January 2022 – RECAP

He said, “Oh, we’re hitting our goals this year.”

But, we’ve also heard this before. We’ll see how long it lasts.


Book of the Month: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Genre of the month: Literary Fiction

Completed Books:
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Address Unknown by Katherine Kressmann Taylor
Trixie And Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel & Katya
The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Antoni: Let’s Do Dinner by Antoni Porowski
Woom by Duncan Ralston
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Woman Who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

It’s a new year, which means a fresh start at achieving yearly reading goals.

Coming off of the lackluster reading year – and general shit show of a year – that was 2021, I felt more determined than ever to make the most out of my 2022 reading habits.

The first thing I do every month is select my Book of the Month. In addition to my yearly reading goals & challenges, which include a monthly genre challenge, I’ve decided to create a generalized theme for my monthly reads.

This month’s Book of the Month pick was Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. Having selected “Black Cake,” I wanted to spend January immersing myself in and experiencing the reading. So, my generalized theme for the month was “food.”


4/5 Stars

I started of the “food” theme with a BOTM add-on that I had not gotten around to, yet: Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Woman Who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen.

As the title suggests, the book traces the lives of seven immigrant women – in addition to an interlude on Julia Child – and their impacts on the culinary world, helping to shape America’s modern culinary history (and appetite).

One of the women featured in the book is Najmieh Batmanglij of Iran. In her section, Sen writes, “Food of Life: A Book of Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies (1986) would be Mage’s flagship title. Today, both Iranians and non-Iranians in America regard Food of Life as a landmark text; few, if any, Iranian cookbooks in America have matched its scope.”

I recognized the title “Food of Life” instantly. As mentioned in my post “Tatted in Tulsa: A Lesson Inside ‘The Outsiders’ House,” I am “the gay son of an immigrant growing up in the suburban midwest.” My father came to the United States from Iran in the 70s for school (where he would eventually meet my very white mother) and remained ahead of the Iranian Revolution.

Still within the opening page of the section on Batmanglij, Sen notes, “Najmieh dedicated the book to her sons ‘and to all Iranian children living far from the country of their heritage by the course of political events.” I thought of my father, and I thought of him eventually finding this book some 10 years later upon its release in the 80s.

My parents divorced when I was two-years-old and I remember, not sure exactly when but back when my age was a singular digit, my parents arguing over this book – my father having claimed my mother (who was and still is a big fan of Iranian food, and whom my father claims cooks it better than he does) took it and my mother denying having it.

The way that the two of them – one from Iran and the other from Wisconsin – revered this cookbook, I remember thinking this was universally the Holy Grail of books, despite having maybe only physically seen it once that I recall.

I knew right away that the way I wanted to immerse myself in Sen’s “Taste Makers” was to cook from “Food of Life.”

I texted my father, and wanted confirmation on my memories.

Najmieh Batmanglij – I feel like you/mom had one of her cookbooks back in the day? Do you remember which which one it was – and, if it wasn’t her’s do you remember which cookbook I might be thinking of (who it was by and what it was called)?

Not really in my head but can look for

Your mom has one I believe

I read a book that has a section about her a couple of days ago and I thought I’d try making vegan versions of some of her recipes – she has recipes online, but I wasn’t sure if you had one of her cookbooks and if you did I was going to pick a recipe from the book you used instead of a recipe online. I remember there was a cookbook mom had that you had but I wasn’t sure if it was by her or not.

All Iranian food could be vegan

How do you, personally, make maast-o-khiar? I see a few variations online.

Yogurt/green onions/cucumbers/salt/pepper/mint chopped (dry) you can add raisin if you like not nessary

Leave me some 🙂

It’s all vegan – I used cashew yogurt for the maast-o-khiar (I put golden raisins in it). I don’t think I used enough saffron in the rice. I had the right amount of saffron water in the meat (Impossible meat), but then I got nervous when it came to grinding it for the rice.

You don’t need too much Zairean

When we come over to eat it ?

I made maast-o-khiar, kabab koobideh, and Persian rice (served with toasted pita, of course) – none of which my very white boyfriend was in the mood for trying. Luckily, I’m close with another very white person whom I knew would be interested in what was on my plate.

I called my mother.

With a faint, jealous tinge in her voice, my mother said that my plate sounded good. In a slightly authoritative voice, she began to interrogate my cooking methods & ingredient list. When I asked, she confirmed that the cookbook I was thinking of was in fact “Food of Life.” Allegedly, the whereabouts of the cookbook, however, remain unknown.

3/5 Stars

After having read a book about what went into making some of the most prevalent cookbooks in modern food history, I decided to read a straightforward cookbook.

