. I started book one the morning of the first and am already starting book two tonight. I was thinking about why I seem so connected to my books and reading lately, and I think it's truly for escape. Books are how I escape everything going on in the world and my life right now. These last few weeks have been rough, especially this past month, so I think I am reading nonstop to escape from all the negativity around me. It's a place I can go with different people and different events and a world entirely separate. Perhaps this makes immersing myself at Hogwarts the next week or two so appealing. What's a better place to escape to?!
My most recent completed stack started off deep. Both How to be an Antiracist and I'm Still Here were extremely relevant during this time in American society. While I wasn't a huge fan of how Kendi wrote his book and preferred the writing style of Channing Brown, I enjoyed that both took personal experiences to frame how we need to think about our racial differences and systemic racism. I encourage everyone to take in both.
Normal People was given to my by my friend Heather. Not at all what I expected but very good. I'm curious how the show on Hulu is. If you've seen it let me know! I followed that with two books based on real events: The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Before We Were Yours. The former is another horrific retelling of life in one of the worst times in world history, while the other informed me of something I knew nothing about and was also terrifying. Both were sad and depressing, not going to lie. I still recommend reading both, but keep in mind I would not consider either light reading or a good, mindless beach read.
The last four were all good but none were ones that particularly stood out. If you want a historical fiction tale of multiple lives and storylines weaving into one, read The Paris Hours. If you want a fictional look at how our society views skin color, in a captivating story of family, read The Vanishing Half. If you want a current, twisting tale of murder and mystery that will keep you guessing and in the end say, "You go, girls!," read The Guest List. And if you want another historical fiction pick with spies and secrets and a touch of true-life literary history, read The Secrets We Kept.
Now, I leave you to return back to my beloved Harry Potter. Be well. And continue to love above all else.
Yesterday I came across vitriol spewed on social media toward strangers by an acquaintance. (We’ll stick to acquaintance for all intents and purposes). It disgusted me. It made me question how someone who grew up with the same background as me could think so differently and have such misconstrued thoughts they believed were built on facts. Here are my facts. Here are my beliefs. It’s hard for me to be silent when I feel so strongly.
I fully understand how videos can be edited, how they can have selected start and stop points, how they can come from different angles. I have a degree in broadcast journalism. I get it. I fully understand how news stories are biased, how journalism is politicized and how statements can be skewed as facts. I nearly completed an advanced degree in public relations. I get it.
The treatment of blacks in the United States has become a politicized issue, but it is a human issue. It is not red and blue; it is black and white. If you aren’t afraid of being assaulted when pulled over for a minor traffic issue, or mistaken for a criminal when out for a run, or apprehended strictly for the color of your skin, do not judge the feelings of those that do (here’s looking at you, privileged white people!) Racial inequality and systemic racism are real. If you don’t believe it, look around you. Read up on this country’s history. Not the history you learned in cookie-cutter WASP grade schools, but the true history told by the people who lived it.
Did Anthony Diaz deserve to die for hitting a car with a football and resisting arrest? Did Amadou Diiallo deserve to get shot at 41 times for being mistaken for a rapist and running to his apartment door, reaching for his wallet while in the vestibule? Did Abner Louima deserve to be beaten and sodomized for interfering in a fight? Did Sean Bell deserve to be shot to death after 50 rounds were fired for driving away from an undercover cop? Did Oscar Grant deserve to be held to the ground and shot in the back for being involved in a fight and resisting arrest? Did Walter Scott deserve to be shot and killed for having a break light out and running away from an officer after a physical altercation? Did Laquan MacDonald deserve to be shot 16 times for not dropping a knife, while walking away from officers, and after dropping to the ground after the first shot? Did Terence Crutcher deserve to be shot and killed for his car breaking down and reaching into the vehicle, where there was no weapon?
How many more names could I mention? Far, far too many more. Stories we’re all familiar with. I wonder what it takes for a person’s first instinct to be to draw a gun and fire to kill. Not to stop or to injure, but to kill. I am a hunter. I understand very well the different placement of a kill shot and a shot to injure. All police officers should as well. And they should have to go through more rigorous training. If they have the ability to hold someone’s life in their hands, they need to be ready for that circumstance. Doctors have to. Pilots have to. Teachers even have to. Police officers should have to go through training and education that is thorough enough that if they are faced with a difficult situation, their first instinct is not to pull a trigger because they are fearful. Unless someone is firing at them, an officer should never fire their weapon. Unless you are absolutely certain your life is at stake, how dare someone fire to take someone else’s life? And 16 shots? 41 shots? That one I need explained because I will never understand.
