Book Challenge Review 2016

Oh, my. It seems I haven’t posted at all since January 1, 2016. A whole year. Life has been kind of an adventure this year. Travel for business and ministry and pleasure and family health issues. But here I am ready to try again in this brave new year of 2017.

I didn’t quite complete my 2016 reading challenge – 9 out of 12 categories from Modern Mrs. Darcy. I’ll start the year with this, and then move back to food.

Out of the 12 categories, I missed “book you should have read in school” and “book you previously abandoned”. But there was a reason. If I abandoned a book (and I abandon very few) – it’s because it’s boring or poorly written or obtuse. After all, I struggled through Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco after abandoning it several times. And I book i “should” have read in school – again, there was a reason I didn’t read it then! And I am sure I’ve  read a “book chosen for you by spouse, sibling, child, or BFF” but failed to write it down and now can’t remember.

But I did read a lot of other books. I read books that had been on my shelves for years that I read long ago and loved. And some I still loved and kept. The Pern books by Anne McCaffery. The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters (my shelf is still missing 2 of the 21 books). Ray Bradbury. And others I was able to let go and clear out some space. Dick Francis mystery novels – I loved them all: horse-related mysteries! – from high school through my 30’s, and eagerly read them as they were published: horse-related mysteries! But now – not so much. Some I reread. I did keep one or two – fro a while at least. They are dated – a cell phone would have fixed so much. They reflected reality: there is a lot of anguish and personal problems below and around the main plotline, and I didn’t feel the need to relive the pain and suffering. I have seen more around me as I have grown older.

I had done successful reading challenges in previous years, so don’t feel bad about this at all. I’m moving on. No specific reading challenge for me in 2017. I have other things to focus on. I still love reading and will continue to read. A lot. And love recommendations from friends. I track new-to-me books on goodreads – sometimes updated with books I am re-reading, which were originally read long before I belonged to good reads.

What did I read that fit the challenge (and from what category)?

  • To Helvetica and Back (a book published this year)
  • It’s a Dog, Not a Toaster (a book you can read in a day)
  • The Prince of Tides (a book you’ve been meaning to read)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane (a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller)
  • Little House on the Prairie re-read (a book that was banned at some point) and also ( a book that was published before you were born).
  • Jesus, Bread and Chocolate (a book you own but have never read)
  • Foucault’s Pendulum (a book that intimidates you – actually I finished it last year, but couldn’t think of any others)
  • The Guernsey Literary ad Potato Peel Pie Society (a book you’ve already read at least once.

Find the original challenge at:

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Review: Book challenge of 2015

During 2015, I took on the “Howard’s End is on the Landing” Challenge – that is, to read one book a month that was already on my shelves (must have been purchased in 2013 or earlier). And, I did it! Books read (although not in this order):

  1. The Art of Teaching by Jay Pazini
  2. Hidden in Plain View, A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline L Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, PhD.
  3. Odd Lots, Seasonal Notes of a City Gardener by Thomas C. Cooper
  4. Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser
  5. The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser
  6. Good Prose, The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
  7. Weathering Winter, A Gardener’s Daybook by Carl H. Klaus
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  9. Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
  10. Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
  11. How Proust Can Change Your Life Alain de Botton
  12. S. Lewis, Memories and Reflections by John Lawlor

The challenge was been sponsored by a blog, Roof Beam Reader, and somewhere mid-year, I had difficulty linking my reading record to the challenge…but read the books anyway.

And I noticed a theme. All but one was non-fiction. I think because I got really burned out working on the doctorate, and so while I was still purchasing and accumulating interesting non-fiction books for five or six years, I just couldn’t bring myself to read them while reading so many peer-reviewed journal articles and books. And the non-fiction one, about dragons, was so dismally dystopian I could barely get through it. Which probably explains why I hadn’t read it earlier.

