Nine

We’re nine today.

Nine.

As in, today this blog turns nine years old, which is kind of ridiculous.

You’ve heard the story before about why I decided to start a blog. In 2008, we were living two hours away from our family (which seems practically around the corner, given that the distance is now almost three times that). I thought a blog — which I originally named The Betty and Boo Chronicles — would be a good way to keep the grandmothers updated on The Girl and The Boy, who I referred to online as — you guessed it — Betty and Boo.

I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to write more often, which would eventually be the reason several years later why I abandoned anonymity and took ownership of my words with a site bearing my real name. By that time, of course, this blog had long morphed into something different than my original intent.

After discovering that there was an entire online book blogging community of people passionate about reading and sharing their thoughts about books, I knew I found my blogging niche. And after I found kindred spirits among parents of children with autism, I was inspired to share more of our journey. And then the presidential election happened (the 2008 one) and I had a lot of things to say about that.

The Internet was a different place in 2008. Writing a blog was considered sort of weird. People weren’t sure what exactly it was that we did in these spaces, sharing all kinds of personal information with … who, exactly?  Strangers? Why would anyone want to do that?  But the connections that formed across the blogosphere between people who identified with each other and appreciated other perspectives was — and still is — something magical and special.

Even though my blogging presence has been a bit sparse lately (for various reasons), I have no intentions of closing up shop anytime soon. I think I would miss this space too much and I definitely would miss the interactions that accompany what happens here.

So, whether this is the first post of mine you’ve read or whether you’ve been here since August 14, 2008, I’m so grateful you’re here and helping to make this space into more than anything I could have imagined.

Cheers to the next 9 years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Perfect Late Summer Reads

With the turn of the page to August, it seems like summer’s pace has a way of intensifying. What better time, then, to savor what remains of this time through a perfect summer read that offers just the right blend of substance without being too heavy and dark.

Here are two books that I recently reviewed for Shelf Awareness that would be perfect for summer days at the beach, by a lake or wherever you seek rest and relaxation.


Cocoa Beach sweeps readers across war-torn Europe to the tropical landscape of Central Florida in this breathtaking family drama set amid the backdrop and aftermath of World War I.  Bootleggers, bandits, criminals and conspirators are in abundance here, along with unconsummated marriages, grand estates and deception galore.

This was the first book I read by Beatriz Williams (who I also had the pleasure of interviewing for this piece in Shelf Awareness) and it won’t be the last. If you enjoy historical fiction spiced with romance and danger, Cocoa Beach is definitely where you want to be.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
William Morrow
2017
384 pages

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo captures the silver screen era with such luminosity that it is easy to forget that these are fictional actors and actresses. Evelyn Hugo’s seven marriages have been tabloid fodder for decades, but now that she is approaching 80, she intends to reveal all about the one true love of her life and hires a relatively unknown writer, Monique Grant, to pen her biography.

I’ll admit to judging The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by its cover, assuming this was going to be a light, frivolous romance. I was wrong. It’s a fast-paced read with much more substance here than one might think.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Atria Books
2017
400 pages

Visit Shelf Awareness for my full review of Cocoa Beach (as well as to read my interview with Beatriz Williams) and my full review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. Some links may take you to Amazon’s shopping pages. By making a purchase, I will receive a small commission which helps to sustain this blog, its content and its author.

Weekend Cooking: Becoming a Pothead

I have become a Pothead.

I’ve been curious for awhile now and made my first purchase at the encouragement of my mother.

Lest you think I’m talking about something different than a kitchen appliance, allow me to introduce you to the Instant Pot. Judging from my social media feed, I’m not the only person who was lured in this week by Amazon’s Prime Day $89.99 deal for the all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker/porridge maker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer.

Indeed, the Instant Pot does all that, speeding up cooking times considerably while also using 70% less energy.

Every single person I know who has one of these things loves it. Initially, I wasn’t sure how much use we would make of it; The Husband and I are vegetarian (and I’m gluten-free as well) and even though both kids eat meat (The Girl only does chicken, no red meat), the majority of the meals I cook are vegetarian.

