Wednesday, January 8, 2014

10 Favorite Recipes of 2013.

I know everyone is moving on from 2013 lists and looking onwards into the new year and everything at this point, but apparently I just can't let go. There's still a lot of stuff I want to talk about, like pop culture and food. Let's start with food.

I've actually had the idea to make a list of my favorite recipes I made last year since December, to think about which ones I might like to remake in the future. And then when I looked for photos I'd taken of my food last year--something I've always been notorious for doing way too often--I actually couldn't find as many as I thought. So maybe Lesson Number One in doing this is that I actually didn't cook that as many new meals as I thought, or if I did I didn't document them, which has inspired me to GET ON THAT SHIT this year.

1) Spinach Feta Grilled Cheese: I almost never make more lunch-ish recipes like sandwiches or salads or basically anything that isn't a hearty casserole-ish dish that will produce leftovers. Because I'm A) lazy and B) poor, and it seems like all the work and ingredients that go into these simpler things isn't worth it. But I want to get better at some of the things I used to shy away from this year. Because these grilled cheeses were excellent. These types of things often also photograph WAY PRETTIER. Which has NOTHING to do with my desire to do more of it.

2) Apple Chicken Chili: Creamy, sweet and savory. Comfort food like whoa.

3) Chorizo Sweet Potato Chili: This seems like my greatest accomplishment this year, since I took this to a chili cook-off and WON, which was funny because it took hardly any time to make at all. I also substituted yams for the sweet potato because I couldn't find any good sweet potatoes at the store, and I feel like people looked at my "yam and chorizo" label next to my pot at the cook-off, next to all the other normalish chilis and were like, uhh, whut. Anyway, I feel like I've said this before somewhere, but the key really is to GET GOOD CHORIZO. Chorizo from the deli at New Seasons is the shit.

4) Chili Cornbread Skillet: 1) I didn't actually make this in a skillet because I don't own a skillet. I have learned that cooking is a never-ending list of new things you have to buy. IT'S ALL A ROUSE, I TELL YOU. Anyway, I baked this basically just like a casserole and it worked just fine. 2) I had a similar recipe to this I used to make that basically just combined a bunch of beans and cornbread and cheese, and it was always good because all those ingredients are good but it was always a little dry. Anyway, this recipe is a hundred percent better. That was a boring story, wasn't it. 3) This also marked the first time I actually made cornbread from scratch, as opposed to just making a box of Jiffy, and I think I did a pretty good job.

5) Corn and Bacon Pie: Corn and bacon pie. Duh. This was also one of the first times I made my own crust. I did a semi-decent job, emphasis on semi.

6) Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls: I bought a Crockpot this year and was real excited about it, but I have to say that most of the things I made in it were sort of disappointments. I clearly haven't found my slow cooker mojo yet--cooking in it can make things super tender, but it can also seep a lot of the flavor out. This recipe though was the best one by far. Probably because you can never go wrong with a recipe that includes the words "sweet chili."

7) BBQ Black Bean Pizzas: So simple but so good because BARBECUE SAUCE.

8) Curried Sweet Potato Quesadillas: I had some great times with sweet potatoes this fall, including these quesadillas. Thanks for the good times, sweet potatoes.

9) Mac & Cheese Shepherd's Pie: This is one of my new favorites that I've made twice this year since discovering it in the fall. I mean, mac and cheese + barbecue sauce = OKAY! This may or may not just be a fancy Hamburger Helper, but whatevs.

10) Mole Chicken + Sweet Potatoes: This was my first slow cooker recipe I tried, and to be honest, the chicken didn't actually taste that mole-ish: I would've added a lot more chocolate and spice, and wish the sauce was thicker. But it still tasted good, and what really made it good was the combo with the sweet potatoes, which I added some brown sugar to. A satisfying hearty meal, and being that it's probably the only recipe on here that didn't include wheat/flour or cheese, probably the healthiest one, too.

All right, so here we go, Jill: Cook more! Take more pictures of it! Learn new fancy cooking words and ingredients! Write more about eating! EAT!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Reading Recap 2013.

As I did last year, I'm going to post my stats from 2012 in italics next to the numbers for 2013, just for my own extremely nerdy comparison purposes!

