Food and Wine Pairing: Albariño

Food and Wine Pairing: Albariño

Albariño, food and wine pairing, summer menu

In the northwest region of Spain, in Galicia, grows a white grape that is used to make the perfect summer wine. Albariño is a crisp white wine with flavors of citrus, honeydew, nectarine, honeysuckle and just a hint of salt. It is light in color and body, dry, and acidic. The white wine that Albariño is most similar to is Sauvignon Blanc, but Sauvignon Blanc is a bit more herbal in flavor than Albariño.1-3

While Albariño is predominantly grown in Spain, it is also grown in Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho. These days, you can also find Albariño from the US (California), Uruguay, Australia, Chile and Brazil. While Albariño may not be as common as some white wines, you can find it at any store with a decent wine selection, usually in the Spanish wine section. Prices tend to range from $12 to about $23 where I live (Metro Detroit). It is most commonly served young.1-3

Like one would expect from a dry and acidic white wine grown in a coastal region, Albariño pairs well with seafood. Think ceviche, fish tacos, and grilled seafood. It is not uncommon for dry white wines to pair well with fish and seafood; Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio pair similarly well with these foods and are easier to find in a grocery store. However, there are some instances where it is better to search out an Albariño rather than pick one of these more accessible wines. A unique thing about Albariño is it can handle a bit of spice, while most wines cannot. I wouldn’t pair it with anything extremely spicy (you’d want to pick a Riesling in that case), but it can hold its own with Cajun or Thai food or a seafood dish with a slight kick. Also, Albariño pairs well with herbs, so if your recipe uses pesto or chimichurri, you may want to seek out an Albariño.1-4

Seafood isn’t your only option with Albariño. It will also pair with light meats, soft cheese, semi-hard cheeses, herbs, and grilled vegetables. Consider it a to-go wine for a summertime tapas party.1-4

Recipes to Serve With Albariño:

Cheesy crab tostadas (Recipe here)

Vegan “ceviche” stuffed avocado (Recipe here)

Saffron shrimp sheet pan dinner (Recipe here.)

How to Taste Wine: 

Step 1: Examine the color. First hold the wine up to the light, and then examine it against a white background (tablecloth, napkin, etc.). White wines range in color from pale straw to deep gold. Wine Folly has a great color chart on their website that can help you narrow down the shade of your vino. Other questions to ask yourself: Is the wine clear or opaque? Can other shades be seen along the edges of the glass? If the wine is browner near the rim, it may indicate the wine has been aged. If it’s pale near the rim, it may be a less flavorful wine. 5-7

Step 2: Swirl the wine glass. Yes, it looks snobby, but swirling your wine has two purposes: releasing aroma compounds and indicating alcohol levels. After you swirl, you will find there are tears running along the sides of the glass. These are called the legs. Is your wine a thick thighed gal? That indicates she has a higher alcohol level and you do not want to underestimate her.5-6

Step 3: Sniff. Note the distinctive aromas, which can be fruity, floral, herbal, or mineral. Take another sniff and see if you can identify new scents. Distinguishing aromas can be challenging. You might note that you smell berry, but you can’t identify which berry is triggering your scent memory. One way to simplify (or possibly complicate) the matter is to refer to the Davis Wine Aroma Wheel, which was created by Dr. Ann Noble, a chemist who retired from UC Davis.5-6, 8

Step 4: Taste. Your first sip should be swirled around your mouth so all the flavors are released. My first impression is always whether the taste matches the scent. White wines I usually find to be pretty consistent, but every now and then, I come across a red wine that smells like sweet ripened berries and tastes like gravel. Other things to note when tasting include acidity, sweetness, alcohol content, and tannins (wines with high tannins will “dry out” your tongue). The last thing is the wine’s finish. Do the flavors linger after your sip? If yes, your wine has a long finish. Is it a pleasant finish? Some wines may mellow out in the finish, while others taste delicious initially only to have an unpleasant finish.5-6

Step 5: Cheat. Okay, I made this step up. Wine tasting is subjective. You may taste pears while your dining companion tastes apples and vanilla. After I note my perceptions of both smell and taste, I like to read the notes on the wine bottle. If the wine doesn’t provide any notes on the back of the label, I Google wine reviews and learn what Wine Enthusiast had to say about it. I then take another sip and see if I now taste new flavors based on the tasting notes of others. This isn’t to see if I am right or wrong; there isn’t a right or wrong in wine tasting. For me, it’s about training my palate. Please don’t ever read tasting notes before you taste yourself, as you will only taste the flavors you anticipate that you will find.

