If you love food, you’ll love Yes, Chef

So, who wants to go to Harlem with me and eat Swedish meatballs?

Y’all, this book. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson was my latest audiobook memoir of an inspiring person, and I think I liked it better than any of the others I’ve listened to (except maybe Open). That probably has a lot to do with the descriptions of food.

Here are the basics: an Ethiopian orphan adopted by Swedish parents follows his dream of “chasing flavors” to become a James Beard award-winning celebrity chef. I had heard of Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, but that was all I knew about him before picking up this book (the lack of food shows is the worst part about not having cable). You may have seen Samuelsson on Top Chef Masters or Iron Chef, and if you’re like Y and constantly have NPR on in your car, you may have heard his Fresh Air interview. 

5 things:

1. I’m kind of dying to go to Addis Ababa now. Samuelsson visits Ethiopia many times throughout his adult life — one of those times with a team from Travel and Leisure — and his descriptions of the smells, the sounds, and the Starbucks spelled with 2 “K”s won me over. 

2. This book was as satisfying as if I was eating it. Seriously. I was walking Ike while listening and just as Samuelsson bit into an empanada, I accidentally knocked my headphones out of my ear. I almost fell over trying to grab the headphones. It was torture. I needed to know what that empanada tasted like. 

3. In all the memoirs/biographies I’ve read, these incredibly successful people knew their calling from childhood. Which basically means it’s too late for me. Can anyone recommend a book about a lazy 30 year old that suddenly becomes really amazing at something and leaves a huge mark on the world?

4. This audiobook was read by the author, which can be hit or miss. In this case, it was a hit. 

5. Samuelsson’s first restaurant, Aquavit, had a location in Minneapolis in the late 90s that closed after 9/11. I Googled the restaurant to see where in Minneapolis it was located, and came across a 1998 article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune with the headline New fancy Swedish restaurant comes to downtown Minneapolis, which made me laugh. Oh, how far the Minneapolis food scene has come. Today, in this city that’s super proud of its food scene, no one would ever dare describe a restaurant as “fancy”. 

Up next: I’m ready to devour any and all food memoirs. On my “shelf”:

Clockwise from top left: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 //

things I hate about Minnesota

If you’ve been following along on our little adventure of moving to Minneapolis, you know that I don’t hate it here — in fact, I love it. But there are a few little things I’ll never quite get used to about this part of the country. Maybe I don’t quite hate them, but I’ll do anything for a compelling blog post title. 

1. Your socks matter.

You’re pretty much expected to take off your shoes whenever you step into someone’s house, which isn’t the norm in the south. I get it – no one wants snow on their floors – but it’s a little difficult for me to get used to. My entire life I’ve been throwing on mismatched socks, socks with holes in them, and ugly, dingy socks because I was the only one who saw them. It’s been 29 years; I can’t just change the level of care I give my socks. I will always lose just one, therefore, I will always show up to your party wearing one neon pink sock and one neon green sock.

Related: there’s no point in finding the perfect shoe to complete an outfit when you’re going to someone’s house. And there’s no point to having feet if you can’t wear cute shoes, I’ve always said.

2. Talking about the weather

What I hate more than the weather (in fact, I don’t even hate the weather) is how much people talk about the weather. On an especially cold day, I dread going to work because I know at least seven people will stop by my office and ask, So, what do you think about this weather? I  would be happy if no one ever mentioned the temperature again (unless it sounded like this).

Also, people love to complain, no matter what it’s like outside.
It’s soooo cold. 
That snow is going to make my drive home miserable. 
Ugh, the rain is so depressing. 
It’s sooooo humid. (Editor’s note: No. It’s not humid. You’re wrong.)
It’s beautiful outside, too bad it’ll be cold again soon. 

3. Lack of respect for college football

When I first moved here, someone asked me if I like football. “Well, I really like college football,” I replied. He scoffed. “College football? That’s not a real sport.” His phone chirped. “Excuse me,” he said, “I have to go fix something on my fantasy football team.”

4. Target

Okay, that’s a lie. I could never hate Target. But hear me out: in Shreveport, my shopping choices were limited, and I basically shopped exclusively at Target. (I can’t online shop. I must touch all of the clothes.) For some reason, the rest of Shreveport didn’t seem to venture into Target’s clothing section, and people often stopped to ask me where I got my clothes. Somehow I was unique in my mass produced fast fashion.

Here, I wear something from Target, and three people stop me and say, ” Oh, is that from the Spring ’06 Target line? I actually worked on marketing for that line.” 

in a polar vortex

In a polar vortex, your urine looks like this:

Just kidding. That’s a jar of homemade bubbles. Because in a polar vortex, bubbles look like this:

During the first polar vortex (we’re currently in Polar Vortex 2: Back in the Habit) I declared that we needed to go somewhere warm and green. The Como Zoo in St. Paul hosts a winter concert series called Music Under Glass, and it’s the perfect escape from winter: warm and humid (the good kind of humid. Not Louisiana humid.) and full of life. We walked through the gardens and listened to acoustic covers of pop songs.

