Orange-chili tacos are yummy

The light in my kitchen is weird.

Yes, these are chicken tacos made with a sauce that is orange juice based. Yes, they are delicious. We tend to make them on the weekend because they take just enough time to be annoying after a long day of work.

5 medium guajillo chilies
1.5c orange juice
5 peeled garlic cloves
2T white vinegar
2t coriander
2t honey
1t dried oregano
1t kosher salt
2lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

Heat chilies in large skilled over medium-high heat, pressing with spatula and flipping halfway through cooking until fragrant. Transfer to blender, add orange juice. Let stand for ~10 minutes, until softened. Add garlic, vinegar, coriander, honey, oregano, and salt. Puree until smooth. Pour back into skillet and bring to a boil.

Nestle chicken thighs into sauce, cover and cook over medium-low, flipping halfway through, for 20 minutes. Set chicken on a plate; once cool shred into bite sized pieces. Meanwhile, simmer the sauce over medium-high, stirring, until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Stir chicken into sauce.

Serve with tortillas, radishes, and quest fresco (though we usually just use Monterey Jack).

Once again, this is a Milk Street recipe. If you don’t subscribe, why not? You’re missing out on all kinds of deliciousness. They’re not even paying me to say that, I just like them.

Love, charm, and optimism

Becky Chambers writes charming science fiction novels that are primarily about all of the forms that love and family take, and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no exception.

Humans have long since left Earth and been integrated into Galactic society, but there are people who still live on the ships they first set out on, constantly improving and working on and changing those ships so people can continue to live comfortably on them. (And in a great touch: those ships are built from dismantled skyscrapers and other buildings and city structures from Earth – the Golden Gate Bridge or the Chrysler Building could be part of any ship.)

The plot comes from the fact that humans are relatively poor and technologically backwards and the Fleet is essentially that small town every teenager wants to leave for the big, exciting city. But there is also at least one person looking to come back, looking for a place to belong.

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” – Tolstoy

(Not that the book is on par with Tolstoy, but the quote is relevant here.) Record of a Spaceborn Few is the story of the town and the people in it, full of warmth and love in many different forms. Definitely recommended.

Can Florida really be that weird?

Honestly? I wanted This Is Not My Beautiful Life to be weirder. The pitch was: a woman, pregnant with her first child, opens up the door at her parents’ house to a police raid because they’re being charged with stock fraud, with possible drug charges. Did I mention this all happens in Florida? Because it all happens in Florida.

It was still a lovely story of a woman handling first her pregnancy, then life with a small child, coming to the realization that she has postpartum depression, trying to deal with the fact that her parents and their weird, weird friends are probably all hustling just on the other side of the law. It’s a situation that would drive anyone to distraction. She handles it sometimes poorly and sometimes well, like anyone would.

But with that pitch on the back of the book? It should have been crazier and weirder. I’m sure if it gets optioned for a TV show (and it would be a great mini-series) they will contrast her parents’ weird life with her much more normal family life.

Recommended for your late-summer reading needs.

Tapas? This might be a tapas dish

This gem of a weeknight dish is known around our house as “pork bites” and often gets paired with some sort of potatoes (roasted, french fries, probably even tater tots once) for an easy-ish weeknight meal. It has the added bonus of being way more delicious than it should be.

1.5t coriander
1.5t cumin
1.5t smoked paprika
0.75t each of salt & pepper
1lb pork tenderloin, cut into 1″ squares
1T lemon juice, plus wedges for serving
1T honey
1 garlic clove, minced
2T olive oil
1T chopped fresh oregano

Mix spices together, add pork and toss to coat evenly until no more spices remain in the bowl (that is, they’re all stuck to the meat and not sitting in the bottom of the bowl). Let the pork sit for 30-60 minutes at room temperature. In another bowl, mix the lemon juice, honey, and garlic.

Heat 1T olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the meat in a single layer and cook without moving until deeply brown on one side (~3min). Then flip pork until cooked through and browned all over, another 2-3 minutes.  Off the heat, toss with the lemon-garlic mixture until evenly coated. Move to serving platter, sprinkle the oregano and drizzle the last 1T olive oil.

Enjoy!

Adapted from Milk Street Magazine, a cooking magazine I’d HIGHLY recommend, if for no other reason than their Tuesday night section where they give you about a week’s worth of delicious recipes that truly only take 30 minutes to make.

A simple easy dinner for an August weeknight

It’s summer. It’s probably hot, or is going to be hot in the next couple of weeks. It’s also tomato season and if you’re a gardener, you may have too many tomatoes. May I recommend something as simple as throwing some pasta into your next caprese salad?

Our ratios:
1.5 lbs ripe tomatoes, chopped
0.25c extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2T fresh basil, chopped
6oz fresh mozzarella
1lb pasta, cooked
salt & pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a large serving bowl except the pasta, while the pasta is cooking. Add once it’s done. Mix. Eat. Enjoy.

