One-Sentence Book Reviews


When I last shared some mini book reviews with you, I was in the throes of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. Though I really enjoyed the first book, my love of the series dwindled with each subsequent installment. But I have read some really fascinating works since then, and if you’re only going to read one of the books I’m recommending below, let it be Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

The novel blew me away with its lyricism and tight descriptions, its sense of restraint, giving you just enough clues to vaguely piece together the action but still retain the pleasurable tingle of a mystery waiting to be solved. In fact, I still find myself thinking back to this book, its intricately woven themes, its heart-wrenching prose. Here’s an excerpt that I really loved:

“Up the road were other abandoned parcels, barely visible driveways leading to vacant foundations, as if someone had plucked the houses right out of the ground, leaving cavities in the shape of living spaces. I could feel the house that wasn’t there, rising out of the gaping concrete mouth. The alders shivered in the breeze, a sound so familiar that I shivered, too.”

Now, without further ado, the reviews:

Worth It…

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith: In this novel, written with remarkable precision and passion, a young woman visits an old friend on an island commune—but she soon realizes that nothing is as it appears, not even her own mind, her shadow-struck heart.

The Way of Wanderlust by Don George: This writer’s very intimate anecdotes offer great insight into travel, writing, and our own capacity for goodness and human connection.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey: At turns whimsical and wry, poet Novey reveals bit by bit the strange and compelling tale of a Brazilian author who climbs into a tree and disappears, and the translator who leaves behind a solid life in Pittsburgh to search for her.

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik: If you can look past his copious allusions and penchant for philosophical rambling, you’ll discover interesting stories and good questions about the past, present, and future of the food scene.

Don’t Bother…

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke: I liked the “cozy mystery” concept of this novel, but everything else fell flat: a weak and illogical plot, characters that were no more than caricatures, an insubstantial setting, and a serious dependence on telling the reader things that were quite obvious already.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: I read the first volume of this series when teaching fourth grade last year and enjoyed it; however, the second book felt forced, and much of the intrigue of the earlier novel had been extinguished.

Run the World by Becky Wade: Professional runner Wade recounts her travels in order to learn about running cultures in other countries, but unfortunately the entire book just sounded like an extended high school essay.


Music: Calendar Year Album Release


Todd’s latest music endeavor is a duo called Calendar Year, formed with his friend Rob—and they’ve just released their first album, Jaded, Apathetic, with No Hope for the Future! It’s a sort of indie-rock blend that has punk and emo influences and describes their attempts to “determine their place in the world.” Todd’s on drums and backup singing/shouting; Rob’s on guitar and vocals. Please check it out. The album is free (donation-based) to download from Bandcamp and streaming on Spotify, or you can just listen below:


I Ran My First Half-Marathon!


It was a long road to get here. I thought I’d attempt 13.1 miles last year, but a leg injury kept me out of my running shoes for too long before the race; I didn’t feel confident or prepared, and I feared hurting myself even further. So this year I made sure I was ready, running speed drills on weekdays and progressively longer runs every weekend leading up to the half-marathon, then slowly tapering and letting my muscles heal starting two weeks before. And last weekend I did it, in 2 hours and 20 minutes—10 minutes faster than the goal time that Todd and I had set for ourselves.


Before the race, waiting for our corral’s wave to start.

In terms of running standards, it wasn’t very fast, averaging out to about 10 minutes and 48 seconds per mile. We started the first mile some distance down the block from Prospect Park. The weather was 58 degrees or so but it felt humid, with a little sun peeking through the clouds. I didn’t mind; I was just glad it wasn’t raining. Our corral, number 20 out of 22, inched forward, then finally the countdown began and we were off. Todd and I started out slow, about 12 minutes per mile for Miles 1 and 2. My parents ran, too, and they hovered just ahead of us for the first half of the race.

The first two miles felt easy, no huge hills or major descents. We ran comfortably; I listened to some low-key songs on Spotify, like “As We Ran” by the National Parks and “The Wolf” by Mumford and Sons. By Mile 3 we reached the Brooklyn Museum, and spent the next two miles traveling alongside the park. Todd and I chatted a bit and observed the other runners around us. I really liked a shirt than one older man was wearing: “I have fought the good fight,” it said, quoting from 2 Timothy 4:7 in the Bible, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The start of Mile 5 turned us onto Ocean Parkway, which had been closed to traffic for the half-marathon. As we ran, we saw runners from earlier waves already making their way back up the parkway, passing the Mile 9 mark and getting ready to head into Prospect Park. Around Mile 6, I started to feel it. My knee hurt a bit; I was getting bored with the monotonous scenery and the knowledge that, as far down as we traveled, we would still have to come all the way back. I counted down: If that’s the Mile 8 sign across the road, it means we have another mile down this way, then another mile back up until I get to that point. To distract myself, I changed up my running stance, first skipping sideways for a few steps, then busting out a few high knees.

