This past weekend, my friend Emily and I co-hosted a book release party for our friend Rachel Haas. And somehow I thought my role as co-host meant I would show up early to help out and bring a platter of bacon-wrapped dates. And Emily thought it meant she would host and handle drinks and I would bring all the food. We laughed about it all weekend because for two professional writers, we absolutely failed on the communication front!
I figured out what was going on Thursday afternoon, the day before the party. I was on a conference call and I saw a text message pop up saying something like: We have 20 people coming tomorrow night and I’ve got all the drinks covered — can’t wait to eat your delicious food! (This is a paraphrase. It actually took me a few messages to catch on because (a) sometimes I’m kind of dense and (b) my brain was focused on some awesome spreadsheets.)
If I’d realized what was going on a little earlier, I would have spent a lot of time planning an awesome menu for Rachel’s party — because she wrote an entire book and we are totally psyched for her huge accomplishment — but since I only had from 6 p.m. Thursday to when I went to sleep and from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Friday when I had to leave for the party, we had to focus on easy, fast, tried-and-true favorites to get the party started. Emily created the most beautiful party environment, and I think the food turned out pretty great too.
Here’s what I did:
- Alton Brown’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I doubled the version and when it was going into the oven it looked too soupy, but when it came out of the oven it was golden and delicious. Macaroni and Cheese is vegetarian-friendly, super filling, and not too expensive on your party budget, so it’s a go-to for me when I need to feed a crowd. I made and baked this Thursday night, and then reheated in the oven at Emily’s on Friday night.
- Bacon-wrapped Goat Cheese Dates. You just put the tiniest bit of goat cheese inside the dates, wrap them up with raw bacon, skewer with a toothpick and bake at 375 until the bacon is crispy. Super easy. We prepped these on Thursday night and then baked them at Emily’s house while the party was getting started. Bacon smells great while cooking, so it’s a win-win for everyone there.
- Barbecue Meatballs. Grab freezer meatballs and throw them into the your crock pot with barbecue sauce. I used a combination of Sweet Baby Ray’s, peach jam, apple cider vinegar, maybe a little Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and water. I kept adding stuff until it tasted good to me. Follow your heart here.
- Hummus Platter with Vegetables. I used Sabra hummus but transferred it into a fancy container and topped it with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper. I hate how raw broccoli feels dry and scratchy in your throat at parties, so I skipped it and went with baby carrots and sliced red and green bell peppers instead. Since the mac-and-cheese and meatballs were a bit heavy, the lighter hummus and vegetables offered a healthier option.
- Peanut Butter Fudge and Chocolate Fudge. Cupcakes, cookies, cakes — I would usually bake something lovely for such a huge moment in a friend’s life, but since time was limited (and honestly, so was our fridge space!) I went with an easy, quick dessert: fudge. I’m sure there are really delicious ways to make fudge that are not easy, but for both of my efforts, it involved pouring things into a bowl, microwaving that bowl, stirring the contents of the bowl, pouring the melted contents into another container, chilling, and chopping. So easy! The small bites are party-friendly. But, since some have peanut allergies I’m really careful to keep the peanut butter fudge separate so if needed, it can be swept away and the party can be allergy-free.
And the reason for the party: Rachel’s New Book!
If you’re interested in fairy-tales, new fiction writers, or just making someone feel awesome, click through here to purchase Rachel L. Haas’s new book, Portals of Water and Wine. I’m so impressed with Rachel’s tenacity to get this book written and out into the world — I think we could all learn a lot from her commitment to her art. Here she is on Friday night, talking about her writing process and reading a selection from her new release!
I like to say that I don’t have any guilty pleasures. From time to time I’ll even correct someone, asking why they should feel guilty about enjoying the things they love. It goes something like this:
Friend: You know, watching that show Dating Naked is one of my guilty pleasures.
Me: You mean, one of your pleasures. Why feel guilty about something you love? Plus, that is a great show. (I mean, it really is great, isn’t it? You can reach out and touch the awkwardness. And who knew so many 25-year-old virgins watched VH-1?)
But the thing is, with all of the above-quoted bravado, I really do feel a bit sheepish about admitting some of my favorite things. I keep them to myself and really only talk about the “cool” things I do. Which may be why this blog is sparse of late. . . Anyway, when I do reveal some of my less cool activities, I protest the “guilty” label but find myself blushing a bit or doing that awkward smiling thing where you really aren’t happy but your face is stuck in smile-mode and then suddenly you realize that your face is SO TIRED OF SMILING that it feels as if your eye-balls might pop out of their sockets. So probably I still feel guilty about it. However, I’m faking it until I actually achieve my desired level of enlightenment. Like a pro.