Several trusted friends said that the Instant Pot is great for vegetarian meals and pointed me to several Facebook groups, which led me to discovering new blogs and cookbooks and falling down an Instant Pot rabbit hole, completely obsessed with this thing before it even arrived last Friday.

The Husband was convinced this rather large box would still be in the kitchen months from now, still unopened.

(I can’t imagine what gave him that idea. Perhaps it’s the several wedding gifts that we have yet to use after 24 years of marriage — I know, I know, they need to go — or any number of items we’ve moved to five homes now.)

I intend to prove him wrong and to allow the Instant Pot to do what everyone says it will — transform the way I cook.

It already has. After doing the water test, the first thing I made was hard-boiled eggs.

So easy. I used this recipe from Cooking with Curls. One cup of water, 5 minutes in the Instant Pot on high pressure and 5 minutes in an ice bath. That’s it. Perfect eggs. Amazing and delicious and now I won’t make hard-boiled eggs any other way.

My second meal (if hard-boiled eggs can be considered a meal, which they most definitely were for me several times this week) was 10-Minute Zucchini Noodles with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan from Instant Pot Eats.   Zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) seem to be incredibly popular and I have been wanting to try them, thinking they would be a great alternative to pasta. I don’t have a spirializer, though, so when I saw that Trader Joe’s had zucchini noodles in the pre-made section, I bought them. The recipe itself worked fine; however, I discovered I’m not a fan of zoodles. Glad I discovered that before purchasing a spiralizer!

Tonight’s dinner for the kids was chicken breasts in the Instant Pot. I wanted a plain, simple chicken breast recipe and found it on A Pinch of Healthy.  This was simple, quick (about 25 minutes total) and best of all, both The Boy and The Girl liked it! (The Boy requested less seasoning next time, but regardless, I’m taking this as a win.)

Suffice it to say, I’m really liking my Instant Pot. I think this is going to help immensely with meal planning, given the varied diets and food preferences in this house.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. Some links may take you to Amazon’s shopping pages. By making a purchase, I will receive a small commission which helps to sustain this blog, its content and its author.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

Book Review: The Boy Who Loved Too Much, by Jennifer Latson

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness
by Jennifer Latson
Simon & Schuster
304 pages
2017

Before reading The Boy Who Loved Too Much, I wasn’t very familiar with Williams Syndrome, a genetic neurological condition characterized by developmental delays, cardiovascular issues, visual-spatial challenges, distinct, elfin-like facial features and above average musical and language abilities.

Eli D’Angelo is among an estimated 30,000 people in the United States with Williams Syndrome. For three years, journalist Jennifer Latson followed Eli and his mother, Gayle, to explore the impact of Williams on their family. The result is this informative book, which I reviewed in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness.

You can find my full review here.

 

Weekend Cooking: 3 Cookbook Reviews

Our wonderful library system (full disclosure: I work for them but was a big fan before becoming an employee) includes an extensive collection of cookbooks spanning every possible cuisine and diet. I can’t resist checking out several food-related books every week and perusing them for recipes and inspiration.

Here are three that recently caught my eye and that I thought I’d provide some thoughts for via Weekend Cooking, a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and open to anyone who has a food-related post to share.


One of my favorite cookbooks these days is Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka who writes the blog — you guessed it — Skinnytaste. I’ve checked this cookbook out of the library at least three times now and have made two stellar dishes from it.

The first was a slow cooker version of Lasagna Soup. I had some leftover vegetarian ground beef and used that instead of the actual meat. Everyone in our family liked it except The Girl, who doesn’t like soup, period. It felt like a substantial meal. I used DeLallo’s gluten-free lasagna noodles for this (the best variety of GF pasta I’ve found) and nobody could tell the difference.

The second recipe was a Sheet Pan Greek Chicken dinner that I made for the kids. It was very similar to this Sheetpan Italian Chicken on the Skinnytaste site. I think I used baby carrots, broccoli and roasted potatoes as the vegetables.

