Friday Five (Favorite Recent Reads)

I love reading and have been working hard to carve out time for it! I’m going to try to recap my recent reads more frequently over the coming year. Interested in past book review posts? Check out my favorite reads of 2016

 

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

I got hooked on this book after randomly buying it in a Chicago airport. I devoured it and the two sequels in no time. These are easy, engaging reads giving you a glimpse into the world of Asia’s uber rich and their antics. The fashion, the wild escapades, the private jets – these books were super fun. They also made me really want all varieties of Asian food – the descriptions of everything from Singapore street food to Malaysian delicacies had me drooling!

American Housewife Stories by Helen Ellis

Meet the women of American Housewife. They wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies from the oven. 

Taking us from a haunted pre-war Manhattan apartment building to the unique initiation ritual of a book club, these twelve delightfully demented stories are a refreshing and wicked answer to the question: “What do housewives do all day?”

I normally don’t care for short stories so I probably wouldn’t have booked up this book (or downloaded it to my kindle as it were), but it was this months book club pick and I ended up really enjoying it. These twisted stories were all linked in theme as they centered loosely around “housewives” though that term was mostly used ironically. I enjoyed the variation in length and levity of the stories and my favorite was “Dumpster Diving with the Stars.”

Retrograde by Kat Hausler

On a warm summer day in Berlin, Helena is hit by a truck while crossing the street. She awakens to the loving face of her husband Joachim. In addition to a few broken bones, she realizes she can’t remember anything about the accident, or even the last few years leading up to it. Retrograde amnesia the doctors call it, and assure her that with time, she should regain her memory.

At loose ends after another botched relationship, Joachim doesn’t intend to lie to his estranged wife, Helena. But when he realizes that she doesn’t remember their separation, he can’t bring himself to tell her. So he does what any rational man would do: he takes her home and pretends they were never apart.

As the lies accumulate, Helena senses something isn’t quite right―that her husband is hiding something. When the outside world encroaches, Helena must face an unsettling truth and decide what the past will mean for their future. Is the past binding, or can she go back and change what went wrong in their relationship? And if given the chance, would she even want to?

I’m a little biased because this book was written by one of my best friends, but it was also objectively good! 🙂 Retrograde is a haunting, realistic portrayal of a second-chance relationship. As the book unfolds, you understand the conflicting motivations of the main characters and how they handle an opportunity to fix the past and re-write their story.

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Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow them. But apart, each is dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage, and Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, holds out hope for lasting love. In this wise, witty, and hilarious novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year as they deal with sibling rivalry and secrets, revelations and relationships, unfaithful husbands and unthinkable decisions, and the fabulous, frustrating life of forever being part of a trio.

I love Liane Moriarty’s books and this one did not disappoint. Her character development is great and I always feel like I’d want to be friends with at least one if not many of the characters. I also appreciate how her books usually have interesting twists and almost always neatly wrap up everything at the end. I enjoy a good resolution! If you watched Big Little Lies on HBO last summer, I highly recommend you start there and then read the rest of Liane’s catalog.

Dead Certain by Adam Mitzner

By day, Ella works as a buttoned-up attorney on some of the city’s most grueling cases. By night, she pursues her passion for singing in the darkest clubs of Manhattan.

No one knows her secret, not even Charlotte, the younger sister she practically raised. But it seems she’s not the only one in the family with something to hide. When Charlotte announces she’s sold her first novel, Ella couldn’t be more thrilled…until she gets a call that her sister’s gone missing.

Ella starts investigating with the help of Detective Gabriel Velasquez, an old flame in the NYPD, and what she finds is shocking. If art imitates life, then her sister’s novel may contain details of her real-life affairs. And any one of her lovers could be involved in her disappearance.

Desperate to bring Charlotte home, Ella works through her list of suspects, matching fictitious characters with flesh-and-blood men. But will it be too late to save the sister she only thought she knew?

This was a free Amazon First Book that I downloaded to my kindle (and it’s currently free with kindle unlimited if you have that). I went through a brief period of reading suspense/mystery books after we read Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris for book club. That book scared the BEJEEZUS out of me so this one seemed much more mild in comparison. It was full of suspense and intrigue as the main character struggles to find out what happened to her sister of a mysterious disappearance. I feel like this book has one major flaw that doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t take away from the story (no spoilers so I can’t go into it here…).

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations? 

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Weekend Recap (Shamrock 5k)

My big takeaway from this weekend is: I am so ready for warmer weather! Getting the baby all bundled and ready to go out with socks, shoes, and jacket is such a production. I cannot wait for the days where we can just hop outside whenever the mood strikes us. Especially since Maya loves to spot airplanes and every time we hear one overhead she points out the window and says “airpa”!

