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Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

You may recall that one time and the other time that I paired up and reviewed a recipe and a book in one sitting. Because nothing beats scarfing something down while flipping through some awesome pages. So let’s all take a break from analyzing the VMA awards and Googling what twerking is. Please.

Disclaimer: Depending on the food you’re eating, take care when turning pages. Loaning out a book with cheeto-fingerprint-corners can be awkward.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Yes, I love my soups and my novels… Almost equally. Not sure which one edges the other out, but in this case, it was pretty much a dead heat. I’m excited to share with you Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa and a maybe-not-all-that-authentic-but-really-yummy Shrimp Gumbo. Let’s hit the books first.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Yes, this is when I was dueling books at the airport with a somewhat strange pairing.
It totally worked though.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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If you’re in the mood for a novel that is both substantial and engaging, here it is. Every family’s story is both a comedy and a tragedy, and every individual is influenced by their heritage in ways we often don’t understand. This highlights the balance in one family and the insight into what drives us from one generation to the next.

Sometimes with a determined grimness and sometimes with a smirking humor, Diaz baldly lays out historical backgrounds and cultural experiences as a foundation for characters that feel very real. It’s rare to find a book that blends modern experiences so comfortably with a sense of ancestry and deep-rooted ways. There is perseverance, fear, and destiny – Beli, Lola, and Oscar are always moving from something, towards something and through something at the same time.

With multi-perspective storytelling, it can easily feel jarred and confused; somehow this novel manages to avoid that. Yunior serves as an anchor while the books moves fluidly through several characters, stories, and time periods to create a more rounded understanding of the family as a whole. Get 1/3 of a way through the book, and you’re sunk into it – you’ll feel compelled to stay up late and finish.

If you’re into this kind of thing, might I suggest some other fav’s of mine such as House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.

Okaybees, let’s get to the food!

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Sources: Pinterest and Original

Yes, this took a little bit of time to make. Consider it an investment. This stuff is very customizable, delicious, filling, and even freezes awesomely. Try it asap with some brown rice (not only a healthy choice, but a little more substantial when paired with the goodness of gumbo) and some fresh-baked rolls. Wegman’s were responsible for ours, of course.

Check out the original source, and keep in mind how easily you can make it your own. I changed a few things up, myself…

  1. Instead of being a seafood gumbo, mine was simply a shrimp one. Shrimp was a more affordable choice, and one everyone in our fam will eat a little more readily.
  2. I skipped the green bell peppers – I don’t eat them.
  3. I used vegetable stock instead of water/seafood stock. I keep vegetable bullion cubes in the house at all times since they are so useful.
  4. I skipped the boiled ham, as two out of our four don’t eat meat (but do eat fish & seafood).
  5. I use one of these fresh seasoning tubes in EVERYTHING as they are amazing, instead of dried herbs, etc.
  6. Obviously, I added cayenne pepper. You know me.

I give this recipe 4 stars, as well.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

My little guy even tried some out. What a champ!

Anyone else reading Junot Diaz? Think cayenne pepper is the finishing touch to pretty much anything? Finally watching Orange Is The New Black? I’m obsessed.

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Links to products on Amazon may be affiliate links. Keepin’ it real.

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Read & Eat: Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins & The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I really love to read. I also really, really love to eat and the two end up coinciding frequently. I believe I obsessed over The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon while cuddling one of those giant cardboard boxes of Goldfish Crackers. I pretty much devoured both.

Considering a book can be paired with a snack like you can pair a wine with a fancy cheese, I thought it would be fun to try something new over here. I’ve done food recipe reviews and I’ve done book reviews, but never at the same time. So, let’s read and eat.

Read & Eat: Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins & The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner | Painting Sunny

For me, Jennifer Weiner novels are a comfort food and a sweet indulgence, all at once. They are the quintessential beach reads, but also perfect for a cozy night in with a cup of tea and some sort of baked good. I think The Next Best Thing pairs very nicely with these warm, blueberry oatmeal muffins that are also indulgent, but from the Cooking Light website aren’t quite a guilty-pleasure. The paperback copy of The Next Best Thing was part of my Mother’s Day gift from Mr. Sunny – thanks babe, love you!

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

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I’ve long been a Jennifer Weiner fan, and my bookshelf serves nicely as evidence. Any time I read multiple books by an author, over time, I always connect more with some books than others. Among an author’s complete works, some books just feel fresher, sweeter, and more true to the writer as well as the topic. This is one of those books. Not since Little Earthquakes Everywhere (yes, my all-time favorite by Weiner) have I enjoyed one of her novels so much.

Ruth provides a new perspective, with a new set of challenges than the usual characters within Weiner’s books, or the genre for that matter. Like Little Earthquakes, it had light and funny moments and yet still retained a poignancy and insight into some very real hardships for women in our lives. The one note that fell a little funny for me were the antagonist supporting-characters. While Ruth is easy to love and can be the underdog you truly hope to see succeed, the starlets felt hollow and very much like the Hollywood stereotypes I’m accustomed to. Then again, Jennifer has been in real Hollywood and I haven’t – so maybe those stereotypes are more tackily true that I want to believe.

Speaking of Hollywood, when I read the Q&A and made the connection between Jennifer Weiner’s similar experience and the novel, I almost wished I had stayed in the dark. The storyline felt so original and effortless to sink into, I wanted to preserve it that way in my mind and not begin comparing it to any real-life drama. So, don’t Google it too fast, okay? The novel’s insight into the television-pitch process is fascinating enough, I promise.

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins by Cooking Light


The original draw of this recipe was to find a healthy-ish addition to my kid’s school lunches and snacks that they would still find tasty. You know, they made a pretty tasty snack for myself as well! Warm out of the oven, the blueberries work well with the heartier density of the oatmeal and wheat flour, so don’t skimp on the berries. I make it a point to follow a recipe to a T the first time I make it, and tried to do the same here. The only change is that where the original recipe recommends using all-purpose flour and wheat flour separately, I went ahead and used “white wheat flour” for both amounts – it’s what I had on hand and I was in a bit of a hurry.

The batter comes out thin, but the muffins come out surprisingly springy and filling. The lemon zest was pretty crucial, I found – it added a fresher taste that kept the muffins from feeling too heavy, and made them smell divine.  They don’t have the lightness and sweet bliss of more indulgent, bakery-style muffins so keep in mind that to add that healthy quality, sometimes you have to adjust your expectations a bit. Still, I’ll be making them again.

Read & Eat: Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins & The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner | Painting Sunny

Anyone else believe that zest can be like the glue that holds the recipe together? Read Jennifer Weiner’s latest release? Eat those goldfish crackers shamelessly straight out of the giant box?

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Links to products on Amazon may be affiliate links. Keepin’ it real.