Sources:

1Wine Folly: Albariño (Alvarinho). Accessed April 20, 2022.

2The Spruce Eats: What is Albariño Wine? Accessed May 26, 2022.

3The Grape Grind: All you need to know about Albariño. Accessed May 26, 2022.

4Dornenburg A and Page K. (2006.) What to Eat with What You Drink. (pp 203.) Voracious/Little, Brown and Company.

5Wine Enthusiast: How to Taste Wine. Accessed May 26, 2022.

6The Spruce Eats: How to Taste Wine Like a Professional. Accessed May 26, 2022.

7Wine Folly: The Wine Color Chart. Accessed May 18, 2022.

8The Wine Aroma Wheel Official Website. Accessed May 18, 2022.

Pride Month Reading List

Pride Month Reading List

It wasn’t long ago that fiction authored by LGBTQI+ authors was considered niche. It’s only over the last two decades that books celebrating gay and lesbian lives have become mainstream, and these are still the first books to be banned from schools. This recommended reading list includes literary, mainstream, historical, and YA fiction.

Happy Pride Month to all members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Not quite famous novelist Arthur Less desperately wants to get out of the country. He hasn’t committed a crime and he isn’t on the run, but he wants an iron clad reason not to attend his long term lover’s wedding. So he goes through his junk mail, accepting teaching appointments at random German universities, attending previously unheard of literary awards in Italy, taking on a food writing assignment in Japan, and agreeing to attend a friend of a friend’s birthday celebration in Morocco. During the course of his travels, Less accumulates a series of embarrassing moments, surprise victories, and flings. He prepares to turn fifty, thinking, “He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty.” Although Less has its serious moments and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it is overall entertaining and perfect for your next beach vacation.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

At age forty-three, Patrick is a retired sitcom actor who lives alone in Palm Springs. He has a Golden Globe and an Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion. What Patrick does not have is experience with children, and he is a stranger to his niece and nephew who simply know him as GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). When Patrick’s sister-in-law and best friend, Sara, passes away, and his brother goes into rehab for a pill addiction that went unnoticed during Sara’s battle with cancer, Patrick finds himself temporary primary caregiver for nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant. Given that the kids don’t drink martinis, he’s not quite sure how to bond with them, and he definitely doesn’t know how to help them with their grief given that he has never recovered from losing his own partner years before. There are missteps and careless words aplenty, but Patrick finds he was made to be a guncle.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

It is 1985, and the Boystown district of Chicago is in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. The Great Believers opens with Yale Tishman grieving the loss of his friend, Nico. Like many of the early AIDS casualties, Nico had his final medical decisions made by estranged family members, rather than those closest to him, and was given a funeral that reflected the values of his relatives rather than Nico’s own. With his partner Charlie, Yale attends a life celebration for Nico, and at this event, misunderstandings and jealousy destroy Yale and Charlie’s relationship. Yale comes to learn that his relationship was not safe and monogamous as he had always thought. The second storyline of The Great Believers follows Fiona, Nico’s sister, in the present day as she seeks out her estranged daughter in Paris. As Fiona searches for Claire, she stays with her friend, Richard, an artist preparing for a show that will honor his fallen friends from Chicago. The Great Believers is a powerful story, and Makkai’s writing is beautiful. As I was very young when the AIDS epidemic began, it took decades for me to understand how it affected an entire generation of gay men and how politics and the witholding of funds turned a public health issue into genocide.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

