My Favorite Cookbooks

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a love for cooking and baking. And because I’m a bibliophile, that means I want to own all the cookbooks. I have a decent-sized collection at this point, so today, I thought I’d share some of my favorites, and explain why I love them. 

You should know that despite my love of food and cooking, I have the palate of an 8-year-old. (I’m working on it!) I like cookbooks that are full of simplicity and don’t require me to hunt down ingredients that are hard to find. Pretty pictures don’t hurt, either.

Cravings and Cravings: Hungry for More by Chrissy Teigen

No cookbooks get more use in my kitchen than the two Cravings books by Chrissy Teigen. Her cheesy ham and green bean casserole is a Thanksgiving and Christmas staple. The black bean and mushroom enchilada casserole is a simple and delicious vegetarian option. I’m not a huge fan of breakfast foods, but the everything bagel casserole is absolute breakfast perfection. (I just realized while writing this paragraph that I have a thing for casseroles. I guess we can thank my Midwest roots for that.)

I love these two cookbooks because every recipe I’ve cooked from them is packed full of flavor and uses ingredients that I already have in my pantry. Plus, the photography is fantastic.

Magnolia Table Vol. 1 and Magnolia Table Vol. 2 by Joanna Gaines

Joanna Gaines has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Her shortbreads are fantastic, too!) That’s reason enough to want to make more of her food, but there are others. Her Spanish rice is my favorite rice recipe, and I feel like I’ve tried so many looking for “the one.” I can barely handle how yummy her scalloped potatoes are, drenched in their cheesy, gooey sauce. I love few things in this world as much as I love queso, and her recipe does not disappoint.

I reach for these two cookbooks repeatedly during the holiday season because the recipes are perfect for a crowd as the portions are quite generous. I also appreciate the mix of main courses, sides, and desserts.

Half Baked Harvest and Half Baked Harvest: Super Simple by Tieghan Gerard

Is there an Instagram feed that is more drool-worthy than Half Baked Harvest? (No, there isn’t.) Instagram is where I first discovered Tieghan Gerard, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her cookbooks. While I enjoy and use both books a lot, the Super Simple one is my favorite because I like food that is both 1) super and 2) simple. (That book also includes a lot of Instant Pot recipes, which delights my IP-loving soul.) Gerard’s tomato soup recipe could not be easier, but it is packed full of bright, bold flavors. Her peanut butter chocolate bars are like a Reese’s cup married chocolate chip cookies and lived a long, happy life together. I like homemade mashed potatoes, but don’t like all the work involved, so her Instant Pot mashed potato recipe is just what I needed. 

If you’re a fan of Gerard’s blog and Instagram, don’t miss out on these cookbooks. You’ll use them all the time, I promise. 

Chefs’ Fridges: More Than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What They Eat at Home edited by Carrie Solomon

If you’re a visual and curious person like I am, you’ll love Chefs’ Fridges. I’m fascinated by what other people keep in their refrigerators and kitchens, so this book was satisfying on multiple levels. Unlike with the rest of these cookbooks, I don’t turn to this one too much for the recipes because the focus is primarily on the photographs and interviews with the chefs. Instead, I turn to this book for inspiration. I enjoy seeing what kind of sandwiches a person throws together after a long workday. It’s interesting to see what staples a chef always has around. Looking at this book (even just the pretty mint-colored spine) always makes me happy, and that’s reason enough to love it. 

Simple Cake by Odette Williams

I like to cook more than I like to bake, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d use this book. Though it’s true I don’t turn to this book nearly as often as I do some of the others on this list, I’m grateful I have it. The format of Simple Cake is wonderful and user-friendly. Readers are presented with various cake recipes that are simple staples, like chocolate and vanilla, but the book also contains recipes for frostings, compotes, and ways to mix and match the flavors. I’ll love this book forever because of the excellent chocolate cake recipe inside, but I also appreciate how fun it makes cake-baking and assembly.

The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

The spirit of this cookbook is my favorite way to cook. Instead of relying on specific measurements, Sifton’s recipes call for some of this and a handful of that. There are some great basic recipes and some more “showstopper” dishes, but the book makes it all accessible and fun. I got a copy of this from my library this week, but I want to purchase my own copy soon. That’s a sign of true love.