Several I enjoyed tremendously and will keep. Several were good reading, but not enough of a treasure to remain on my shelves. One (the dismal dystopian one) is already gone. Another on my orignal list, A Godward Life by John Piper, turned out to be a series of 120 devotional essays, only 2-3 pages each, and I wanted to spend a little more time and thought with each topic, so saved it for this year. I don’t promise to read one every day for 120 days, but expect to get through them all before summer.

And if you look back over my reviews, you’ll often find drinks or snacks with them – because what’s a good book without bodily sustenance to accompany it and prolong the reading experince? So here was my special holiday-week-when-I-don’t-go-into-work stash. And then a Christmas gift of the port, which I can’t find in Memphis.


Bailey’s for coffee, Zin for meals, Captain Morgan’s for the hot cider.


Ah, to be able to get this in Memphis! Hurray for Chattanooga for having this and for family for remembering!










And so now I am looking for another reading challenge. I like the “challenge” because it takes me outside of my usual pick-up-a-good-book-and-read self, and expands my horizons. All suggestions accepted.


Quilts and Food

Here’s the ninth (September) of the 12  book challenges for this year (read one book a month that has been on my shelf for over a year, that is, purchased in 2013 or before). There are no direct ties to food in the book, although quilters do always bring food when they get together. Thinking about quilting made me feel very much like working around the house. And since it was too hot to go outside to do a lot of work today (88 degrees and humid), I did lots of inside cleaning and laundry and cooking: I made taco ginger cookies fixin's 9.15salad meat & bean mix (to freeze for lunches); meatloaf (also to freeze for lunches in coming weeks), low-carb squash casserole (because I had squash left from last week that wouldn’t last much longer), and my classic chewy three-ginger cookies (because the cool weather last weekend made me feel like fall cooking).

This book was not at all what I expected. I was interested the quilting aspect in particular, and bought the book at the quilt museum in Paducah. Hidden in Plain View: A secret story of quilts and the underground railroad, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, PhD., seemed to be about the story of the role quilts played in the Underground quilt bookUnderground Railroad. And it is, as the author heard the story from one who had the history and was passing it along. But the author also went to other experts to put the story of the “Quilt Code” into the context of the time, admitting that some of the theories as to what the Code meant are literally theories, that historians do not know for sure. Her research stretched over five years, and she says that the “search for the origins and context for this book placed me in the company of an exciting cast of people: African American scholars, Sea Island basketmakers, Gullah storytellers, African textile specialists, low-country agriculturalists, historical preservationists, some of the last African American craftspersons carrying on their ancestral traditions, and Mississippi Delta story quilters” (p. 163). It was interesting, and I learned a lot more of facts – and some theorizing – about the Underground Railroad in general. And a little less about the quilt part of it than anticipated. Nonetheless, interesting reading.

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Just enough tomatoes

It’s still tomato season here! Another little surge of Cherokee Purples from two of the smaller farmers’ stands. Because they are limited I resisted the urge to buy them all – I feltMFM 9.12.15 I needed to leave some for others. So I bought some Black Russian cherry tomatoes to round out the week. I still have some Bradleys from last week that will become tomato pie later today. Meanwhile, one Cherokee purple a day plus 2 extras, so a BLT salad for lunch today.

Surprisingly, zucchini were hard to find. Only two places had any, although there were lots of little yellow squash. So I have zucchini for another zucchini lasagna, and whatever’s left to add with yellow crooknecks for squash casserole (low carb). Spaghetti squash were in, so I have two personal-sized ones. And I have some of the (reportedly) last small cucumbers.