When Monique Grant, a struggling journalist at a crossroads in life, is given an opportunity to write a biography of classic movie star, Evelyn Hugo, she accepts. Hugo is a Hollywood legend, known for her sexy roles and her seven marriages, and Monique knows writing this book could change her life. Born Evelyn Herrera in Hell’s Kitchen, Evelyn leaves New York for Hollywood as a teenager. After changing her surname, losing her accent, and dying her hair blond, she finds success in the movie industry. Evelyn has both beauty and talent, but she learns that high profile marriages are as important to her career as appearing in high profile films. And if those high profile marriages turn abusive, a film icon never lets the adoring public know. What Monique comes to learn is that Evelyn has had seven husbands, but only one true love, who was definitely not one of her husbands. But Evelyn’s sexual orientation isn’t her only secret and her last revelation to Monique completely rewrites Monique’s understanding of her own past.

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (historical fiction)

Eliza Farren, a well-known comedic actress of 18th century London, prizes her reputation above all else. Through sheer talent, she has been able to move from being an impoverished child thespian in the country to being one of the most well known faces in Drury Lane. While most actresses of the time relied upon aristocratic donors for economic security, Eliza is unwilling to become a man’s mistress. This is unfortunate for Eliza’s greatest admirer, Edward Smith-Stanley, the Earl of Derby. When Derby’s bored aristocratic friends put on an amateur play, he gets Eliza involved as advisor, which brings her into London’s aristocratic social sphere. As rehearsals go on, a friendship develops between Eliza, Derby, and the widowed sculptor Mrs. Anne Damer. The three maintain a close friendship until rumors spread that Eliza and Anne’s relationship is more than platonic. While Derby initially thinks the rumor is absurd, he grows jealous and demands that Eliza choose between him and Anne. Life Mask is intricately researched historical fiction, and Eliza, Derby, and Anne were real historical figures. It might not be for readers who get bored with too much historical detail, but I was totally immersed in the late 18th and early 19th century world.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (historical fiction)

Sue Trinder, the seventeen-year-old orphaned daughter of a convicted murderer, has been raised in Victorian London by Mrs. Sucksby, baby farmer and petty criminal. While Sue has grown up committing petty thefts and learning to transform stolen goods into new and unidentifiable goods, she has never known neglect or lack of love as Mrs. Sucksby’s favorite orphan. One day, a conman, simply known as “Gentleman,” shows up at Mrs. Suckby’s house with a proposal for Sue. Gentleman wants Sue to take a job as a lady’s maid to heiress, Maud Lilly, and convince Maud to elope with Gentleman. Once Maud and Gentleman are married and he has control over Maud’s fortune, he will then share a portion of the fortune with Sue. With Mrs. Sucksby’s permission, Sue agrees to the scheme. But once Sue is at Briar, she learns that Maud, like her, is seventeen and motherless. The two girls even look similar. Despite their differences in class and upbringing, Sue and Maud become close and Sue begins to realize her feelings for Maud are far from sisterly. She wants to extricate herself from Gentleman’s scheme, but she needs the money to repay Mrs. Sucksby for all that she has done for her, and she doesn’t realize Gentleman’s scheme is wider than she ever imagined. Fingersmith is a very fun and intricately plotted historical novel.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (YA)

Noah and Jude are twins with extremely different personalities. At thirteen, introverted Noah looks to his art to save him, while adventurous Jude’s priority is on her social life. At sixteen, the relationship between the twins has been destroyed, and Jude is now the anti-social twin who looks to art as her salvation. Noah is outwardly the more successful twin, but beyond the surface, he isn’t doing any better than Jude and is more firmly wedged in his closet than he was at thirteen. The novel alternates chapters narrated by Noah at thirteen with chapters narrated by Jude at sixteen. This is a beautiful novel about loss, family, love, identity, and what happens after you’ve done things that seem unforgivable.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (YA)