Do you use any of these cookbooks? What are some of your favorites?

What I Read and Loved in February 2021

Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

I think I say this every month, but February flew by. I can’t say I minded, though, considering how stressful things still are thanks to the pandemic. Students at my high schools came back to in-person learning on March 1, so February was full of meetings and emails about what that was going to look like.

I only read three books last month, two of which are quite short. Since I had so much information coming at me from work, my brain needed a bit of a break. Keep on reading to see what those books were and to know what else I enjoyed. Thanks for coming by my little space on the internet!

What I Read

The truths we hold book cover

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
FORMAT: Audiobook

I’m always wary of reading political memoirs from people currently in office. I assume their books are going to be more policy-driven than story-driven. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of policy talk in The Truths We Hold, but Harris does a lovely job telling her story. My favorite parts of the book include stories of her mother and sister and what their lives were like as Harris grew up. Seeing how her mother shaped her was touching. Harris reads the audiobook, which is a major plus for me. 

How to make a slave and other essays book cover

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker
FORMAT: Print

I love a good essay collection, and this book is exactly that. Jerald Walker talks about his life as a Black man in America with wisdom, humor, and a keen eye for a good story. I’m drawn to books set in academia, so my favorite essays in this collection are the ones that discuss Walker’s life as a student and professor. The essay in which he discusses his writing mentor James Alan McPherson is especially fantastic.

I am the rage book cover

I Am the Rage by Dr. Martina McGowan
FORMAT: Print

Whenever I do a pick-up order at Target, I browse the app to see what new books they have on their shelves. That was how I discovered this poetry collection. (Isn’t it great that a big-box store like Target sells poetry?!) This book was the perfect reading choice for Black History Month since McGowan’s poems have racial justice as their core. The poems in this book were written in the last year, so there are mentions of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Those modern connections made this slim volume a powerful read.

What I Loved

ONLINE SHOP: The Bluest Willow

As I’ve mentioned before in this section, I’m a big fan of the Popcast with Knox and Jamie. I discovered the Bluest Willow because the shop’s owner is Knox’s wife, Ashley McCoy. This shop has the cutest clothing, accessories, and home decor items. I’ve done several orders already and absolutely love all the pieces I’ve received. Ashley has curated such a lovely collection of unique yet everyday goods. I love this little shop so much.

RECIPE: One Skillet Saucy Chicken Tortilla Enchilada Rice Bake
from Half Baked Harvest

Look at this picture of gooey cheese and sauce and tortilla chips and flavorful goodness. LOOK AT IT. This recipe is as delicious as it appears, and also pretty simple. I made my own enchilada sauce, but this would be even easier if you used pre-made sauce. I’ve loved many Half Baked Harvest recipes, but this one might be my new favorite.


What did you read and love in February?

Naming What Matters for My Home Library

Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

My book collection has become a situation. Shortly after I started doing library work professionally, I decided I wanted a personal library. I’m privileged to have always owned books, but I wanted more than a few books on a shelf. I wanted a collection, something I’d build slowly over time. I have that now, and it could be going better. 

For one thing, I’ve outgrown my bookshelves. When that used to happen, I’d just buy another bookshelf from Target and call it good. But now there’s no room for more bookshelves. Hence, the situation. 

One of my favorite people on the internet is Kendra Adachi, a.k.a the Lazy Genius. I never miss her podcast, and I love her book, The Lazy Genius Way. Her work always helps me clarify my thinking, so I re-listened to a recent episode of her podcast called What to Do Before Reorganizing Your Home. In true Kendra fashion, she said something that resonates deeply: start by naming what matters

  • What matters to me about having a well-organized home library?
  • What matters about having a collection where I can find the book I want without moving a gigantic, wobbly tower to get to it?
  • What matters to me about having a home library at all?

