winning at life, aka 10 bookish things that give me joy

Monday, August 15, 2016 | | 4 comments

I’ve had several lovely bookish things happening in my life, and I thought I’d share the joy a bit, in case they give you an idea or the nudge you need to add something book- or reading-related to your routine. I found many of these through excellent recommendations from the Twitter book world (thanks, all!).

1. One Book At A Time literacy project – This fantastic program pairs children in after school programs who don’t have access to books with someone (anyone!) willing to buy and send one book per month over the course of a year. Participants also get to exchange letters with their “book buddy.” I corresponded with a 14 year-old girl over the last school year and it was seriously SO REWARDING. I felt so proud when I finally figured out her reading preferences, and I just about burst with happiness every time one of her letters arrived in my mailbox. I can’t wait to be assigned to a new book buddy when school starts up again next month.

2. Matched graphic novels & kids for a reading teacher – I have two close friends who work as reading teachers in local elementary schools. When we get together we often talk about their kids and the books they’re reading (or having trouble reading, as the case may be). One of those friends told me a heart-breaking story about two 10 year-old girls she tutors. The first student has no confidence in her reading, and her classroom teacher only cements that. I immediately thought of Dav Pilkey’s latest, Dog Man. The other student is stronger in math and science than reading, so I went to Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders. Thanks to my trip to BEA, I had ARCs of both on hand and donated them right then and there. My friend reported back that both girls were ecstatic about the books, boasted that they read “graphic novels” to teachers and friends alike, and that the reading practice helped them pass their end-of-the-year tests with confidence. It legit made me cry (happy tears).

3. Adult summer reading at my local library – Does your local library have a summer reading program for adults? Mine does, and it is GENIUS. I mean, I’m reading anyway, but it’s great incentive to log books read, and there are prizes!

4. Audiofile’s free ebook program SYNC – Two free audiobook downloads each week for 15 weeks over the course of the summer. Does that sound good to you? If so, you should totally sign up for the weekly reminder emails. I don’t even like audiobooks, but this offer is too good to pass up.

5. Crowdsourcing book suggestions – A coworker of mine mentors a 17 year-old boy, and she told me about him over a lunch one day. Her description of a curious, sharp, private kid who has seen way too much hardship hit me in the feels. I asked her if I could send him a book. When I got the okay, I turned to Twitter for recommendations. They delivered. I ended up ordering two of the suggested titles for a kid I don’t know. I really hope he likes them. I feel like a hero anyway.

6. OTSP Secret Sister – Have you seen the #otspsecretsister tag on the web and wondered what it meant? It’s six months of bookish secret santa, with an emphasis on cheer and sending thoughtful letters. It’s FUN to organize gifts and letters and little surprises for a new friend. And of course receiving little things in the mail isn’t too shabby, either. I signed up last month for my 3rd round because I keep having such a great time. 10/10 would recommend.

7. Book club (in real life and everything!) – Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away I didn’t have any close friends who read the sort of books I liked. Then I discovered Forever Young Adult’s book club network and joined the DC chapter. I now know many excellent people who read YA for fun, and we meet up and talk at book club and outside of it too. It’s super gratifying to have friends who want to see the latest teen film-to-book adaptation (like I do!).

8. eBook of the Month Club – If you read sci-fi and fantasy, get thee over to and sign up for their free ebook of the month club! You get a free download that is yours to keep no matter what, and the titles are fab. Just do it.

9. Talking to my 97-year old grandmother about the formative books of her childhood, and what she’s reading now – I spent some time with family over a long weekend, and I got to chat with my grandmother about reading. Which, for the record, is the best. She’s so smart and strong – I’m honored to be related to her. By the way, she just finished David McCullough’s biography of the Wright brothers.

10. Reading a cookbook in French! – I’m headed to Paris for the first time next month for a short vacation, and I’ve been teaching myself elementary French via Duolingo. I helped a family friend make a sorbet recipe over the weekend and I read it in French (with help)! So exciting.

Honorable mention: It hasn’t happened yet, but I plan to attend Kate Milford’s book launch next week in Annapolis, MD for her new middle grade novel The Left-Handed Fate.

