What I Read: August 2017

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What I Read: August 2017

August was such a great reading month for me! All of these books were at least four stars, and two were five-star books for me on Goodreads.

What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery – This memoir follows Emery as she chooses to take a year without the Internet: no e-mail, texting, blogging, or even using a debit card. She has just moved to Boston with her husband and kids after a major marital rift and leaving a theatre career. Esther’s raw emotions definitely spring off the page as she discovers the art of writing letters, how to bake bread, contemplates her odd childhood, and reconnects with God and her late mother’s memory.

I didn’t come away ready to give up the online world myself (or move to a yurt, like Esther and her family have), but it definitely gave me a lot to think on and desiring more quiet. A really beautiful book that speaks to our modern age. (I also love that the events of this book happened quite a few years ago; I don’t think she was performing the experiment just to get a book deal.)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – You may have heard the premise of this timely book: teenager Starr is with one of her best friends, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a white police officer and Khalil, unarmed, is shot and killed. In the aftermath, Starr tries to make sense of her two worlds: the projects where she lives and the wealthy school where she and her brother are two of a handful of minorities.

The book is gritty but feels so real, and I think it’s an important one for those of who are who privileged, white people to read especially. It’s YA, but if your kids are going to read it do be warned there is a lot of language and some sexual content.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – This graphic memoir explores Bui’s family history: her parents’ growing-up years in Vietnam, their marriage and the young years of Bui and her siblings, and how they all fled to America in the midst of conflict in Vietnam. There is still a lot I don’t understand about the history of Vietnam, but Bui’s drawings and writings both illuminated the grief and hope of the times. I found the way Bui wove her current situation as a parent with reflections on her own parents’ parenting to be skillful and thoughtful.

Trajectory by Richard Russo – Trajectory is Russo’s latest work, a collection of four short stories. I am not generally a short-story reader, but I liked that these are longer, about 75 pages each, giving time to know the characters and get the feel of the story. I loved how the first three felt slightly connected – like a minor character from the previous story morphed into someone in the next tale. (Although the fourth one didn’t have that connection, so maybe it was coincidental?) I found “Voice,” the third story, to be the most provocative.

Russo’s writing is just so darn good. The only one of his books I have read is Bridge of Sighs, but I think I’m going to need to dig into his other works. There’s a reason he is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Beartown by Frederick Backman – Y’all, this book broke my heart into little pieces. (That might be a theme this month. Nothing light here.) It’s another way-too-relevant read for right now. If you’ve read A Man Called Ove, you know Backman is a masterful writer. He uses the same voice in Beartown, but a much more serious tone. You think this book is about hockey in a small town. And it is. But it’s also about small-town thinking, growing up, secrets, and the politics of wealth and privilege. So much good here, although it’s certainly not easy to read certain events in the book. Five stars all the way.

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So what have you been reading lately? 

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Ganache

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

The boys are back in town … or, in our case, the girls.

For six years, my husband has been a dorm parent in a boys’ dorm at the private high school where he teaches and we live. We were in one dorm for a year; and then, when we moved into our last apartment, another dorm for five. I LOVED those boys – and still do, of course. We knew at the end of last year with us moving it was likely my husband would be assigned to a different dorm. And he was. A girls’ dorm.

Most of my part in dorm parenting has been baking for the boys. It brings me a lot of joy, and I think it helps them feel a little more like school is home. I was a little hesitant about the girls’ dorm, wondering if they would eat like the boys do. I have been assured from every side that yes, they do.

So now I have 40 high-school daughters. And they wiped this platter clean the other night. Mr. V said one even said she doesn’t usually love chocolate, but she really liked this cake!

We’re living in a house now, so we’re not in the dorm with the kids, which is kind of weird after six years of being in one. But we’re still on campus and eating in the dining hall and trying to love these kids like our own. So I’ll still be baking up a storm!

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Ganache

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 12-18 servings

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Ganache

Slightly adapted from Barbara Bakes. I love bundt cakes because they are so easy to serve and don't require as much frosting (I am not huge on frosting), but you could also bake this as a 9x13 or a layer cake, adjusting the time.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. (2 sticks) butter
  • 5 T cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Ganache
  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips
  • 1 T honey or corn syrup
  • 3 T heavy cream

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray with flour and set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together butter (cut into slices), cocoa powder, salt, and water. Cook until the butter is melted, stirring, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the butter mixture and stir until well blended. Add the remaining butter mixture and stir until uniform. Stir in sour cream and vanilla until uniform.

