Whatever, Whatever

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I just made this and Joe and I were nearly licking the bowls clean it was so good. It’s vegan, it’s simple, and it’s delicious.

It pairs excellently with a brown or amber ale. It makes exactly enough for two people. V fall.

I modified this recipe from a few recipes I found online, but mostly the one linked at the bottom of this post.

20171014_192204

INGREDIENTS

1 medium sized butternut squash

2 Tbsp olive oil

Half of a very large shallot, or a whole small one

1 1/2 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp maple syrup

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

3 cups vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat your oven to 425.  Slice your butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy parts with a spoon. Brush each half with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake cut side down for 40 minutes.

Like 15/20 minutes into its baking time, prep your other ingredients and equipment.

Put the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat and finely mince your shallot. Once the oil is ready (test with a single tiny bit of shallot and listen for that sizzle sound) and throw all the shallot in there and stir intermittently. Enjoy the most amazing smell in the world. Let it get soft and start to turn golden, at which point, add the garlic and turn the heat down a bit. Stir frequently as they get acquainted.

If your squash still has a while to go like mine did at this point, turn the heat off so the garlic doesn’t burn, but leave it on the stove so it all stays hot. Mine was done pretty soon after, but I really don’t want your garlic to burn, so please check in on it frequently.

Once your squash is done, pull it out to rest and cool down. Now you can turn the heat back on your garlic, oil, and shallot mixture and add the nutmeg and maple syrup and a little more salt and freshly ground pepper. You can also add the roughly 3 cups of vegetable broth at this point if your squash still needs a few minutes, but mine cooled quickly because I had my ceiling fan on. Keep the heat on your soup pot low.

Once it’s cool enough to touch, scoop out the innards of the roasted squash (the skin slid right off of mine and it was perfect) and put it into a bowl and mash it up a bit.

Throw the squash into the pot. Mix this throughly and let it come to a simmer.

Simmer it up for 20-ish minutes*, stirring frequently. Turn the heat off and get your immersion blender ready**.

I let mine cool for like a minute off the heat before bringing my immersion blender into the mix. Now, mine only works well when I tip the pot and give it a lot of space to blend, but my pot is also really wide, so the soup doesn’t come up very far in it. Basically, just remember to go slow and put the blender all the way in so you don’t splatter your kitchen or yourself.

**If you don’t have an immserion blender, you can use a regular blender and *you’ll only need to pre-simmer it for like 5-10 minutes, then let it cool for a while, and then slowly add a few ladles-full to your blender at a time and pulse it, then dump back into the pot and ladle in some more of the chunky parts, add broth as needed, repeat, etc.

After it’s all blended up, taste and add more salt and pepper if it needs it.

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It should be absolutely splendid and warm and smooth and rich and savory.

 

 

Note: this recipe is a modified version of the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup recipe from Cookie and Kate

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Summer/Fall 2017 has been good for music so far

I often find myself in music ruts where I listen to the same things over and over. My taste is also pretty specific, so when I try to find new bands (usually using Spotify’s Related Artists feature) it’s very hit or miss. Sometimes it works to go back to older albums from bands I like or used to like that I don’t listen to much, or revisit old favorites and see what their newest stuff is. For a lot of 2017, however, my bands weren’t releasing new music. Until now. So far, summer and early fall have been excellent for new releases in my taste profile. Here are my faves.

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/3Rz6kF8eGqrDOEteo5YsBj
6/16/17

Royal Blood is one of the few bands that upon first listen I knew they’d be a new favorite. With only two albums (as far as I know), maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the bass and drum duo have a 10/10 record with me as far as making good music. This new album as a whole is outstanding. “Sleep” is my favorite and gets stuck in my head constantly (in a good way). I love the groove of the bass line so much. “How Did We Get So Dark?” and “Lights Out” are two other fantastic tracks that I’ve added to some of my playlists, but the entirety of the album is good. I can listen to it end to end without skipping a song, which is rare for me. Joe and I blast it while cleaning our house. We’re seeing them in October with QOTSA in Milwaukee – very excited to see what they’re like live.

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/6JdX9MGiEMypqYLMKyIE8a
8/25/17
I was thrilled to hear that QOTSA were releasing an album this year. I had all the hype. And the product, thankfully, met my expectations. I liked but didn’t love their last release, Like Clockwork, so I was a little worried there would be fewer favorites on this album, however, that wasn’t the case. “The Evil Has Landed”, “Fortress”, “Domesticated Animals”, and “Feet Don’t Fail Me” (once it gets going) are all fantastic. I even like “The Way You Used to Do,” which faced a lot of criticism from fans because it’s dancier than their other stuff (and usually I’d be in the same boat) but I think it’s groovy and I like the hook. I think some of that initial backlash had to do with the fact that Mark Ronson produced it (by the way, “Uptown Funk” makes me wanna rip out my ear canals – what an atrocious monstrosity of an earworm), so fans were weary that the QOTSA that we know and love would be wound through the top 40 conveyor belt, auto-tuned and synthesized until there were no guts left and spat out onto local alternative stations across the country. Luckily, a lot of what makes QOTSA special remains and Homme sounds as devious as ever. And as much as I’d love to have the gritty, squawking pulp of Era Vulgarus and Rated R back, I know from interviews that creatively they want to evolve rather than look back. I get it. They did a good job balancing expectations and creative freedom without going fully off the walls or out of the genre. Villains is delicious and sits well in playlists with older tracks too.