What are some bookish happenings in your life?

top ten favorite cookbooks

Tuesday, June 28, 2016 | | 6 comments
top ten favorite cookbooks

There are days (increasingly rare days!) when I’m brimming over with ideas for blog posts. I made the lovely Emma of Miss Print help me come up with a theme for this week’s top ten post because I was just… out.  Once I had the idea in hand it was easy to execute though, because...  dear hearts, I LOVE COOKBOOKS.  I started this site as a book blog (and of course cookbooks are books!), but my posts about food are always more popular than the ones about books.  Cookbook reviews = happy medium.  And I do love reading through a good cookbook.  Here are some of my absolute favorites.

Top Ten Favorite Cookbooks

1. The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker – Starting with the absolute basics – this is the very first cookbook I ever cooked out of.  That’s because it was my mother’s kitchen staple (and it’s now mine). I was so proud when I found a used hardback copy at the thrift shop for my own shelf!

2. The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen – I became the de facto Thanksgiving pie baker sometime in the past decade, but I really upped my game after reading and becoming a disciple of this cookbook.  +10 pie game.

3. Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes  – Marian Keyes is an Irish novelist who deals with life-threatening depression through baking.  Her cookbook shares both wonderful recipes and hilarious stories.

4. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou – I’d never read Angelou before, so I started with her cookbook (it seemed natural to me!).  The recipes weren’t necessarily my thing, but the stories!  Good lord, this is literature.  I’d be happy to have this out on my coffee table any day/any time.

5. From Our Kitchen to Yours: Trinity Baptist Church edited by my dad – One of my dad’s first retirement projects was compiling and editing a church cookbook.  Naturally, a bunch of our family recipes made their way into the volume.  Sometimes instead of calling my mother for this or that recipe, I can just open up this volume (super convenient!).

6. The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas – My youngest brother got Type 1 diabetes at two years old.  My mother spent 10 years trying every healthy cleanse/diet/recipe known to man in order to help manage his disease (she eventually gave up a bit on the diet front because nothing except insulin helped long-term).  This is one of the “diet” cookbooks (it’s not a diet cookbook at all! Just vegetarian.) that actually had recipes the whole family liked – so my mom kept cooking out of it even after the crusade ended.  I did another thrift store hunt and found this at a used book sale.

7. Home Baked by Yvette van Boven, photos by Oof Verschuren – I won an Abrams Instagram contest earlier this year, and they sent me this lovely cookbook (+ 2 other cookbooks, a baking bowl & a spatula)!  It’s got gorgeous pictures and delicious baked goods – I can’t wait to test a few more recipes and share my review with you all!

8. Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall – Ahhhh this cookbook is great.  Hand-drawn illustrations, delicious Swedish baked goods, cultural history… definitely my type of thing.  I even made the cardamom buns on Christmas morning!

9. Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen – Maybe the first cookbook I ever purchased as a result of following a food/lifestyle blog.  One of my favorite early bloggers (this was back in… 2009?) bought this giant book and talked at length about seasonal cooking and preserving, and I just fell in love with the idea of it.  At the time I had a shoebox of a kitchen and none of it was practical, but I still adore this doorstopper.  It really lives up to its title, and Allen is like the godmother of modern Irish cooking.

10. The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson, photos by Rinne Allen – This one was a Christmas gift from a dear friend, and it embodies that seasonal, vegetable-crazed cooking life we all live now. I don’t get to the farmer’s market as often as I should, but when I do I turn to this cookbook for guidance.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!

friday night meatballs

Friday, June 10, 2016 | | 9 comments
Imagine hosting a dinner party EVERY Friday night. 

If you’re like me, that sounds overwhelming and expensive (the time commitment alone!).  On the other hand, invite me to a dinner party every Friday night and I will come.  Two months ago my lovely friends Katie and Jared started their Friday Night Meatballs tradition.  They were inspired by this article.  The goal?  Connect with friends, family, and friends-of-friends who they haven’t seen in a long time.  Start a tradition that will bring them joy.  Make and eat delicious food in good company.  And so far, they’re making good on all of those goals.  There’s also the nice side benefit that this event doesn’t feel like “going out.”  Even if I’ve had a tough week, I can still muster the energy to head to Friday Night Meatballs.  And the company is always fascinating.

photo courtesy of Jared!

So what IS Friday Night Meatballs? 

It’s a dinner party at Katie & Jared’s on any given Friday night (unless they’re out of town).  It starts at 7pm, and it’s open to anyone who can see the invite on their Facebook walls.  It is capped at 10 adults, though additional children and dogs are welcome.  The menu is always pasta and meatballs, but with advance notice the hosts can accommodate all kinds of dietary restrictions.  You don’t have to bring anything, but wine, salad, and desserts are welcome.