Otters Holt, Kentucky values traditional femininity. The town is the home of Molly the Corn Dolly, a forty-foot-tall statue that is its sole tourist attraction, and a corn dolly is awarded every year to an outstanding woman. Corn Dolly winners are pie bakers, gardeners, caregivers, and pillars of the community. Daughter of the local youth pastor, Billie McCaffrey is outside the Otters Holt ideal and is infamous for setting the church youth room on fire at a lock-in when she and her friends microwaved a smelly sock and her dad’s World’s Best Minister mug. However, when the Harvest Festival and corn dolly award are canceled, it is Billie and her group of misfits who develop a fundraising scheme to save the festival. Throughout the book, Billie is seeking to understand gender and sexuality. She resents that the church community demands that she can only love boys, but she also resents that her friends assume she is gay simply because she’s a tomboy. Her friends attempt to nudge her out of the closet when she just wants to figure out her sexual orientation for herself. While this book could have gone badly (either too sweet or too cynical), it never does because Billie is such a fresh, likable character.

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

sangria, large batch cocktail, amaretto cocktail, summer cocktail

What is your favorite summer cocktail? Are you a margarita fan, always ready for a taco and a top shelf margarita?  Or are you all about the frosé?

I’m a sangria girl, but I rarely ever have it. It’s a large batch drink if you make it at home, and so many restaurants make shortcut sangrias with cheap mixes and Sprite that I am disinclined to order it on an evening out. Recently, I became curious about what an Amaretto sangria would taste like. Brandy is traditional in sangrias, but I suspected (correctly!) that an almond flavor would complement sangria flavors nicely.

As a note, this sangria is very cherry forward. If you don’t love cherries quite as much as I do, I would recommend a half cup of cherries and a half cup of your favorite berry rather than a full cup of cherries. Also the sugar amount is customizable. I made this with a quarter cup since I don’t love sugary alcohol drinks, but kept the recipe a bit sweeter to appeal to a larger group.

amaretto cocktail

Cherry Amaretto Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle light bodied red wine (Beaujolais/Gamay or Pinot Noir)
  • 1/3 cup Amaretto
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 orange sliced, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup sparkling water to top (optional)

Directions

  1. Juice your lemon, then stir the sugar into the lemon juice.
  2. Combine all ingredients except orange slices and sparkling water in a pitcher. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
  3. When ready to serve, add the orange slices, ice cubes, and sparkling water. Garnish glasses with orange slices.
Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

It’s nearly summer cookout season, and everyone is thinking burgers, corn on the cob, and side salads. Drinks can sometimes be an afterthought, and it’s so easy just to grab a Coke or a beer. However, if you try this at your next BBQ or graduation party, this lemonade might be your new go-to summer beverage. While I haven’t tested this, I suspect it would also make for a great popsicle.

To make this easy, I use store bought lemonade in this recipe (I used Trader Joe’s organic lemonade). If you are a from-scratch cook, I’m sure this would be even more delicious with homemade lemonade. It calls for one tablespoon of mint, which is just enough to add a slight herbal flavor, but it’s not overpowering. It’s a child friendly mint level. If you want a more distinct mint flavor, please double the amount.

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 64 oz bottle lemonade
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup (or preferred sweetener)
  • 1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Place strawberries, sweetener, and mint in a blender or processor. Puree.
  2. Add strawberry mint blend to a pitcher. Top with lemonade and stir well.
  3. Pour into glasses and garnish with strawberries and mint.
2022 Father’s Day Gift List

2022 Father’s Day Gift List

Dads are so hard to buy for. Mine likes gardening, naps, fresh loaves of bread, and Christian apocalyptic films starring Kirk Cameron. That’s really about it. Vinyl? Not interested as he owns a perfectly good radio, thank you very much. A new weekend bag for trips? He’s a homebody. Craft beer? Doesn’t drink. Golf clubs? He has no idea why anyone would waste their money on that. (I don’t either, for that matter.) Collectible anything? They collect dust, and my mother wages war on dust.

So, what I’m saying here is that I have ideas for everyone else’s dads, ranging in price from $18 to $250, but I still don’t know what I’m getting mine. Wish me luck.