Mile 7: We looped around and headed back up toward Prospect Park. Around Mile 8 we caught up to my parents and passed them, then Todd broke away from me because he wanted to run faster. By this point I was running about 11-minute miles. It was hard but not too hard, and I knew I still had energy left. At Mile 9 we ascended a steep hill that left me breathless at the top, but when I tried to walk for a minute, my legs wobbled like jelly so I kept running instead.

We entered the park at Mile 10 and I sped up, running the next 2 miles in around 20 minutes. I kept an eye out for Todd and just after Mile 12, I spotted him walking. I ran up beside him—he looked at me incredulously, like he couldn’t believe I’d caught up—and then I pushed on ahead. He followed, and we ran the last mile together as fast as we could. We crossed the finish line holding hands. (Here’s a picture, but I have to link to it because I don’t want to pay $25 for a download.)

After the half-marathon, we received really awesome finisher medals and some free water and snacks. And then I got a good, hot latte from one of my favorite hipster coffee shops, followed by a celebratory meal at Shake Shack later that afternoon. This morning I signed up for my next race, a 7.5-mile scenic run in November, but I’m still looking for another half-marathon where I can try to beat my new PR.


The family with our medals after the race! Love doing things together🙂

Recipe: Apple-Walnut Quick Bread


I’ve made quick breads in so many variations: mostly banana, but also blueberry and cherry oat. This time, armed with two bags of apples from our annual visit to an upstate orchard, I decided on apple-walnut bread with a coffee cake streusel topping; I used Ovenly’s salted apple bread recipe as a guide, with several tweaks to make it a little sweeter, softer, and nuttier. As a bonus, this recipe makes a ton of extra streusel, and you can store the leftovers in the freezer to use in other baking projects.


Ingredients for streusel
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-3 Tbsp. sugar
-2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
-2 tsp. cinnamon
-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (melted)

Ingredients for bread
-1/2  cup unsalted butter (melted) plus extra (softened) for greasing the loaf pan
-3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. whole milk
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/4 cup light brown sugar
-2 large eggs, at room temperature
-1/4 cup maple syrup
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
-1 cup rolled oats
-1 Tbsp. cinnamon
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. allspice
-1/4 tsp. cloves
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1.5 cups peeled, cored, and cubed apples
-Streusel topping



  1. Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and use your hands to mix until clumps begin to form. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with softened butter.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, eggs, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, and melted butter until well blended.
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine both flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.
  5. Using a spatula, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones until just combined. Fold in walnuts and apples until evenly distributed through the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with streusel. (Any leftover streusel can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.)
  7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes.

Impressions of Disneyland Paris: Part 2


Since returning from my honeymoon with Todd, I’ve been busy baking and cooking and running 10 miles at a time and enjoying weekends without having to worry about wedding planning. Unfortunately I’ve also fallen a bit behind on blogging. But I am going to try to rectify that, starting with this second installment on our impressions of Disneyland Paris, which will cover our experience at Parc Disneyland. (For our thoughts on Sequoia Lodge, Disney Village, and Walt Disney Studios, check out part 1.)

We spent two full days in Disneyland Paris, and we devoted our entire second day to Parc Disneyland, the larger of the two parks. It resembles Magic Kingdom in layout (hub-and-spoke design) and lands. There are some differences: Tomorrowland has been recast as Discoveryland and has a really cool retro-futuristic steampunk style. Haunted Mansion is Phantom Manor, with a slightly different storyline (as far as I can tell, since it was all in in French). Some of the rides are more intense: I expected a nice calm trip on Space Mountain but ended up screaming my head off as we went around corkscrews and loops. And instead of Cinderella’s Castle, there’s Sleeping Beauty Castle—which features an awesome dragon that moves and blows plumes of smoke at visitors.


Beware: A dragon’s lair lies beneath Sleepy Beauty Castle!


One of my favorite aspects of Parc Disneyland is the theming. Each of the buildings and ride queues have so many intricate details that I could spend hours just exploring the park without even venturing on any attractions. It really feels like you’ve stepped into different worlds as you enter each of the lands. I especially loved the theming for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction: You progress through dark caverns until you get to the loading dock for the boats, and the ride starts by passing alongside the Blue Lagoon Restaurant as if it’s part of the town where the ride’s scenes take place. Another favorite was Discoveryland; the steampunk theme didn’t feel outdated, and new surprises waited around every corner, even along back pathways that didn’t lead to any major rides.