I chose Antoni: Let’s Do Dinner by Antoni Porowski for a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to:

  • his cookbook gave off very current/now vibes; after spending some time reading about culinary history I was in the mood for something a little more present-tense
  • Antoni’s hot
  • the theme of this collection of recipes was easy, weeknight dinners; the previous cooking was very labor-intensive and “easy” & “weeknight” were very appealing words
  • Antoni is very appealing
  • most other current/now cookbooks on the Barnes & Noble end cap felt very cash-grabby; no offense, Drew Barrymore, but I wouldn’t think to turn to your cookbook when I think “qualified food expert” – yes, Antoni is a celebrity writing a cookbook, but at least food is why he’s a celebrity?
  • Look at the way he’s holding the fork on the cover

After having read “Taste Makers,” I went into this cookbook with expectations about what reading a cookbook would be like. The seven women featured in “Taste Makers” all had cookbooks that, yes, were a collection of recipes and instructions on how to prepare them, but also were part memoir.

I was surprised at how very straightforward this cookbook was – it was a collection of recipes and instructions on how to prepare them, but it wasn’t very personable. It was very skin and bones. There weren’t even cookbook “elements” I had come to expect from recipes, such as how long the recipes take to make.

I made two recipes (with vegan modifications) from this book: Lemon Spaghetti with Toasted Walnuts & Parsley and Turkey Cheeseburger Soup.

Of the lemon spaghetti, Antoni writes, “I turn to this traditional Italian pasta after long workdays when I don’t feel like making a stop at the market, since I always have these ingredients on hand.”

Most of my workdays feel long; I never feel like making a stop at the market (which is almost always closed by the time I clock off, anyway); and, I’m a fan of lemon-infused savory dishes. This seemed like the appropriate recipe to start with.

My younger brother was in town for winter break from law school and crashing at my place. I made this one night we happened to overlap at home and he ate thirds by the time I finished my first (and eventually only) serving.

When it came to the turkey cheeseburger soup, I made it (vegan) twice – once following Antoni’s recipe exactly, and once with my own modifications.

He writes, “I make this soup as an offering to my seven-year-old self, with its silky cheddar broth, smoky seasoned meat, and tangy pickle-and-melted-cheese-toast topping, it says ‘cheeseburger’ in the best way.”

The first time I made it, I had my boyfriend try it. He said that he “gets” cheeseburger from it, but I wasn’t sold on it “say[ing] ‘cheeseburger’ in the best way.”

The second time I made it, I added an extra cup of shredded cheese to the broth, halved the amount of frozen peas, tweaked the amount of spices & worcestershire, and I reserved 1/4 of the onions to add into the soup raw.

Before my train of thought connects “raw” and “Antoni,” let’s move on the next book.

5/5 Stars

Any time I’m driving into Chicago to catch a concert at the United Center, I drive past an H Mart. Stuck in stalled bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, often have I looked out to my right, stared at the H Mart, and wondered what it was like inside.

My default genre of music is indie. High is the probability I’ve sat in that traffic, staring at the H Mart, while listening to Japanese Breakfast. Non-existent is the probability that I knew of the connection between H Mart and Japanese Breakfast.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a memoir by Japanese Breakfast’s Zauner that recounts growing up Korean American, losing her mother, finding her own identity, and the role food plays in it all.

Zauner writes vividly with crisp sensory details about the food her mother masters but she attempts, and also what it’s like shopping for those ingredients.

When I shop for groceries, I autopilot to the like of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I wanted to immerse myself in Zauner’s world of food. Googling Korean recipes, I knew that a) I wouldn’t be able to find some of these ingredients at my usual stores and b) I wanted to make them & experience the process of making them as authentically to Zauner as I could.

We don’t have an H Mart in Indianapolis. But, we do have a Viet Hua Food Market.

Never have I been to a grocery store that doubles as an aquarium where the workers essentially go fishing for whichever live crab, fish, octopus, lobster you deem tonight’s freshest catch.

There are vegetables and produce I didn’t even know existed.

They have vegan products I didn’t even know were scientifically possible to replicate, yet (Hello, vegan shrimp, vegan lobster, and then plethora of other vegan meats I’ve never seen before).

Wandering, admittedly lost, among the aisles of Viet Hua was almost like unlocking a part of my brain that contained a fresh, tiny sponge that was ready to absorb as much new information as possible.

I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to make everything.

The dishes I ended up settling on were (vegan) versions of kimchi fried rice, haemul pajeon (seafood scallion pancake), spicy Korean BBQ pork, and dubu jorim (braised tofu) with vegetables, with a couple of homemade sauces on the side (whose names I unfortunately can’t remember).

It took a couple of hours to make everything, but only a matter of minutes to clear the plate.

As I ate, the lingering smells wafting into my boyfriend’s living room from his kitchen that I had just got done destroying reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Zauner’s memoir. It, in that moment (as I shoveled kimchi fried rice into my face), perfectly sums up the beauty of Zauner’s “Crying in H Mart” – capturing her atmospheric writing while touching on the main themes of the book and her relationship with her mother.