This week, I’m right in the midst of one of my NOT GUILTY pleasures: reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.
I know, I know, it’s 850 pages of ridiculous time-traveling historical fiction that is mostly a romance novel. And yes, it is true, there aren’t any dragons so it’s nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones. [I did spy a 18th-century version of the Loch Ness monster in there, but it wasn’t scary, so I accept this criticism.] But sometimes, when you spend so many hours walking the path of giant spreadsheets and the technical application of specialized jargon written by congressional staffers and interpreted by regulation and applied and defined by administrative boards, it’s nice to have a little magic in the evening. Even if it is completely ridiculous and even if the romance parts stopped being interesting a few hundred pages ago.
And so, I just wanted to tell you: I’ve worked two eight-hour shifts and mopped the kitchen and cooked dinner for my husband several times but also, I’ve had the first Outlander book in my possession since about 6 p.m. on Sunday and I’m already 567 pages in. It feels good to tell the truth.
So, do you believe in guilty pleasures? And have you read the Outlander books? Am I completely insane?
I know it’s already Sunday night, but it’s never too late to link you up to some fantastic reads from this past week. H and I have been going N-O-N-S-T-O-P since Thursday at 5:15 p.m., enjoying a fantastic yet pretty exhausting weekend in DC. We’re heading back to Chi-town first-thing tomorrow, with each of us going straight to our respective offices instead of heading home. Whew! I’ll be so happy to eat dinner and go to sleep in my own kitchen/bed tomorrow evening. Until then, send good thoughts our way because staying focused and awesome tomorrow is going to be more of a challenge than normal.
- Phil Plait for Slate with #NotAllMen: How NOT to Derail Discussions of Women’s Issues.
- Karl Taro Greenfeld for the New York Times with Faking Cultural Literacy.
- Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View with Why Obama Can’t Fix the VA. (This is not a partisan piece. It’s about how the government works.)
- Abby Norman at Accidental Devotional with On Hashtag Activism and My Own Dark Heart.
- Johnathan H. Adler at Volokh Conspiracy with You Don’t Start a Dialogue with FOIA Requests.
Finally, an honorable mention for my friend Anne’s Summer Reading Syllabus (you know, Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy) — this list looks fantastic! I can’t wait to grab these from the Chicago Public Library this summer.
Hope you all had wonderful weekends too! (Sorry this is so late.)
Today I’m sharing my bookshelf, as part of a link-up of bloggers who love books. Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote that she loves to see others’ bookshelves, that it helps her find common ground with the people in her life. I’m excited about participating in this link-up because I agree that what people read, and which books they hold on to, says a lot about them. I’m looking forward to checking out the submissions!
Personally, I hate letting go of a book. I want to SAVE THEM ALL forever. I have this fear that I’ll want to quote something I read and won’t be able to find the right book. As if any day now I could be asked to prepare an essay on literature or history to save my life or the lives of others. I know it’s not a realistic worry, but I still struggle to let them go. I want to own all of the books since my brain cannot hold all of the knowledge.
The most embarrassing part of that struggle is that many of the books I’ve picked up over the years because I wanted to “read” them and “know” the contents, I haven’t actually gotten around to reading. I want to have all of the important books, but I will often choose to spend my free time watching a movie or going shopping. The books I want to know and understand are meaty and intense, but my brain gets used up at work and these books that I want to soak up and study and understand just sit, unloved, on the shelf.
Since we’ve just moved, my bookshelves make absolutely no sense. I’ve packed the books in any-which-way just so they aren’t in boxes. It’s amazing how many books can fit on a shelf if you don’t care at all how it looks. Here’s a snapshot into my bookshelf:
The top shelf is crammed full. As I unpacked, I stacked books on the top shelf first, so most of my favorites are on this level. These books are nearly all mine, if we ignore H’s Michael Crichton sitting in the bottom right corner. Some highlights from this shelf include:
- Christy, Catherine Marshall. Favorite childhood book.
- My dad’s copy of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand.
- Two books from my freshman Honors course, neither of which I have finished: Consilience, Edward O. Wilson, and The Great Chain of Being, Arthur O. Lovejoy. I’m actually a huge fan of The Great Chain of Being even though I haven’t completed it, because it traces the history of an idea back to a place I didn’t think it would go. It’s dense and boring, though, so hard to consume. I read it a lot while flying back and forth to Minnesota to visit H last summer.
- Canterbury Tales, a few history books from college, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
- A bright yellow copy of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist. Loving it.
