One-Sentence Reviews: My February & March Reads

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This morning I started my first book of spring: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s my 17th book so far this year, as I steadily make progress toward reading 55 works of fiction and nonfiction—and maybe I’ll even try to throw in some poetry or graphic novels to keep things diverse. In January I posted mini reviews of my first five books of the year, and now seemed like a good time to reflect on the rest of my winter reading while gearing up for warmer weather and hopefully many days sitting on my porch with a good story in hand.

Worth It…

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick: I love that this glittering, stylized novel doesn’t shy away from tough and sometimes taboo topics, all while successfully unraveling the gordian knot linking its two suffering protagonists.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: When old beliefs are denounced in favor of a new religion, only a young gifted girl can see the terror coming to her town; this spellbinding tale of magic, folklore, and history is a new kind of fairytale that can easily hold its own among the classics.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: This thrilling mystery about a bachelorette party gone wrong is so compelling that I finished it in only one day, unable to rest until I had found out just what it was the narrator couldn’t remember about the murder that had taken place.

Don’t Bother…

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith:  This novel—which traces the history of a painting and its painter, and its forged counterpart and its painter—has too many subplots and could have been told in half the number of words.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: The only good thing about this thinly plotted novel is its original premise: a floating bookshop that doles out books like medicine (too bad the book quickly leaves that idea behind and heads instead into cliche and oft-charted waters).

The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick: I had high hopes for this book, billed as similar to the writings of Sarah Addison Allen (one of my favorite authors!) and Alice Hoffman, but its unrefined characters and muddled plot fail to generate even a shred of magic.

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

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With sleet clattering down outside and aboveground subway service suspended, I found myself stuck at home during yesterday’s blizzard. School, of course, had already been canceled, so Todd was home too, and I wanted to bake us something yummy, something perfect for a cozy snow day. I decided that something would be Irish soda bread, considering this Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve never tried to make it before so I was a little worried, but then I found a really simple recipe on The Kitchen (one of my go-to websites for food facts and ideas). And though there are a few things I might do differently next time (include a little more sugar; add more raisins), I’m still really pleased with the result! It had a mild sweetness and a moist yet still kind of crumbly texture, which I enjoyed cold with a mug of hot coffee and then toasted this morning with butter and jam.

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Because I didn’t have buttermilk and could barely get up my driveway without slipping on ice, let alone travel to the store, I had to DIY the process by adding two tablespoons of lemon juice to two cups of regular whole milk and letting it sit for 30 minutes to thicken. Another way to do this is with vinegar, as my fellow blogger over at Happiness in Jars did yesterday when she, too, baked an Irish soda bread! And now for the recipe, slightly adapted from the one I found on The Kitchn:

Ingredients
~Oil or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
~4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
~3.5 cups all-purpose flour
~1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
~2 Tbsp. sugar
~2 tsp. baking powder
~1 tsp. baking soda
~1 tsp. salt
~2 cups buttermilk
~1 cup raisins (I  used a mixture of regular and golden)
~2 Tbsp. heavy cream, for brushing

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Preparation
~Make sure oven rack is in the middle position, then preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with oil or nonstick cooking spray.
~In a large bowl or the bowl a stand mixer, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
~Add butter cubes and use your hands to squish them with dry ingredients until mixed and no large clumps remain.
~Add buttermilk and raisins and either use a spatula or a stand mixer’s dough hook to combine. When wet and sticky, remove dough from bowl, plop onto prepared baking sheet, and shape into a slightly flattened ball about 7 to 8 inches in diameter.
~Using a sharp knife, score a large X into the top of the loaf from end to end, about a half-inch deep. Brush top of loaf with heavy cream.
~Bake until golden on top and the center of the X has lost its wetness, about 45 to 50 minutes. Around the 30-minute mark, check to make sure bread isn’t too brown; if it is, tent with foil and continue baking until done.
~Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving. Store, wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days.

Nutritional information: approximately 85 calories per ounce.

 

My Fastest 5k Yet!

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16939531_10106026132379209_4669073140362198351_nThis year Todd and I are working toward the NYRR 9+1 program, in which you run nine races and volunteer at one to gain guaranteed entry into the 2018 NYC marathon. (No, we have never attempted such a long distance before. No, I am not sure I even can run an entire marathon. But I know I have to try, at least once in my lifetime.)

Because we figured January and February would be super cold, we chose the Washington Heights 5k in March as the first of our nine runs. Did I expect it to feel a little bit like spring? Silly me. The temperate was in the 20s; I could see my breath while we hurried to the starting line. I’d dressed in high socks, leggings, a tank top with a pretty warm jacket on top, gloves that could become mittens, and my Pusheen hat—and though that combination worked perfectly during the race, it left me hopping around trying to stay warm while we waited in our corral.