Total Books Read: (54) 72. Although Goodreads originally had my count for 2013 at 58. And then halfway into doing this reading recap, I realized that a bunch of my books didn't have the "date read" set to anything, which is why it looked like I hardly ready any more books than last year, and why it also looked like I hadn't met my Goodreads 2013 Reading Goal when I TOTALLY HAD. My numbers from 2012 are probably likewise off, making most of these comparisons meaningless. I think this is a phenomenon that happens when I add books on my phone, because the Goodreads app is the worst. UGH. #GOODREADSPROBLEMS, am I right?

Within Those Books:

- Children's or Young Adult Fiction: (34) 46.

- Picture Books: (0) 0 :( :( :(

- Queer Lit (YA or adult): (30) 34. Getting more and more gay each year!

- "Adult" Books: (10) 26. Becoming ever-increasingly adult through the influences of Book Riot and running the AfterEllen book club. Although I mean, considering I still read 20 more kid/teen novels, clearly I'm not TOO MUCH of an adult. Thank God.

- Graphic Novels (YA or adult): (11) 14. Still want this number to be higher. Official goal for next year: 20 graphic novels!

- "Classics": (2) 3. Although one (A Christmas Carol) was a read-aloud with a group, and the two others are queer lit classics that I'm counting, although I'm sure they're not included in the hetero world's canon (The Price of Salt and Stone Butch Blues). Unsure about whether I should include Strangers in Paradise too, as both a queer classic and also a graphic novel classic, although I only read the measly first volume anyway. The point is, I need to read more classics, and the second point is, the whole "classics" title is problematic.

- Nonfiction (YA or adult): (5) 9. Still want this number to be higher, too.

And I'm adding a new category this year because I want to:

- Poetry: 2.

Some Highlights:

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. DUH.

Bomb, Steve Sheinkin. This is youth nonfiction, a category which is almost always awesome and also extremely overlooked. But whether it's written for youth or not, I was totally enraptured by this entire story. I wanted to talk about it for weeks. Worthy of those gazillion awards adorning its cover.

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell. This book wound its way into the most sacred of my Warmest, Happiest, Most Romantic heart parts, and it did it almost from the first page.

Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo. I got totally wrapped into this world, dark and enchanting. Can't wait for the conclusion. I have lots of Feelings about the Darkling.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki. No other novel this year made me laugh so much--the first line is "Hi!"--while being so heartbreaking at the same time. While I found Nao's story more engaging, I also loved the atmosphere of Ruth's British Columbian island town. The quantum physics stuff went straight over my head, but overall, just really lovely.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Without a doubt, my favorite queer YA read of my year. Fantastic.

The Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan. This was the year I became obsessed with Rick Riordan books again, an obsession I am totally proud of. And that has also helped me answer many a trivia question about Greek and Roman gods.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz. Oh, OK, so when I just said a second ago that Beautiful Music was "without a doubt" my favorite queer YA read of the year, I guess my doubts are more fickle than I anticipated, because I also really, really, really loved this one. Quiet and beautiful.

The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan. J. Courtney Sullivan is a characters master. I love characters masters. (Supposedly Reese Witherspoon has picked up the movie rights to this? We'll see.)

Bird and Squirrel, James Burks. Lolz, my favorite kids book I read this year. Bird and Squirrel are amazing.

Drama, Raina Telgemeier. I am a sucker for stories about middle school/high school stage crew anyway, and then Raina Telgemeier goes ahead and makes it 100% adorable while also being way inclusive. Thumbs up.

Rapture Practice, Aaron Hartzler. A really well done memoir written for youth, a category I've rarely read before. The best part of it is that it shows a view of people who are so easy to hate, and their evil deeds aren't hidden, but they're examined the way a son can examine them: with empathy and love.

Proxy, Alex London. This was the best dystopian YA I've read since Hunger Games or Divergent, yet I feel like hardly anyone talked about it. On top of a non-stop action-filled plot, the main character is queer AND a person of color. Read Proxy, people!