For the outdoorsy dad:

A portable hammock is a great gift for Dad, whether he is a frequent camper or if he just wants to “rest his eyes” in the backyard.

A pour over coffee set for the dad who doesn’t want to choose between his camping trip and a great cup of coffee.

A portable campfire if your dad loves being outside but was never a Boy Scout.

For the bookish dad:

Do you have a bookish dad who would love a first edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? Try AbeBooks, which is like Etsy for used and rare books. Most rare and used bookstores in the US and beyond list their merchandise on Abe.

For the culinary dad:

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ.  This was one of the biggest cookbooks of 2021, and a grill master dad would love it. I’m linking to Amazon here, but please support an independent bookstore if financially and geographically possible.

If a smoker is on dad’s wish list, this budget friendly smoker from Lowe’s has a 5-star rating.

For the dad you drove to drink:

Smoked cocktails are very trendy right now. If dad appreciates a whiskey drink, he’ll enjoy this cocktail smoker from Uncommon Goods.

For the dad who prefers experiences to tangible items, gift a mixology class, also from Uncommon Goods.

For a music loving dad:

Does dad sing along with any song whether he knows the words or not? Try a gift of mistaken lyrics coasters.

If dad collects vinyl, search Discogs for his favorites.

For a dad who always appreciates a new toy:

For the dad who has everything, he may enjoy a drone.

Last but not least, every suburban backyard needs a game of cornhole.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune: book review and book club menu

Wallace Price’s death came at the least convenient of times. As a busy lawyer, he had work to do and cases to win and then he found himself at his own funeral as a ghost, watching his colleagues and his ex-wife all talk about what an asshole he was. While viewing his funeral, Wallace is collected by Mei, a bubbly young woman, who informs him that she is a Reaper, there to take him to the ferryman who will help him cross over. Wallace informs her that he does not have the time to be dead, but she takes him to a tea shop in the middle of woods, where he is to wait until he is ready to cross over.

Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats is an unusual waiting place for the dead, given that it is full of life. Everyday the living arrive to line up for the famous tea and scones. It is in the tea shop that Wallace meets his ferryman, Hugo, a handsome and empathetic young man, who is as calm as Mei is excitable. It is also in the teashop that Wallace first meets fellow ghosts: Nelson, who was Hugo’s grandfather, and Apollo, who was Hugo’s dog.

Wallace initially spends all of his effort attempting to flee the teashop, although he quickly learns that to leave is to destroy his sense of self. So he resigns himself to watching the everyday events of the teashop, annoyed that he died in sweatpants, dooming him to an afterlife in sweats. But as Wallace broods, he becomes curious about the people and ghosts around him, especially Hugo.

Wallace’s character development is slow and excellent. He learns to care for other people and share in their grief gradually. He begins to help people who cannot even see him. A message displayed in the teashop serves as a reflection of his journey:

“The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.”

The ending is not surprising, but it is lovely and perfect.

I was expecting this to be quirky and humorous. (It was.) I was not expecting it to be the sweetest and slowest love story. (It really was.) It reminded me of both A Christmas Carol and The Midnight Library, but it was more joyful and bittersweet than both of those. The world Klune created is original, but it’s the characters that make this story worth the journey. While all of the characters are enjoyable, it is Hugo who became my favorite. Recommended for readers who enjoy humorous writing, creative worlds, and LGBT love stories.

Book Club Menu

A tea time menu is the only appropriate choice for this book.

  • Assorted tea sandwiches. A recipe for a smoked salmon tea sandwich is below. Additional options would include ham and cheese; egg salad; chicken salad; and cucumber sandwiches
  • Strawberry scones (recipe below)
  • A selection of black and herbal teas (my preferred brands are Tazo and Rishi), plus sugar, cream, and lemon.
  • If serving alcohol, consider a sparkling rosé

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwich

  • Servings: 2 lunch portions or 4 teatime portions
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of your preferred sandwich bread
  • 4 oz smoked salmon
  • 1/4 of an English cucumber, sliced thinly
  • 1 radish, sliced thinly
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • Dill (optional)

Directions

  1. Spread cream cheese on all 4 slices of bread.
  2. On 2 of the bread slices, layer smoked salmon, cucumber slices, radish slices, and dill (if using). Top with remaining slices of bread.
  3. Cut off crusts. Cut into desired shapes.

