tweets for 2020-05-06

May 7th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato
  • 24% done with Burn Our Bodies Down, by Rory Power: "I'm being a nice fucking person, act… https://t.co/MjEDZbI7KS ->
  • RT @saladinahmed: Check it out: @marvel is making MILES MORALES: STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN *free* to read digitally this month! That's 120 p… ->
  • RT @kingsrush: Fully armed white men storming a state capitol building?
    Nothing to see here.
    Priest and nuns protesting an ICE facility wh… ->
  • RT @Randy_Shannon: legends say that only a construction worker who is pure of heart may retrieve it https://t.co/8LX9scRXHX ->
  • RT @meganamram: I used 6,000 N95 masks to spell out "THANK U HEROES!!!!!" on the beach then lit them on fire so nurses all over the world c… ->
  • (More below the fold…)

tweets for 2020-05-05

May 6th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Last Girls by Demetra Brodsky (2020)

May 5th, 2020 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“Our end will bring our beginning to light.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for child abuse.)

When I reminisce about the pieces of art I’ve left behind over the years, I get pensive. I could have taken them, but I chose to leave them behind, in places we lived, in art rooms at different schools. Never signed, but as an artistic Honey Was Here trail.

If we were living in a different time, she’d be the first of us weirds to be tried as a witch. Birdie would be next, for failure to cooperate with the magistrates. And then me, because with my sisters persecuted I would straight up lose my mind.

Sixteen-year-old Honey Juniper and her two younger sisters – Birdie and Blue, collectively known at Elkwood High as “the weird sisters” – are preppers. Along with a handful of other families, they live on a secret compound in the backwoods of Washington State. Dieter Ackerman’s acolytes hide in plain sight: bartering and selling homemade goods in the small town of Elkwood, attending nearby Elkwood High School, pretending to live in the mobile home park they use for extra storage.

Though the Juniper sisters have moved five times in ten years, it’s starting to look like the Nest might be their final home…at least, until Dieter’s increasingly risky and erratic behavior, coupled with Alice Juniper’s social climbing, proves to be their undoing.

I expected to enjoy Last Girls so much more than I did. I mean, doomsday preppers! Badass sisters with pouty lips and wild hairdos! Forbidden love/lust! Sick presidential burns! Cultish stuff galore! A freaking peregrine falcon! Alas, it was not meant to be.

I think my main gripe is that there’s just too much going on here. A story about three sisters caught in a doomed doomsday prepper group (lol, see what I did there?) is interesting enough on its own. The culture of paranoia would make for a rather gripping psychological thriller; throw in some teenage hormones a la Remy and Honey, and you’ve got yourself one rousing tale. But on top of a prepper cult engaged in some sketchy terrorist activities and maybe under investigation by the authorities, we also have a triple kidnapping and some random psychic shit thrown in to make things extra weird, I guess.

To be fair, Blue’s prophecies are obvious throwbacks to Shakespeare’s witches – as are the sisters, collectively – as well as Cassandra of Greek mythology. Even so, it’s all just too much.

I also felt like many of the characters, including Honey and her sisters, could have been fleshed out more. The Juniper sisters feel more like a collection of quirks and eccentricities than honest-to-goodness people. And the secondary characters? Ugh. Caricatures, mostly: Magda is the jealous scorned wife; Annalise, the power-hungry second child; Dieter, the erratic messiah. Even Alice Juniper is elusive at best, and it’s her actions that set this whole story in motion.

There’s an exhilarating seed of a story here that sadly never fully blooms. I’m sure Blue would have something especially prescient to say here.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2020-05-04

May 5th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-05-03

May 4th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-05-02

May 3rd, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-05-01

May 2nd, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-30

May 1st, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-29

April 30th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-28

April 29th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Cookbook Review: Vegan Mac and Cheese – More than 50 Delicious Plant-Based Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food by Robin Robertson (2019)

April 28th, 2020 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Healthy, From-Scratch Versions of Your Favorite Vegan Junk Food

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

— 3.5 stars —

Along with pizza, mac & cheese is one of my favorite, go-to, if you were stuck on a deserted island and could only eat one food for the rest of your life, vegan foodstuffs. Unlike pizza, though, there are precious few cookbooks devoted entirely to its delicious cheesy goodness.