These are some of the questions I’ll be thinking about in this post as I design a plan to conquer my bookish clutter. (I wrote about this in 2018 too but have apparently ignored my own advice.) I was going to make a Word doc and work through this project privately, but I thought this post might help those of you who are facing bodily harm due to the stack of hardbacks on your nightstand that looks more like a Jenga tower than literature. Let’s dive in.

Problem #1: I don’t have enough space for the books I have
Solution: Get rid of some books. 
Question: What matters about the books I choose to own?

Here’s what I came up with as I thought about what books and types of books I want to own rather than borrow: 

  • I want to own books by authors whose work I value deeply
  • I want to own books I know I’ll want to write in or underline
  • I want to own books I know I’ll return to over and over again
  • I want to own books that are part of special series I collect
  • I want to own books that are pretty because aesthetics matter to me
  • I want to own books that I’m excited to read right now

That last bullet point is probably the most important one for me as I embark on getting rid of books. I’ve had some titles on my shelves for years that I haven’t picked up yet. When I run into those books at one of my school libraries, I have no hesitation discarding them because books that don’t circulate don’t provide much value to a library. I need to take that approach with my own collection, too.

Problem #2: My books are disorganized. 
Solution: Organize my books in a way that makes sense to me. 
Question: What matters to you about an organization structure? 

Because I’ve been doing library work for nearly sixteen years, I can’t help but want my home library to have a strict structure. I like my fiction shelved alphabetically, and I like my nonfiction divided by subject. Have I briefly considered putting Dewey decimal numbers on my nonfiction books? Maybe, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Organization matters because it saves me time finding books and putting them away. 

(Dear People Who Shelve Books By Color, 

Your shelves look so pretty, but I just cannot.

Love,
Andrea)

Problem #3: I buy books a lot faster than I can read them.
Solution: Buy fewer books. (Maybe stop checking out 17 library books at a time, too.)
Question: What matters about how I spend my money? 

Of the three main issues I have with my home library, this issue bothers me the least. I don’t mind having many unread books on my shelves, but I know I need to be more thoughtful about spending my money. Years ago, I’d often visit thrift stores and pick up any cheap books that looked even mildly interesting. I’ve become choosier over the years, but I still have work to do in this area. After thinking about it for a bit, here is what matters to me about the books I choose to purchase: 

  • I want to financially support authors whose work means something to me, especially if that author is a person of color
  • I want to purchase books I want to read, not books I think I should read
  • I want to purchase books I intend on keeping in my collection for a long time
  • I want to focus more on quality than quantity, like buying one new book at my local indie instead of six at a thrift store just because they were cheap

Having a home library matters to me because I love books and I like having them around me. It’s that simple. They’re exciting, comforting, beautiful, and stimulating. My collection brings me joy, but only when it’s contained and not piled up everywhere.

Working through these three main problems has helped me clarify what my next steps to need to be in order to go from a situation to an enjoyable part of my home. I should probably go get started.

What I Read and Loved in January 2021

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I know nothing miraculous happens when the calendar changes from one year to another, but going from 2020 to 2021 felt especially exciting and vital. Of course, the hard stuff is still hard, and the good stuff is still good, but any forward motion right now fills me with optimism.

Despite being in a weird headspace (who isn’t right now?), I surprised myself by reading five books. I enjoyed all of them, too! Keep reading to learn why.

What I Read

Luster book cover

Luster by Raven Leilani

This book got a lot of buzz in 2020, and after reading it, I can see why. The prose is gorgeous and effectively puts readers in the head of the book’s protagonist, a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York City. She’s a struggling artist whose work life and dating life are both disappointing. When Eric, an older man in an open marriage, comes along, she begins an affair with him. What was once secretive and alluring becomes something else altogether when Eric’s wife and daughter become tangled in the affair.

I appreciate a lot about this book, but there’s a major plot point that didn’t make sense to me. Still, Luster is worth reading. If nothing else, it made me thankful my 20s are behind me.

The look of the book book cover

The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth

If you’re like me and you judge books by their covers, this book will be a dream come true. Full of gorgeous images, Mendelsund and Alworth take you behind the scenes of publishing, graphic design, and how the two merge. I read this on my iPad, but would love to purchase a copy so I can flip through it when I’m craving some eye candy. The Look of the Book is a must-read for the nerdiest of book nerds.