Death From Above – Outrage! Is Now
https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/5CaXSYkjqVmKuorB8IBS2h
9/8/17
This album came out today! It is standard Death From Above (by the way, they dropped the 1979), but feels a little cleaner and tighter than 2014’s The Physical World. It’s big and bold; groovy and shouty. Standouts include “Holy Books”, “Nomad”, “Caught Up”, and “Freeze Me” (which I can totally see having radio play – or whatever the equivalent is now) but the album as a whole has a nice flow (with the exception of “Never Swim Alone” which isn’t my favorite). I think “Holy Books” takes the cake, but I added several tracks to my most recent playlist rotation. I love that they’re able to keep their sound consistent without being boring or repetitive. The same chuggy, crashy rawness that I’ve loved since You’re A Woman I’m A Machine, but cleared up a bit (especially the vocals!). Side note: I was pleasantly surprised to hear “Always On” in an episode of Jessica Jones, along with another ones of my faves “Demons” by Sleigh Bells. I also appreciate how heavy -both emotionally and musically- Death From Above are. According to some past interviews (and confirmed in this Reddit AMA from 2014) some of their songs have been influenced by major world events (9/11 and the 2013 Boston Marathon, specifically). If I hadn’t missed their most recent AMA by a day (one. day.) I would’ve asked about what influenced this one (Paris? Charlottesville? The US Election? Brexit? Everything?). Death From Above aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love them. Overall, exceptionally pleased with Outrage! Is Now despite one or two so-so tracks.

BOOTS – “Soon to be Gone”
https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/05wh8jB0AkdfoAPTH2I9kK
8/21/17
I’m also really excited by this new BOOTS single, which I’m hoping is a teaser to a full album. Even though his other releases have been either amazing or so-so for me, this track is in the same vein as the ones I like from AQUARIA. If you’re not familiar with BOOTS – he’s a pretty well-known producer (Beyonce, Run The Jewels) and this is his solo side-project.

 

 

“Lorelai – Why aren’t you renouncing satan?”

So I guess I haven’t said much or like posted specifically about this, and it’s not for lack of feeling about the issue, it’s just that I thought my “likes” spoke for themselves. And then I realized that the expectation is that I need to say something. That there may be some confusion on where I stand.

I would have thought that most people know me well enough to understand that of course I condemn racists, white supremacists, bigots, and neo-Nazis. Literal Nazis. Apparently I haven’t actually stated that yet. Someone might think I’m not speaking out for a reason. And that got me real nervous.

And it’s because we can’t trust our assumptions anymore.

If there’s anything we learned Nov. 8, 2016, it’s that we cannot trust our assumptions. Nothing is for sure. We can’t predict outcomes or feel any sort of certainty. We don’t know our own friends and neighbors and countrymen.

And so we find comfort in confirmation. Confirmation that the people we care about aren’t assholes. That we agree that hate-filled individuals and their gatherings need to be stopped. That we can’t let rallies of white supremacists happen, because giving them a voice, giving them space to spread their hatespeech, validates them. And obviously because they incite violence. They threaten and they execute.

So I just realized that I hadn’t actually said anything yet. Here I am, appearing to twiddle my thumbs instead of straight up stating “Racists and Nazis are bad. Violence is not the answer. This is horrible – how can we stop this?” Well, if you had even a smidgen of doubt- don’t. I am appalled, shocked, and saddened by what happened in Charlottesville. We need to prevent that from happening again. We need to do it in a way that is peaceful and powerful and unified. And we can. I believe that we can stop this cancerous, horrible group of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis from spreading. I believe that we can, but I don’t have the answer.

Now that I’ve made myself clear – let me tell you why I wrote this post.

For a while I thought my “likes” of New York Times articles and retweets of clever politically-active comedians we’re being seen by everyone. I figured others were saying what I was feeling in much more eloquent ways than I could, so I participated without contributing a unique statement. But then I started thinking about that. And now I’m self-conscious. I looked at my own Facebook profile in that mode where you can see what it looks like to other people — like people you’re not friends with. And my profile appears completely neutral. It looks like I either don’t care or am complicit.

I want to be one of those people who doesn’t care what other people think of them – and for the most part, I am. But I do care whether or not people think I condemn Nazis. I can’t believe I even have to type it – but yes, I condemn Nazis.

And because it never fails — there is always a relevant Gilmore Girls quote for everything: like Lorelai pausing before renouncing satan at Davey and Martha’s (and Jackson’s!) baptism. I paused. And this is not something you pause about.

 

 

I didn’t pause on purpose! I didn’t think I was pausing! But I appeared to pause.

I want to be absolutely sure no one thinks even for a second that I hadn’t made my mind up about this. Just because I seemingly paused, doesn’t mean I don’t feel strongly.

That episode is gold. And when Reverend Skinner asks what Rory and Lorelai’s religious affiliations are to be sure they’re up to the task of being godparents to Sookie’s kids.  “I have a strong belief, you know, in good… over evil” “I read the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” “I have two Mary is My Homegirl t-shirts”

So, anyway, this can act as my statement, right? I can be done? Because I’m kind of exhausted from this. I’ve actually been exhausted this whole time.

Since waking up on Nov. 9, 2016, I’ve been in a devastating fog. Every day when I wake up and read the news, it doesn’t feel real. All this dread, this disappointment. I’m overwhelmed.

For a long time I couldn’t deal with it. I was in denial. This was super out of character for me:

Me, the girl who was voted Most Liberal in high school — mind you, this was with about five other people, and it was Wheaton. I’m actually not that far left of center on some issues– just because I want gay people to get married and nationwide access to safe and legal abortion, I looked like some sort of liberal fanatic in such a predominantly conservative town.

I had my little “STOP THE WAR” button on my school bag and held up posters with giant peace signs drawn on them at tiny little protests.  I went to concerts benefitting Darfur and bought a t-shirt so everyone knew I cared about African child soldiers. I was upset about “hanging chads” even though I didn’t really know what they were. I genuinely thought 9/11 was an inside job. I was a lazy, privileged suburban, “slacktavist” but I felt like I was making a difference. It was important to me and my identity to be political. It was a defining characteristic of my teenage years – being angsty about Bush.
Then I got to vote in the election in 2008. And my guy won. Obama won and I was filled with hope. Literal hope, not just the word on the red and blue pictures of his face. I believed in it. And things happened. I remember the day gay marriage was legalized being SO DAMN HAPPY for something that didn’t even effect my relationship or wellbeing or sense of self in a direct way. But it made me feel like part of a greater and better humanity.  I felt like we were getting somewhere. I remember the first time I went to the pharmacy and my birth control pills were free. FREE. Of course, I’m fortunate and privileged enough to have always been able to afford my $10 co-pay, but I thought of every woman who wasn’t. Those women could now afford their hygiene products, or food for the day, or finally have access in the first place.