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Odd Lots: A Book and Gardening

Odd Lots: Seasonal Notes of a City Gardner, is a lovely book. He has what I would call a large garden for a city – enough to have beds and lawn and trees and compost and a 20150829_132029garage, firmly situated in New England. And it’s actually organized by the months of the year rather than by season. And so we get to visit the various pieces of the garden in the different months. The trees, which are structural in winter months, shade in summer months, and glorious colors in the fall. He talks about the chores and the glories of each month, as you would talk to a friend or family member. Except that he is interested in knowing the names of his plants, and he mostly knows and uses the official Latin names. I had to look some up…and eventually I just gave up. And read through them. It’s a slow easy book to read – not demanding thought or knowledge about gardens, although it did cause to think about my own yard and garden

Healthy sage, well-trimmed and used chives, and some sparse parsley.

Healthy sage, well-trimmed and used chives, and some sparse parsley.

whenever I put it down, and things that I could do this month. And next month. And next spring, as well. It made me go out to examine my small plantings and pots a few times.And think about planting more daffodils and grape hyacinths this fall. The herbs are doing well here, but I’ve had trouble with zinnias and vegetables. And I found a beautiful caterpillar on the parsley – my experts tell me it will become an Eastern Swallowtail Eastern swallowtail caterpillar 8.15butterfly. So I will happily share my parsley with it.

I would highly recommend the book for anyone interesting in gardening, whether they are currently gardeners or not. There’s a lot of thought and philosophy rather than technique and to-do lists. No guilt. Just enjoyment of nature out the back – or front – door.

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I buy too many tomatoes.

Apparently I need help for my tomato purchasing addiction. Especially Cherokee Purples. Is it a shopping addiction or a food addiction? There I am at the Farmers Market. Just one more. One more. Just one more. Hmm…they’re getting smaller – they may be unavailable soon. Just one – or two – more. One hard rain and the season could be over! This one , too. MFM 8.29.15Oh-  and thatone. And oh, look – a basket of small Arkansas Travelers: the late season native heirlooms. I must remember to get some fresh mozzarella and see if I have any basil out back.

And possibly the last cantaloupe – depending on the weather, the farmer tells me, there may be a few more in three or four weeks. Late peaches – only a few. Very hard, but I can’t resist. They may need to be baked or roasted or grilled or cobblered rather than eaten raw, but that’s OK. I’ll let them ripen a little tho week and see. Because I have plenty of cantaloupe to eat! And a few more peppers to snack on this week. The cucumbers all look big and seedy and tough-skinned, so sweet peppers it is. And most of the squash are smaller – as were the peppers. None of those big lush-yet-tough ones. So I have a basket of small mixed crookneck and zucchini, although I am not sure what I will do with them.

20150827_174255Meanwhile, I am eating sliced tomatoes. Plain. With salt. With a little mayo. With bacon (yum!). With a little balsamic vinegar.  Or hole and sun-warmed, like an apple. With whatever is handy, or with nothing at all. Heirloom tomato season is short-lived but livens the depths of summer with superb flavors.

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August is still filled with fresh vegetables

August is just streaming past. Schools have started, even colleges. The abundance of big meaty summer tomatoes has dwindled but is still more than adequate. Lots of zucchini MFM 8.22.15and squash. Lots and lots and lots of okra this year. Still some cucumbers, but no pickling cucumbers this week. Only a few small sweet peppers – really not a good year for them. Late peaches are still here. And cantaloupes. I still have cantaloupe left from last week, but bought a small one that hopefully will not ripen for a couple of days. There is an overabundance of plums and muscadine grapes, neither of which I am crazy about. While I do have really good plum cake recipe, I don’t have a reason to bake one this year.

But instead I’ll do some healthy baking today, as it’s a very very gray and rainy day. I’m going to make the zucchini lasagna I discovered last year, substituting thin-sliced zucchini for the lasagna noodles. I made meat sauce for lunch (and extra for freezing) with zucchini noodles – and for the first time I nicked my finger with my veggetti zucchini noodle-maker. It made an odd angled cut. Now clean and bandaged, it’s a reminder to always be careful. And then while the oven is hot, probably some dark chocolate chip almond butter (gluten-free) cookies – my current favorite cookie. And finally some chive & artichoke dip for snacking on the cucumbers and peppers (and some carrots).