Pour the mixture into the prepared bundt pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack or platter to cool completely.

Ganache

Put chocolate chips into a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add honey or corn syrup and heavy cream on top. Microwave 30 second on high power, then stir together until the chocolate is smooth. If it will not all melt, give it another 15 seconds or so. (Do NOT add more heavy cream once the chocolate is hot; it will make it seize up.) Drizzle or spoon over top of the cake and let set.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2017/08/chocolate-sour-cream-bundt-cake-with-ganache/

Do you have a favorite dessert to serve to a crowd?

You might also like:

Whole Wheat Banana Bread Muffins

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

I posted this recipe approximately eight million years ago, or in 2011. At the time, I wasn’t 100% happy with it, but I didn’t know why.

Last year, I started tinkering again, and found that lowering the oven temperature to let the muffins rise slightly slower and using whole-milk buttermilk did wonders. Now these are fluffy and luscious and one of my favorite muffin recipes. And they are all whole wheat, using the magic of white whole wheat flour. (Which they’ve stopped carrying at my Food City AND Walmart. GRUMP! This bag I found at Target.)

Next time you have some very ripe bananas, make these! In fact, make a double batch. Because they’re going to get gobbled up, especially if you have many small and hungry children as I do.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread Muffins

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 12-16 muffins

Whole Wheat Banana Bread Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil or melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. whole buttermilk
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour (preferably white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 T flaxseed meal
  • 12 walnut or pecan halves

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 12 muffins cups or use paper liners.

Cream bananas, oil or butter, egg, honey, sugar, and vanilla with a mixer or a wooden spoon. Add buttermilk, then dry ingredients (all remaining except nuts). Stir until combined.

Spoon into muffin tins, filling about two-thirds full. Press a walnut or pecan half into the middle of each muffin.

Bake 20-23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Notes

These muffins are definitely not commercial-bakery-muffin-sugarfest. Using the ripest bananas will help contribute a good sweetness.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2017/08/whole-wheat-banana-bread-muffins/

The 2011 Jessie would have never believed she could take a picture that good with a phone. Kind of amazing! After holding out on getting a smartphone for a long time, we caved two years ago. And about two weeks ago, I upgraded to the iPhone 7 plus. It takes pretty pictures. And you know I need those of my babies.

(Four. Have I mentioned I have four kids now? It’s been almost 10 months and it still feels surreal.)

What I Read: July 2017

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

I’m so excited to share my July reads because several of them were so good!

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert – This book is more than a decade old (2003), but I hadn’t heard of it until I became a part of a Facebook group that talks books. It got rave reviews there, and so I grabbed it somewhere (a thrift store, I think) when I saw it for cheap. I was not at all disappointed.

Moloka’i is the island to which Hawaiians with a form of leprosy are shipped in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Separated without choice from their friends and family, the “colonists” of the island form family units and unshakeable bonds. Rachel is just 7 when her sores are discovered and she is cut off from her close-knit family, including her beloved father, a merchant who sails around the world. Rachel finds her own dreams of seeing the world cut short, instead facing a lifetime of the sameness of Moloka’i.

The novel follows Rachel’s whole life. It is heartbreaking – especially because this island and the epidemic really did exist – and beautiful. I was so moved and tearful over one part that I had to chant “it’s just a book” to myself for awhile. I highly recommend you invest the time to read this 400-page novel soon if you haven’t yet.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – Dimple and Rishi are betrothed. Except Rishi knows, but Dimple doesn’t. All Dimple knows is that she’s going to her dream camp, a six-week summer program centering around designing a smartphone app. Fiercely driven and Stanford-bound, Dimple has her eyes set on the prize, not on having a relationship, and especially not finding that “Ideal Indian Husband” her mom is always talking about.

Rishi is the boy you fell in love with in high school or wanted to find: hopelessly romantic, artistic, utterly devoted to his family and culture.

Yes, the plot may have been slightly predictable, but the different cultures and people represented really livened it up. I thought the one scene of intimacy probably could have been left out, but that’s just not my thing.