I realize now that this is the opposite of what a lot of people felt. There were people who were stewing. I just didn’t hear them. I couldn’t hear them over my celebrating. And now I think I might I understand a little how they felt (to clarify: I’m not talking Nazis here- I can’t even image what they feel and don’t want to, I’m just talking about the people who voted 45 in – the part of the country that I didn’t expect. Clarifying because I have ADD and switched subjects on you. OK – carry on). My gut wrenches every time I hear that funding is cut for an educational or after school program. I get sweaty when I read that legislation is being rolled back that protects the Great Lakes and the national parks. I have palpitations every time 45 Tweets because not only is it usually incoherent, but it’s either hateful, projection, or an outright lie. And I see myself feeling these ways, and I think: this must be how these people who voted for 45 felt about Obama. And how can we get over this? How can we empathize and agree and get anything done?
I don’t know. And it paralyzes me.

I wasn’t at the women’s march. Joe and I went away for the weekend of the inauguration so I could hide. I needed to escape reality. I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t strong enough. I’m embarrassed.

We rented a cottage in Galena and hid. I was a coward. It was what I needed, but I was a coward. So there’s no picture of me in a pink hat. I don’t have a witty, battered cardboard sign in my basement.

But I donated to the ACLU. I called my representatives when refugees were being blocked from meeting up with their families, when healthcare for millions was on the table, when NetNeutrality faced another close call. I fought, but I hid. My voice was quiet. But it wasn’t silent.

I don’t want to be quiet anymore.

Like Jackson’s brother Bo (Nick Offerman pre-Parks & Rec!), “Satan can kiss my ass” and so can racists, Nazis, and the president.

bobellville-nickofferman

 

Simple, Easy Vegetarian Ramen

One of our go-to can’t-be-bothered-to-actually-cook meals is my version of vegetarian ramen. It’s cheap and quick and only a couple of ingredients.

It starts with a vegetable broth base and the noodles from the super cheap classic ramen packages. You know the ones – they’re five for a dollar and come in a bunch of flavors. Of course I don’t use the flavor packets and only use the noodles. All that sodium – yuck!

I immediately toss the little silver pouch in the garbage when I open the package. This is me:


(further proof that there is *always* a relevant Gilmore Girls quote)

Instead, I flavor the vegetable broth on my own, adding a little Better Than Bouillon (which is a semi-difficult to find little jar of bouillon-like goo that adds the bold flavor non-vegetarian ramen soups are known for) and some of my own spices and flavorings. Then you can add whatever veggies and a poached egg or whatever you want! I usually use 2 packages of noodles for two people since one never seems like enough for both of us.

 

INGREDIENTS

2 packages of ramen noodles (throw away the flavor packet!)

3 1/2ish cups Vegetable broth

1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base (here it is – my Jewel has it, but it can be tricky to find sometimes. You could probably use a bit of any vegetable bouillon)

Onion powder (to taste, but I think I usually use about 1/3-1/2 tsp)

Garlic powder  (same as above, it varies)

Lemon pepper (a few turns of the grinder)

a dash of soy sauce

1/3ish tsp lime juice (if I have it, just to brighten the flavor a bit)

Salt and regular pepper to taste

Optional additional veggies, poached egg, whatever!

 

DIRECTIONS

In a medium pot on medium heat, add the vegetable broth and the Better Than Bouillon — mix a bit so it disperses, but it doesn’t have to be completely dissolved. Add the noodles and turn the heat up a little because we want to bring the pot to a boil. While the pot with the broth and noodles is coming to a boil, I like to add the garlic and onion powders, lemon pepper, dash of soy sauce and regular salt and pepper. When it just comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let it continue cooking on its own for 2 minutes (or until the noodles are soft). As the noodles soften, I stir to break them apart from their condensed square blob. Just before serving, add the dash of lime juice and taste to see if it needs more of anything.

Add veggies or whatever else you want (or leave it plain).

It’s so simple and comforting and fast!

Vegetarian and dairy-free Shepherd’s Pie

I’ve been wanting to make a vegetarian/vegan Shepherd’s Pie basically this entire winter and never got around to it. It’s been slightly colder and rainy this week, so I finally bit the bullet in what is probably one of the last few weeks of cold-ish weather. Comfort food weather!

Shepherd’s Pie is usually ground beef or lamb with vegetables in a savory sauce thats is topped with mashed potatoes and baked. I set out to make this vegetarian and dairy-free based on our dietary restrictions and attempt number 1 went very well! I used a vegan ground beef substitute, what I lovingly refer to as “fake ground beef”, but if you’re not into the meat-substitute thing, lentils would be perfect in this. I also used vegetable stock, a non-dairy butter (plain olive oil will work fine), and almond milk to replace the meat and dairy that are in the classic recipes I found online.

I should also mention that most of my recipes, including this one, are for two people with leftovers. So adjust accordingly.

INGREDIENTS

Five medium red potatoes

1/2 pack fake ground beef (or lentils)

Four or five large carrots

A medium shallot

A half bag (small bag) of frozen peas

1/2 tsp minced garlic

1/4 tsp thyme

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, possibly a little more (or you can mix a little vegetarian BBQ sauce with a tiny bit of vinegar)

1/3 c vegetable stock

1 Tbsp tomato paste (use a little less and add more if needed)

2 Tbsp non-dairy butter/spread, plus at least another Tbsp for the potatoes

A splash of plain unsweetened almond milk

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Scrub or peel your potatoes. In a medium or large pot, cover the potatoes with water, so there’s about a inch or so above them. Add some salt. Bring the pot to a boil and once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer for like 15 minutes or as long as it takes for them to get soft when poked with a fork. I check them periodically.