Other thoughts:

Overall, while this was a great reading year, it also feels like I inadvertently had a very white reading year. A Tale for the Time Being is the one book that stands out as focusing on a culture that was different from my own, along with Aristotle and Dante and Proxy. A lot of the books I read had a culturally diverse cast (the Rick Riordan books, Drama, and Park Sheridan, of course), but, I dunno. I want to make it a point to read more books written by and about people of color this year, including YA and adult.

Another goal for 2014: read more of the books that are actually already on my shelves, in addition to being more up on current releases.

*rolls up sleeves* *jumps into piles of books**swims*

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Writing Log: December.

December wasn't necessarily the most productive writing month of my life, but I'm telling myself it's okay because I actually spent a good portion of the month teaching in middle school classrooms, much of which was unexpected and stressful and I may have cried a little and was tired a lot. So just the fact that I kept up with my TV recaps for AfterEllen (although just barely) felt like a triumph. 

Writing the recaps during that time also felt like falling back into how writing often used to feel: a pleasant escape, a way to get swallowed up in my own brain again when my brain was normally too busy being swallowed up by the world. In other words, it was a nice reminder that even when the real world is getting me down, writing can still bring me back to me. Even if it's just recapping what happened in a TV show.

So, those recaps: 

The Good Wife: 5.10.
Generation Cryo: 1.21.3, 1.41.5.
Last Tango in Halifax:

The last Last Tango recap has close to 100 comments on it now, which is maybe the most I've ever gotten on a recap. Which, admittedly, has 99% to do with the fact that it's a good show, while being only 1% related to me, but, still, it's fun.

I also got back in the swing of things with the AE book club, and wrote a 2013 Lesbian/Queer Books Year in Review.

At the Riots:

Another pathetic month at the Riots for me. The only thing I wrote for Food Riot was a review of what was in my fridge, which I wrote when I was hilariously exhausted and my fridge was hilariously empty. But this hasn't actually posted yet, so my presence as a food writer this month was pretty nonexistent.

And the only thing I wrote for Book Riot was a Harry Potter Holiday Gift Guide. Which was amazing for obvious reasons. But still. I didn't even participate in their massive and impressive Best Books of the Year post, because we couldn't do repeats, and any book I read and loved that was released in 2013 was already nabbed by somebody else. Working for them has definitely inspired me to read MOAR and also to READ MOAR NEW BOOKS. We'll see how that works out for me in 2014.

However, my article about bookstores in strange places--Boats, Trains, and Barns, specifically--got re-run for the Best of Book Riot, which they do during holidays, and it tickles my fancy to have something I wrote be chosen for it. And a lot of people passed it around in the Twitterverse, which also makes me happy.

Oh, oh, and I DID do a SUPER NERDY thing with other Rioters, although it didn't involve writing anything, but it DID involve reading portions of A Christmas Carol out loud via Google Hangout while downing three Bud Light Cranberritas. Although the close placement and angle of my laptop to my face along with my rather poor living room lighting situation makes this an extremely unfortunate event to be available on the Internet, probably.

Group posts:

I don't know if I even participated in many AE huddles other than the one about our 2014 resolutions, my participation in which was like a line long and full of pretty generic things, but I still think it's a good sentence full of good things.

Other writing:

Not a lot. Didn't write in here at all, which is disappointing, and didn't write much elsewhere or otherwise. Overall, looking back at November, my December was somewhat pathetic. And in end-of-the-year roundup news, I only updated this blog 34 times in 2013, the least I ever have since its inception.

But who cares? December is a too-fast, often too-hard month, always, as much as it can also be a so-happy month. It's January now--month of being inspired and getting off butts and making shit happen. Right? RIGHT!

*shouts motivating messages to self, twirls hands in the air, runs off into distance through field of writing dreams*

Some Top Moments of 2013.

1) Seeing Michael Chabon & Sherman Alexie at the Search for Meaning Book Festival in Seattle. This is a festival I never would have attended otherwise, but it ended up being so wonderful and inspiring and heartwarming. I would go back each year if I could. I also love both of these men so, so much and together they were just a dream. And going to Seattle anytime to see Ashley and Jennie is also a dream. Shopping, eating Mexican food, getting Indian food delivery, and then there was also that time that we watched the Duke-UNC game at a gay sports bar. Yes yes yes. Going up later in the year for the MS Walk was also a great, if more somber, occasion.