Artichoke Dip & Variations

  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 can (or jar) artichoke hearts, chopped finely or coarsely
  • 3-4 Tblsp, chopped chives (sniping them with scissors works better)
  • optional 1-2 Tbsp. of other herbs you like.

Soften cream cheese, beat together with sour cream and mayonnaise. Add other 20150822_185113ingredients, put into a small casserole dish and bake at 350 until bubbly and very lightly browned on top, 15 – 25 minutes depending on the size of the casserole dish.

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Sweet Peppers

Although this was not a good year for peppers (reportedly the alternating hot and freezing weather  in the spring, the alternating dry spells & heat and flash-flood deluges were not conducive to happy growth), and neither farmer I used to regularly buy peppers from have a20150808_104444ny this year, I did find some peppers that were locally grown. So in addition to too many tomatoes and some zucchini  – and the very final blueberries of the year – red & yellow sweet peppers came home with me and were quickly sautéed into sausage & peppers to freeze for future lunches. peppers 8.8.15The first batch had apple & white wine sausages, the second had spicy Italian sausages. And then a few tablespoon of marinara sauce spooned onto each serving before freezing. Even through the heat index is about 110 today, I will look forward to this nice easy-to -reheat lunch come this fall!

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Books and Cookies

I’m almost finished with my July book challenge ((books that have been on my shelf for over a year, that is, purchased in 2013 or before, but left unread until now). And yes, I do realize it’s now August. Like my May book, which was about writing prose, this is also a book. poetry home repairbook about writing, this time poetry: The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser (former poet laureate). A theme about books on my bookshelf which were purchased and left unread emerges: I am interested in different types of writing. This book was purchased while in the midst of my dissertation writing, so I think I was dreaming of more creative personal writing; a little less professorial. And here, finally, I am reading it. The book itself is excellent. The author is a college teacher (I find many poets are professors and mention the difficulty of supporting oneself solely by writing poetry), and his talents of instruction shine forth. He speaks in a casual instructive voice of guidance and encouragement, not dictatorial rules. He uses contemporary poems as illustrations for his points., some of his, but many other’s works as well. He organizes his thoughts in fairly short chapters, looking at poetry writing by topic, though details, through voice, through form, etc. I have enjoyed this and will reread it, more slowly, attempting to put in to practice the points from each chapter as I go, to try my hand at poetry writing, which I have done very little of in recent years.

This afternoon I was reading diligently, trying to finish while enjoying a Sunday afternoon with nothing else to do, and baking, as the outdoor temperature had dipped to almost only 20150802_17345695 today, so the toaster oven was turned on for the amazing (gluten-free) Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies that I’ve raved about before and are still a staple in this house, and some (gluten free) cereal squares, which I will talk about another day. Meanwhile, holding a cookie still warm with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate Ghirardelli chips, I am nibbling  (two. only two cookies. really.) and reading.

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More Tomatoes. More Corn. More Cantaloupe. Never enough when farm-fresh & local

My meals tend to be a bit repetitious in mid-summer: Heirloom tomatoes. Fresh sweet MFM 8.1.15corn. Cantaloupe. Peaches (and yogurt). Repeat. Add occasional cheese (local, of course!) or eggs (scrambled with toast and tomatoes) or deviled, or cucumbers or other fresh from the market vegetables.

This week at the market I found some of the last of the blueberries (only one person had any, and he only had about 10 pints), and bi-color sweet corn. And then still lots of cantaloupes and peaches and tomatoes. Yay, purple Cherokee tomatoes! I did eat almost all of the tomatoes I bought last week. I’m just finishing them up today and tomorrow morning. But I bought lots more. Mid-week, I will make a tomato pie (with a biscuit dough base, and ‘iced’ with a mayonnaise, cheese, and herb mix. I also got some green beans, just for variety; and I still have a few cucumbers from last week, from my daughter’s garden.

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