I stayed up way too late finishing this one, because it swept me away in ooshi-gooshyness, as any good YA romance should.

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson – I have mixed feelings about this one. I even emailed (my now obvious best friend since I was on her podcast) Anne Bogel, because she’s highly recommended Joshilyn Jackson as an author, and we had a chat about this book and others.

I think the plot of this book is really interesting. Shandi, a young, single mom, is held up at a gas station with her son. William puts himself in the path between the robber and her son, and her heart is stolen. Shandi doesn’t know William has his own long and sad story, and their attraction might be just too messy.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of very graphic sex here as we find out how Shandi’s son was conceived and about William’s past relationships. It doesn’t feel entirely extraneous to the book, but it was a lot for me. I really don’t enjoy reading graphic stuff like this. Anne assured me not all her books are like that, and I’m willing to give another one a try, because I really did think the story was excellent. Just a little gritty for me.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Have I had this book in my possession forever? Yes. Have I ever read it? No. Why? I have zero idea. This is Maeve Binchy’s first novel, and I think it’s the only one of hers I had never read. I’m a huge Maeve fan, but this one was a little awkward.

The first half felt like many of her other books: comfortably settling oneself into the story of Elizabeth, an English girl, and Aisling, an Irish preteen, who are thrown together when Elizabeth’s mother sends her off to live with Aisling’s family in Ireland during World War II. After spending five years together as sisters and best friends, their bond extends throughout their lives.

Here are my two complaints: first, the last maybe 10 percent of the book feels incredibly clunky and like it was rushed. It doesn’t feel like Maeve to me. Second, my copy had what I thought I was a spoiler on the back cover. If it was really a spoiler, it would have been for the last 50 pages of the book; but I came to find out it was really juicier than what actually even happened. I was annoyed the whole time that I hadn’t reached that obviously pivotal event from the back cover, and then realized it wasn’t even accurate. Granted, this copy was probably from 1985 so I guess I can’t complain to the publishers now. Note to self: never read the back cover or flap copy. Ever.

(This makes five finished and one abandoned from my 2017 Read the Shelves challenge!)

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett – And now for something completely different … this is a new book, published in March. It’s about a 10-year-old girl but not classified as YA, but it is written in a 10-year-old voice. Elvis loves animals passionately, adores and is scared of her older sister Lizzie, and misses the rabbit cakes her mother baked. Because her mother sleepwalked herself to a river and drowned, and Elvis’s counselor has given her 18 months to complete the grieving process. Meanwhile, she’s trying to keep Lizzie from sleep-eating, her dad is wearing her mom’s robe and lipstick, and Elvis still has to stumble through fifth grade.

It’s as quirky and crazy as it sounds, and I found it absolutely charming.

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So those were my reads for July! I’ve already finished one five-star read in August and am working through another which I think will also be five stars for me! (COMPLETELY different books.) You can follow me on GoodReads if you want to know what I’m currently reading and finishing!

Peach & Arugula Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

The power of suggestion can be a beast, can’t it?

On the way to the grocery store, I was listening to Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast. And in an ad, she mentioned a recipe for arugula salad with peaches, goat cheese, and almonds. Once I got into Publix, I couldn’t stop thinking about an arugula salad with peaches. I love both of those ingredients a lot, and it sounded so good.

I’m not a huge fan of goat cheese, though, but feta – I could eat feta on everything. And adding a crunchy bagel chip (I got for dirt cheap with a sale plus coupon) for a “crouton” and an amazing vinaigrette due to some locally made white balsamic vinegar? Mr. V and I ate all of ours plus any the kids didn’t eat.

(Which, if you know my kids, was most of theirs. Surprisingly, David and Libbie did actually try arugula and at least ate peaches and the bagel chips.)

As with most salads, I recommend throwing in whatever quantity of ingredients looks good to you. This recipe is an approximation of what I used, but make it to your tastes. And then enjoy the applause of those around you, because SO YUMMY.

(Want to have peaches for dessert, too? Try Peach Pie Coffee Cake with Maple Buttercream or Fresh Peach Cake!)

Peach & Arugula Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: one entree-sized portion or four side salads

Peach & Arugula Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette

Peppery arugula, tangy feta, sweet peaches, crunchy almonds, and a balanced vinaigrette come together for a delicious summer salad.

