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That’s a BINGO!

Last week I finished my Book Riot Read Harder challenge for the first time! This is the third year I’ve participated and while I’ve always read more than the 24 books require to complete the challenge my selections haven’t always met the criteria in order to finish.

2017 Read Harder BINGO_Maddie

This year I buckled down and focused on the required categories to make sure I completed the Read Harder challenge. I planned out a list of possible titles for the different categories — selections that both allowed me to work through my existing to be read pile, the audiobooks I could download from the library to listen to as I walked my dog, and books I could check out from the library. The only off-challenge titles I let myself read before finishing the challenge was the March graphic novel trilogy and a book to prepare myself for a trip to Croatia.

I appreciated that this year’s challenge really focused on diversity of authors – it also helped me on my continual goal to diversify my reading.


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Couscous Salad

My mom’s friend first served this dish at a fundraising event at her home. We all had to have this recipe. Best served with a nice side of fish.



4 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (1 pound) box Israeli couscous

1 leek, washed and light green parts chopped

3 cups vegetable stock

3 lemons – zest of 1 lemon, juice from 3 lemons

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

1 TBSP oil packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup slivered almonds

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese



In a medium sauce pan, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium-low heat and add chopped leeks, Season with a little salt and pepper, and saute until just tender, and remove from pan.

In the same saucepan, warm 3 TBSP olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the couscous and cook until toasted and lightly browned, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Carefully add the stock, and the juice of 1 lemon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered, until the couscous is tender, but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the couscous and cool to room temperature.

Dressing – in a large bowl, mix the remaining olive oil, remaining lemon juice and lemon zest, Dijon mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, salt, and pepper.

Once the couscous is room temperature, add to the dressing bowl, then add the fresh herbs, dried cranberries, feta, and almonds. Toss to combine and serve.


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2017 and onwards

It’s common culture to refer to 2016 as a dumpster fire – while many people recognized that a lot of good things happened to them personally there was a lot of disappointment for many of us.

Personally it was a hard year but rewarding because my family moved back to our home state – but the process was not easy. That said, given the temporary division of households I really thought I would have easily finished my reading challenge with all that solo time I had during the transition but apparently it was eaten up by keeping the house ready at all times for showings, maintaining all the yard work by myself, and *gasp* having to cook for myself.

All this is a way of saying that I did NOT complete my Goodreads goal of finishing 53 books in 2016 (I reached 44)  NOR did I complete the Book Riot #ReadHarder challenge.


Note: My co-workers and I also switched a FEW categories for our BINGO sheet but I also kept track of the original challenge and I actually fell SIX short in that one!

My full analysis of my reading – format, author, etc. will have to wait a few days until I have time to devote but for now lets look forward to 2017 – I have set by goal back to 50 books – which will still be an improvement based on last year’s final count AND my coworkers have given a thumb’s up to all of the Book Riot categories and we are going for that 2017-read-harder-bingo once again!

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Pumpkin Pie

Ok I’ll admit that this recipe post is just as much about me remembering the recipe as it is wanting to share .

But I think it should be shared because it is DELISH.

We just moved and I MAY have tossed an old “cookbook” that consisted mostly of recipes my husband printed off the computer (pre-Pinterest days) but did apparently also include a few family recipes (OOPS big time!). Fortunately the main one – his grandpa’s pie crust was still on hand at my mother-in-law’s house.

This was the first Thanksgiving we’ve attended in our home state since we moved away 9 years ago and we had the pleasure? of spending it with family. Our contribution was of course, pumpkin pie. And we go for the real deal – with pie pumpkins and all. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

In the past my husband has taken care of the pumpkin processing while I was responsible for the crust but this year it was all my show. I elected to follow the first step from this Food Network recipe that has you roast the pumpkin – and even my husband admitted it had a more robust flavor than the steaming method he used in the past.

For the filling I still went with the recipe that he unearthed years ago when we were in college. I doubled the recipe and had enough filling for 2 pies plus enough extra to bake a pumpkin cake (add a little flour, baking soda and baking powder and cook at 350 for 25 minutes voila!). Next time I’ll probably 1.5 the recipe.

And finally the crust. The family recipe. (To be fair I don’t know where my grandfather-in-law supposedly got this recipe and it’s probably just a general recipe that lots of people know).

Makes 1 Crust
1 cup flour
1 Tsp. Salt
1/3 cup oil
3 Tbsp. milk

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour

Roll between 2 pieces of wax paper (best tip ever).


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Darla’s Award-Winning Apple Danish

Last month I moved back to my home state and started working remotely. I recognize that I am INCREDIBLY lucky to have a job where this is possible and the support of my boss and co-workers to do this, but there are definitely elements of working on campus that I am going to miss. One of those things is my co-worker’s baking. I love to bake but my creations hardly hold a candle to Darla’s productions. Proof is that in our first year entering the annual Student Crisis Fundraiser baking competition Darla won with her apple danish recipe and I, a long-standing unbeliever of fruit desserts, begged her for the recipe.

She obliged and as we enter fall again, and I am thinking about this favorite campus event that I will be missing this year (but still donating!) So I decided it might be time to revisit this recipe and try it at home – and hope it comes close to Darla’s execution!



