Author Archives: Melissa

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.

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

 

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Weekend Cooking: The Comfort of an Egg, Avocado and Tomato Sandwich

You know how sometimes there is a particular food or a combination of ingredients that you see everywhere and you tell yourself you really should try that, it looks so simple, it has everything you love, and still somehow you never get around to making it and then — then! — when you do, you wonder what took you so long because now that dish, that meal, that delightful concoction becomes your most favorite thing ever and you’re convinced you could exist quite happily eating nothing else for the rest of your days?

Just me, huh? Oh. Mmm-kay.

That’s been my experience with this egg, avocado and tomato sandwich. I cannot get enough of this.

It started earlier this month at a women’s group I’m part of at church. Each month we gather, people bring food, and we discuss a particular topic. This month was on sustainability, and two of the members talked about ways they’ve implemented more environmentally-friendly practices into their everyday lives. It was incredibly interesting and eye-opening and went beyond the usual suggestions — you know, don’t run the water when you brush your teeth, keep bags in your car for impromptu grocery trips, things we all should be doing anyway.

For example, did you know that after using the restroom, if you count to 12 while shaking the water off your hands after washing them, you will likely use less paper towels because your hands aren’t as wet?

(I’ve been doing this for the past two weeks and damn if it isn’t true.)

Anyway, the two women who led the discussion both have backyard chickens and they brought in fresh eggs for us to take home.

(Look at them. Aren’t they gorgeous?!)

They explained how the eggs, when laid, have a coating on them called “bloom” and because of this, eggs can stay fresh on your counter, unrefrigerated, for several weeks. Once washed, they either need to be used immediately or refrigerated and used relatively quickly. They also explained that eggs in the grocery store may have been there awhile; farmers have 30 days to get eggs to the store and then the store has an additional 30 days to sell them.

I accepted my friend’s gift of fresh eggs, knowing that The Husband would be appalled. He’s extremely particular about things like expiration dates and refrigeration. Both of us have sensitive stomachs and quirky GI systems and his reaction when I brought the eggs home was predictable.

“Are you out of your goddamn mind, eating unrefrigerated eggs?!? You’re driving yourself to the emergency room when you keel over from eating those things.”

I admit, I was skeptical too. To my knowledge, I’d never had fresh eggs right from the chicken. And keeping eggs out on the counter for several weeks defied all logic. Maybe I was chancing fate. What the hell was I thinking?

But a few nights ago, I came home from work exhausted and wanting some simple, no-thought-involved comfort food for dinner. The Husband wasn’t hungry, so it was just me and the kids for dinner. I forget what they had, but I looked at the eggs, avocadoes, and tomatoes sitting on the counter and realized I had the makings of a beautiful sandwich.

I’ve made this three times in the past week. I’ve had it on toasted gluten-free bread, as pictured above, and on a toasted gluten-free bagel. I’ve made it into an open-faced sandwich. It has become the most perfect comfort food during a particularly difficult time and I can’t get enough. It’s all I want to eat. The Husband, meanwhile, is astounded that I’m still alive after eating a total of six eggs that have been residing on our kitchen counter for more than two weeks.

To each his own. Sometimes the best comfort foods are discovered when we step out of our comfortable shell.

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.

 

 

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currently … may 7

The Girl and I were at Barnes & Noble yesterday when I spotted this in the Philosophy section. (“Damn, someone took my working title for my memoirs,” I posted on Facebook.)  She had money left on a gift card from Christmas and desperately needed Sarah J. Maas’ newest, A Court of Wings and Ruin. She is a huge fan of Sarah’s books and finished nearly 100 pages before bedtime.

I didn’t purchase How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass, mainly because I’ve become a master at such, thanks to the nonstop political bullshit these days. I activated ResistBot on my phone after the House passed Tr**pDontCare this week (so freakin’ easy; text RESIST to 50409 and it walks you through a few easy steps to send faxes to your representatives). I’ve been a little lax on my phone calls but I’m stepping them up. I’m beyond furious (not to mention terrified) about this. Hopefully the Senate will do what they say and either reject this or craft something new or both because too much is at stake.

The Husband is back home now after spending the past week at his parents’ house in Philly. He was there to do what he could to help out with the ongoing Family Situation, which isn’t much. Although this week went rather smoothly here (I could have done without the lingering migraine early in the week — the same one that sidelined me from last weekend’s Readathon — or the tornado warning we had, which probably caused the migraine) it reminded me again of how much we could have lost had Thanksgiving 2015 not had the outcome it did.

Reading

I spent much of this week highlighting almost every page of The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World which I read for a freelance writing assignment. Honestly, I probably would have read this at some point if it wasn’t for this piece. More on that when I can say more, probably later this week or next.

Reviewing

In case you missed my post yesterday, my review of Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan was published in the 5/5/2017 edition of Shelf Awareness. Love that cover and the novel itself is pretty fantastic, too. Dark, gothic, and suspenseful, it’s a fast-paced, engrossing read about a group of college friends whose lives change forever when they decide to explore the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s notoriously haunted and creepy-as-hell real life former prison, Eastern State Penitentiary.

Listening
My commute has been slightly better in the mornings but it’s still about 15-20 minutes longer because of the damn construction on my main route. I’m trying to look at it as a positive: more time for podcast listening. Best episodes this week were:

This American Life, “The Beginning of Now” 4/28/2017
We’ve all heard and read countless news pieces about why the 2016 presidential election turned out the way it did. This one is a little different. It explores the machinations behind a 2015 congressional race in Virginia that attracted the attention of some of the current powers-that-be in the White House and it’s absolutely maddening and fascinating.

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin: “Brian Reed Thought ‘S-Town’ Could Only Ever Be a Cult Show 5/2/2017
Great interview with Brian Reed about S-Town.

The Minimalists, “Pittsburgh” 4/25/2017
I’m new to The Mimimalists podcast. This episode is from their tour, which started in Pittsburgh.

On Being with Krista Tippett: “Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – Resilience After Unimaginable Loss” 4/24/2017
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and psychologist Adam Grant discuss their book Option B, about finding resilience and coping with change in the face of loss and other significant events.

Hope your Sunday is going well!

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Book Review: Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Jennifer Finney Boylan had me with that cover.

Actually, that’s not true.

Well, partially. But that cover is pretty kick-ass, isn’t it? I feel like making it my Facebook profile picture.

I was sold on this book simply because it’s written by Jennifer Finney Boylan. I’ve been a fan of hers for awhile now — loved her novella I’ll Give You Something to Cry About (one of my Best Books of 2016) and her memoir I’m Looking Through You: A Memoir of Growing Up Haunted (one of my Best Books of 2013) — and I admire her advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community. (She’s the outgoing co-chair of GLAAD.)

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s from Philly. Like me.

The dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s famed and creepy as hell Eastern State Penitentiary is  the setting for Long Black Veil. Darkly suspenseful, fast-paced, and character driven, this is told through alternating narratives that segue smoothly between 1980 and 2015. It accurately captures Philadelphia’s gritty essence from a bygone time. It’s about secrets, friendship, identity and authenticity.

You can read more of my review in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness.

(And yes, this one will be on my Best Books list for 2017.)

 

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