“The smell of vegetables fermenting in a fragrant bouquet of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and gochugaru radiated through my small Greenpoint kitchen, and I would think of how my mother always used to tell me never to fall in love with someone who doesn’t like kimchi. They’ll always smell it on you, seeping through your pores. Her very own way of saying, ‘You are what you eat.'”

Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart”

4/5 Stars

Having had my brain ‘unlocked’ at Viet Hua Food Market, I think it’s a pretty safe & fair assumption to say I rarely – if ever – consciously thought about where food comes from.

Enter, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Despite being authored by a vegetarian, “Eating Animals” is not intended to be a “Stop eating meat!” manifesto.

Foer, in light of becoming a father, set out to find out exactly where food comes from so that he could make informed decisions on what to feed his family now that he has a new addition.

While the book’s intent is not necessarily to get people to stop eating meat, the information presented is enough for me to double-down (I’ve been vegan [My friends: “Hey. How can you tell if someone is vegan? They’ll tell you! Hahaha”] for four years) on not eating animals ever again.

That’s it. That’s my immersion into this book: not eating animals.

4/5 Stars

My Book of the Month pick was Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson.

The story follows two estranged siblings as the learn their mother’s secrets following her death. She willed them a black cake stored in her freezer, but they are not allowed to take it out until the moment is just right.

I had every intention of making a black cake when I picked this book. Having never heard of a black cake prior to the novel, I was ignorant as to how long it takes to prepare one.

The key ingredient for black cake is rum-soaked fruits. Traditional black cakes typically contain fruits that have soaked in rum for months or years on end – the recipe I found online to follow called for fruits that soaked for at least a week. Having waited until the end of the month to read this book, the longest I could’ve soaked the fruits was two days; and, having Wilkerson so beautifully recount the processes (and importance of) her characters undergo to make the cakes, I did not want to half-ass it. So, instead of making the cake after two days, I am going to keep a jar of rum-soaked fruits and wait for the black cake until my moment is just right.


Not all of the books I read this month fell under the generalized theme of ‘food.’

4/5 Stars

I bought Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman the week it came out last month.

One year ago, Amanda Gorman recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of Joe Biden – and captured the world’s attention in the process.

Gorman, the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, included the poem in her collection “Call Us What We Carry” published last month.

Per the publisher, the collection harnesses the collective grief of a global pandemic as the author explores history, language, identity, and erasure.

I decided to read this book now instead of when I bought it for the timeliness of it historically.

5/5 Stars

My jaw DROPPED when I read Address Unknown by Katherine Kressmann Taylor.

Originally published in a magazine in 1938, this novel is told entirely through letters sent back-and-forth between two German friends in the time of World War II.

An impulse buy, grabbed off an end cap at a Barnes & Noble, this book will become only second book that I designate a Yearly Read for myself.

3/5 Stars

The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund is an experimental fiction novel about an immigrant/refugee delivery boy striving for 5-star reviews in order to attain a better life.

Mendelsund, a graphic designer, has some of the most iconic book covers.

Unfortunately, though, the writing in this book is less than iconic. That said, though, it is experimental and his concept is more than intriguing.

1/5 Stars

Woom by Duncan Ralston is an extreme horror novel about a man who hires a prostitute to meet him at his regular spot. In Room 6 of the motel, he recounts all of the horrors that have happened in the room to the prostitute as they engage in sexual acts.

It’s just not good. There is no substance beyond being gross just for the sake of being gross.

That said, it did leave me thinking about and wondering how de-sensitized I’ve become; barely flinching throughout the novel, I couldn’t help thinking about how overdramatic the hype blurbs on the cover are. (Disclaimer: This book is disgusting. Proceed with caution. My point was that I, personally, must have in my lifetime gathered enough references throughout media to where this book was genuinely not shocking.)


Boyfriend’s Bookshelf

3/5 Stars

My boyfriend loves Trixie and Katya. But, he does Not loving reading.

So, for Christmas, I got him Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel and Katya and tickets to their tour. If anyone can inspire newfound reading habits in him, it’s them.

Or so I thought.

I look forward to trading thoughts on the book with him, should he ever get around to reading it.

Author Backlist

4/5 Stars

I had not heard of Ottessa Moshfegh until I saw her name on a couple of lists for most anticipated books in 2022.

After I put “Lapvona” on my TBR, Moshfegh became like my car – you don’t see your car out on the streets until it’s your car, and then you see it everywhere.

I couldn’t get away from My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh on BookTok, so I figured I’d give in and read it.

BookTok needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s a groupthink experiment. Yes, the book is good. No, it’s not the greatest book that’s ever been written. Chill out.

Based solely off the premise of her forthcoming book and “My Year,” Moshfegh is one of the first writer’s in a while to truly fascinate me.

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