If you’re thinking, well duh, how many ways are there to make macaroni and cheese, then clearly you don’t read my blog. (Spoiler alert: there are currently twenty-two posts tagged “macaroni and cheese,” representing a small fraction of the recipes I have sampled and/or created, ranging from the classic Creamy Mac & Cheese with Daiya to the less traditional Mac & Pepperjack Pizza.)

So you can imagine my excitement when I got a whiff of Robin Robertson’s latest cookbook, Vegan Mac and Cheese – More than 50 Delicious Plant-Based Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food.

My anticipation was tempered a bit once I finally had the book in my hungry little hands: all of the recipes tip toward the health food end of the scale. Not that I have a problem with healthy vegan food, but you gotta live a little, you know? Throw a few unabashedly junky recipes in there to liven things up, or else let us know right in the title that this isn’t ONE OF THOSE kinds of cookbooks. Anything else feels like a total Bad Place kind of move.

The recipes I tried were a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from “pretty yummy” to “more trouble than it’s worth” (full rundown below). The cheese sauces utilize a variety of “bases” (if you can call them that; perhaps “key ingredients” is more accurate?), ranging from cashews to tofu to carrots and potatoes. With few exceptions, the ingredients are pretty common and easy to find in American grocery stores. (Pro tip: if a recipe calls for miso and you don’t feel like buying an entire container just for a teaspoon, tahini is an okay substitute.) The recipes are pretty straightforward and easy to follow, and not terribly labor intensive (though some do create an undogly amount of dishes).

There’s a nice variety of dishes here; the recipes are grouped under five subheadings, including “Basic Vegan Mac & Cheese,” “Global Cheesy Macs,” “Mac and Veggies,” “Meaty Macs,” and “Fun with Mac & Cheese” (which isn’t so much new recipes as some interesting ideas of how to repurpose leftovers, like making mac omelets, waffles, and cheese balls). I can honestly say, as a self-proclaimed expert whose life goal is to try every vegan mac & cheese recipe ever published in any major cookbook, there are some inspired and singular recipes in here – as well as some that are merely “meh” (even accounting for my strong preference for junk food mac & cheese).

2020-02-07 - Butternut Mac Uncheese - 0001 [flickr]

Roasted Butternut Mac Uncheese

This is the first recipe in the “Mac and Veggies” section, and for good reason – it’s forking amazing. The cheese sauce is a mix of roasted butternut squash (yum!) and soaked raw cashews. It doesn’t taste much like melted Daiya or Follow Your Heart cheese (few-to-none of the recipes in this book do), and that’s okay! It’s its own thing.

Pro tip: if you don’t have any soy milk on hand (thanks, Corona virus), water works just fine too. Throw a few extra cashews into the mix to compensate.

Bonus points if you roast the squash seeds and use them as a garnish. (The recipe calls for pumpkin seeds, which seems … kind of silly?)

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Cashew Cheesy Mac

Another winner! Roasted red peppers lend this dish both a distinct taste, and its eye-popping, boxed mac & cheese, neon orange color.

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Blushing Baked Ziti

This is where things started to spiral for me (metaphorically, not literally, though – good eye! – I did swap out the ziti for fusilli). Despite my initial skepticism, I decided to give this casserole a whirl, mostly because I had a brick of tofu with a close expiration date. At first blush (lol), it reminded me of spaghetti pie: just with a differently shaped macaroni, and more layers (read: steps). Rather than the classic configuration of pasta-tofu-red sauce-optional shredded cheese, it goes red sauce-pasta-red sauce-tofu-pasta-red sauce-tofu.

So many layers! So much long division! So much work! So much mess everywhere! All for a dish that just left me wishing I’d made spaghetti pie instead (insert sad face here).

Honestly, this recipe is way more complicated than it needs to be, and I don’t think the many (so many!) extra layers do anything for it. If anything, I felt like the ricotta tofu didn’t bake as thoroughly, and with the sauce and pasta in such close proximity, you may as well just mix them from jump street.