Aside from spending plenty of time bundling up to leave the house, we did do a few fun things! Saturday morning Maya and I did our grocery shopping before nap time. After nap we went to gymboree for class. Maya clapped along to the songs, played with balls and bubbles, and explored all of the fun stations they had set up for the little ones.

Saturday night, we went out for an early dinner at Clyde’s. They have a surprisingly awesome kids menu so Maya dined on sautéed cod with broccoli and tater tots while I had a Caesar salad with shrimp. The food was good but the highlight of the meal was my guava margarita. It was so nice and refreshing!

Sunday morning we slept in a little bit – thanks daylight savings! – then met a friend for coffee at Mankira Coffee. We had the place mostly to ourselves which was awesome for Maya who enjoyed toddling around the place in between bites of egg, toast and avocado. We sipped pretty lattes and spent a couple hours catching up. It was great!

Sunday afternoon we left Maya with the grandparents and drove into the city for the Shamrock 5k. Jeanette and I ran this race in 2016 and I was excited to run it again. If you’re a casual runner and looking for a good race then I highly recommend this one. It’s a festive atmosphere because it’s run along the route for Baltimore’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and all of the people posted up to watch the parade cheer for the runners. It also starts with an awesome downhill stretch which makes it a pretty fast course. Even though I didn’t feel like I ran particularly well, it was still one of my faster times. Plus this year they gave out race medals for the first time. You know you want that sweet shamrock bling! 😉 After the race we were ready for some lunch and got sandwiches at 101 Deli. Adam got his with roasted Brussels sprouts that were really tasty!

I wrapped up the weekend by seeing A Wrinkle in Time which was awesome. The Reese/Mindy/Oprah trifecta have been hyping this movie A LOT but I think it lives up to it. For fans of the book, it stayed true to the story but having read the book isn’t necessary to understand the movie. I was most enamored with the outfits of the Misses (can I get that Mrs. Whatsit dress please?) and the acting of the little boy who played Charles Wallace.

All in all it was a busy and fun weekend. What were you up to? Have you seen A Wrinkle in Time?

2017 Year In Review

Okay so it’s mid-February March but I am still cruising along with 2017 recaps! Posting a 2017 year in review mostly so I have a record of the crazy roller coaster of Maya’s first year. Jumping into it….

January

Waiting and waiting and a beautiful baby shower and then more waiting and then…Maya was born! It’s hard to even describe the emotions of having a baby. Sheer exhaustion and happiness and anxiety all at once. Labor was of course painful and exhausting and almost 24 hours and then, Maya was born via C-section just before midnight. We were so excited that Maya shared a birthday with Adam’s grandmother and that she was born on the day of the historic Women’s Marches that took place around the world.

 

February

Maya celebrated her first Valentine’s Day and Adam and I attempted a quick date night with the baby. We went to Brendali for an early dinner and successfully made it through salads and bread before baby started fussing. We changed our pasta order to go and enjoyed the rest of dinner at home. Maya and I also joined my girl friends for our annual Oscars viewing party.

 

March

March was a tough month, probably the toughest of my life. Baby Maya was sick and it took several hospital visits to get a diagnosis. During our third hospital visit they decided to put a central line and a feeding tube in to give her little GI system a rest. We lived in the hospital for three weeks while they tested Maya for everything under the sun. On March 29, Adam and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary in the hospital with carry out from the Rusty Scupper and a cake delivered by my in-laws.

 

April

Thank god the feeding tube/central line gave her system time to repair and Maya was able to successfully digest Elecare, a hypoallergenic amino acid based formula and start to put weight back on. They ultimately diagnosed a milk protein allergy, probably complicated by a virus. On April 11, our new niece was born in DC and Maya was finally released from the hospital! Greatest day ever! Once Maya was out of the hospital, we had an anniversary re-do with dinner at Rasika in DC. The food was all incredible but the stand out by far was the cod.

May

In May I went back to work and adjusted to my new working mom routine. Maya and I also did a mommy-and-me class at the Downtown Baltimore JCC which was a blast. It was great for Maya to be around other babies (and for me to meet other moms!). Another May highlight was the Spirit of Baltimore brunch cruise we did to celebrate Jeanette’s 30th birthday! We had a blast with a buffet lunch, unlimited drinks and a fun DJ. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate with something a little different. Also in May, Maya went to her first Orioles game, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day and we had Maya’s baby naming. Toward the end of the month, I flew to Chicago for the wedding of two good friends and former co-workers.

 

June

June was a big month because we bought a house! After several weeks of searching we found a great house in Columbia. As much as we love the city, it was time for life in the ‘burbs! But first we spent the month of June soaking up as much of city life as we could with an infant. Maya had her first swim in the pool at the Royal Sonesta (where I belonged to the gym for the last few years), we went to a birthday at Johnny Rad’s, we took long walks to Federal Hill park and took Maya to Mother Goose story time at the Pratt Street Library. Adam and I also enjoyed a night out at the Science Center’s Summer Solstice celebration. I also spent a couple nights in Chicago for work and went to my first White Sox game.