Chefs fridges book cover

Chefs’ Fridges: More Than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What They Eat at Home by Carrie Solomon

One of my life mottos is to mind my own business. I’m not going to ask to see inside your refrigerator, but I’ll happily take a look if you want me to. The chefs in this book wanted me to, and I was thrilled to oblige.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a passion for food and cooking, and passion is on every page of Chefs’ Fridges. This book is full of incredible chefs and great, bright photos. Do I have the palate of an 8-year-old child? Yes, I do. But while I might not want to eat it, I can appreciate a well-told story about frozen rabbit and why someone believes it’s delicious.

The survivors book cover

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is one of my must-read authors. I’ve enjoyed each of her books, and The Survivors is no exception. The story is once again set in Australia and follows a man named Kiernan when he ventures back to his hometown with his family. Soon into his arrival, someone is found dead on the beach, and the death raises questions and forces Kiernan to face his role in terrible accident years earlier.

While I didn’t like The Survivors as much as Harper’s other novels, I still enjoyed the story a lot, though the beginning was a bit slow. Nevertheless, fans of Harper’s mysteries will be more than satisfied with this gripping story about a man forced to face his past.

The residence book cover

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
by Kate Andersen Brower

You might have noticed that the US got a new president on January 20th. Because I love presidential history, I told someone that Inauguration Day is my Super Bowl, and I meant it. Since I had politics on my mind, I decided to read one of the books I got for Christmas, The Residence. In its pages are stories from White House staff who work behind the scenes. Readers hear from butlers, maids, chefs, florists, and many others. The pride they take in their jobs is inspiring, and the devotion to the families they serve is admirable. If you too are into history and want a quick, fun read, make sure to pick up The Residence.

What I Loved

POEM: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

I can’t imagine anyone witnessing Gorman’s reading and not being moved by it. Her words and performance were powerful reminders that art matters.

INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT: Sharon Says So

Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting my time when I scroll through Instagram. Other times I’m learning about the Constitution and impeachment trials. That’s all thanks to my favorite new Instagram follow, Sharon Says So a.k.a. Sharon McMahon. She’s a former government teacher who’s bringing her wisdom to the masses. One of the features I love most on her account is when she asks for opinions on hot topics. She gives people on the right, left, and middle a chance to speak their minds on controversial issues and shares some of their answers. It’s helpful to see how other people think and why they believe what they do. And in a world full of people screaming at each other about politics, it’s incredibly refreshing to witness civil and helpful discourse.


What did you read and love in January? Leave a comment and let me know!

My Favorite Books of 2020

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As you might have heard, 2020 was full of unprecedented times. All of the worry, uncertainty, and change of routine negatively impacted my reading life. I managed to read my average number of books (54), but I would sometimes go weeks without reading a single page because I didn’t feel like my brain could handle the kind of focus a book requires. I said multiple times that it was Zoloft and the Great British Baking Show that got me through such a difficult season, and I stand by that in 2021. 

Despite my reading life being a little weird at times, I managed to read some books I truly love. Here’s a look at my top ten plus some honorable mentions. These are in random order.

Such a fun age book cover

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I finished Such a Fun Age in January of last year, and even though it was early in the year, I knew this book would be on my favorites list. It tells the story of a young Black woman named Emira who works as a babysitter for a white child named Briar. Briar’s mother is Alix, a blogger and social media influencer. One night, Emira is asked to take Briar out of the house for a bit, so the two head to a high-end grocery store nearby to kill time. It’s there where Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar, an event that sets off a bomb in the lives of the characters. Kiley Reid’s debut novel is a smart, immensely entertaining look at race, white privilege, and how people can be blind to what’s right in front of them. 

The lazy genius way book cover

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done by Kendra Adachi

I’ve been a long time listener of Adachi’s Lazy Genius podcast, so I was eager to get my hands on her book. I knew I’d like it, but I didn’t expect just how helpful it would be. I appreciate this book because it isn’t full of specific steps or lists of things you must do to achieve success. Instead, Adachi presents the reader with different principles that can work for any person and situation. I’ve applied a couple of principles to my own life with great success. As soon as I finished this book, I gave my copy to my mom and sent another one to my best friend. It’s that good and useful.  