Fwiw, the nut parm (made with ray almonds and nutritional yeast) is seriously amazing. I am putting it on all the things now.

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Free Mac

Last and sadly least (SO SAD!), we have the Free Mac. The sauce is mix of onions, carrots, and potatoes boiled in a vegetable broth, then run through a blender to create a mock cheesy sauce. I actually don’t think this would be bad if not for the broth: with three cups of the stuff, this mac & cheese ends up tasting a lot like vegetable soup. Not bad, necessarily, but disconcerting: you have a dish that looks like one thing (macaroni and cheese) but tastes like another (veggie soup).

My suggestion: use water in place of broth, in whole or part, and add extra spices to taste.

This is the rare macaroni and cheese dish that improves as leftovers: once the sauce has had a chance to soak into the pasta, the taste of veggie soup isn’t quite so overwhelming. It’s also really good mixed with a mildly flavored couscous in a 1:1 ratio. (I like preparing it on the stovetop with a little vegan chicken broth, carrots, and corn.)

So there you have it: two A recipes, two C minuses. Not my most glowing cookbook review. Blame the sky-high expectations that accompany any mention of vegan mac-n-cheese.

BUT, if you’re half the vegan mac & cheese fan I am, you probably want to take Vegan Mac and Cheese for a spin anyway. There are some neat ideas in here, and I can’t wait to try the Cheesy Mac Muffins (but probably using my own junk food mac & cheese concoction; there’s no beating Daiya, mkay).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2020-04-27

April 28th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-26

April 27th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-25

April 26th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-24

April 25th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo & Lilian Klepakowsky (2020)

April 24th, 2020 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

The artwork is marvelous, but the story *just* misses the mark.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for eating disorders.)

It would be kind to say that Mindy’s stuck in a rut. At twenty-seven, she’s deferred college to the point that she now feels too old for it. She works long hours as a barrista and barely socializes. Her best/only friend Shaé is both sweet and loyal; unfortunately, she also has a long track record of saying exactly the wrong thing when it comes to Mindy’s weight, which has been a sore point her entire life.

Mindy’s struggled with disordered eating since she was a kid, including binge eating following by purging. She has painfully low self-esteem and body dysmorphia, which holds her back in life: from making friends, dating, trying to achieve her goals, and making the most of her one wild and precious life.

Until, one late night/early morning, Mindy happens upon a weird, hippy dippy, New Agey candy bar at her local bodega, and picks it up on a whim. “Eat and Love Yourself,” it entreats her. With each bite, Mindy is transported, ghost-like, to a memory from her childhood. In each scene, her “food issues” command a large presence.

In flashbacks, she witnesses her well-meaning but oblivious parents arguing over her eating habits; a young Mindy keeping a food journal; a teenage Mindy blowing off a cute guy at school, because he couldn’t possibly like her; and much worse.

Thankfully, adult Mindy is much kinder to her young self; with the help of “Eat and Love Yourself” (man, why couldn’t you be dark chocolate instead of milk!?), Mindy takes a tentative step on the path to self-acceptance and healing.

I wanted to love Eat, and Love Yourself – I cannot tell you how much! – but I just feel like there’s a piece missing. The story ends abruptly, at a point that literally had me protesting, “Wait, that was it!?” I can’t even say that the ending is hopeful, since it feels incomplete: has Mindy made peace with her body? I’m not 100% sold.

Plus there’s this really odd multiple-Mindys sequence in the very first pages that I thought would be explained (or at least referenced!) at end, but no such luck. I guess we’re just to take it as a (day)dream sequence? Personally, I find my original interpretation – Mindy starts some radical body acceptance movement, becoming an overnight sensation, and so everyone starts copying her unique style – much more satisfying.

That said, that artwork is gorgeous – as in comma, drop dead. Mindy is freaking adorable, with her bopping teal ponytail and geekalicious oversized owl glasses. I just wanted to give her a smushy hug and then borrow her combat boots indefinitely.

There’s a lot in the story that did hit home with me, especially all the underhanded comments from mom and dad that gradually eroded Mindy’s self-esteem.