It’s no secret that Todd and I are extremely passionate about food: We love to cook it, bake it, eat it, review it. So it was really disappointing to discover that the food at Parc Disneyland just isn’t up to par with the delicious offerings at Walt Disney World—in fact, it doesn’t even come close. We could barely drink the coffee, which tasted like buttery sludge; the quick service spots had only one to three options (and mostly the same options at each spot); and even the ice cream was pretty underwhelming.

But it wasn’t all bad. We did enjoy our meal at Blue Lagoon. Todd started with a fish soup accompanied by curry bread. The soup wasn’t too fishy and had a nice, thick consistency, and the curry bread made for an interesting flavor combination. I chose a salad as an appetizer, which came with pineapple, kidney beans, tomato, and avocado, with a mango dressing. All of the ingredients were really fresh! For his main meal, Todd got shrimp-filled ravioli that had a pleasant taste and were quite large and filling. My main meal featured grilled shrimp with fruit and veggie salsa and toasty rice. The shrimp here, as in all of the places we visited in Europe, still had the heads and tails attached, which kind of creeped me out. The salsa was really tasty but I wished there were more of it, and the rice didn’t really have any standout qualities but was good enough. For dessert we ordered banana, coffee, and chocolate cake that was super soft and really rich; we both enjoyed it a lot. Here are a few pics from our meal:

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Nighttime Show

The very best part of our stay at Disneyland Paris was the nighttime show, Disney Dreams! It features projection mapping on Sleeping Beauty Castle that makes it look like the castle is changing color and even growing or shrinking in size. Characters flit across the castle, too, and scenes from popular films. There are also water effects (so colorful!) and fireworks (so shimmery!), and all of these come together to create a truly magical experience. The audience sang along to some popular songs (of course, “Let It Go” was one of them) and many people in the front of the audience remained seated for the show in order to give everyone a good view. It was a great ending to a great trip in Disneyland Paris.


Now imagine this 10x better than my picture.


Recipe: Coffee Cheesecake


A few weeks ago I really wanted to make a coffee cheesecake, but every recipe I came across called for coffee liquor, which I didn’t want to use. Finally I stumbled across a recipe from the blog Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt, made a few changes to it based on what I had available in my apartment, and got a super-creamy cheesecake with a light coffee flavor (because I used cold brew instead of instant coffee; for more of a coffee flavor in your cheesecake, use instant coffee as recommended in the original recipe), with a chocolate ganache layer and also topped with ganache, coffee whipped cream, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it’s not actually that hard and it’s totally worth it!


For the crust:
~15 honey graham crackers, crushed
~1.25 cups mini oreo cookies, crushed
~1 stick unsalted butter, softened
~2 Tbsp. sugar

For the ganache:
~1.5 cups heavy cream
~20 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
~1/4 cup cold brew coffee

For the coffee whipped cream:
~1 cup heavy cream
~2 Tbsp. instant coffee
~2 tsp. cold water
~1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the cheesecake filling:
~3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
~1 cup granulated sugar
~3 large eggs
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup thick vanilla yogurt (I used the New York-based brand Siggi’s, which is actually an Icelandic skyr, but any type of Greek yogurt should work fine as well.)
~1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
~1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold brew coffee

~Chocolate-covered coffee beans or nuts for decorating


For the crust:
~Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. (I like to leave some large graham cracker chunks in my crust, but it’s up to you how chunky you want it to be.)
~Press into a 9-inch cake pan. (The crust will only cover the bottom of the pan, so if you like your crust to run up the sides, I suggest doubling the amount that you make.)
~Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

For the ganache:
~While crust is baking, start on the ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
~Remove from heat and add chocolate and cold brew, whisking constantly until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.
~Pour 2 cups ganache into cooled crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache at room temperature for decorating.

For the coffee whipped cream:
~In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream until small peaks form.
~In a small bowl, stir together instant coffee and water; pour that mixture into heavy cream.
~Add powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy.

For the cheesecake filling:
~In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
~Beat in eggs one at a time.
~Stir in sour cream and yogurt and mix well.
~Transfer 1/4 of the filling mixture to a smaller bowl. Add vanilla bean paste to it.
~In original large bowl, add cold brew coffee and stir well.
~Pour 1/2 of coffee-infused filling into crust, then add 1/2 of vanilla filling, swirling with a knife to mix. Repeat with remaining coffee and vanilla filling. Bake cheesecake until golden but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 1 hour, then let cool.
~When cheesecake has cooled slightly, use a spatula to spread a layer of ganache over the top. Decorate with espresso cream and coffee beans or nuts.

New Running Record: 13 Miles


Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.


The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.