This shelf has a pretty strong mix of H’s books (do you see the Book of Basketball? The Life of Reilly?). It also has some Harry Potter, a Marketing Textbook, and the last Twilight book. In the top left corner is the biography of Chuck Norris that a sweet friend gave me as a gift. Because Chuck Norris is awesome.
- Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.
- Gerald Rosenberg’s The Hollow Hope.
- Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The third shelf is an interesting mix of elements of my life. You’ll see several philosophy textbooks (something I want to study further so didn’t sell back after college), two favorite history textbooks, a Norman Shield from my days as a sorority Chapter Advisor, and the Hunger Games trilogy. Also stuck in there:
- Harmon’s Handbook for Literature.
- Pat Robertson’s The Ten Offenses. Opposition research.
- Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (I love this book, and the movie was beautiful!).
- Jon Meachum’s The American Gospel — a recent favorite, which I highly recommend.
Well, that’s it! If you’d like to share your own bookshelf, or if you’d like to read through all of the posts and find some new favorite books or favorite bloggers, check out the link-up at www.modernmrsdarcy.com. [I’ll update this link once the link-up goes live.] UPDATE: Link-up Here!
This month. Everywhere I go people are saying “Where did October go?”, and I have to agree — this month has flown by. Today I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into” blogging link-up. I always find a few fun things when reading blogs linked up in this series, and since holiday shopping is right around the corner I’m definitely going to be reading up on what other lady-bloggers are loving. Be sure to check them out by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the post.
- My first ever Government Shutdown, which taught me that I’m not at all ready to be a stay-at-home person.
- Dinner with H’s Dad and an entire weekend with my family in our new city. Chicago is a great place for visitors.
- The Crate and Barrel Christmas Tree Lot email. Did you guys get it? Holy cow it is BEAUTIFUL. When I feel sad or need some inspiration I go back and look at it again. Click the link, give it a second to load, and then scroll down. Trust me.
- Getting up-close and personal with my old friend Ina. H and I have been eating some delicious delicious things thanks to the two Barefoot Contessa cookbooks on my bookshelf!
- Getting much better at painting my unbitten nails. It’s been a long time coming. Practice makes perfect, or so they say. We haven’t reached perfection yet but we are getting much closer.
- Choosing (I think) a new alternative career. During the Shutdown, I decided that once I’ve paid my debt down a bit and we are a bit more settled in a city, I might shift careers and teach government, civics, or U.S. history to high school students. I’d love to teach at the college level but let’s be real — what I really want to be is a real-life Tami Taylor. I’m also open to oh, I don’t know, working for a government that doesn’t act crazy and shutdown all the dang time.
- Reading the first few chapters of my friend Abby‘s book manuscript. It was a great read and felt really good to be a small part of something so important. I LOVE when my friends are successful and do awesome things.
Reading and Watching:
- Every show on Television. I seriously did watch every Fall 2013 television premiere (although some I could only handle for a few minutes before moving on), and I am going to break this down for you a little further very soon. [There is a mad case of blogger stalling going on here.] Like most American women I’m loving Scandal and I’ve recently gotten back on the Grey’s Anatomy bandwagon.
- Friday Night Lights. H and I had a lot of time together during my shutdown and since he’d never seen it, we’ve been watching it through from the beginning. He really connects with Coach Taylor and it’s kind of fun watching it from the perspective of a sports fanatic.
- Hilary Mantel came highly recommended but I think the first book of hers that I picked up was not a great place to start. I’ve been plodding along through Fludd without being swept up and it’s taken up most of my month. It’s all about the church so I thought I would love it, but I just haven’t been able to. Yet. I’m looking forward to finishing it up and starting my friend Elora’s book (which I received an autographed copy of, by the way! so excited about this).
Fashion and Beauty:
- Stitch-fix and I are struggling to find our rhythm with a few things, but overall I would be freezing my butt off up here if not for the cute sweaters they’ve sent over for me to purchase lately. I changed some sizes and gave different feedback after reading Anne’s tips for getting the fix you want, and am very excited about my November fix.
- H’s office Christmas party was scheduled for Nov. 9 but has been postponed for some unknown reason. I was excited for the party but really needed to buy new shoes first, so am glad for the delay. If you have favorite black heels you can recommend, please do leave a comment below! I’m in desperate need but always put it off.
- Makeup finds: Philosophy’s Kiss Me lip gloss in Soft Berry was a random purchase that I’ve actually loved. In the [just started painting my] nail department, I’m loving Revlon ColorStay in Stormy Night. I feel super cool when I wear this nail color, although so far the “Stay” part of the polish hasn’t been so effective on my pointer fingers. Just saying.