Eat, and Love Yourself is a welcome contribution to the literature on eating disorders, self-esteem, and the beauty industrial complex, but it could have been so much more. I mean, magical chocolate bars! What a great idea!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

tweets for 2020-04-23

April 24th, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-22

April 23rd, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2020-04-21

April 22nd, 2020 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman by Deborah Noyes (2020)

April 21st, 2020 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

This could have been spectacular.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley.)

“Never is the joke on you, my boy. Remember that. The power is yours. Count your worth in coins.”

As an afterthought, he added, “Your parents certainly do.”

“We have very few pictures of any of us.” She lifted one of the many cabinet cards of General Tom Thumb. “Papa always liked them better.”

The subtitle of We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman is a bit misleading, as the eleven loosely connected short stories gathered in these pages are only marginally about PT Barnum. Rather, Noyes concerns herself with the people trapped in Barnum’s orbit, and imagines how his actions might have affected them.

Naturally, this is a pretty complicated subject: while Barnum arguably created gainful (and even profitable) means of employment for disabled folks who, in some cases, were considered “burdens” on their families, his exhibits leaned into racist, sexist, and albeist tropes, thus perpetuating the bigotry that drove many of Barnum’s performers into his arms. Though he was an outspoken abolitionist later in life, Barnum quite literally built his career on the back of Joice Heth, an elderly African-American slave who Barnum purchased and exhibited as “the 161-year-old nursing mammy of George Washington.” He even exploited Heth in death, offering her body up for a public, for-pay autopsy to “prove” her age and authenticity.

Given this, I expected that Noyes would elevate the voices of the performers who both prospered and suffered under Barnum’s thumb. Instead, there’s a mix of perspectives here: while some stories are told from the POV of performers (or their friends and family), the majority of the narrators – 6/11 – are Barnum’s female family members. The stories cross a nearly fifty-year time span and often occur at crucial (and tragic) moments in Barnum’s timeline:

The Mermaid (1842)
Caroline, the eldest of the Barnum girls, is itching to see her father’s newest acquisition: the Feejee mermaid, being displayed several floors above the family’s living quarters in the American Museum. Since daddy has precious little time for her, she’s determined to take matters into her own hands.

The Mysterious Arm (1842)
Young Charlie Stratton, who will eventually come to be known as General Tom Thumb, has just been recruited by PT Barnum. As he stays at the Museum, training for his upcoming European tour, Charlie befriends the Barnum sisters – including baby Frances and her older sister Helen.

Returning a Bloom to Its Bud (1845)
Charity Barnum, long-suffering wife of PT Barnum, pregnant with her fourth child and grieving the loss of her third, reflects on her life as she sets sail for the States after eight months spent touring Europe with her husband and his performers.

Beside Myself (1851)
When young Josephine agreed to tour the county with her childhood friend Jenny Lind, aka the “Swedish Nightingale,” she had no idea that it would mean losing herself – or the man that she loves.

We Will Always Be Sisters (1852)
Helen, now a young woman living on her father’s estate in Connecticut (Iranistan), is haunted by the ghost of her baby sister Frances – and by her older sister Caroline’s upcoming nuptials.

The Fairy Wedding (1863)
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, inadvertently finds that his visit to the White House is set to coincide with the visit of Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren Stratton, as part of their three-year “honeymoon” tour, stopping in DC at Mary Todd’s request. Angry with his parents’ insistence that he not take up arms against the Confederacy, and still grieving the loss of his younger brother Willie, Robert’s disgust with the affair forces him to confront his relationship with his parents, as well as his own humanity (or lack thereof).

An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity (1865)
It’s just another day for Anna Swan, a giantess from Nova Scotia who left her job as a teacher to join Barnum’s troupe: brunch with her friend Lavinia Warren Stratton, a lecture or two, and bedtime. And then a fire ravages the American Museum, killing most of Barnum’s nonhuman menagerie, nearly trapping Anna in its flames, and displacing them all.