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Strawberry Scones with White and Dark Chocolate

Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter into 1/4-inch cubes
  • ½ cup heavy cream plus 1 tablespoon
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter cubes to the flour mixture until it has the consistency of sand.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients, minus 1 tablespoon of heavy cream.
  4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir. Don’t over mix.
  5. Gently fold in the strawberries and white chocolate chips.
  6. Transfer dough to a floured countertop and gently push the dough together with your hands, just until it forms a ball. Flatten the dough into a 1-inch circle, taking care not to overwork the dough. Use a knife to cut the scones into 8 triangles.
  7. Place scones on your prepared baking sheet and place it in the freezer for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove the scones from the freezer. Use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the scones with the additional heavy cream. Sprinkle the scones with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until scones are golden brown on the bottom and around the edges. Let the scones cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
  9. As the scones are cooling, melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler.
  10. Transfer the melted chocolate into a ziplock bag and cut off one corner of the bag.
  11. Immediately drizzle chocolate over the scones.
Strawberry Lemon Gin Fizz: The Perfect Mother’s Day Cocktail

Strawberry Lemon Gin Fizz: The Perfect Mother’s Day Cocktail

strawberry lemon gin fizz, mothers day cocktail

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Is it a multigenerational event in your family or a day devoted to pampering? Is brunch with mimosas and fluffy muffins a given?

As a stepmom and an infertile woman, Mother’s Day is a bit melancholy for me. I love going to Saginaw and celebrating my mom, but I as much as I love being a stepmom, no holiday makes me quite so “other” as Mother’s Day. So I focus on dessert recipes, new spring salads, and gifts.

With that said, I will not be serving this gin fizz to my mom because she’s a Baptist teetotaler. Instead, I will be mudding strawberries with lemonade and ginger ale to make a mocktail for her. However if boozy brunches are a tradition in your family, I encourage you to either make this for mom or send the link to your husband as a not-so-subtle hint. If Mom isn’t a fan of gin, substitute St Germain (elderflower liqueur) for a sweeter, mellower cocktail.

Also, if you are still looking for a present for Mom, check out my Mother’s Day Gift List.

Strawberry Lemon Gin Fizz

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce strawberry puree (see below)
  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce limoncello
  • Sparkling wine for topping

Directions

  1. Mix the first 3 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Pour into a champagne flute or coupe. Top with sparkling wine.

Strawberry puree: Puree 1 cup chopped strawberries and 1 tbsp light agave syrup (or preferred sweetener) in a blender or food processor. Makes enough for several gin fizzes.

2022 New Releases: Thrillers

2022 New Releases: Thrillers

In the earliest days of the pandemic, I had two obsessions. One was my dedication to finally becoming a runner, using the Couch to 5K app. The second was devouring thriller after thriller, ignoring all of the literary books in my To Be Read pile. Now, more than two years later, running isn’t a part of my life, but I still love the distraction of a good thriller, even though I have added more literary books back into my reading routine. (I try not to examine too closely what this reading preference says about me.)

These four books were all released between January 2022 and March 2022. 

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Claire Lake, Oregon may be small, but it’s a hot spot for crime. In 1977, the town was shocked by the Lady Killer Murders, but the police’s only suspect, wealthy heiress Beth Greer, was acquitted. In the late nineties, a child murderer came to town, but Shea Collins was the girl who got away and provided the police with the information to lock up her abductor. In 2017, Shea is a 29-year-old receptionist who also runs a successful true crime blog called the Book of Cold Cases. When Shea encounters Beth at her job, she asks Beth for an interview. To her surprise, Beth, who has a history of denying interview requests, says yes. But Shea is uncertain if Beth has picked her to clear her name, or if she has become a serial killer’s latest prey. I really enjoyed this. The characters were well developed, and the Pacific Northwest small town setting functioned almost as a character itself. There was a paranormal aspect that I didn’t love, as I think the same story could have been told without it, but that’s a minor complaint with an otherwise well-crafted thriller. I think this will be popular with both thriller readers and fans of true crime podcasts.