While the potatoes are doing their thing, heat the non-dairy butter substitute (I like the kind made from olive oil) in a shallow pan and let it get all melty while you dice up your carrots. Toss the carrots in, and in the meantime, mince your shallot. After the carrots have had 5-7 minutes of alone time in the pan (with a little salt and pepper), throw in the shallot. At this point I put the frozen peas in, but I should have waited about 2-3 minutes longer.

About this time, pre-heat your oven to 425.

Make sure your carrots have started to get soft before you throw the peas in. (Note: some recipes include corn, but I don’t really like corn in things where it’s not the central ingredient, but if you like it, add it now) Next add the garlic, thyme, and tomato paste. When it’s combined, add the fake ground beef (or if you’re using lentils, maybe wait til the end if they’re pre-cooked), Worcestershire sauce (or BBQ and vinegar mixture), and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper, and add more Worcestershire sauce or tomato paste as you see fit. Let this simmer for 8-10 minutes. If it gets dry during simmering, add a splash more of the vegetable stock.

Your potatoes are probably done now and your oven should be almost if not fully preheated. Drain the potatoes, then return to the pot and smash with some more of the non-dairy butter and a splash of almond milk. Salt and pepper to taste. I also added a small splash of vegetable stock at the end because they tasted a little boring. Garlic would have been good too.

Now that your veggies and fake beef have gotten all cozy, and your mashed potatoes are ready, it’s oven time. Get out a glass or ceramic (oven safe!) dish. Pour the fake meat and veggie mixture into the bottom of the dish and spread it out evenly. Cover with the mashed potatoes, spreading evenly.

Pop in the over for 15-20 minutes, or until the top of the potatoes reaches your desired goldenness.

Yum!

Note: I adapted this recipe from the following two classic recipes that came up when I googled shepherd’s pie: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/easy_shepherds_pie/ and http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/shepherds-pie-recipe2

Songs that make me feel feelings

One of my favorite quotes about music is from Jim DeRogatis

“How do those of us who love music interact with it in real life? We sit on the couch and blast the stuff on the stereo, trying to convince each other that the music we love is something that our friends need in their lives too.”

Sometimes when you love a song and you show it to someone else they’ll think it’s OK but they won’t get it in the way that you do. Music is personal. Sharing music with others puts you in a vulnerable position – especially when you’re judgmental and you’ve disliked songs others have shared with you before. But there are also times when you hear something that a friend shows you and you end up liking it too and you form a bond because of it.

And that’s why we share music – because the risk is worth the reward.

So here I am sharing music, as I’ve done a million times before. This time it’s a collection of songs that make me feel feelings. They’re not necessarily my favorite songs, but they evoke emotion. Most songs make me feel, but these make me feel feelings. You know those songs that give you goose bumps or take you somewhere else? These are mine.

Links are direct to Spotify and Youtube. Enjoy my TV references and overuse of the word honestly.

“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” The White Stripes [Spotify / Youtube]

One of my most vivid music-related memories was when this song came out. I think I heard it on the radio (WKQX/Q101 in its prime) and I remember I was standing in my room, my speakers turned almost all the way up and I heard the feedback screech and the first chord and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Something about the sound and how loud it is and how raw the recording is struck me deep in my soul. I had never loved a song as much as I loved this one. It was the first time in my life that I had an immediate and powerful emotional reaction to a song. It caught me by surprise – I got to listen to it for the first time without any expectations. To this day I get that same elation from my gut to the top of my head – a blissful swelling in my heart. This is also why I chose to walk down the aisle to this song. Everyone thought I was crazy, but on my wedding day, as I was walking towards the love of my life, I got to hear my favorite song and feel every possible positive feeling. To me it’s what love feels like.

“Do You Feel It?” Chaos Chaos [Spotify / YouTube]

This is a more recent discovery for me and it’s all because of a cartoon. I’m not kidding. One of the most emotional moments I’ve experienced in a TV show is when this song is playing at the end of season 2 episode 3 of Rick & Morty. It gets me every time. Do yourself a favor and watch that episode. Actually watch the whole series – it’s fantastic. There’s something special about the simplicity of the piano and the beat and how it builds. Maybe it’s only good after seeing that episode, but I really like this song. It makes me feel sad and happy all at once.

“Needle in the Hay”  [Spotify / YouTubeand “Between the Bars”  [Spotify / YouTubeElliot Smith

I’ll be honest – I was not into Elliot Smith when I first heard him. I think I was just in the wrong time in my life to appreciate him, but later, after watching The Royal Tenenbaums a bunch (that scene with Luke Wilson in the bathroom, ugh) I started to get it. After I started to like Needle in the Hay, I sought out more of Elliot Smith’s music. Of course he was already dead by then. But both of these songs are treasures. When you need a good cry, these songs on some headphones are the best thing. Also another Rick and Morty reference: this song is a perfect part of a joke in one of my favorite moments from the Tiny Rick episode. For those who don’t know: Rick is Summer and Morty’s grandpa and he’s a scientist and in this episode he has transmitted his consciousness into a younger version of his body and they call him Tiny Rick. He has a blast connecting with his grandkids but his teenager brain doesn’t think about consequences, so he doesn’t want to leave the younger body, but Morty and Summer know that he has to go back to his old man body, otherwise he’ll die. Summer uses Between the Bars to get Tiny Rick to stop wanting to be a teenager – it’s a perfect scene (watch it here!).

“Modern World” Wolf Parade [Spotify / YouTube]

This whole album by Wolf Parade was on repeat on my iPod Micro (light blue chrome – hell yeah) when I was in late high school. Specifically, I think it was the summer between junior and senior year that I listened to it a lot. I can pinpoint exactly what I love so much about this song: the bridge. It makes the hairs on my arms stand up (it’s around 1:23). I always turn it up at that point and can’t help singing along. It reminds me of carefree summers, driving around downtown Wheaton with my friends, going to get coffee and loiter around in the sunshine. A short and sweet little nugget of a song.