The Bearded Lady’s Son (1868)
Sixteen-year-old Jack is the illegitimate son of a bearded lady who just landed a spot in Barnum’s roster. Trouble is, they’ve got to keep his existence a secret – Barnum can’t risk any whiff of impropriety in a show that struggles to avoid the margins. So Jack spends his days sketching the animals in Barnum’s menagerie…animals who, once again, are about to stoke the (literal) fire of Barnum’s vanity.

It’s Not Humbug If You Believe It (1869)
On the eve of William Mumler’s trial for fraud – at which her own father, none other than PT Barnum, is set to testify for the prosecution – Pauline commissions Mumler to take a spirit self-portrait of her. She hides it in a book in her father’s library, where it will sit for more than twenty years.

All Elephants Are Tragic (1889)
As the family gathers at the Barnum property in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to witness the demolition of the Waveport cottage to make way for the Marina house – Barnum’s gift to his second, much-younger wife Nancy – the newest, arguably most vilified member of the Barnums reflects on her fifteen years with PT Barnum, his daughters, and their children.

What Makes You Think We Want You Here? (1891)
Told from the perspective of Barnie – really named Helen after her mother, and then renamed by Barnum once he became estranged from Helen the elder – the Barnums have gathered at the deathbed of the family’s larger-than-life patriarch: to say goodbye, and to reminisce.

While the writing is skilled enough, and some of the stories engaging (the recurring theme of fire is especially compelling), the overall result just fell flat for me. I feel like this is something I should have enjoyed, thoroughly, and yet…and yet. With few exceptions, it’s weirdly boring and lacking in emotion.

I was disappointed that Noyes didn’t focus exclusively on the performers, even though not all of their narratives proved all that memorable.

Centering the women in Barnum’s life might also have worked out well, but mostly it felt like the stories didn’t go much of anywhere.

Honestly, I think the most eloquent writing manifests in Noyes’s narratives surrounding the nonhuman exhibits who suffered and died agonizing deaths in the multiple fires that destroyed Barnum’s museums over the years. For example, in “An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity” Anna Swan bears witness to the deaths of countless animals – snakes, cats, moneys – even as she fights to overcome her shock-induced paralysis and save herself:

She sailed and swayed over the sea of hats in the street, yet another audience, a uniform mass applauding with joy, it seemed, such joy — as much because some kind soul had released the birds from the aviary upstairs, and almost as one they burst from a corresponding window, a wheeling, feathered blur: parrots, cockatoos, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, vultures, and eagles, even the great, stiff, clumsy condor. The crowd in the street seemed to sway with them as they flapped free, and for the instant Anna floated on air as her rescue crew paused to take in the sight, and for the merest instant she felt it, too, swaying there, the beauty of the moment.

Also heart wrenching is the tale of Jumbo the elephant, purchased from the London Zoo to tour in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, who sacrificed himself in a railway collision to save the life of a young calf. For his heroics, his corpse is dismembered and put on display by Barnum, exploited as a commodity even in death as “the Double Jumbo.” (Talk about a callback!) In “All Elephants Are Tragic,” second wife and “interloper” Nancy Fish considers her husband’s oh so brief mourning period and his shameful treatment of a “friend”:

As another of her husband’s British “acquisitions,” Nancy identified with Jumbo. […]

A year after the loss of Jumbo, the circus’s Winter Quarters in Bridgeport, the biggest animal training ground in the world, was leveled by fire, killing most of the animals. All Nancy remembered of that night was that poor Gracie the elephant had tried to swim to safety … making it all the way to the lighthouse before she sank under the waves. All elephants were tragic, it seemed to Nancy, captives stolen from their homes and made to perform against their wild natures.

THIS. This is the content I came here for. Immerse me in a chapter written from the perspective of one of Barnum’s nonhuman performers, the most long-suffering of them all. The fishes and monkeys forcibly joined to make the Feejee Mermaid (posthumously, obvs) perhaps, or the white whales boiled to death in their tank. Maybe Helen’s cranky old cat, banished to the Museum by Charity, never to be seen again.

Give me an act of nonhuman rebellion, or a whisper of feminist solidarity between h. sapiens and the furred and feathered creatures: for we are all their (read: the capitalist patriarchy’s) creatures.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)