The photography in this cookbook is gorgeous and if memory serves me correctly (as this one has since gone back to the library again), the organization of recipes was very user-friendly. There were plenty of meals in this that either everyone in our family could enjoy or that lent themselves to simple substitutions or adaptations. I look forward to cooking from this one often.

Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes for Real Life
by Gina Homolka and Heather K. Jones
Clarkson Potter
2016
304 pages

Terry Hope Romero is one of the authors of Veganomican, which always seems to be go-to source for all things vegan, so I guess I had high expectations for Protein Ninja‘s  “100 hearty plant-based recipes that pack a protein punch.” Unfortunately, almost every recipe calls for some type of protein powder, be it pea, hemp, brown rice, etc. Although I’ve never tried it, the notion of cooking or baking with protein powders doesn’t hold much (if any) appeal for me; however, if this is of interest to you, the author gives a very good description of such powders, their uses, storage, where to buy, etc. in the opening chapters of the book.

I also didn’t find too many of the recipes to be labeled gluten-free, a category which is included among the recipe descriptors. I’m sure some could be modified to be such. Protein Ninja wasn’t for me, but this would be a good resource for those who enjoy or would like to try using protein powders in their vegan cooking and who don’t necessary need to be gluten-free.

Protein Ninja: Power Through Your Day with 100 Hearty Plant-Based Recipes That Pack a Protein Punch
Terry Hope Romero
Da Capo Lifelong Books
2016
208 pages

For whatever reason, a typical salad holds little appeal for me this summer. I seem to have some sort of aversion to lettuce lately, unless it’s in a chopped salad, yet I’m craving salads with an abundance of ingredients (with little to no lettuce). I’m buying salad-worthy ingredients at the store and farmers market, and then somehow have zero inspiration or ability to construct such a salad when I get home.

All this is why I was excited to pick up Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner, a new cookbook from the folks behind the Food52.com website (a great source with a plethora of food articles, recipes, products, tips, and more). Immediately, they were speaking to me, with this right inside the cover: “Does anybody need a recipe to make a salad? Of course not. But if you want your salad to hold strong in your lunch bag or carry the day as a one-bowl dinner, dressing on lettuce isn’t going to cut it.”

This cookbook is divided into sections titled Leafy Salads, Less-Leafy Vegetable Salads (yes, please!), Grain and Bean Salads, Pasta and Bread Salads, Fish and Seafood Salads, and Meat Salads. This is chock full of inspiration (“Even if you never make a single recipe in the book to completion but instead create a mash-up you like better or that serves as a happy home for your leftover vegetables, we’ve done our job.”) That they have.

Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner
Editors of Food52
Ten Speed Press
2017
160 pages

 

In Memoriam: Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Sad news today in the Philadelphia poetry world. Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, author of the poetry collection Slamming Open the Door and founder of Musehouse, A Center for the Literary Arts in Chestnut Hill, has died at age 61.

I didn’t know Kathleen personally but her poems chronicling her profound grief in the aftermath of her 21-year-old daughter Leidy’s death from domestic violence in 2003 resonated with me seven years ago. Below is a slightly-edited version of my review of Slamming Open the Door from April 2010.

My deepest condolences to Kathleen’s friends and family.

Slamming Open the Door, by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

I never should have read this book.

I never should have read this book because it should never have been written … because the subject of these incredibly heartbreaking poems, Leidy Bonanno, should still be alive.

Leidy should be alive today, not memorialized so lovingly on the pages of Slamming Open the Door, a collection of poems written by her mother Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno.
Her name is pronounced “lady” and her nickname was Ladybug – hence, the ladybug on the cover and the images of them throughout the book in illustrations and in several poems. We meet Leidy as a child (“Meeting You, Age Four”), as a nursing school graduate (“Nursing School Graduation Party, Six Weeks Before”), as a 21-year old victim of domestic violence (“Hearsay”). Her beautiful face greets the reader, and you smile wistfully back, only to be immediately choked by the first poem, “Death Barged In.”