2) Taking Toby to the beach for the last time. When Manda visited in January, Toby was already on his downward decline, but he tagged along for a day trip to the coast, and seemed more alert and happy than he had in a while. I like to think this, along with getting to eat a cheeseburger during his last week, made his last few months on earth better.

3) Starting to go to trivia at Cruzroom in addition to Bare Bones. Although our schedule has been so crazy lately that it's rare we actually go to both nights each week, we started going to trivia on Tuesday nights with Becky in addition to our old standard from last year, Bare Bones on Thursdays with Erica and Paul. Because we are obsessed, severely dorky people. Anyway, Becky is hilarious and Cruzroom has amazing hipster tacos, and it makes us get to Alberta more often, which is really nice. And this is probably a supremely uninteresting paragraph to anyone but me.

4) JP. We knew from the moment we saw her at the Humane Society that she was the one. While there are obviously many differences between her and Toby, and some things we're still getting used to and working on with her, she has been on runs and hikes with me, walked down the street to get breakfast with us, gone to Pride with us, and kept me company while I worked from home for a large portion of the year. I love her.

5) Hiking at Silver Falls State Park with both my mom and dad. I went on the same hike twice at different parts of the year, once with my mom and then with my dad, and both times were some of the happiest hours I've ever spent in the woods, and I felt grateful that I got to enjoy it with each of them. I hope to return to this place many more times. It is magical.

6) BABIES. Felt so fortunate to be with Beesie Tiede on her 1st birthday and to FaceTime with Evan Guccini for his, and to meet little Desi Lewis and Kate Trout and, right at the end of the year, Hudson Tiede. BABIES!

7) Connecticut and New York trip. We ate New Haven pizza, saw dinosaurs, played with beluga whales, went to a bookstore in a barn, ate ice cream, went bowling, ate breakfast in Harlem, saw Wicked on Broadway with my mom, and ate lots of Shake Shack. The perfect vacation.

8) University of Portland soccer and the Dahlia Festival when Kathy's parents visited. Women's sports, snow cones, and flowers the size of your head! Among many other fun things that week.

9) Boston for Ave's 60th Birthday. My mom bought tickets for us to come to Boston this summer for my aunt's 60th birthday, which was amazing. We got to hang with family and friends and walk around all my favorite spots of nostalgia, including dinner in the North End and brunch at Zaftig's and a last lunch at Anna's. There also may have been some Whitney dance-athons.

10) The coast for our one year wedding anniversary, and Leavenworth, Washington for my birthday. Both were weird and hilarious and amazing in their own ways, as trips with Kathy always are. Trips with Kathy are my very favorite things.

11) Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. The first holiday I've spent in my hometown in a long time, and some of the most time we've ever gotten to spend with my nephew, including an epic game of bowling, along with some hanging in Philly with Sara and Dave.

12) Manda moving to Portland. One of our bestest friends, Manda & her wonderful cat Georgia moved to Portland this fall from Connecticut. She's already inspired us to do lots of new things we hadn't done before, including hanging out at the superb and trashy bar across the street. And I know she hates picture of herself being on the Internet, so I'll include just one.

Other fun and happy things:
- Cheering the Portland Thorns champion lady soccer stars home
- Coffee dates with Scott and Kelly at Bipartisan Cafe
- Seeing Ivan Coyote at the Reed Chapel
- Hiking and eating with Evan this summer when they visited
- Meeting Kathy's Aunt Kathy and Blaine for the first time, simultaneously eating a Killer Burger for the first time, both fantastic experiences
- Hikes on Powell Butte
- Getting drunk for free at Kathy's work parties; getting to know her amazing co-workers better
- Karaoke at Chopsticks III
- Literally watching TV and drinking all day in Eugene for Arrested Development
- Watching Kim paddle around a lake in a giant pumpkin
- Hiking on Mt. Hood with Kathy and JP
- Spending a lot of time with Kathy's family in Michigan, even if it was for a sad reason
- Another merry and successful Christmas in Portland.

And there was a lot of other stuff, but these are the main super-fantastic things. Thanks, 2013, and everyone who helped make all the super-fantastic happen. Bring it, 2014.