I like lots of music that’s just plain pretty--I'll admit that I have a weakness for harmonies and a sprightly fiddle line-- but there’s something especially bracing for me about listening to women singing loud, singing honestly with little regard for “just plain pretty.” It makes me feel a little freer myself, like swearing sometimes does, like quitting jobs to take off traveling used to feel.

The latest album to scratch that itch for me is Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love. The songs are catchy, with quirky, inventive guitar. The lyrics are all about power, getting it or fighting it. My favorite song right now is the first single, “Bury Our Friends.”

We speak in circles
We dance in code
Untamed and hungry
On fire and in cold
Exhume our idols and bury our friends
We're wild and weary but we won't give in

My heart gives this little leap when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing that “won’t give in”.  The vocals are howled in No Cities to Love.  I read an article that said Tucker, in particular "sounds like a badly injured opera soprano, or like an enraged mother hyena.” She does, and it’s great. This whole album made me think of the story that Tina Fey told in Bossypants about Amy Poehler saying “I don’t care if you like it” , a story that seems to be resonating with me and a lot of women I’ve talked to lately. We want to be ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. We don’t care if you don’t like it.

One thing you will like is that this album, as of this writing, is available both on CD and on MCL’s streaming music and video service, Hoopla. So if you have a library card and an Internet connection, you could be listening to it right now. After that, check out this list I made of other loud, honest female voices. Let me know if there are artists I missed who I should have included!

I’ve said this before, but for me, cooking in winter-- after the holidays and too many cookies-- is all about vivid flavors, about food that both tastes good and will make me and my family feel good when we eat it. So I was delighted when my hold on Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More came in.

The first Ottolenghi cookbook I read was Plenty, which came out a few years ago. My husband and I both like to cook, and we look at a lot of recipes, which can make us kind of blasé about a new cookbook, but Plenty was exciting. We filled it up with post-its and started cooking from it, and eventually we just bought the book. We’re omnivores, but Ottolenghi has such an original way of celebrating vegetables that it was a while before we even paid attention to the fact that the recipes in the book are meatless.

Unlike Plenty, which focuses on Mediterranean recipes, Ottolenghi’s new cookbook widens its scope to include a range of world cuisines. I had some friends over for dinner recently and made a cheesy, quiche-like cauliflower cake inspired by an English dish and a delicious Thai lentil soup that knocked our socks off with its combination of star anise, ginger, lime juice, coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves, along with a pretty topping of finely sliced sugar snap peas. If you love your vegetables, you must take a look at this cookbook, which offers delights like an arugula salad with caramelized figs and feta, pea and mint croquettes, bell peppers stuffed with buttery rutabaga and goat cheese, and smoky polenta fries. Yum. The hold list is still kind of long, so you might want to check out this list of other excellent international cookbooks while you wait.

I read a lot of great books last year, so I had a hard time choosing, but (fanfare, please!) the best book I read in 2014 was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It came out in 2010, but I didn't read it for years because the title misled me into thinking it was a different kind of book altogether. The goon in the title is time, and the main theme of this book is how time changes us, turns us into someone we wouldn't have recognized when we were young. This could be a real bummer of a theme, too, but the book is so smart and engaging that the theme just kind of washed over me because I was completely involved with its characters and delighted by its fine writing.

Goon Squad seems like more of a collection of short stories than a novel, at first, but the characters are connected to each other, sometimes very loosely. The narrative bounces around in time from about the 1970s into the 2020s and is mostly about people involved with the music and entertainment industry. There's a very moving PowerPoint presentation, a punk rock show at a club in LA in 1979, a celebrity journalist who tries to rape the starlet subject of his interview, a lion attack in Africa,  and an erotic kiss delivered to the unwilling lips of a Mother Superior. Which is to say that this book is wildly entertaining on top of being incredibly, dazzlingly good.

I’m living more of a Little House on the (Urban) Prairie life these days, but when I was a kid, I didn’t want prairies, chores, or family togetherness. I was looking for the entrance into a magical world, like the Pevensie kids found to get into Narnia, or perhaps a cyclone to take me into Oz.

Quentin, the main character of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, was, like me, obsessed with finding his way into magical worlds-- but unlike me, he manages to do it. After that, the books are chock-full of unpredictable pleasures. Quentin flies to Antarctica as a goose, makes deals with a dragon, takes a voyage in a magical boat to the end of the world, and lives through what I believe is the best post-breakup smackdown in literary history. Finally, In The Magician’s Land, the third and last book of the series, which came out this year, he stops being kind of a jerk and turns into a man.

Excuse me for a moment while I push past the coats into this big old wardrobe. Feel free to check out my list of genre-bending fantasy novels while I’m gone. 
 

I understand your hesitation.

I thought about making preserved lemons for years before I actually did it. You have to pack them into jars, then let them sit and ferment for weeks before you can cook with them. Who plans like that?

I do, now. Once I made them, using Eugenia Bone’s recipe from the book Well Preserved, I found that I can’t live without them, especially after I discovered this kale Caesar salad. Sadly, I do think you have to make your own. I bought a couple of different brands from my favorite Middle Eastern market, and the purchased ones tasted like a cleaning product.

Use Meyer lemons, which are in season right now-- they’re a little sweeter and have a delicious floral quality. And really, all you need are lemons and salt and some clean jars. You quarter the lemons and stuff them in a jar with several tablespoons of salt, then pour in enough fresh-squeezed lemon juice to fill up the jars. There’s no need to process them. Just let them sit on your counter for three or four weeks until the sour, salty, faintly funky magic happens. You eat the whole lemon-- the peel is especially delicious. Eugenia Bone (can you tell I love that name?) suggests a couple of great ways to use them in this book, but I mostly use them in that kale salad and in tuna salad.

You can find a recipe for the lemons here , but do take a look at the book. Bone has ideas for lots of very special things to preserve in small batches, perfect for a novice or an experienced canner, including some things that would make nice holiday gifts.
 

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