And then we ran as fast as we could to the car because it felt like -40 degrees.

The restaurant we chose for dinner, The Mill NE, didn’t exactly have the cozy vibe warranted for such extreme temperatures, but it was delicious nonetheless. I loved my butternut squash bisque and cocktail made with pear cider, vodka, and dandelion bitters which, by the way, are an actual thing.

The roads were empty. The concert was empty. The restaurant was empty. And I was kind of proud of us for not letting the weather win.

Weekend lessons: frozen waterfalls, winter hikes and bacon

Let me tell you how my weekend started.

It started with me racing to get to a yoga class. I parked four blocks away and speed walked through sheets of ice in my fancy boots. Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall, I chanted in my head. 

And I didn’t. Phew. 

As I triumphantly burst through the front door, so proud of myself for not slipping, I fell flat on my face in the lobby.

Oh, and the class was full and I was turned away. I was pretty sure this was a sign — the start of a terrible weekend — but then we woke up to a fresh blanket of snow, and being the first person to walk in fresh snow is like opening a new book for the first time: it’s quiet and it smells nice and for a little while, you’re in a different world. It’s a game changer. 

A few more lessons:

01. This is what happens when a waterfall freezes.

02. This is the face of someone who is about to throw a snowball.

03. How to get free bacon: sit at the bar. Order a bloody mary. Humor the chatty bartender. When he asks you what beer you want for your chaser, say “bacon.”

why i retired from the grammar police

I used to be one of them.

If I read an article with a typo, I would scoff. “Someone needs a proofreader,” I’d call out to everyone within earshot, so proud of my catch.”This is so unprofessional.”

And then three things happened.

1. I became an editor. And it’s not actually that easy.

As copywriter at a non-profit, I’m also entrusted with editing basically every piece of copy the organization puts out. Which is fine. As a former member of the grammar police (and a lifelong reader), errors just pop out at me. Proofreading something is almost fun, kind of like a treasure hunt. (I am so fun.)

But the problem is, it’s never just one something. It’s an article that I wrote and, in the process of editing, read ten times. Then someone else changed the content, so I needed to read and edit it again. This happened five more times. By the twentieth time reading something, it’s impossible to actually read something. You’re skimming. On top of that, it’s never the only thing on my desk to edit. Somewhere in that mess, I’m going to miss an errant apostrophe — and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

2. I realized the smartest person I know can’t spell.

Y is basically the smartest person I know. He can solve any problem, remember any fact, and debate academically on topics he knows nothing about. But grammar and spelling aren’t his strong suit.

The reason spelling and grammar come naturally to me isn’t because I’m smarter than anyone else. (I’m definitely not.) It’s because, as an only child and semi-nerd, I spent a lot of my childhood reading. Eventually, my brain learned patterns, and it now automatically pops up a red flag when it sees a word spelled wrong, because it’s probably seen that word spelled correctly in 100+  Babysitters Club books, the entire Goosebumps series, and the thousands of other books I’ve read in my life.

On the flip side, I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV. Often, I’ve only seen a word and have no idea how to pronounce it. I’ve definitely been mocked for mispronouncing a word — which is far more embarrassing than misspelling a word.

3. I started reading comments.

Don’t ask me why I started doing this –it’s bad for my health — but anytime I read an online article or blog post, I continue scrolling down and read the comments until I’m ready to renounce my humanity. The comments section (on most sites) are where the saddest people in the world hang out, and the grammar police are some of the worst offenders. Here’s a mock conversation that might happen in the comments of, let’s, say, a house tour on a design blog:

Person A: Why are all kitchens white these days? It’s so boring! Why can’t people be more creative? Everyone is just controlled by Pinterest these days. I hate this blog.

Person B: Um, I’ve had a white kithen since WAY before Pinterest. Some people just like white, and if you don’t like this post, you should just go read another blog.

Person C: Nice try, idiot, it’s KITCHEN. Maybe learn how to spell the name of the room before you try to comment on a DESIGN blog.

There are a few cases where I still roll my eyes — a billboard for a respected company has just six words on the sign and one of them is spelled wrong; people adding apostrophes to pluralize words; a few other random pet peeves — but for the most part, I’ve turned in my badge. And I have to say I think I’m happier for it.

Weekend lessons: snowshoeing, gumbo, & the Golden Globes

01. We went snowshoeing yesterday for the first time and… I don’t think I get it. Why couldn’t I have just walked? I would have been far less likely to trip. What am I missing here?

02. What’s more obnoxious than the fact that I pay for Hulu Plus, yet still have to watch ads? The fact that I pay for Hulu Plus and have to watch THE SAME AD over and over. There were a few weeks where I was alternately laughing at a comedy and sobbing over the commercial where a kid tries to get home from college to say goodbye to his dying dog. Poor Boomer. Lately we’ve been treated to a Geico commercial that we basically have memorized: Hold still, Mr. Tickles. Don’t get all caddy-wampus. Anyone else recognize that?