“My Last Hostage”  [Spotify / YouTubeand “Muscle Cars”  [Spotify / YouTubeThe Life and Times 

Whenever I’ve written about The Life and Times, I always reference My Last Hostage as being the track that got me hooked on them. It’s true. The crashy symbols, the dreamy vocals, the overall shoegaze-y feel. I love it. It’s catchy and unique. It took me longer to get into Muscle Cars, because honestly, I don’t like slow songs very much (ha! what is this playlist?). Once I saw it live though, it took on a whole other place in my world. If you get the chance to see The Life and Times live, do it. These songs will shake you down to your bones.

“Trailer Trash” Modest Mouse [Spotify / YouTube]

Listening to Modest Mouse takes me back to a specific point in time – when I was around 17 years old. A lot happened that year. I was starting to figure out who I thought I was. I began defecting from a lot of my past tastes. Discovering Modest Mouse through my friends and my job at the time was a turning point in my teenage identity phase (lol that was short lived). Even though they’re not on my day-to-day rotation anymore I still have a lot of nostalgia for Modest Mouse. It was hard to pick just one Modest Mouse song, but this one was usually at the top of my track order. It’s long, but worth every minute.

“Welcome Home, Son” Radical Face [Spotify / YouTube]

This is a song that I feel like would be on most people’s version of this list. I remember when it came out thinking that it was really special. I remember what the MySpace page looked like and everything. It didn’t take long for it to get old and the sound to become common, but I remember the first time I heard it build and fall – I was completely swept up in it. If I close my eyes when I listen to this song, I imagine myself riding in a car with the windows down on a sunny day passing by a forested area on a windy road. Today, Radical Face falls in the realm of “hipster nonsense” (thanks, Liz Lemon) but back then it was fresh and I was into it.

“Unaccompanied Cello Suite” Bach (performed by Yo-Yo Ma) [Spotify / YouTube]

The unaccompanied cello suite is one of the best Bach pieces ever. That’s my opinion, but it’s also in a lot of commercials and TV shows and movies, so I think it’s a safe bet to say that with confidence. Anyway, I played the cello for a few years, so I love cello-forward pieces. There’s no way I could’ve ever played this song unless I took on a different personality and was able to concentrate long enough to put in the hours to master it, but it’s definitely one of my favorite pieces of music. It also corresponds to a pivotal scene in The West Wing (another one of my favorite TV shows) so that just adds to the feelings. I like to close my eyes when I listen to it to really get wrapped up in how beautiful it is.

“Where Is My Mind?” Pixies [Spotify / YouTube]

Another song that’s probably on everyone’s list. Overplayed by anyone who has seen Fight Club and covered by every band ever. But I can’t deny that it still makes me feel feelings, even after all the exposure. Makes me want to get out my flannel and converse and hang out in a garage. I imagine everyone has a specific memory tied to this song too.

“All They Ever Do is Talk” Earlimart [Spotify / YouTube]

This song was also a TV discovery for me (you’re seeing a theme here), this time from Veronica Mars. I’ve watched the series at least five times all the way through, but I didn’t vibe on this song until the one of the last times I went through it. It’s a short scene and the music makes it much more powerful and it reminds me of other shoegaze songs that I like. As soon as I found out what it was, I listened to it over and over and it grew to be one of my go-tos for this type of playlist. It goes into my “rainy day drone-y stuff” playlist too, but it’s certainly a feelings-heavy song.

“Audience No. 2” Autolux [Spotify / YouTube]

Usually I’d say my favorite Autolux song is Turnstyle Blues or Blanket, but this isn’t a list of my favorite Autolux songs, this is a list of songs that make me feel feelings. When I first heard this song, it was the single from their first album in eight years. Fantastic Planet changed my life in its own way, and Transit Transit as an album is good, but Audience No. 2 on its own affected me more than both combined. It was the end of the summer before my first year of college. As soon as I heard it I was overcome. I had just moved to Chicago and it was the first time in my life I was living on my own. I had two roommates from high school who -it shortly became apparent- did not have anywhere near the mindset I did in the real world. Pretty soon it was like we were on different planets. I hadn’t felt that alone before, and this song felt like what the inside of my head sounded like. Dark and dreary, reality sinking in. But along with the deep drums and solemn chords, “suddenly I’m alright” became my own little anthem. It was there for me through my independence-developing, non-fake emotional stage — and thank god that only lasted a few months. I was on my feet eventually and moved on, but this song reminds me of the times that I wasn’t.

“If I Could Write”  [Spotify / YouTubeand “Reflecting Light”  [Spotify / YouTubeSam Phillips

These two songs are only important to me because of my favorite show of all time: Gilmore Girls. Two key scenes happen during these songs. Technically three now, since the Netflix revival. In case you didn’t know, Sam Phillips is the creator of the famous “la la la la la” bits throughout Gilmore Girls. I’ve liked If I Could Write for a while, it’s a beautiful song, but the scene where Rory is leaving for Europe is just perfect for it. Female acoustic acts can get a little boring, but I love a good subtle revenge anthem and this borders on that. Reflecting Light is special — it’s the first song Lorelai and Luke dance to, but since seeing the revival it nearly makes me burst into tears. It’s silly to feel so strongly for a fictional world but Gilmore Girls got me through so much and it holds a special place in my heart. Both of these songs are big emotional gets for me, even if they’re not usually the kind of music I listen to.

“Bradenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major” Bach [Spotify / YouTube]

My favorite Brandenburg Concerto: mainly for its cello part and how jaunty it is! When I was learning to play the cello this was one of the pieces we played in the school orchestra, and I had a really hard time with a certain measure of it. My (very very patient) cello tutor tried her best to get me to be able to play it, but I struggled, so she took my printed sheet music and wrote “section fudge pie” across the top of that measure to make it less scary. She told me to practice it over and over until I got section fudge pie right. So I went home and played that measure over and over and over until my arms and head hurt, but eventually, I got it. I had never worked on anything that hard in my life. To this day that measure symbolizes determination to me — even though I ended up messing it up when we played it in the school concert (but I’m pretty sure no one noticed since I was like last chair) I knew I had mastered it on my own and that was enough. I’d like to get it tattooed on me some day.