The course was a simple out-and-back that looped up through Fort Tryon Park, taking us around the Cloisters, a MET museum specializing in medieval art and architecture. I highly recommend checking out the collections there; the entire museum is so incredibly peaceful and awe-inspiring. It’s also situated at the top of a very large hill, which we had to run up as part of the race. This is where I say thank you to the creators of Disney’s Moana soundtrack: As I labored up the steepest of the inclines, the song “How Far I’ll Go” popped up on my playlist, and its yearning buoyancy gave me the push I needed to stay strong and positive. From there just another small hill, and then I sprinted the rest of the way down Fort Washington Avenue, about a mile left to the finish line.

I didn’t catch my time as I crossed, but I felt really good, not winded or aching despite what I knew had to have been a faster pace than usual. I’m hopeful that this means my weekly combination of one long run and several short speed bursts is training me to become a better runner—either that or I was just trying to outrun the cold! When I later checked my chip time, I’d completed the course in 27 minutes and 7 seconds, a new PR. I’m a little worried that it was just a fluke and I’ll fall behind in my next race, but the only way to find out is to sign up and run. One down, eight to go…2018 NYC marathon, here we come!

Women, Strong & United

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Created by O, The Oprah Magazine senior designer Tova Diamond.

Our entire office wore red today in honor of International Women’s Day and the women’s rights movement. Though we’ve made great strides in equality, there’s still a ways to go, both around the world and here at home in the United States.

Whatever your political views or cultural background, we should stand together as women, strong and united. There is so much to celebrate about each other: our tenacity, our individuality, our accomplishments, our collective voice.

In that spirit, I’d like to share some wisdom imparted by women (the last quote is my favorite!):

  • “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” -Amelia Earhart
  • “I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.” -Michelle Obama
  • “I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in their service as workers, not as women.” -Susan B. Anthony
  • “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” -Mary Shelley
  • “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” -Madeleine Albright
  • “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” -Maya Angelou
  • “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” -Audre Lorde
  • “I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story—I will.” -Amy Schumer
  • “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” -Sheryl Sandberg
  • “Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is. Womanhood is you. Womanhood is everything that’s inside of you.” -Viola Davis

Restaurant Review: Zora’s Cafe

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Not only did my coworker’s get me gifts for my 29th birthday, including a giant box of Godiva chocolates and a book that’s all about coffee, they also took me out to lunch. We settled on Zora’s Cafe, an unassuming soul food spot on Ninth Avenue between 47th and 48th streets. The restaurant aims to “develop healthier soul food dishes without compromising great taste” by using cage-free eggs and organic vegetables, among other strategies. The simplicity of the menu in the window—four appetizers, seven entrees, only three lunch specials—belied the savory complexity of our meals. Once inside, we noted that the space felt cozy and welcoming, with exposed brick and the smells of the kitchen wafting out into the dining space. What’s more, the mother-daughter duo that started Zora’s were the ones who served us and cooked our food! Now that’s what I call true Southern hospitality, and it was much appreciated.

Our meal began with complimentary cornbread: soft in the center but deliciously crispy on the edges. A hint of citrus added a pleasant zing to it, and I probably could have eaten the entire basket on my own if I hadn’t wanted to save room for my main meal. Adrienne ordered an iced tea, which she enjoyed, while Lisa and I stuck to water. Our server, Zora herself, was extremely welcoming and attentive, checking back to make sure that everything was to our liking and whether we needed anything more. She had no problem answering our questions, even when we asked the same ones twice!

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Then it was time for entrees. Everything on the menu sounded good: fried green tomatoes, battered wings, chicken and waffles, slow-simmered braised beef oxtails. Ultimately we all chose the catfish sandwich; Adrienne and Lisa got theirs fried and accompanied by white bread, whereas I went with pan-seared and whole wheat. The lunch option was only $10, and it came with a side of fries, though Zora explained we could substitute any other side we liked instead. Lisa went with a simple salad, Adrienne chose the spice-dusted potato salad (in the photo on the left, below), and I picked the collard greens (in the photo on the right, below). The sandwiches also came with a hot sauce and a white condiment that was a homemade version of tartar sauce.

Adrienne and Lisa both agreed that their cornmeal-crusted catfish had a ton of flavor, despite being a little salty. Adrienne’s potato salad was rich and creamy. My fish was cooked perfectly, nice and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sear gave it a slight char that paired really well with the collard greens. Although the dessert options, including a peach cobbler, sounded so tempting, we all felt too full to give them a try. That’s just one of the many reasons I’m already planning to go back! I’d definitely recommend Zora’s Cafe to anyone looking for a solid lunch or dinner option in the area.