03. If you go to a Willy Wonka themed birthday party, brace yourself for a sugar hangover, not a hangover hangover. 

04. Southern food writer John T. Edge told me to try eating gumbo over roasted sweet potatoes. So I did. And I’m a believer.

05. Awards Shows are way more fun when you spend them with invisible internet friends. Also, I audibly squealed when Amy Poehler won. What were you excited about?

06. I slept in yesterday morning — meaning I slept until 10 — and I have to say I’m not a fan of sleeping in on the weekends. It’s the only time I have to do whatever I want. Why waste it sleeping?

my favorite (and not so favorite) books of 2013

As I sat down to write my round up of notable books from 2013, I asked myself the obvious question: Why has no one reviewed books using the format of designer impostor perfumes? 

Surely you remember designer impostor perfumes? They were three dollars and just like the real thing, except in a tacky aerosol can. If you like [insert designer perfume], they read, you’ll love [insert made up name that is vaguely similar to the original]. My go to was “Wanna Play?!”, until I convinced my parents that my life would be ruined forever unless they let me buy the actual holy grail bottle of Clinique Happy. 

Anyway. Tangent!

Inspired by three dollar perfume, I bring you my most memorable reads of 2013. 

(In an effort to reduce clutter, I get all of my books through the library, and then, at the end of the year, only purchase my absolute favorites to add to my library. Those are noted with an asterisk.)

I was not prepared for the weird sexual plot of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. It wasn’t my thing. But if you’re intrigued and pick it up based on this vague comment, I won’t judge you.

I’ve already gushed about Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open.*

The System was a series of interesting — and sometimes downright depressing — articles about college football. I loved this inside look at my favorite sport.

I realize Steve Jobs isn’t from 2013, but I finally got around to listening to it. I believe there are four stages of handling this book: awe at how far computers have come, depression that I have done nothing with my life, validation at my bossiness in decorating our house (the iPod wouldn’t have been the iPod without Steve Jobs’s unfaltering vision),and inspiration (to buy a new laptop).

Listening to Open and Steve Jobs made me realize something: hearing biographies of inspiring people is my cure for traffic. Along those lines, the biography of Jim Henson was a solid choice. (And! the other night someone asked a question about the Muppets and I knew all the answers. I’m a hit at parties.)

I read Me Before You in about four hours and cried for about two of them. 

The Art of Racing in the Rain* is about the love between and a man and his dog, which obviously killed me.

Beautiful Ruins takes place partly on the rocky shores of Italy. Is there a better setting for a love story? I don’t know that I actually bawled at this one, but it was a close call.

One of the ways I know I loved a book is when I read it in January and still think about it in December. The Language of Flowers* was one of those books.

Okay, a synonym for “bawl my eyes out” is “smile like an idiot”. I listened to Eleanor & Park* this fall and, as I mentioned, people driving next to me were probably wondering what the hell was wrong with the girl in the Prius who was smiling like an idiot.  

While dystopian young adult novels are so hot right now, The Age of Miracles takes a slightly different approach and explores the makings of a dystopian future. This teenage love story was set in a world where the rotation of the earth begins to slow. I swear every time I catch a sunset I think about this book and get chills.

The Orphan Master’s Son won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction so probably doesn’t need my added endorsement. Because of it, I’m now fascinated with North Korea, which will be important when I meet Dennis Rodman. It’s also made me the kind of person who spends her Sunday mornings drooling over slideshows like this one. And, it made for an interesting trip to northern Minnesota.

Americanah was a transatlantic love story set between Nigeria and America. I like learning about different cultures through essentially ordinary lives, and while this book wasn’t my favorite, I can’t really say anything negative about it

While the “mystery” aspect of this book was a little disappointing, You Are One of Them painted an entertaining picture of post-cold war Russia. (I listened to this one, so the Russian accents helped too)

So this might seem a bit specific, but if you love Lauren Graham — and who didn’t adore her in Gilmore Girls? — you have to listen to Someday, Someday Maybe, a cute, quick book about a struggling actress in New York that Graham wrote and narrates. I snort-laughed several times. And squee-ed. There was definitely squee-ing.

The Interestings* told the story of a group of friends from summer camp and followed their lives into adulthood. As a product of summer camp, there were moments where I felt like the author had jumped into my brain. I loved this book.

The Shining Girls, about a time traveling serial killer. Your worst nightmare.

Where’d You Go Bernadette* is as quirky and charming as all of its many, many admirers say it is.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is classic Sedaris, although he added some fiction shorts that I wasn’t completely sold on.

Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar was a solid hit for the first half of the book, when Kelly Oxford told stories from her childhood. Then she grew up and her stories were drug and alcohol fueled and it was all kind of, “huh, maybe you had to be there.”

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is based on the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fascinating wife Zelda. I listened to this one, and let me tell you, Ike got a lot of extra walks so I could finish it faster.