“I Can’t Wait” Star and Micey [Spotify / YouTube]

There’s something about stomps and claps that make a song feel more alive. This one has both, and the chorus is super catchy. Disclaimer: I know this band personally, but they’re so fantastic, I can’t not include them. I know enough bands IRL to make another post about them – but this is the only one I’ll add here because they’re the only ones on Spotify and I don’t want to discredit myself by stacking my blog with endorsements 🙂  but honestly, this song is so full of life and all of the reasons people like music. It makes us happy. It’s fun. This song is pure fun.

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” They Might Be Giants [Spotify / YouTube]

This song is important to me because I was almost born to it! The album Flood had just come out and as my mom was preparing for my due date, she picked it to bring with her to the hospital. I don’t know if they actually did bring it but didn’t listen to it or if they forgot it, but I still feel very connected to it. Knowing this about Birdhouse in Your Soul makes me feel like it was written for me — which is impossible, but this list is about how things *feel*. Plus it’s an upper and that’s important in a playlist full of emotional tracks. It felt appropriate to end on a high note.

Getting weird looks for laughing in public: a list of my favorite memoirs by funny women

If you enjoy a good book and a good laugh, the kind that gets you looks from strangers when reading in public – this is for you!

In the past seven or eight years I’ve gotten into reading books by female comedians, usually memoirs. Much like the list of thrillers from my last book post, this is a themed list of reviews.

As you may know, I read on the train during my commute every day. It’s about 40-45 minutes, twice a day, where I get to sit in the quiet car and read. The quiet car is the designated car on the Metra that doesn’t allow talking – in fact, the rare noisy passengers get death-stares from those too timid to say something or are strongly told off, shushed, or asked to leave by the brave defenders. It is almost always blissfully quiet and the perfect environment for reading.

I usually try to rotate my books by genre so I don’t get too bogged down by thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi or dystopian young adult series, and when I need a complete shift I like to pick up a funny book. Sometimes I can keep the giggles to myself, or it’s the kind of funny that’s like “ha!” in your head and not the out-loud kind of laughter. But sometimes a book will be so funny that my stomach will hurt from trying to stifle my chuckles. I’ll be on the verge of tears and need to take a breather to try and stop myself from snorting. Those are the books that are rated 5/5 – that I couldn’t read on the train.

 

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

5/5

If you have a short attention span or are frequently interrupted while reading, this is a great place to start. I Was Told There’d Be Cake is a series of short essays about the author’s experiences living in New York, starting out on her own, and some random thoughts and anecdotes that come together seamlessly. Not only is Sloane Crosley an excellent writer and immensely funny, she’s also intimate and indiscrete. She’s the voice inside your head when you’re obsessing over bits from your past, only slightly less self-deprecating and much wittier. I found it relatable, honest, and at times a little crude (in a good way). It’s refreshing and full of almost-in-tears laughter. Do not read in public.

 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

4/5

I feel like everyone read this when it came out in 2011, but in case you were living under a rock or were waiting until the hype died down and then never got around to it, I highly recommend picking up Bossypants. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Fey: a funny, off-kilter collection of stories from her life and career, sprinkled with a few touching moments and life lessons, observations and sincerity. Probably wouldn’t get kicked off the quiet car – has many very funny moments, but it’s safe to read in public.

 

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

3.5/5

Looking for a similar vibe to her BFF’s memoir, I picked up Yes, Please as soon as it came out. I was slightly disappointed though, since it seemed like the whole book was about how hard it was to write the book. It felt a little unfinished and some of it was too meta, but learning about Amy’s life was so much fun. Usually I don’t like getting life advice directly from books, as it can make the author seem pretentious, but I didn’t mind it from Amy. She doesn’t brag or boast. She’s honest and genuine. One of my favorite bits was this: “You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.” Even though parts of it felt padded, there were enough bright spots to save it and it was still an enjoyable read. Safe to read in public, and I recommend picking it up.

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

5/5

Honestly, I didn’t know who Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, was before picking up this book, but after my mom recommended it and I skimmed the back cover, I knew I had to read it. I’m having trouble finding a way to describe how funny this book is or compare it to anything. Lawson’s life is pure comedy with steadying bits of humility. Her deadpan style and incomparable quirk left me nearly in tears throughout. I would have to stop reading to catch my breath from laughing too hard (this was when I was alone – I quickly learned not to take this book on the train otherwise I’d disturb the other passengers). I can’t recommend this book enough – it’s both very weird and very charming. Definitely get it if you’re in need of a good laugh. Read at home and try not to drink anything (for risk of it coming out of your nose).

 

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

4.5/5

I’ve always been a fan of Sarah Silverman, but I understand that she can be a little too much for some people. I believe though, that this book would be enjoyable even for people who aren’t as into her brand of humor. She’s able to make fun of herself and reveal more serious aspects of her life, including her struggles with anxiety and depression. But she does it with honesty and class and without making you feel sorry for her. It has both highs and lows and is packed with candid memories, silly encounters and corresponding photos. I didn’t read this one in public coincidentally (I think it was over a summer or holiday break during college), but I’d be cautious since it has a lot of laughs.

 

Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

4/5

Because I read Fey and Poehler’s books, I felt it was only right to read Dratch’s as well. It dives into her time at SNL, but is also sprinkled with early life and current stories. This book is short and entertaining, definitely on-par with others like it but with a more refreshing point of view. Not having known much about her going into it, I ended up not only feeling like I got to know Dratch, but also wanting to know more. It was interesting seeing her side of her career and how it compares to those of her peers. Feel free to read in public, but get ready to stifle a giggle here and there.

