I finally finished Lonesome Dove in February!

If Goodreads is to be believed, it took me a solid month to read. It’s been quite some time since a book took me that long, even given that I work full time. I have GREAT reading time on my train rides to and from work, which is how I usually manage still to fly through books. Some part of it is that I read a trade paperback copy that was so thick and hard to hold. (I know, first world problems.) So I found myself not wanting to pick it up. It was a relief to get back to my Kindle after that one.

I can sort of see why it won a Pulitzer Prize, but it won’t be making the short list of my favorite books. Upon reflection, I like some of the characters better than I did when I was in the trenches.

Lizzy and Jane was February’s book club pick. Reviews were quite mixed! It was decidedly fluff-y, which usually doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I poked some holes in this one. We had one member who agreed with me and had some harsh criticisms, but another who pretty much loved it (although we all admitted there was nothing life-changing about it). I don’t think any of us are rushing out to read Reay’s other novel, Dear Mr Knightly.

The Paying Guests was a recommendation by my pal Meredith, and my hold on the ebook came in sooner than I expected. One thing about aut0-checkout on library holds is that sometimes you end up with a book at a less-than-ideal time! I put it off until I finished Lonesome Dove, out of fear that if I paused on it I’d never come back. This book was NOT what I expected! Definitely a bit darker. Dealt with some very interesting themes. I won’t say more so as not to give anything away.

I heard Austin Kleon speak at a conference back in September and relly enjoyed his talk, which is what prompted me to ask for Steal Like an Artist for Christmas. It’s a quick read, as it’s essentially a listical but written out in book form with some fun embellishment. I read the entire thing on a plane ride to Austin, TX (which, oddly enough is where Austin Kleon lives). If you think of yourself as creative at all, or if you want to, I’d definitely recommend it. There’s a journal that corresponds to the book, and, now that I know the premise, I’d really like to try it out. My main takeaway is that creativity, in whatever form you choose, is acceptable just for its own sake! I’d love the journal prompts to help me get/keep those juices flowing.

I wrapped up the month with a dear old Nicholas Sparks. In fact, I started it on the plane ride home from Austin….and then ended up staying up until 12:30 that night after we got home to finish it. Whoops. So technically I finished it on March 1, but I’m calling it February. This was far from my favorite Nicholas Sparks. He occasionally attempts to write romantic thrillers, of which this was one, and I don’t think he does it as well as he does straight romance. I figured out the whodunnit twist pages and pages before the characters did and kept thinking, “DUH!” Yet evidently I enjoyed it well enough to stay up far too late finishing it. We chatted at book club last night that sometimes you can objectively admit that a book is bad (poorly written, stilted dialogue, shallow characters, etc.) while still finding it fun to read. This one fell into that category for me.

Did you read any winners in February?

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Way back when I posted that I had made a delicious Whole 30 dinner of zoodle ramen and I promised you the recipe. I made it again last night and took better pictures, so if you’re planning this week’s meals and want a low-carb comfort food, you’re in luck!

I used a couple of ingredients that are not Whole 30 compliant, but you can easily make some tweaks from this as it’s written to make it so. In fact, even if you’re not doing a Whole 30, this recipe is super customizable to include your favorite flavors.

INGREDIENTS
Serves 2

  • 3-4 thin, boneless pork chops (sometimes sold as “Breakfast Pork Chops”)
  • 4 cups of broth (any flavor) or 4 cups water + 4 tsp Better Than Bouillon paste
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 8 oz mushrooms (button, baby bella, or whatever strikes your fancy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Black Bean Garlic paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, or other umami flavor of your choice
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Wash your mushrooms and zuchinni and go ahead and do your mise en place: chop the mushrooms and spiralize your zoodles. (Everything cooks up fast once you get started.)

Zoodles Up Close

Zoodle Mise en Place

Start hard-boiling your eggs. I followed this tutorial wherein you actually steam the eggs. I’ve done it twice now and I love it. Make sure you do put them into an ice bath at the end, though. Last night we didn’t have any ice in our ice maker, so I could only do cold water, and they definitely cooked a bit more than I would have liked.

