Favorite Books of 2018

Since I can remember, I have loved to read. After the lunches have been made and the dirty dishes are cleaned up; I crawl into bed and treat myself to a compelling read. In case you are looking for something new to read, here are my favorites from 2018 (in no particular order).

Americanah – Though fictional, this book holds gallons of insight into life as an African American. The main character is mesmerizing and the whole book is chalk full of characters and relationships. I thought about this book a lot and the different ties that bind as all together.

Educated: A Memoir – I am a sucker for memoirs and this one kept me on the edge of my seat. Having grown up in a small town, conservative environment, I could relate to a bit of it.

Interpreter of Maladies – This is a collection of short stories with main characters from India. I didn’t want it to end.

Little Fires Everywhere – This book starts with the sentence “Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.” Good luck putting this one down once you start!

The Great Passage – Have you ever thought about how dictionaries are made? Me either but found it fascinating to follow the fictional characters as they decide what all these words mean.

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – I don’t usually read self-help books (is this what everyone says?) but found this one surprisingly lighthearted as well as enjoyable to read. Discussing it in my book club lead to many interesting personal insights.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – I enjoy all different types of genres and Science Fiction is no exception. I particularly enjoy anything and everything by Ursula K. Le Guin. This book takes place on two alien planets. Though the setting and characters are alien, the complex societies and interpersonal relationships feel very familiar. I found myself looking deeper at my own views about myself and the society in which I live.

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World – With JP in middle school, I found this book really helpful in understanding the group dynamics of boys. There were definitely some good takeaways, including communication techniques.

Let’s Stay In – How could I not mention this one? Recipe testing for this cookbook was a highlight of my year. The food, writing and photography are inspiring and the perfect accompaniment to any gathering, big or small, with friends and family.

Quick Cinnamon Orange Rolls

fullsizeoutput_17aThe count down to Christmas is in full swing and it has me thinking about the act of gift giving. As a child our family of six would pile into the car and drive two hours to the nearest mall on Black Friday. It was especially magical when the year’s first snow would coincide with this family outing. I would have my allowance in my hand and head out to find the perfect gift for each family member. I doubt I had more than ten dollars to spend but that didn’t bother me. One year I found the perfect snow globe for my twin sister. I was mesmerized by the snow floating and swirling around the little figurine. Waiting a whole month to give it to my sister felt like an eternity. It was one of my earliest memories of the anticipation of giving and not just receiving on Christmas day.

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Though I love finding gifts for others, it can also be a source of stress, especially this time of year. I want each and every gift to reflect thought and care. I want each gift to be perfect. But let’s be honest – this is a tall order for any package. It’s good to keep it in perspective. The true gift is the time and thought goes into each oen. This in and of itself is an act of love. I think of the gifts I’ve received over the years and the time and effort required and feel so much gratitude.

To me the gift of time and attention is one of the most thoughtful and lasting presents we can give each other. There are a multitude of ways to show our affection and love this season and they don’t all have to be wrapped in bows.

But I really would like a snow globe of my own.

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Quick Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Baking breakfast is an especially kind act of love and these orange cinnamon rolls are just the trick. They come together quickly and require no wait time or frosting. Cinnamon rolls are always a favorite in our family but I find the timing for breakfast challenging. Normally, this means that breakfast is ready closer to lunch. So when I saw this recipe in Cooks Illustrated, I had to give it a try. The technique is similar to making biscuits. I added orange zest and nutmeg to punch up the holiday cheer.

Tip: Altogether you will need about 8 tablespoons of melted butter. Three tablespoons are used in the filling and dough and are best measured precisely. The other 4-5 tablespoons are used to grease the pan, brush the dough before adding the filling and brush on the rolls before baking. I melted it all at once and then measured it out as needed.

Ingredients:

Filling:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon melted butter

Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (I prefer aluminum free)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 – 1 teaspoon orange zest (I used a mandarin orange)

1 1/4 cup buttermilk, warmed (butter will stay in liquid form when added together)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use some melted butter to grease an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of melted butter and mix. The mixture will stick together slightly when pressed. Set filling aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest and salt. Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter to the warmed buttermilk. Pour into the flour mixture. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. The dough will be shaggy.

Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times so that dough becomes smooth. Roll out the dough to a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Brush with a couple tablespoons of melted butter, leaving an inch or two around the border. Spread filling evenly on top and press it down gently.

Start with your hands on the long edge nearest you. Begin to roll the dough away from you. Once your dough all rolled up, use a bench scraper to cut the dough into 8 even pieces.

To transfer the buns to the pan, pick them up one at a time and gently pinch the under side of the bun to help keep the filling in place. Put 7 rolls around the edges and 1 in the center of the pan. Brush with the rest of the butter.

Bake on the center rack for 23-25 minutes. The buns will be dark golden brown and the filling will be bubbling beautifully all over. Err on the side of over baked if not sure.

Let cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve directly out of the pan.

Like most baked goods, these are best eaten right out of the oven, but I found them completely acceptable 1 – 2 days later. Store in a air tight container. I wouldn’t feel bad at all about baking them the night before and then warming them back up in the oven (or microwave) in the morning. I would suggest transferring the buns to an air tight container though so that they don’t stick to the pan. Enjoy!