 

July

We moved the last weekend in June and spent July getting settled into our new home. I think the move and adjusting to suburban life has been softened by the fact that I still work in the city and am up there at least four times a week. Also in July, my aunt visited from South Carolina so we took the family to Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard for a wine tasting and picnic. It was the perfect activity to do with a little one. I look forward to more winery days this coming spring! Adam and I also had a date night at La Cuchara. We thought our drinks and starters were delicious but were less impressed by the entrees. Maya started crawling this month and we joined Gymboree so she would have a place to explore and interact with other little ones. We also did “Breakfast with the Penguins” at the Maryland Zoo which was a blast!

 

August

In August, I went to North Carolina for work for the PGA Championship and got to meet up with my cousins! The next week, my dad came up to visit and meet Maya. We went to lunch at Himalayan Bistro in Fed Hill and took Maya to Port Discovery which she loved. We also traveled to Pennsylvania for an engagement party. Maya did not love the car ride but we all enjoyed spending time with family and celebrating Anna and Jason.

 

September

September was BUSY. The month started out with the wedding of Zach and Chelsea and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The weather was perfect for the ceremony on the water! The next week was spent at Bethany Beach with Adam’s family. We had so much fun soaking up some sun and surf and watching Maya explore the new surroundings. Safe to say we are all big fans of family vacation. Mid-month I took my mom to Petite Louis in Columbia to celebrate her birthday and enjoyed a champagne cocktail and a delicious ratatouille with shrimp. The next week Adam and I were off to London! We planned a long weekend away to attend the Ravens game and celebrate my 30th birthday. We left Maya in the loving care of the grandparents and had an amazing trip. We stayed in Paddington and enjoyed long walks through Hyde Park, exploring Portobello Road Market and one of the best meals of my life. I think I need to dedicate an entire post to our London trip. I need to capture the lows of the trip as well…the Ravens got CRUSHED by the Jaguars and I was hit with an AWFUL stomach flu about an hour into our flight home. Imagine the worst stomach flu or food poisoning you’ve ever had, now imagine it trapped on an airplane for the next six hours. It was…rough. To make matters worse, it was my actual birthday. I think next year I need a redo! Two more quick September highlights: seeing Bruno Mars (who was incredible!!) at the Verizon Center and a zoo day with my bffs.

 

October

October kicked off with a baby shower for my cousin Sarah at Black Wall Hitch in Old Town Alexandria. The rest of the month was full of falltivities – We took Maya to the Renaissance Festival, a pumpkin patch and a Gymboree Halloween party. We spent a day in DC at the Air and Space Museum with friends followed by a visit to the new Wharf on the SW waterfront and then headed back up to Baltimore for a distillery tour at Sagamore Spirit and a drink on the water. This is one of my new favorite spots in the city thanks to the gorgeous views and the parking lot- no fun driving around looking for parking when baby is ready to get out of the car. We also brought Maya to campus for the first time for a UMD football tailgate. She looked extra adorable in her Maryland Cheerleader gear. Maya was too small to trick or treat but we dressed up in Beauty and the Beast costumes as a family!

 

November

Adam’s birthday month! We did a birthday dinner at Peter’s Inn (which recently had a fire but is planning on reopening!). We started with the tuna appetizer which was delicious and then Adam had steak and I had scallops with squash risotto – yum. We also did a day date in DC with some shopping at Trunk Club and lunch at Jaleo. We got the potatas bravas (obvs) and some new to me dishes that did not disappoint! We went to a couple of friendsgivings this year and for Thanksgiving made the drive down to South Carolina to spend the holiday with my mom’s family. The trip was definitely tough with a baby and a dog and we ended up breaking up the drive and spending a night on the road on both ends of the trip. It was worth it though for the fabulous food and quality time with my extended family.

 

December

December was extra festive this year with our little girl!. Work highlights included a lunch at Rec Pier Chophouse at the new Pendry hotel, a trip to Philadelphia for a Flyers game and a day trip to a Bulls game in Chicago. We hosted a Hanukkah get together with friends and celebrated with family. On Christmas Eve we came into the city for an early dinner at Brendali. Christmas Day we wore matching pajamas and went to a family friends’ for an early dinner. Between Christmas and New Years we squeezed in a quick trip to NYC and made it back in time to attend the Ravens game on New Years Eve (a painful loss that knocked us out of the playoffs).

 

And yes, for those keeping score, I’m sorry, we’re not so young and we’re not so Baltimore anymore though Jeanette, my silent blog partner, does still live there. I thought about changing the name but eh, most of the content will still be about Baltimore(area) things and we’re still young(ish), right? Jay-Z told me that 30’s the new 20 and he doesn’t lie.