What’s so special about the atmosphere?  I think part of the charm is that it’s low fuss. Katie and Jared are about hospitality.  Their home is open on Friday night no matter whether you’re a local and they see you every week, or you haven’t talked in years.  And they really work to get the food right.  Pre-Meatballs, dinner with Katie & Jared might involve making ravioli by hand, or checking out the newest DC fusion restaurant or ramen place. Now I feel like I can open their fridge, jump in and help with prep, and/or show up 30 minutes early just to chat.  BASICALLY… we’re even better friends than we were (and I love that).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the really cool crowd (Jared’s in political radio, Katie works in international aid) that Friday Night Meatballs pulls.  I’ve talked about marine policy, the history of food spying, alligator rescue squads, and bikini baristas with fellow dinner party members.  So many good stories, so many interesting people!  It’s the DC I always imagined was out there, but didn’t necessarily meet because I wasn’t in the right crowd.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing on my Friday nights.  Do you have a food-related traditions?

Interested in other food-related posts?  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

ten books i picked up on a whim

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 | | 3 comments

I think we’re all nostalgic about something or other, and as a person who writes about books, I am sometimes nostalgic for the days when book discovery was looser and freer.  When I was a teen I browsed the library (or occasionally store!) shelves and picked up whatever looked good, regardless of genre.  A pretty book cover doesn’t necessarily discriminate between fiction or nonfiction, or age-appropriateness!  That said, I’m much happier in general with the quality of the fiction I’m reading now that I mostly go on recommendations.  But in keeping with this week’s theme, here are some of the books I recently picked up on a whim (free of recommendations – from anyone!).

Ten Books I Picked Up On a Whim

1. Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn – I visited Dallas earlier this year to see a dear friend who relocated to Texas.  We went to the Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly) shot JFK.  It’s an interesting museum, and I learned quite a lot.  I picked up this book in the museum shop because it looked interesting, and I bought it because I had no idea that Jackie Kennedy Onassis worked in publishing!

2. The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy, illustrated by Emily Sutton – When I was at BEA this last week, I did one last ‘wander’ around the convention exhibits floor before I left.  Candlewick was closing up shop and giving away all of their display titles.  I happened to pick this one up, and I’m so glad I did! I LOVED it, and have already written & scheduled my review for September.

3. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – This title and the next one were books I picked up while browsing at Amazon Books, the new Amazon bookshop concept in Seattle.  I was there with my mom, sister-in-law and aunt, and I was the only one who picked up anything to purchase.  We had a great time checking out the unique layout and sharing our opinions afterwards, though!

4. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken – As I mentioned in my review of the Amazon Books shop, they had an interesting (and limited) selection of titles.  This was one of the few older titles on the shelf, so I read the cover copy and then realized I had to have it.

5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – There used to be a bookshop in Skaneateles, New York, where my grandmother and uncles live (and since they host Thanksgiving and Easter, I visit!).  It was right across the way from the bakery, so when I was sent out to get fresh bread I’d pop into the bookstore.  I picked this up on one of those little trips, mostly because it was about books and I recognized the author name.

6. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne – As an adult I have certain requirements when I travel: there must be good food, good museums, and a bookshop visit.  I went to Ireland with friends in 2013, and had an amazing time. Some of my favorite souvenirs were the books I picked up from a shop in Dublin, including a signed copy of this middle grade title (which I still haven’t read)(no judgement).

7. Armada by Eric Cline – The story of this one is simple.  My friend Melissa sent out an email to our book club asking if anyone wanted the book. I replied back first.

8. The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas – My mother used this cookbook all the time when I was growing up.  I saw this copy at a book sale a few years back and immediately added it to my library. Another step on the (mostly unconscious) life journey to turn into my mother? Maybe.

9. Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures  by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater – There’s a Barnes & Noble bookstore around the corner from the Apple Store I frequent, so I go there to wait and browse a few times a year (hey look! books! entertainment!). I picked up this title and the next one on one of those journeys.

10. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt – I didn’t mean to read this book at all – I just wanted to look at the pictures. But it’s really too cute for words, so I ended up finishing it right there in the store. Art can make or break a book!

What’s the last book you picked up on a whim?
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