3 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

1 egg yolk

½ cup milk


6 cups sliced peeled apples

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1 egg white, lightly beaten

½ cup powdered sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons water  (I use milk)

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Combine egg yolk, and milk; add flour mixture.  Stir just until dough clings together.  Divide dough in half.  On a lightly floured surface, roll half of dough into a 15-in. x 10-in. rectangle; transfer to a greased 15x10x1 baking pan.  Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, toss together filling ingredients; spoon over pastry in pan. Roll out remaining dough to another 15-in. x 10-in. rectangle.  Place over filing.  Brush with egg white.  Bake at 375° for 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.
  3. Combine the powdered sugar and water (milk) to achieve a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over warm pastry.  Cut into squares. Serve warm or cold.

Last year I made this with apples I gathered at the Seed Savers orchard in Decorah, Iowa.


You can pick apples of the ground but you can’t pick them from the trees so baking was a great option – because you can cut around any blemishes on the fruit if necessary.


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The Importance of Narrators

I’ve been talking a lot about audiobooks recently. It shouldn’t be surprising – I’ve essentially taken on the role of audiobook evangelical since I started my longer commute 3 years ago. I tell everyone and anyone about how audiobooks have helped me keep up with my TBR list, revisit favorite books, and are accessible in a pinch through downloading services at public libraries including Overdrive and Axis360.

Early on in my foray into audiobooks I became aware of the importance in considering the narrator when selecting my next “read.” A skilled narrator well suited to the material can make or break an audiobook.

That’s why I was dismayed when BookRiot (which I generally LOVE) published the 100 Family Friendly Audiobooks – a list of great books (and possibly great audiobooks) without specifying narrators.  For example, book no. 1 was The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden but when I searched my public library catalog for audio versions I found performances by both Tony Shalhoub and Rene Auberjonois. Professional actors narrating audiobooks has been a growing trend in recent years with narrators including but definitely not limited to Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, and Claire Danes and productions by A-listers are not a guaranteed success.

A few weeks ago however a librarian friend on Twitter put out a call asking for audiobook recommendations – but for NARRATORS rather than TITLES. I jumped at the chance to comb through my favorites and thought I would share those names with you as well.

  1. Jim Dale: I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy Dale’s wonderful audiobook narration. I discovered him with The Night Circus and followed with his productions of the Harry Potter series.
  2. Julia Whelan: I only discovered Whelan’s stellar performance a few months back with Fates and Furies and just finished my second narration of hers with Delicious! by Ruth Reichel. Excellent performances and (sadly) refreshing to have a talented female narrator for a book written from a woman’s point of view. I read the print version of Gone Girl but might have to check out the audiobook at some point because of Whelan’s narrative ability.
  3. Sunil Malhotra: I fell for Malhotra in the audio version of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and then searched him out again – he brought Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland to life. I look forward to eventually revisiting the masterpiece Cutting for Stone with Malhotra’s performance.
  4. Neil Gaiman: The benefits of an author reading his or her own book is knowing exactly how pacing and inflections are intended. A word of caution: not all authors (Ray Bradbury I’m looking at you and your narration of Fahrenheit 451) are good performers. Gaiman however shines in his audiobooks and his voice is soothing and dreamy. I’d suggest starting with The Ocean at the End of the Road  or American Gods. 

These are narrators where I have enjoyed more than one of their performances so I can confidently assert their caliber is not a one-off. I look forward to tracking down additional performances by narrators I’ve enjoyed once and perhaps publishing another list in a year or two. In the library catalog scroll to the bottom of a record to look for the “added author” field – the narrator is also often listed right next to the author’s name in the Goodreads record.

Happy listening!

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2015 Reads

I set myself two reading challenges for 2015: My Goodreads Challenge to complete 50 books in the calendar year and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge which I made into a BINGO sheet and competed with coworkers to complete.

Good News: I surpassed my Goodreads goal and read 52 books in 2015.


Bad News: I was two books short of completing my #ReadHarder Challenge. I should have been more strategic.


2015 Read Harder

I am most disappointed by the fact that the two white squares are two books that I never read. I am partly through a book of Rumi poetry and have the first book of the Outlander series on my table – I just chose to read other books instead.

So what did I read in 2015? Lets do my annual breakdown.

2015 Stats: 52 books


Authors read in 2015 – 23 books by men, 1 anthology, 28 books by women.

In 2015, only 53.8% of the books I read are by women authors – this is a 24% drop from the previous year which disappoints me. I wonder if the Read Harder Challenge which pushed me out of my regular reading habits somehow skewed me towards more male authors.


This year I read 4 books by an author known or easily identified as part of the LGBTQ community. This is slight improvement over the previous year and means I need to continue focusing my attention on expanding my reading of these authors.


A look at the authors I read by race:  41 white,  4 Asian, 4 Black,  1 Native American, 1 Hispanic authors  (and 1 anthology). This continues to be disappointing, I did not really improve the racial diversity of my reading since last year.


5 biographies – 2 essays – 3 fantasy – 16 novels – 8 memoirs – 3 mystery – 4 general non-fiction – 2 science fiction – 2 self-improvement – 3 collections of short stories – 4 young adult novels.

I am pleased by the range of genres I covered in 2015. My traditional genres have been fiction, memoir, essays, and a smattering of non-fiction. The inclusion of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery in my reading repertoire continues to show a broadening scope.


As I’ve referenced several times in this blog I have embraced audiobooks due to a 40-minute commute to work. In 2015,  28 (more than half!) of the books in my 52 count were audio books (CDs or OverDrive/Audio 360 downloads). 7 books that I read in 2015 were graphic novels – more than twice the number of graphic novels I read last year!

Looking Forward

My coworkers and I are doing the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge and I’m thinking about setting my Goodreads Challenge to 54 books next year.

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