So, what have you been loving this month? Leave a comment or join the link-up to let us know.
I actually really liked this week’s five things a lot. Not that I don’t typically like them, but I just like this week’s even more than normal.
On Keeping your Day Job by Hiding Disbelief
Peter Enns for Patheos with If They Only Knew What I Thought: The Sad Cycle of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship. It’s hard enough being a regular church-goer and struggling with faith in community, but we oftentimes forget about the plight of pastors and church leaders who may encounter doubt along their journeys. Enns writes about his encounters with struggling scholars who enter graduate theological studies and learn to question, only to return home and be expected to practice their faith in the same boxed-in way they always have.
As a partner to the previous post, also check out this interview with Catherine Dunphy, founder of The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who lost their faith. If 500 clergy and former clergy in the last two years have joined an atheist website for anonymous support as they struggle with or lose their faith in secret, something isn’t right in our community. We the Church need to have a conversation about this issue and how we can better support each other as we struggle along our faith journeys.
On Opinions that Shouldn’t Matter
Matt Appling at The Church of No People with his post I’m Desperate for You to Like Me: A Confession of an Ordinary Public Opinion Addict. This post speaks loudly to my people-pleasing, perfectionist heart. I heart Matt speak about teaching art to kids (one of his day jobs) at StoryChicago in September, and I think I’m going to put his upcoming book on my library wish-list. If you’re interested, it’s called Life After Art and you can check it out at Amazon.com.
On Making Art in a Straight-and-Narrow World
G.T. Anders for Curator Magazine with Like a Cork Out of Bottle, a beautiful piece on the struggle of being an artist in our society that prioritizes goals and statistics and math. Can anyone really appreciate great art any more? And what should artists trying to make art and make a living do about all of this? As a semi-artist and someone who knows a lot of artists, this really made me think.
On Feminism and Christianity (and an Awesome New Book I Cannot Wait to Purchase)
Esther Emery in Some Words About Jealousy and Jesus Feminism. This post is blowing up the internet, readers, and you want to get on the train with everyone else. FYI – I know Esther through the Story Sessions course I took this past year. Esther lives in a yurt (I don’t actually know why but I’m sure her blog explains it somewhere) and she has been killing it with excellent blog posts this week. If you have kids or want them or something, check out this post also.
On the Government Shutdown and Missing Work
Michael S. Rosenwald for the Washington Post with The Siren Call of the Blackberry for Furloughed Federal Workers. First, I’d like to point out that I’m not the only one! (See yesterday’s post.) Thank goodness. But more than just feeling relieved that others are in the same position I am with the much-longer-than-anticipated furlough, this article really speaks to the heart of what it means to be a federal worker this week. It made me feel a little proud, and also a little sad that my workday is so important to my overall happiness. But beware: like most news articles, the comment section may reduce your faith in humanity.
Lately, Flannery and I are spending a few minutes together in the evenings. There is really no better (well, at the very least, no cheaper) solution for a Southern girl’s slight homesickness than relaxing into a short story that examines sharecroppers or the pitfalls of racism or flowers or a young woman’s silly dreams or the pain of aging in a warm, comfortable drawl.
I have this collection of her stories (The Complete Stories, introduced by Robert Giroux) and a number of other books on my bookshelf that I’ve never read — books that I purchased because I wanted to take more courses than my college scholarship covered, so I would buy the textbooks for courses I never actually took. I’m connecting so closely with Flannery, and wish I had studied her more when I had the chance.
On Sunday I got my Chicago public library card. My favorite thing about living in a real city is the breadth and depth of the library systems, and getting my library card was on my list of Twenty-five Things that I wanted to do here in the Windy City. Also on that list: eat brunch until I can successfully identify the top-ten brunch locations within fifteen miles. So far, I’m pretty sure that Bongo Room is going to stay at the top of the list. And Yolk? Please do not invite me there. Completely overrated.
The seventh floor of the downtown library is the literature floor. After a bit of wandering, I found an entire shelf of literary scholarship about Flannery’s life and writing and death and family and topical collections and so on. There was so much to choose from, but I didn’t check out anything. I want to take a little more time getting to know her before other opinions enter the mix.
I’m trying to do the same here, in our new home. Everyone “loves” Chicago, but I want to know it so I can know if I actually love it, or casually like it or find it mildly annoying. So it might be a while until I have a clear, specific answer on the entire city and how well we fit in it.
This week, however, we are doing very well and it is starting to feel normal. And that is a good sign.