I whole-heartedly support the men and women who put on the badge every day and head to work to serve and protect us. It is a dangerous job. One I don’t think I would ever want to do. However, they made the conscious choice to enter that occupation. They joined the force knowing their life could be in peril. Their bravery every day is applauded. But they do not have the right to take a life. Just as no one should fire at them, they should also not fire at another human being. If a criminal gets away because the police can’t apprehend him, fine. There’ll be another chance to catch the person. Criminals are dumb. But that criminal does not deserve to die for all the petty theft, or because they look suspicious or because they reached for some unknown object. And no one deserves to be brutalized because of the color of their skin.
My great-grandparents grew up in the time of Jim Crow. My parents grew up in the time of desegregation. I grew up in the time of Rodney King. Today’s children are growing up in the time of Black Lives Matter. What do we need to do make sure the next generation doesn’t go through their own version of this? How do I assure the 18 to 22 year-old students I spoke to this week that they matter? How can I assure my friends that their beautiful three-year-olds and baby-to-be won’t have to go through this mistreatment?
We judge people based on their appearances. We make instant assumptions based on what others look like. Sadly, it’s human nature. But you know what’s also an innate human trait? And perhaps the strongest of all? LOVE. Let’s strip away our differences and recognize that at our core we are all human. Black, white, red, yellow, purple, green, it doesn’t matter. 160 IQ or 61, it doesn’t matter. Work in a plush corner office or unemployed using drugs to cope, it doesn’t matter. Has never even uttered a swear word or has a long past of wrongdoing, it doesn’t matter. People don’t deserve to die. It is not our role as humans to take another life. It is not natural, it is not right, it is not just.
I only wish we all could understand this. I’m at a loss of what to do. So, I write because it’s my therapy, and I pray because I believe in a higher power. And most of all, I love because I am human.
We've all become at-home chefs during quarantine, right?! That's one thing I have enjoyed out of the crummy circumstances the coronavirus pandemic has put us in; I've been cooking and baking much more because I'm home and not traveling. The. pandemic hit right around my birthday. Actually, my birthday was a 10-ish hour work day on a bus, at a ball field and on a bus, and then it hit. So, pretty horrible birthday week. Once everything was shut down, I wanted to treat myself with a birthday treat, so I made a confetti custard pie, stuck a candle in it and enjoyed a tiny bit of birthday fun.
For dinners, I tried two recipes from Half Baked Harvest that I am obsessed with! The first was 20 Minute Orzo Carbonara with Crispy Prosciutto and Burrata. This truly only takes about 20 minutes and it's amazingly good. If I ever get dining room chairs and have folks over for dinner, this is absolutely what I'm making. I've never had prosciutto like this, and honestly, I like it more than bacon! So delicious, so easy. And it was great for me because I can make a bit and heat it up for a day or two.
The other Half Baked Harvest dinner recipe that has become my favorite is Crockpot Carne Asada Tacos. I did not make the sauce and did not use steak. I rarely buy beef. I usually always eat venison because it's free, lean and delicious. So, for this recipe I replaced the steak with a venison roast. I usually have small roasts that are perfect size for me and those worked perfect. It was from my deer I got this past Thanksgiving, and there's just something about enjoying your own game! Usually I can't get venison to hold flavor too well, but this is easily the best venison I have ever had. I also modified the recipe by putting this on nachos and adding some homemade guacamole. I plan on making it again this weekend as tacos with some feta cheese.
I did eat beef a little bit when I picked up some steak and paired it with sweet potatoes, HBH's 5 Ingredient Beer Bread, salad and some red wine. What a perfect meal.