Ingredients

  • half of a 5-ounce clamshell of arugula
  • one peach, thinly sliced
  • 2 T crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of whole almonds, roughly chopped, or sliced almonds
  • 3 to 4 bagel chips, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Vinaigrette
  • 3 T white balsamic vinegar, preferably peach-flavored
  • 3 T salad oil of choice (I used a cold-pressed combination oil from ALDI but olive oil would work, too)
  • 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

In a bowl or plate, layer arugula, peaches, feta cheese, almonds, and bagel chip crumbles.

Whisk all ingredients for vinaigrette together until uniform.

Drizzle vinaigrette over salad right before serving.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2017/07/peach-arugula-salad-with-white-balsamic-vinaigrette/

What is your favorite summer salad? We’re trying to introduce our kids to having a salad or cold vegetable course before our dinner, and I’d love your suggestions!

What I Read: June 2017

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure statement for more details.

I’m beginning to face the fact that I am probably not going to reach my reading goal for this year, which was 80 books. But the more I think about it, the more I feel totally OK with that fact. Because, maybe for the first time ever, I am reading higher-quality books, books I think will be worth the time investment.

With four kids and a home to manage, my time is valuable. I don’t want to waste it reading books I don’t enjoy or love. I put a book down today after a few chapters because I found myself thinking, “I am going to regret putting the time into this book, aren’t I?”

I only finished four books in June, and I was sort of shocked that I did not finish one book while we were at the beach; usually I can plow through 4 to 5. But I did read about half of Middlemarch there, which is an 800-page classic, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, right?

All that said, I really enjoyed all four of these books and am happy to have read them!

Pearl Weaver’s Epic Apology by Rachel Keener – I was so thrilled when Rachel Keener saw my love for her book The Memory Thief and e-mailed me about it years ago. It’s so fun to converse with an author! So I was pleased as punch to hear from her again this year, asking if I would read and review her new, self-published book, Pearl Weaver’s Epic Apology.

Pearl only remembers being with her father in their museum-like home, filled with the relics of their ancestors. She remembers her first literary obsession, Cassandra from the myths. And when she quickly loses all she’s known, Pearl takes us for a crazy joyride of emotions; the preteen brain leading us through more literary trails, assumed identities, and wild journeys.

I don’t know if Pearl’s tale is 100% believable, but it sure is interesting. Keener gracefully weaves in the Southern enchantment, faith, and Pearl’s family history. It’s a hefty book, but a lovely story. (Although it takes until the last page to “get” the title!)

Rachel provided me with the book to facilitate my review; I did not receive any other compensation and provide my truthful review here!

Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch – Yes, this was on my Read-the-Shelves challenge for the first three months of 2017. Apparently that is going to take me all year. Oh well!

I gave this book five stars on GoodReads. I have read Kristen’s blog sporadically (I am honestly not much of a blog reader anymore …), but I do get e-mails about her ministry, Mercy House, which I have supported some through the years. This is the story of her marriage and family, and how she grew and changed, became a writer, traveled to Kenya, and then founded Mercy House. It’s also a challenge to Christians to look beyond the acceptable, American Christianity and into a Jesus-filled life that is terrifying but fulfilling.

I appreciated and was challenged by Kristen’s words, as I am every time I read something from her. I hope this book will continue to challenge my faith and heart as I reflect on it.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – I have heard so many good things about this middle-grade book, and it did not disappoint! I wanted something kid-friendly to listen to on the way to the beach, so we downloaded this on Overdrive. I thought the narration was excellent, and the book has a dry humor that is perfect. It is touching and sad while at the same time funny and uplifting in places.

Note: It does talk some about humans being descended from apes, so if that is going to be a huge issue for you, here’s your fair warning.

Middlemarch by George Eliot – I’ve been reading bits of this since early April, but I finally settled down and made myself read JUST it in June so I could actually finish. There were parts when I wished I had a little better understanding of English society in the early 1800s to help clarify, but in general, it’s a story that focuses on relationships. And these relationships feel much more modern – or at least truthful – than some of the ones we see in classic literature. The marriages are difficult. Friends are flighty. Families aren’t always awesome. Money makes problems.

Eliot’s famed work is really masterful, and I won’t forget these characters quickly. Classics are classics for a reason, apparently. 😉

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How is your summer reading going? Read anything wonderful lately?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.