 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling

3/5

I read the majority of Kaling’s book on a Megabus to Minneapolis to spend a week with my best friend Roz over winter break my junior year of college. Not known for being a quiet environment, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d laughed aloud either way. Though humorous and fun, this book was not my favorite. I really liked the parts about her early life and family, but the bits where’s she’d jump into giving advice felt a little unwarranted. Compared to others, the book came off as kind of self-serving. I haven’t read her second book, but I’d hope it to be more grounded. Worth reading, but not life-changing.

 

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

4.5/5

Kendrick is charming and forthright in this short and sweet memoir. I found myself relating to her quite a bit, which made it even more enjoyable. I loved her insights into life as a celebrity and how she keeps herself steady, as well as her background in acting and how she rose to fame. It’s a fast read with really funny moments and good storytelling. Kendrick’s short, almost Mitch Hedberg-like one-liners and set-ups are flawless. I found myself laughing aloud often, so think twice before taking this book out and about.

 

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham 

4.5/5

It’s hard to accurately summarize what the show Gilmore Girls means to me, so just know that it’s my favorite of all time and it’s my go-to comfort show. I watch at least part of an episode almost every single day (usually before bed), and have most of it memorized. Graham’s character had a huge impact on my life and while it’s nice that she’s similar to Lorelai in a lot of ways, I’m glad she’s also different and that both come out in her writing. I read Graham’s novel, Someday, Someday Maybe and really enjoyed it. It was well-written and fun. Since it was loosely based on her early life as an actress, I had some insight going into Talking As Fast As I Can. I’ve also read a lot of interviews with her over the years. But the most interesting parts were the things I didn’t know – like that she spent a large part of her childhood living on a houseboat and that she always dreamed of having her picture on the wall of the first theatre company she was part of. The best parts of the whole book (as a diehard Gilmore fan) though, were her reflections re-watching the series and the section from her diary during the filming of the Netflix reboot. Graham is witty and charming and gives fans exactly what they want. Safe to read in public and immensely enjoyable for fellow Stars Hollow residents.

Black Bean and Tomato Soup

This recipe is easy and delicious. Most of what you do is dump a few cans of beans and tomatoes into some sautéed veggies. Soup is seriously the perfect cool-weather meal. This one is hearty, and as a base it is vegetarian and diary-free, but can be altered easily for anyone. It’s great with ground beef (or so I’ve been told), cheese, and/or sour cream. It’s also amazing with barley in it! We did that once and it was fantastic. The yield is… a lot. Be prepared for leftovers.

This is my favorite soup recipe.

As Lorelai says in season 1 episode 17 of Gilmore Girls: soup is good food.

MAX: Whoa, whoa, whoa wait a second. So this is it? You leave and we forget that this ever happened?

LORELAI: No.

MAX: Then what?

LORELAI: I leave and we go on with our lives and then at some point we buy some soup.

MAX: Lorelai…

LORELAI: What? Soup is good food.

 

INGREDIENTS

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 shallot

2-3 celery stalks, diced

2-3 large carrots, diced

1 very large garlic clove or 1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 (14 or 15 oz) cans of black beans (with their liquid)

1 (14 or 15 oz) can white beans or chickpeas (optional – can sub another can of black beans)

1 (14ish oz) can of fire roasted tomatoes (have also added a second can of regular diced tomatoes for extra tomato-y goodness)

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

a dash or two of hot sauce

salt and pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

In your largest soup pot (one that has a lid to it), heat the oil on medium heat and add the diced carrot and celery. As it sautes, stir, and add the shallot before the veggies get soft- but not at the very beginning. This usually takes about 7-9 minutes but I think that’s because my soup pot is super thick. Yours might soften faster. Just keep an eye on it.

Add the garlic, cumin, pepper flakes and some salt and pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Once everything is all fragrant and happy, add the beans (remember not to drain them! We want the juice in there!), tomatoes (again, with their liquid! and if you think it’s too bean-heavy add another can of plain crushed or diced tomatoes), and the veggie broth. Bring it to a nice simmer (almost boiling) over medium heat, stirring so the beans don’t stick, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Stir it frequently, but let it hang out, simmering for 30 minutes.

At the end I like to taste it and add salt and pepper (if it needs it) and a dash or two of hot sauce.

Then it’s time for toppings! It’s incredible with cheddar or parm. If it’s too spicy I’ve added sour cream and cubes of avocado (!!!) and sometimes if I bring some to my family they’ll add ground beef.

This winter Joe and I have been eating a lot of soup because it’s easy to make dairy-free and vegetarian. This has been one of our stand-by meals for months and the leftovers are awesome.

 

This recipe is a modified version of the Black Bean Soup recipe in The American Craft Beer Cook Book by John Holl.

Put a Girl on it. My ratings of various female-led thrillers.

I read a lot. Mainly advance reading copies (ARCs) from my mom who is a bookseller. I read during my commute and I love a good female-led thriller. They’re very popular right now. Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train — my mom thought of starting a new hashtag #ggott for Gone Girl On The Train. It really does feel like if you’re going to write a modern thriller you should put the word Girl in it. Instant best seller. (The title of this post is a play on Put a Bird On It from Portlandia – in case that wasn’t clear.)

Explaining my jokes. This blog is the best.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

4.5/5

A girl enwrapped in the made-up lives of people she sees from the train on her daily commute becomes more involved in their actual lives than she could have imagined. 

One of the original and arguably one of the best. It’s probably the barometer of this genre, not just for me as a reader, but for other crime authors as well. As the characters show their true colors and the mystery unravels you’re not only totally engrossed but also completely blindsided by each twist. It jumps around in time and setting – throwing you off just when you think everything has become clear. Truly a unique experience. And perfect for those of us who read on the train. READ THE BOOK AND THEN SEE THE MOVIE. The movie was good, but read the damn book first.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

5/5

The main character thinks she has left her past behind, but when an old friend asks her to attend her bachelorette party, she learns the past is nearly impossible to escape.