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Lux needs an escape. She dropped out of college to care for her mother who was battling cancer, and after years of caregiving, she finds all of her peers have moved on without her, completing college, starting careers, while Lux has nothing but medical debt and a string of low paying jobs. When she meets Nico, who has a boat and a dream of sailing the world, Lux leaves her life behind to travel with him. At their first stop in Maui, they learn that Nico’s boat requires expensive repairs, delaying their plans until two college girls arrive with enough money to repair the boat and fund their travels if Nico and Lux take them to Meroe Island. When the four arrive in Meroe Island, an isolated island with a mysterious and violent history, they find a wealthy young couple already there. The six travelers become fast friends, partying with a seemingly endless supply of alcohol, until a seventh person arrives, disturbing their dynamic and bringing old secrets to the surface. Of these four books, Reckless Girls is the most escapist read, a definite beach vacation book. It is more disturbing (on a psychological level) than the average thriller, and it reminded me more of Lord of the Flies and The Beach than it did other 21st century thrillers. Reckless Girls makes a unique contribution to the genre.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham (debut)

When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls from her small Louisiana town went missing. While going through her parents’ closet one day, Chloe found trophies from the missing girls. With this evidence, her father was sent to prison for the crimes. Twenty years later, Chloe is successful on the surface–a psychologist who is engaged to be married–but the few people who know her closely know she is traumatized from the events of her past. As Chloe prepares for her wedding, teenage girls begin to go missing in her new city of Baton Rouge. Like many thrillers these days, this one deals with PTSD and the substance use disorders that frequently go hand in hand with trauma. I feel that drunk/high narrators are becoming a bit cliché in thrillers, but Willingham did an excellent job in conveying Chloe’s trauma and fear. When all of the characters begin to look untrustworthy to Chloe, they also look untrustworthy to the reader, who is also questioning what is real and what is performance. Most mystery readers will be able to work out whodunit, but the story unraveled with enough complexity and surprises that I wasn’t upset that I had worked out the solution, when that’s usually a deal breaker for me. While this is not groundbreaking for the genre, it’s a fun read and a solid debut.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

When Jess loses her job in questionable circumstances, she leaves Brighton for Paris, as her brother Ben is the only person who can help her. But when Jess arrives, she finds her brother is not in his fancy Paris apartment and all of his posh neighbors are very reluctant to talk about him. Foley’s newest release is similar to her earlier works, The Guest List and The Hunting Party, in that there are multiple narrators and revelations are carefully distributed throughout the novel. While the two earlier thrillers had And There Were None vibes with their isolated settings, The Paris Apartment has gothic notes with gritty secrets, ominous architecture, and costume parties crossed with Rear Window voyeurism. The reviews have been very mixed among Foley fans. I was one of the ones who loved it. I was a bit unsure about it in the beginning and was bothered by the unlikeability of the characters, but then as secrets kept being revealed, I grew invested and appreciated the new and grittier direction of her work. I found it to be complex and enjoyable.

2022 Mother’s Day Gift List

2022 Mother’s Day Gift List

This Tatcha Lip Mask is small but mighty. One of my absolute favorite beauty products, and mom will love it too.

A hydrangea for the gardening mom.

The Diamond Eye is a historical novel about a strong mother that will be loved by strong moms everywhere.

Mawby Grace sparkling wine for the rosé all day mom.

A bamboo bathtub tray for the mom who deserves to be pampered.

A floral Ann Taylor top that will make mom feel pretty and ready for spring.

This pretty candle from Target.

A gift set for the tea loving mom.

Peachy hoop earrings from J.Crew.