Read this book

I have been avoiding writing up I Contain Multitudes because I’m not quite sure what to say about it.

It’s one of the first science books I’ve enjoyed in a long time? Check.
I learned a ton about how my body and its symbionts work? Check.
The world is a really amazing place and you should learn more about it by reading this book? Check.

And that’s about it. If you like science books about science, read I Contain Multitudes. You’ll probably enjoy it.

Joie de vivre

I had not heard of the Mitford sisters until I read The Sisters, a joint biography of the six girls, brought up just in time to become adults around/during WWII. I found that book fascinating, not knowing anything about any of them.

Hons and Rebels is the memoir of one of those sisters, Jessica Mitford. She was one of the younger three, and the only one who became a communist. The girls were raised in the 1930s, when Hitler was on the rise, and there was a debate in the house about fascism vs communism, with at least one sister going heavily for each side.

What I liked most about Hons and Rebels is the sense of life and vitality that comes through it. Jessica is not one to do anything halfway. She cares, she is passionate, and she truly sucked the marrow from life (to quote Dead Poets Society for a second). It was the joie de vivre that made me love this book, and her.

It’s not so much about the walking as it is the time to think about things

I am always up for a good book about either Paris or walking as a form of meditation. Flaneuse is a combination of the two. It’s part memoir, part exploration of other women walking around in art (literature, music, movies) in many cities – not just Paris – and taking the time to absorb the world around them.

Flaneuse was good, and reminded me that time is often more valuable than money, happiness-wise. Recommended.

Science + History = Awesomeness

I found The Fate of Rome SUPER fascinating. And I’m usually not into the whole Rome-is-dying-lets-find-out-why genre of Roman History. (I prefer stories about people doing their jobs well rather than people screwing up.) But The Fate of Rome applies all kinds of updated scientific techniques to history, telling a story of disease and climate change affecting the Roman Empire, and how competent (or not) rulers played into that.

There are two parts that really stick in my brain.

First, there’s a thing in Roman History called The Crisis of the Second Century. Basically after Commodus (the emperor portrayed in Gladiator), the Roman Empire kind of falls apart. The usually theories that are put forth are around inflation and rulers who don’t get the trust of the military (both of which were problems, don’t get me wrong). There’s a whole line of study that tries to answer the question, “Why didn’t the Empire fall apart during the second century? Because it maybe should have.”

BUT, there is new analysis of the epidemic that hit the Roman Empire during the second century, with a truly appalling death rate of somewhere around 60%. The Antonine plague, as it’s known, has been discussed plenty. It’s typically identified as a type of smallpox. There was a plague about 100 years later that has never been identified, and it is usually assumed to be another wave of smallpox. However, using modern epidemiology & pathology techniques and Galen’s discussion of the symptoms, it seems way more likely to be a type of ebola. Both diseases have truly appalling death rates: 30-40% for smallpox, possibly as high as 70% for ebola. Either way, the combination of plagues had a HUGE destabilizing effect on society.

The second part that really sticks in my brain requires a slightly longer explanation. By the 500s, the Roman Empire had been split into two and the Western half had fallen. The Eastern Half, now known as the Byzantine Empire, was still around. The emperors would occasionally try to reincorporate the Western Half, but would usually not make it very far.

Until Justinian, who was a super-capable human being. He had a general he could trust and who succeed in starting to bring Italy back into the fold during the 530s. And then 536 hit. No one knows why, but 536AD is the coldest year in the last 2000 years. Core ice from glaciers and tree-ring evidence show that there was a HUGE volcanic explosion in 536 and another in 539. This coupled with lower solar activity during the time (measured by the amount of certain radioactive elements in the air caused by solar radiation that then precipitate onto the glaciers), was hugely devastating. No sun means no crops means no food. Combine that with a conquering army sweeping across your land? Disaster.

Suffice it to say, Justinian didn’t succeed in rejuvenating the Western Roman Empire.

I learned SO MUCH about both how to combine history and science reading The Fate of Rome and so much more about why the Western Roman Empire fell. If you are at all into history, I highly recommend it.

Why does this website exist?

How to Read Novels Like a Professor gives you the tools to better analyze a novel: things like voice and chapter structure and ideas and beginnings and endings. But the thesis of the book is something near and dear to my heart: that you, as a reader, when you engage with a book, you make it better. These are the tools that Foster is giving you to better, more wholly engage with a work of fiction.

This is obviously near and dear to my heart – I write these reviews because they make me a better reader. What was that book about? Do I agree with it? Did I like the characters, and does that matter? Was the language any good? Reflecting on those things and more means I engage with the books I read (even the non-fiction) more deeply and enjoy reading even more than I already do. Caring about things like structure and sentences makes a difference. Knowing how to analyze a story makes a difference.

Obviously recommended.