As far as female-led thrillers go, this one is exceptional and it doesn’t even have Girl in the title! It was engaging, thrilling, and I could still sleep after reading it. I like thrillers that are intense but not too scary and this was just that. The main character is relatable and readable and the whole time you feel the need to figure out how the hell this is all happening – right up to the end. Apparently this will also be a movie at some point? I heard rumors but haven’t seen any followthrough. Fingers crossed!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

4/5

Aboard a cruise ship, a travel journalist becomes obsessed with a mysterious murder that may or may not even have occurred.

Also by Ruth Ware! This is her newer book and I enjoyed it a lot, but it wasn’t quite as unique as In a Dark, Dark Wood. While a tiny bit predictable at times and a little slower to build, it was still an engaging and creative read. I found myself hurrying home to finish a chapter when my train pulled into the station at the end of the day – that’s saying something! The main character’s skepticism, both of other characters and of herself, keeps you guessing again and again. A great vacation book! But maybe not a cruise vacation.

Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

3/5

A teenage drama queen gets involved in a sticky situation (lol it’s her murder – it’s the central plot; this isn’t a spoiler) when trying to “find herself” in this small town-centered murder mystery.

So this is only partially female-led — it switches perspectives (and jumps around in time) between the girl, the town sherif, and an unhappy townsperson. This ARC was getting *all the hype* but unfortunately I wasn’t as excited by it once I started in on it. I think it was partially due to the personality of the main character and probably also her age. It’s a little too adult for teenagers but it also felt very young-adult-ish to me and that put me off (don’t get me wrong, I like young adult novels but this just wasn’t what I was expecting). I finished it because I wanted to see how it turned out, but I wouldn’t necessarily read it again. Plus I didn’t like reading it in public because the cover is a close up of a young white girl’s face and it made me feel like I was reading a Gossip Girl novel or something terrible. Judging the book by the cover… It happens.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

4/5

An unhappy husband meets an intriguing stranger and gets caught in a Heathers-like game of “what if I murdered my spouse…”

This one is written by a man! It’s not entirely female-led, but it has two lead female characters as well as a male. It’s more of a standard crime fiction book but since I put it in the same category in my head, here it is. I actually had trouble putting this book down – I liked how it moved seamlessly between characters and perspectives and how fast the plot moved along. It’s unique (though as I mentioned in the synopsis, it’s a little like the movie Heathers but with adults)  and totally takes you on a ride as you learn more about each character, their pasts, and their motives. Threw me for a loop a few times – and I’m usually able to sniff out an upcoming plot move. The writing and particularly the dialog wasn’t amazing but it’s a good read.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

3.5/5

A dysfunctional couple deals with a whirlwind of drama and trauma as they figure out who they can and cannot trust after their newborn baby goes missing.

I really wanted to like this book, but after about half way through I started to lose interest. It’s fairly predictable and I didn’t really like the characters, but has some gripping parts and is overall pretty original. It was a good book for my commute: engaging, but not so much where I had trouble putting it down when I needed to get off the train – it was easy to leave and pick back up later. A few moments were a little thrilling, but it was more emotionally stressful than the others in this list. I was disappointed that I was able to figure out the two main twists way before they occurred, which I don’t like! I want to be totally surprised!

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

4/5

After a girl goes missing, mirroring her friend’s disappearance from ten years ago, Nic Farrell is roped back to into her hometown life. A reminder that history repeats itself and the people you thought you left behind never really let you go. Nic catches up with her past in this unwinding mystery. 

So the big device in this one is that it’s told backwards. It’s actually pretty fun. I was surprised by the twist in this one, which is big for me because I can usually sniff it out pretty quick. The writing is above-average and the characters are detailed but mysterious enough to keep you guessing. The whole “small town everyone knows your secrets” thing gets a little over-told, but doesn’t ruin it. Having been to small towns in North Carolina myself, the setting was familiar and easy to imagine, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard if you’ve been to any tiny town in America. All The Missing Girls is Miranda’s first adult novel, and even though at times you can feel her slipping into her young-adult style, it’s a page turner and a great read for the genre.

 

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Check back as I continue reading mystery books with “Girl” in the title!

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

The other night Joe expressed a craving for Sloppy Joes, but knowing they’d be vegetarian for me, he coined the term “Sloppy Zoes”

Humor!

They were AMAZING and even though there are quite a few spices going on, the ingredient list is actually very simple and it’s overall super fast and easy.  And it’s both vegetarian and dairy-free so it meets both of our dietary needs! So here’s my recipe for Vegetarian Sloppy Joes aka Sloppy Zoes:

INGREDIENTS:

One package fake ground beef (we used “Beefless Ground Beef” from Trader Joe’s, but MorningStar Farms also makes really good Crumbles)

One can Tomato Sauce (also from Trader Joe’s)

1/4 c ketchup

1 1/2 TbspWorcestershire sauce (I’ve heard of vegetarian versions, but I use the regular since I still eat fish – up to you! You can also sub a little vegetarian BBQ sauce mixed with a tiny bit of vinegar)

1/4 c minced onion OR 1 small minced shallot OR 1 Tbsp onion powder (I only had onion powder but it turned out very good)

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp mustard powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp thyme (or more to taste)

1 tsp paprika (optional, but we used it)

2 tsp chili powder (optional, but we used it… probably more than 2 tsp actually)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large sauté pan or large pot (whatever you have that has decent surface area and a lid), over medium heat combine fake ground beef, onion (or onion powder or shallot), and at the last minute garlic. Get it all nice and hot and fragrant. The fake ground beef is already cooked so you’re just heating it and mixing it with the onion and garlic to add super great flavor.

Add tomato sauce (I only used most of the can, like 4/5 of it, but do to your liking), ketchup, Worcestershire sauce (or BBQ + vinegar mixture), and the brown sugar and then all those spices, stirring frequently. Taste and add more of whatever you see fit to get the flavor of your dreams.

Once it’s all nice and mixed, cover and turn the heat down to let simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir frequently.

After it is done hanging out and getting delicious you can do some last minute seasoning (I added a tiny pinch of salt and some black pepper). Now you have Sloppy Zoes! We lightly toasted wheat hamburger buns and kept it simple. Enjoy!