Weekend Recap: Gymboree and Bakery

We had a weekend that was simultaneously relaxing and productive with just the right about of plans. We shifted Maya’s bedtime back about thirty minutes so now we have an early dinner together as a family every night before she goes to sleep. She is still sleeping about 7:30pm-7:30am which is incredible but has me feeling very nervous about how that will be affected my daylight savings time next week. Any suggestions on how to handle? I’ve heard it can really mess with toddler sleep!

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Friday night I picked up Peruvian chicken on my way home from work. The chicken was super juicy and Maya loved it. She is really into proteins: chicken, salmon, pulled pork etc. She rounded out her meal with rice & beans and broccoli and we had yucca fries as well.

Saturday morning we took another family trip to Wegmans and got our shopping done for the week. After Maya’s morning nap we went to class at Gymboree and picked up some things at Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Maya LOVES Gymboree class and enjoyed an hour of singing, climbing and exploring the various stations they had set up. She loves Gymbo, the Gymboree clown, and several times a class makes a beeline for where they keep the big clown doll.

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Saturday night we went out to an early dinner at Hickory Ridge Grill. At 5:30pm the place was packed with families with young kids so Maya fit right in. We read books until our gyro, souvlaki and chicken tenders arrived.

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Sunday morning I made a frittata and Adam’s brother came over with his two kids. Then after Maya’s morning nap we ventured out to the library and on our way popped into a bakery in Ellicott City. Tous Les Jours is apparently a chain with many locations, but I had never heard of it.

Tous Les Jours is described as a French-Asian bakery and had a ton of amazing pastries and breads on display. You grab a tray and tongs and select all of the pieces you want before bringing them over to the check out. I loved taking a look at all of the delicious-looking choices and managed to select a couple of them while wrangling an active Maya. I also got a black milk tea bubble tea. It was so fun and the treats we got were delicious – I can’t wait to go back!

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After our bakery and library date I brought Maya back home for a nap before heading out to Lake Kittamaqundi for a run. I’ve been in some intense fitbit challenges with my friends and it’s been very motivating! Sunday night I met up with some girlfriends for our annual Oscar party and we enjoyed a Greek food themed potluck. We all loved Allison Janney and her dress and were split on Nicole Kidman’s bow (I liked it!). The only movie I had seen was Lady Bird but still enjoyed watched the first half of the show…before heading home and straight to bed!

How was your weekend?

Do you watch the Academy Awards?

 

Alma Cocina Latina

Saturday night, Adam and I headed into the city for a much needed date night (thanks Bubby for babysitting)! After hearing many good reviews, we were eager to finally try Alma Cocina Latina. We walked in for an early(ish) reservation and were told our table wasn’t quite ready which is usually a big pet peeve of ours. We grabbed drinks at the bar while we waited and I got a refreshing margarita with salt and red pepper on the rim. When our table was finally ready the host was very apologetic which I appreciated. I know restaurants get busy and can’t always anticipate when a table will turn over, but there is nothing worse than getting seated 30 minutes late without even an acknowledgement. Thank you for NOT being like that Alma Cocina!

Once we were seated we game planned our order. Everyone talks up the arepas (which are delish), but we were delighted to see the menu has so much more that just arepas. Our waiter also gave some helpful recommendations that we took into account. He did ask us to order our whole meal at once, which also usually bothers me, but the restaurant paced everything perfectly.

We tried a dish from each section of the menu which was fun! We started with the tostones del diablo – crispy, savory plantains with cheese and sauces. These were very tasty and plated beautifully. Per our waiter’s recommendation, these came out with the tartar del mar. The tartar was probably my favorite thing we ate. It was half salmon and half tuna with crispy quinoa and mango and pineapple purees. The mango flavor really came out and paired perfectly with the fresh, cool, raw fish.

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For our next course we had to try an arepa, the signature doughy Venezuelan dish, sort of a cross between a pita and a pancake, baked at Alma Cocina on a special cooktop behind a back bar. I was bummed to hear that they were out of the short rib option that evening but we decided instead to get one with chicken, steak, chorizo and egg. It was so good! Not as photogenic as some of the other dishes and you have to accept that it will be a little messy but it is well worth it.

Next, we shared two entrees: the crispy octopus and the polenta. I feel like it’s a sign that everyone is enjoying themselves when your entrees arrive and the guests at the tables on either side of you all lean in and ask what you ordered. I mean, look at that presentation, I get it. By this point in the meal, I was super full and couldn’t manage more than a bite or two of the entrees. Both were really good and unique. Adam brought the leftover polenta home and had it for breakfast the next morning!

If I had to rank the dishes I’d say:

Tartar

Arepa

Tostones

Polenta

Octopus

All were delicious and beautifully plated and I hope to make a return trip and try even more of their offerings!