Here for it book cover

Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

I don’t reread books very often, but as soon as I finished Here for It, I wanted to start it again. This book is a collection of essays by the hilarious and thoughtful R. Eric Thomas. He writes about pop culture, religion, sexuality, and growing up as a gay man in the Midwest. Here for It is funny, smart, and more profound than you think it’ll be if you’re judging it by its bright pink cover. I’m grateful to have finally found R. Eric Thomas since there hasn’t been a year in which I needed laughter more than in 2020. (Sign up for his newsletter for weekly laughs. They’re the delights of my Sundays.)

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

When I read fiction, I appreciate and seek out certain settings, including schools (I guess I don’t get enough at work). My Dark Vanessa goes back and forth from a boarding school in 2000 to 2017 where our protagonist is working at a hotel. The title character reflects on the relationship she had with a former teacher when she was 15 and how it still shapes her life at 32. If you’re a sensitive reader who’s troubled by stories of abuse, this is not the book for you. Russell’s story is dark, yet the psychology behind the power dynamics of a student/teacher affair is handled with sensitivity and great insight. 

White rage book cover

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson

This book blew my mind. I thought I knew a decent amount about American history, but I was wrong. I thought I had a sense of how deep the roots of racism are in the United States, but I was wrong about that, too. In White Rage, Carol Anderson explores the opposition white people have had to Black success and flourishing. The part of the book that explores segregated schools was particularly eye-opening for me. If someone came to me and asked where to start with their antiracist reading, I’d hand them a copy of White Rage along with a pen so they could take notes. 

Team of five book cover

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump
by Kate Andersen Brower

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I’d love it. I’m happy to say I was right. Team of Five explores the lives and relationships of the five other presidents alive during Trump’s time in office: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush (who passed in 2018), Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Brower discusses their relationships with each other, how they governed, and their legacies compared to #45.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. I’d make it assigned reading for everyone if I had such power. Because of my love for that book, I couldn’t wait for Gyasi’s next release. Transcendent Kingdom was worth the wait. It’s the story of a twenty-something scientist named Gifty living in California. Her mother, a Ghanian immigrant, visits during the middle of a mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown due to the loss of her son and Gifty’s brother, Nana. This novel explores family, religion, addiction, and memory in profound ways. It’s an incredible story that has stayed with me. 

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I read this book on my own, and I’m going through it again right now with the equity committee I serve on at one of my schools. I’ve told my peers that I could read this book over and over again and get something new out of it each time. Kendi is brilliant, and his arguments are challenging and ultimately convicting. This book’s chapters are broken up into different categories, such as biology, space, and class. In each chapter, Kendi discusses how antiracism pertains to the topic and shares stories from his own life.

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

2020 was full of surprises, and one was that I discovered joy in reading graphic novels. I’d read a handful over the years but always said the format wasn’t for me. Despite that, I couldn’t resist picking up Good Talk due to the buzz it was getting and its overall look. (I’m a sucker for a pretty book.) I ended up loving this memoir in which Jacob explores race, parenthood, and life as a person of color in the post-Trump United States. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story. I love it so much that I bought my own copy after reading it from the library.

Rodham book cover

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Along with Good Talk, we can add Rodham to the list of books that surprised me in 2020. I don’t have much interest in alternative history stories. If I’m going to read about history, I want to read about actual history. Or so I thought. Rodham is the novel you probably assume from the title, Hillary Rodham’s story if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton. Despite my hesitation, I picked up this novel from the library and devoured it. I loved all of the political content, but what I appreciate the most about Rodham is the way Sittenfeld made this story seem real. It raises the question about how different our lives could be–good or bad–if just one choice were different. 

Honorable Mentions

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • Intimations by Zadie Smith
  • Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran
  • Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now by Scott Erickson

Books I Didn’t Get to in 2020
that I Still Want to Read

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson