My goal for 2020 was to read 48 books. I crushed it and read 54 – by far the most I have read in a year. I love end of the year “best of” lists – that’s where I get most of the books to add to my reading queue. So here is my Top Five of 2020.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry; PJH rating: ***** I was listening in to Courtney’s work book club a week or so ago and they were talking about the next book they wanted to read – something different than the “chick lit” they usually read – something more “manly”. I googled “manly novels” and Lonesome Dove popped up so they agreed to it for their next book. (Before everyone realized it was 800+ pages I should add). Anyways… I poured through and it is so good. Really a masterpiece. So many good characters, action, well written and it of course made me cry several times. Pulitzer Prize winner: 1986
In Cold Blood; Truman Capote; PJH rating: ****1/2 I’m not sure what made me pick up this 1966 classic (perhaps because 1966 was such a good year) but I couldn’t put it down once I started. I thought it was so direct, so well written and to the point. I really enjoyed it.
The Testaments; Margaret Atwood; PJH rating: ****1/2 The follow up to Atwood’s classic The Handmaids Tale did not disappoint – even after having to wait 20+ years for it to come out. We have greatly enjoyed Hulu’s version of Handmaid’s Tale which was so well done and this novel followed along with those new plot lines nicely. The completely unexpected plot twist is just amazing and satisfying. I have always loved Aunt Lydia and Margaret Atwood is a genius.
American Dirt; Jeanine Cummins; PJH rating: ****1/2 The harrowing tale of a Mexican family crossing the Mexican border was a favorite of many this year. I thought it was an intense novel and a good read. It was interesting reading about the protests about the book in regards to culture appropriation which I think was unfair. Fiction is fiction?
Inheritance; Dani Shapiro; PJH rating: ****1/2 After a routine genetic test a woman discovers that she has a different biological father. A surprisingly readable memoir that was suspenseful as well.
Other 4 1/2 ratings from 2020 that I consider “highly recommend”:
Beheld; TaraShea Nesbit
Bossypants; Tina Fey
Dear Edward; Ann Napolitano
The Bookshop of the Broken-hearted; Robert Hillman
I’m not sure why these are called Esther Thorpe – it’s what the woman I used to work with who gave me the recipe called them and what we have always called them. I’ve heard people call them “Christmas Crack” also. It is such an odd recipe but they are so good.
Esther Thorpe Saltines
1 cup packed brown sugar -light or dark works fine
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 bag of chocolate chips – milk or semi-sweet work fine
1 bag of toffee bits – or crushed up heath bars
preheat oven to 375 degrees
Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease it. Lay out the saltines so they cover the sheet in a single layer.
In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and brown sugar. Let cook until bubbling and then cook at the bubbling stage for a few more minutes. Make sure you are constantly stirring this for the entire time.
Pour the bubbling brown sugar mixture onto the crackers and spread it evenly as best as you can.
Bake for 5-10 minutes. Time may vary – keep a close eye on it. You want the mixture to be bubbling over the entire sheet and once at this point let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. If you smell the sugar mixture burning take it out of the oven for goodness sake.
Once out of the oven immediately cover the saltines with chocolate chips evenly. Let this sit for about 5 minutes.
Spread the melted/melting chocolate evenly over the saltines until you have coated the crackers in a layer of chocolate.
Sprinkle the toffee bits on top. (I put some crushed up candy canes on the ones I just made too for holiday spirit.)
Thanksgiving turned out to be very nice all things considered. Grace and Sophia flew in at 6:00AM Thanksgiving morning taking the red eye from Las Vegas after Sophia spent a week and a half with Grace. Claire and Corey came over for drinks around 5:00 and we converted our recently re-done garage into a a nice open air lounge. Claire and Corey stayed for socially distanced drinks and apps and then we loaded them up with food and they ate at home.
Thanksgiving 2020 menu
Turkey on the grill. Used this brine recipe with about two cups of apple cider and the rest water. Brined the turkey starting Wednesday evening. Turkey was PERFECT. Grilled on M-O-M to L-O-L for about 3 1/2 hours for the 13 1/2 lb turkey. We got the turkey from Fresh Fork CSA along with their Thanksgiving bag full of good vegetables and other good stuff.
Gravy. Used this recipeand this one to make it ahead of time and it turned out great. Beautiful dark brown color with nice flavor. I started it on WED and finished it THU morning. I used extra turkey wings and backs as well as the neck and heart from our turkey.
Cranberry sauce. Perfect recipe from Bon Appetit that we have used for years.
We had to reschedule our cancelled spring break trip from April, 2020 to a different date so we randomly picked the week of October 17th, 2020. We’re glad we did as we had perfect weather and everybody was able to come enjoy the beach.
Courtney, Jack, Sophia and I left CLE on Fri 10/16/20 around 7:30AM and drove all day to just south of Nashville. We stayed at a brand new Hampton Inn and Suites a bit south of Franklin, TN. Had BBQ for dinner at a place called Moe’s that was delicious. Headed out next morning and made it to Grayton Beach around 2:30PM with no troubles. The door lock wasn’t working… but we were early so went down to the beach and were able to get in around 3:00PM. Claire, Corey and Grace flew in to Destin, rented a car and arrived around 5:00ish. We stayed at the same house we stayed in 2 years ago and it was perfect for the week… beach around the corner and a deck and screened in porch facing the sunset that was beautiful every night. Our days were pretty much the same very day: early bike ride with a stop for coffee, late breakfast, hit the beach around 10ish, come up for lunch, back to beach and then up for sunset cocktails and dinner. As it is COVID times we only wet out to dinner once to the Red Bar and went to Seaside once for appetizers and drinks. Other than that we stayed on the beach.
This is the famous Nora Ephron peach pie recipe. I have a phobia about pie crust and this pie crust is so easy and so tasty… so is the pie.
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2 tblsp sour cream
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tblsp flour
1/3 cup sour cream
3-4 peeled sliced peaches
Put first 4 ingredients into a food processor and blend until a ball is formed. Pat out into a buttered pie plate. Bake 10 min. @ 425 degrees. Remove from oven. Beat 3 egg yolks slightly. Combine with 1 cup sugar, flour and sour cream. Arrange peaches in crust and pour egg mixture over peaches. Cover with foil. Reduce oven to 350 and bak 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes or more until filling is done.
We were supposed to be going to an Avett Brothers concert in Cooperstown, New York this weekend but of course… that got cancelled a long time ago. We decided to keep our scheduled time off and go up to Traverse City for a long weekend. Jack, Courtney and I left Cleveland around 6:00AM and got to our house we rented around 1:00PM. We were happy that they let us check in early and were happy with the house that was just on top of Long Lake, about a mile from Moomers. We wasted no time and set out for Sleeping Bear dunes where we went on a vigorous hike at Pyramid Point, a spot we’ve never been to before. The hike was interesting in that it went through forest, had amazing overlook views of Lake MI and also went through a beautiful meadow. It was was quite hilly so was a good workout. We drove down M22 on the way back, stopped in Glen Arbor and had a beer at Cherry Republic sitting outside in their courtyard listing to a guy play music. Very nice as we haven’t heard live music in months. We drove back through Traverse City – stopping at the grocery to stock up. We had a nice dinner of steak and potatoes and spent the evening relaxing outside the house around the campfire. We tried to stay up to see the shooting stars that were supposed to be out… but of course we didn’t make it that late.
Saturday, July 28, 2020
We drove to Glen Haven in the morning with out bikes, lunch and beach supplies. We biked about 2 hours on the Heritage Trail going from Glen Haven to the Dune Climb and then south towards Empire. It was a beautiful day and the bike trail was gorgeous. We changed into our beach attire at the car and then hiked through the dunes with our beach chairs and cooler to one of our favorite beaches of all time off of Sleeping Bear Point. We picnicked and relaxed enjoying the perfect setting. We drove back to the house, had a short siesta and then hit the road to Mission Point Peninsula to hit some wineries before dinner. We went to Black Star Farms, Mari Vineyards and then Bonobo winery. It was interesting to see how each of them dealt with the social distancing mandates. All of them were very nice with beautiful settings and good wine. The wine in the area is actually really good and the wineries that keep popping up are amazing. The quality is better every time we have gone up here. We ended up buying over a case of wine over the next few days at different places. Our goal was to have dinner at The Jolly Pumpkin at the top of the peninsula. We ended up waiting about a half an hour as their capacity was reduced like all places. The wait was a pleasure sitting in a grove of trees with the lake peeking through drinking Jolly Pumpkin sour beers. We had a nice dinner, sitting on their beautiful patio overlooking the lake.
Sunday, July 29, 2020
Jack drove me, Courtney and our bikes to Traverse City to get on the Leelanau bike trail that goes from Traverse City up to Sutton’s Bay – about a 12 mile bike ride. The bike trail was along an old railroad path and went through farms, vineyards and little villages. Very nice. We poked around Sutton’s Bay a bit and went into a couple stores. Jack was disk golfing while we were riding and we met him for lunch at Hop Lot Brewing Company in Sutton’s Bay. It had a great huge beer garden and they had the best pandemic ordering system of anyone we have seen so far. You ordered everything on your phone, the servers brought things to you and set it on a little table next to your table and you paid everything on your phone. Zero contact. Why doesn’t everyone do that? They had good beer too 🙂 . We did a tour of some of the wineries on the Leelanau peninsula after lunch. Our first stop was Tandem Ciders in an old school house surround by farmland. They had nice little spots to sit in corn fields and in the woods. Next stop was Shady Lane Cellars that was another beautiful place with tables spread out all over outside, a beautiful outside bar and one of the few places that let you do real wine tastings. We then went to Brengman Brother and… surprise… another awesome place. Jack especially likes this one as the people working there were very knowledgeable and we had some good conversation with them about the wine. We eventually made it back home, took a short rest and got cleaned up for going out. We went to dinner at Trattoria Stella which was in a development called Grand Traverse Commons which used to be an old insane asylum. The restaurant we went to was a very nice place, some say one of best in MI, and was in the basement of one of the buildings and kind of spooky – yet elegant and refined 😉 We had a great dinner starting with cocktails and then had fried zucchini blossoms and a nice charcuterie board with lots of different things from their in-house butcher. For mains we all split a fresh tomato salad, a local fish that I forget what it was and a plate of their home-made pasta. Afterward we walked around the very large grounds where most of the buildings were still abandoned, in bad shape but very interesting architecturally. It will be interesting to see if they fix them all up over the years.
Monday, July 30, 2020
We started our day hiking trail Bass Lake Loop in Sleeping Bear Dunes. The trail was through the woods and unfortunately it was full of mosquitoes almost the whole way – about an hour hike. We made it through but it wasn’t fun. We then drove down about 5 miles to Platte River Beach and waded through the river to get to the beach and then walked along the beautiful beach. It was another beautiful day and this beach was especially nice with hardly any people. We then went a few miles north to Esch Beach and found a nice spot with our beach chair and packed cooler. We brought our lunch with us and had a nice relaxing few hours. We then went on one more short hike at Empire Bluff which was about a mile hike going up through the woods that ended with another beautiful outlook onto Lake MI. We decided to stay in for dinner instead of going out and stopped at the grocery store to get burgers to grill. It was a good choice – hanging outside for cocktail hour and having a casual dinner.
Tuesday, July 31st, 2020
We took our time packing up and getting on the road as we were in no rush. We had an easy drive back to CLE listening to Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants all the way home which was fun. Another nice trip and hope to rent a house next summer around there somewhere for a whole week.
1fullvanilla bean (I like Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans)(Alternatively use 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)
5largeegg yolks,must be at room temperature*
3/4cupsuperfine white sugar,separated (regular white sugar will work too)
Optional: fresh berries to serve with
Start by splitting the vanilla bean down the center. Scrape out all the seeds and place into a large bowl. Take the vanilla bean pod and place in a small pot with the sea salt and heavy cream. If using vanilla extract, don’t add quite yet to the sea salt and heavy cream.
Heat the heavy cream mixture over the stove until the cream is simmering. Do not boil! Remove from the stove and set aside to slightly cool. Remove the vanilla bean pod. If using vanilla extract, stir it in to this mixture now.
In the bowl with the vanilla bean seeds (or an empty bowl if using vanilla extract), add the egg yolks and 1/2 cup superfine sugar. Beat until the mixture is light, about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, place 6 cups of water in a large pot and heat to boiling.
Add about 1/4th of the cream mixture into the egg + sugar mixture. Stir until combined, then pour the remaining heavy cream mixture into the egg + sugar mixture. Stir until combined.
Pour the prepared mixture evenly into the ramekins – use either (6) 4-ounce ramekins, (5) 5-ounce ramekins, or (4) 6-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins in a metal 9 x 13 baking pan and add boiling water to the pan until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 30-35 minutes at 325 F until the centers are barely set (very slight jiggle). Cool completely at room temperature and then refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving. (These can be refrigerated for 4-5 days before using)
When ready to serve, add the remaining 1/4 cup superfine sugar on top of the custards in equal portions. I find it helpful to use a little more sugar than needed to swirl around on top of the custard to make sure the top is evenly coated with sugar – then just pour the extra sugar onto the next ramekin. Use a kitchen torch to torch the tops until the sugar melts and browns (or even slightly blackens). Top with fresh berries and enjoy immediately 🙂
I went on a long weekend solo trip to visit Grace in Las Vegas. I left work at 3:00PM, took the rapid to the airport arriving in plenty of time and had an easy direct flight arriving 8:00PM Vegas time. Grace picked me up at the airport and we drove home to her apartment where I was staying with her.
Thursday, December 12, 2019
I dropped Grace off at work after stopping for coffee and then hit the road for Red Rocks Canyon Park which was just a quick 30 minute drive. I drove down a road towards Calico Basin which was actually a residential neighborhood with just a few amazing houses in the desert. I parked the car at the end of the street and walked toward the hills taking in the amazing scenery. Blue skies, no one else around and beautiful scenery. I hit the road, paid the fee to get in the park, drove around the scenic loop soaking in the scenery and stopping at two or three spots to explore on foot. I stopped at “Ice Box Canyon” and started on the trail that goes up to the mountain and through canyons but ran out of time and didn’t get to the end… next time. I drove back to LV to pick Grace up as she was only working a half day. We went to lunch at Esther’s Kitchen in the art’s district. It’s a popular place and was perfect for lunch. We each had pasta, bread and wine – all excellent. We drove back to Grace’s place so she could change out of her working clothes and then hit the road for more hiking. We drove about an hour and a half north to Valley of Fire State Park. The park was amazing – like walking on the moon. Truly breath taking. We drove around the loop, stopping at different places, taking lots of photographs and going on short hikes. We drove back to Grace’s place and took a rest for awhile and then drove to the strip. We had dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caesar’s Palace. We both had margaritas. I had ancho rubbed pork tenderloin and sweet potato tamale and Grace had whatever the fish special was. Everything was very good. After dinner we walked the strip – checking out the Christmas displays at Bellagio and getting dessert at the Momofuku window in the Cosmopolitan. Their cereal milk soft serve, that we had in NYC in the spring was our goal and it did not let down. So good.
Friday, December 13, 2019
I dropped off Grace at work in the morning and then worked for two hours at a coffee shop downtown called Mothership Coffee. It was a cool little place in a set of new shops that someone converted from an old motor motel. That section of Las Vegas, just beyond Freemont Street, is quickly turning into a great spot. I decided to drive to Hoover Dam to check it out as I never have been there. It was just about an hour drive. I took the tour that brought you into the powerhouse and then to some interesting viewing areas. Amazing to say the least. Pictures don’t do it justice. I liked all the art deco details and the hugeness of everything. I tried to find a hiking trail in the area but wasn’t able to find it so I decided to head back to Grace’s neighborhood to explore. I had lunch at a place called Honey Salt in Summerlin. I sat at the bar and had an Anchor Steam and avocado toast. I browsed a bit at some stores and then went back to Grace’s place, took a nap and waited for her to get home from her holiday party. We went to Fremont Street for the night. We grabbed some drinks and walked around enjoying the craziness. We stopped and played some $5 blackjack but had really bad luck and only lasted around 20 minutes – my only gambling of the trip. We had a really good dinner at a popular Thai place on Fremont Street called Le Thai. It had a great atmosphere and the food was excellent. After dinner we walked around some more and stopped at a club for one last cocktail. Fun night.
Saturday, December 14, 2019
We slept in a bit. I drove around the corner to get some coffee from Starbucks and stopped at a fancy donut place and brought them back. We eventually got ourselves going and went out shopping. Grace needed some side tables and lamps for her living room so I told her I would get them for her. We went to Target which didn’t have much of anything so we then went to IKEA which of course had everything and then some. We stopped and In and Out for burgers for lunch. I’ve never been to one so that was a nice treat. Burgers were good but fries were only so so. We then went shopping for a couple of hours at a nearby outdoor shopping place that had lots of good stores. We bought some Xmas presents as well as some things for the upcoming wedding. We went back to Grace’s and put together the IKEA items and rearranged her living room just a bit and it looks great. After taking a good afternoon nap, I packed up my stuff as I was flying home at 11:00PM and we hit the road. We decided to go to Chinatown. First stop was the Golden Tiki. An over the top tiki bar with all the trimmings. We sat at the bar, each had a good tropical drink and listened to the cheesy bar playing in the corner. The bathrooms are worth the trip. We then went a few blocks down to a small pho place that Grace heard was good. There were only about 8 tables that were all full and about 12 people waiting for one so we decided to go somewhere else – next time as it looks like a good spot. So we ended up going to Sapporo Revolving Sushi which ended up being super fun. After waiting for about 30 minutes at the bar, drinking a beer and sampling some sake from the very nice bartender we got to our table. A revolving track of little plates of sushi went around and you picked what you wanted, piling up your plates on the table so they knew how much to charge. You could also order from an ipad thing and a little robot rolls out with your order. So cool. We ate lots of sushi and ordered some pho and then match creme brulee. Everything was great… and relatively cheap. It was time to get to the airport after dinner so Grace dropped me off and was off to another party. My red eye flight was on time and I actually slept for most of it… a first. The flight was even thirty minutes early getting to CLE. Courtney picked me up at the ungodly hour and we went right back to bed when we got home.