Steamed Eggs

While the eggs are cooking, sprinkle both sides of your pork chops with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a dutch oven and sear the chops.

Searing Pork Chops

Flip them after 2-3 minutes and let cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. The chops should be up to temperature right around when your timer is going off for the eggs (if not even sooner).

Take your eggs out of the steamer basket and place into an ice bath to stop them cooking and to cool them enough for you to peel in a few minutes. Remove the pork from the Dutch oven and set aside.

Add your water or broth to the same Dutch oven. Whisk in two healthy spoonfuls of Black Bean Garlic paste or your flavoring of choice, scraping up the yummy browned bits from the seared pork.

Once it comes to a boil, drop in the mushrooms and set a timer for 5 minutes. With 3 minutes remaining, add the zoodles.

Zoodle Broth

Slice up the pork you set aside earlier into thin slices, against its grain.

Pork Slices

Once the veggies are softened, use tongs to divide the zoodles evenly between two bowls. Ladle broth and mushrooms over them, and layer half of the pork slices on top. Peel your soft-boiled eggs (carefully, so as not to break the yolks!) and drop one into each bowl.

Voila!

Zoodle Ramen

I served with pre-packaged frozen dumplings on the side (yum!), but you could go healthier and serve with steamed edamame, seaweed salad from the grocery store sushi bar, etc. The options here are endless! You could use shrimp instead of the pork chops. You could toss in shredded carrots instead of, or in addition to, the mushrooms. You could spice it up with some srirachi. Whatever you choose, this hearty and healthy bowl is hard to mess up.

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The beginning of January feels like so long ago! I’ve had my mind on the Whole 30, plus the usual whirlwind of settling back into work after the holidays and mentally preparing for a new year.

I did do some reading, though! The first weekend of the year was the tail end of my vacation, and my reading proves it.

I won’t even dignify these with a rating or much of a recap. They were enjoyable and helped me through the first blah weekend of my Whole 30. I think why this quartet particularly captivated me was because of the female friendships in them, not just the romance (though that was more than acceptable). Roberts created this amazing little world of four close friends, who then all conveniently fell in love with men who are friends, and they all live together on an estate and work together and it’s not believable, really, but it was good.

This was another sweet read (no pun intended), although also full of improbable coincidences, like the number of attractive men who populate the desolate fishing village. Evidently there’s a sequel coming out in March, and I’m sure I’ll dive into that one, too.

I started reading this book at about 9PM one Sunday night when I thought, “I’ll get in bed to read for a bit and then go to sleep early.” NOPE. I blazed through 40% of the book that night because I was so engrossed in the story. It terrified and fascinated me. I kept thinking, “What if this happened to me? Who would notice? Who would I be if my life changed this dramatically?” The last third or so of the book was less engrossing and felt more like an infomercial, but I can understand why Cahalan took that route. She had a platform in the form of her book and I can’t blame her for using it. This was a book club read, and I intended it to also be “a book with a main character that has a mental illness” for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge, but, it’s really not about mental illness, so I guess I’ll keep searching on that front.

I’m currently reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, which will be both “a book over 500 pages long” (though I have other choices there, too) and “a book originally published in the decade you were born” for the reading challenge.

It’s good, but so far I don’t see what all the fuss is necessarily about. I think I like John Jakes’ Heaven and Hell series more in the “big book” category. But I’m “only” 512 pages into the 943 behemoth, so that could change. Oh, and how’s this for a first world problem? Part of why it’s taken me so long to read Lonesome Dove is that my copy is a big fat paperback that, until I made it halfway, was too hard to hold open, so I kept finding excuses not to read it! Like, I couldn’t read it while eating or standing up on the train because I needed both hands on the book. Anyway, it stays open better now that I’m in the middle, so I’ve been picking it up more frequently.

Full report on it next month, I’m sure.