I've been baking, too. When the quarantine first started, I baked funfetti cupcakes with custard filling and chocolate frosting and delivered them around to co-workers as a pick-me-up. I had cute little treat boxes and everything. That was my little way to bring some joy during a very stressful, lonely time. I think everyone was very appreciative and liked the moment I was there to see a familiar face and have a quick chat. At Easter I also made cupcakes, almond with dark chocolate ganache filling and raspberry buttercream. I didn't have my piping tools, so the frosting wasn't the prettiest, but they still tasted great! For my friend's birthday, we wanted to get together and picnic at a local park. Everyone brought snacks, chairs, and we just relaxed and had a very nice, low-key celebration. For that, I let the birthday girl pick her dessert and it was just what I wanted to make! I baked a vanilla layer cake with a mixed berry compote and lemon buttercream. Oh. My. Goodness. Was that the perfect summer cake or what?! I forgot to restock my piping bags, so couldn't coat the whole cake, hence the "naked" look. It was light and refreshing. I will definitely make that one again down the road. And I loved the simple decoration of frosted berries on top.
My favorite type of cookies are French macarons, which can be tough to make. The first time I made them they came out okay, but the second time was not so good. I had some cream cheese buttercream left over from a red velvet layer cake that I made for a friend, so I needed something to use it up. Macaron filling was perfect. I made chocolate macarons with the cream cheese buttercream and they came out great! The flavor and texture was amazing. Some tops weren't as smooth as they should be, but I was very happy with my accomplishment!
I had another friend who was planning on a birthday parade for her cutest-ever twins three-year-olds, and she wanted an easy treat to hand out to everyone who came. I gladly offered to help and she came up with the idea of Rice Krispie treats in the shape of 3's dipped in rainbow sprinkles. Easy! Rice Krispie treats are the quickest, easiest thing to make, so I had a lot of fun creating these and sharing. I know she was so appreciative and everyone enjoyed them and thought it was a cute idea. It was really, really hot the day of the party, so these treats were ideal. I'm always willing and glad to bake treats when occasions arise!
Since I finally finished my presidential reading quest, I've been able to read whatever I want! Yay! I've been devouring books. Most have taken me an average of 2-3 days. I do take some days off here and there in-between, so I'd say I'm averaging 7-8 books a month right now - and I'm loving every minute of it!
At first I had a lot of catching up to do on titles I was dying to read that came out in the midst of my biographies but wouldn't allow myself. Here's my initial post-biography binge list:
Most on the list above were historical fiction, my favorite genre. If you enjoy those too, check out 4, 5, 10 and 11. Number 1 was a favorite on everyone's list, it seemed, and although it was very good, it wasn't the best thing I've ever read. I also didn't care too greatly for 9. If you love crime, check out 6. It's the latest in a whole series by a fantastic writer, the one and only J.K. Rowling. She writes this crime series under a pseudonym and all have been great reads.
On to the next stack! Here's what I have read most recently:
Anyway, I was really hesitant to read Untamed. I saw a ton of posts about it and a lot of conversations. Without knowing much about it, my thoughts were, "I'm a single woman living by herself during a global lockdown. I don't need any self help or lessons in life right now. I'm vulnerable enough as it is." However, man-oh-man was I so wrong! It was wonderful, all it was billed to be. I highly recommend all women to give it a read - single, married, divorced, straight, gay, questioning, whatever! Read it.
I've always loved Erik Larson. His research is immaculate. He makes non-fiction read like fiction more than anyone I've ever found. If you love non-fiction and history, check out all of his works on a diverse range of topics.
Jojo Moyes took a real event and wrote a novel surround it and I totally enjoyed The Giver of Stars. Another big recommend for those looking for a good story surrounding strong women. The Night Tiger was just as good of a story! In these times, there is a lot of awareness of what media we are digesting and who we are learning and hearing from. I was entranced by the Asian culture and lovable characters. The Jetsetters was okay. I label those types of books fluff reading. Set in current times with current problems (alcoholism, coming out, infidelity, divorce, etc.), it would make a great beach read. Nothing too deep there. Fluff books are always good to throw in now and again to give your mind a break!
I'm switching gears to tackle more deep content, taking a chance to learn about my inherent white privilege and what I can do to help abolish systematic racism. The next three books in my current stack are non-fiction, self-discovery reads. I will report back again when I'm done!
In the meantime, feel free to ask for any more info about the books listed above. And feel free to throw out any titles you think I should read! Drop a comment below.
"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." --Anatole France