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.
He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.
Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.
Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.

As painful as it must have been to do, I’m grateful to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno for sharing Leidy and her story with us. In each poem, in each line, she gives us every emotion that accompanies Leidy’s death. We are there with Kathleen and her husband as they call Leidy’s cell phone, as they drive to her apartment, as the police officer gives them the news. We’re there in the flashbacks at Leidy’s graduation party from nursing school, and we know exactly who Kathleen is talking about when she writes:

When Dave clears his throat,
and raises his glass to toast her,
we raise our glasses too –
and Johnny Early, a nice young man
from Reading Hospital,
smiles and raises his glass.

In Slamming Open the Door, we see the full spectrum of grief, from the anger to the absurd.

Sticks and Stones

To you, who killed my daughter—
Run. Run. Hide.
Tell your mother
to thread the needle
made of bone.
It is her time now
to sew the shroud.
The men are coming
with sticks and stones
and whetted spears
to do what needs doing.

What Not to Say

Don’t say that you choked
on a chicken bone once,
and then make the sound,
kuh, kuh  and say
you bet that’s how she felt.
Don’t ask in horror
why we cremated her.
And when I stand
in the receiving line
like Jackie Kennedy
without the pillbox hat,
if Jackie were fat
and had taken
enough Klonopin
to still an ox,
and you whisper,
I think of you
every day,
don’t finish with
because I’ve been going
to Weight Watchers
on Tuesdays and wonder
if you want to go too.

I saw this at the library and started reading it while my own daughter was selecting her books (the irony not being lost on me), and couldn’t put it down. Leidy’s story – that domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of one’s background or education or anything – is one that needs to be told to as many people as possible. It’s a story that needs to be told, too, because it shows us that we’re not alone in our grief – that although the specific circumstances and details might differ, we have all experienced similar emotions.

Although, understandably, the majority of the poems focus on Leidy’s death and the aftermath, Slamming Open the Door is also a tribute to her all-too-brief life.  She lives in the hearts of those who loved her, and for those of us who didn’t know her, we get to do so in these 41 emotional and contemporary poems.

Slamming Open the Door is the recipient of the 2008 Beatrice Hawley Award.

The No Meat Athlete Cookbook (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy this one)

I’ve become somewhat of a slacker with running. There are enough reasons for that to warrant a separate post, I think, and I do want to get back to more of a fitness routine. I’m starting with walking; The Girl and I did two 2-mile walks on the beach last week and that felt good, so that’s something.

When I started running last fall, I went back to eating chicken. I thought I needed the additional protein for my increased workouts. That experiment lasted only a month or two because a) I didn’t really notice a difference (it’s not like I suddenly became a triathlete) and b) after 20 years of not eating meat* the stomach woes were too much. Within a month or two, I was happily back to being a gluten-free pescetarian.

Around this time I discovered the No Meat Athlete  site and podcast, which reinforced that it was definitely possible to eat a plant-based diet while partaking in high-intensity fitness activities like marathons. Even though I’m nowhere near that point — and may never be — NMA offers a lot of great information, strategies and recipes for athletes of all abilities.

I was thrilled to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook by Matt Frazier and Stepfanie Romine  in Tuesday’s issue of Shelf Awareness. They offer athletes at every level 125 plant-based recipes providing a powerhouse of essential nutrients for strength and endurance.

“It’s everything in the food–and the remarkably complex interactions of countless nutrients–that our bodies thrive on, not a single constituent,” the authors state. Because the body also requires less time to process whole foods, more energy is available for workouts and a full recovery afterward.

While athletes are this cookbook’s focus, there’s plenty here for people who are simply interested in eating a plant-based diet.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the opportunity to review The No Meat Athlete Cookbook. Read my full review here.

* There was a brief period in 2011-2012 when I ate chicken. The kids and I were still living in Delaware while The Husband commuted back and forth from Pittsburgh, and it was just easier for the three of us to eat the same thing. And then I got a job where I was on the road extensively, often in rural parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. After that ended, so did my meat consumption.