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: Book Review and Book Club Menu

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn: Book Review and Book Club Menu

The Diamond Eye is a novel about the real life Soviet sniper, Lyudmila (Mila) Pavlichenko. When we first meet Mila, she is in her early twenties, raising her young son with the help of her parents. After a scene where Mila’s estranged husband takes their 5-year-old son without her knowledge and teaches him to shoot a rifle that the boy can barely hold, Mila resolves to learn to shoot a rifle with perfect accuracy and to be both mother and father to her son. It is then that she develops her motto of Don’t Miss.

A few years later, Mila is a fourth year history student working as a researcher in an Odessa library when Hitler invades Ukraine. Not wanting her son to live under a swastika, she enlists as a sniper in the Soviet army where her extensive shooting training comes in handy. Armed with patience, perfectionism, and calm under pressure, Mila earns the nickname Lady Death as she shoots over 300 enemy soldiers. While she is initially underestimated for being a small female, she earns the respect and friendship of the men around her, becomes a leader, and even falls in love.

The focus is mainly on Mila’s evolution as a soldier and on her bonds with her fellow soldiers, rather than on wartime gore, but the devastation of war is not glossed over. At one point, Mila meets a teenage girl who was raped by a group of Nazi soldiers. The girl asks Mila to kill them all, and each day, Mila returns to tell the girl how many Nazi soldiers she killed. In another scene, Mila teams up with an elderly Ukrainian ranger whose entire family had been murdered by Nazis, who then took up residence in his house. She helps him to get his revenge and he teaches her how to get through the woods undetected.

The first two-thirds of the novel take place on the battlefields of Ukraine, but in the final third of the book, we move to the US, where Mila is a part of a Soviet delegation tasked with securing the aid of President Roosevelt. At first, I was a bit disappointed when we moved from Ukraine to the US, but my disappointment did not last long, as this part of the story was as engaging as the war scenes. In the US, we see Mila develop a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, while an American marksman aims to assassinate President Roosevelt and frame Mila. I adored the portrayal of the friendship between the lady sniper and the First Lady. Mila taught herself to be strong, but it is Eleanor Roosevelt who teaches her how to be kind to herself.

The Diamond Eye was my first Kate Quinn novel, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It would be a great book club selection as there is something for everyone: a strong female lead, a love story, well researched history, likable characters, and a page turning story.

Book Club Menu:

  • Cheese Vareniki with Sour Cream (recipe here)
  • Large Green Salad
  • Dessert Board (suggestions below)
  • The Diamond Eye Cocktail (recipe below)
  • The Sniper’s Mocktail (recipe below)

Dessert Board:

Belgian chocolate, confiscated from the enemy, is the favorite luxury of Mila and her friends on the battlefield. Therefore, you should not feel the need to bake an elaborate dessert for your book club. Instead, let a really good chocolate take the center stage in your dessert board. Fill out your board with fruit, cookies, and any other simple sweet treats that you enjoy.

The Diamond Eye 

This is a variation on a white cosmopolitan. Pretty yet strong, it suits Mila perfectly. To be honest, I used white cranberry peach juice here because, well, pandemic grocery shopping. It took me four grocery stores to find any white cranberry juice at all and all of the options were blended. And now that I have documented my struggle, I expect to find white cranberry juice everywhere: the gas station, local diners, hidden in the very back of my own pantry.

As Putin is a monster, this Ukrainian-American urges you to choose a Polish (or American) vodka to make this recipe.

The Diamond Eye

Ingredients

  • Juice from half a lime
  • 1 ½ oz vodka
  • 1 ½ oz St Germain (elderflower liqueur)
  • 2 oz white cranberry juice
  • Sugar for rim

Directions

  1. For the sugar rim, rub the glass rim with the lime half and then roll it in sugar.
  2. In a shaker full of ice, juice the lime half and then combine the remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously.
  3. Pour into glass.

The Sniper’s Mocktail

The Sniper’s Mocktail

Ingredients

  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • 4 oz white cranberry juice
  • 4 oz sparkling water
  • Lime garnish

Directions

In a glass full of ice, combine all ingredients and stir. Garnish with a wedge of lime.