Epiphanies While Reading Others’ Words

I read a good bit – not as much as I should, but more than most people. I’ve read twenty seven books this year! (list here) I picked up the latest Amy Tan book Where the Past Begins at Costco a couple of months ago and just started reading it. It is another of her memoirs, but this one is very free form.

Amy Tan Where the Past Begins

So, I’m reading this book about Amy’s life and her relationship with music in particular. She tells of when she was a child and her mother forced her (and her brother) to take piano lessons. I, too, took piano lessons and was terrible at it because I hate to practice and never would. She writes about the 15 years of piano she took and her hatred of the whole process. (I concur.) She writes of a recital she had when she was just beginning piano lessons. She was to play a Bach piece (Minuet in G Minor) and she failed to play the whole piece – her fingers got mixed up and she just couldn’t play the piece. In reality, this incident was not such a big deal; kids screw up recitals all the time. But it turned into a HUGE deal for her. It ruined her desire to play piano and it affected her for 50 years into the future.

While she was writing this memoir, she was digging through her family’s piles of history: notes, letters, photos, belongings. The detritus of family history that ends up in boxes. She found the sheet music of her “nemesis”, the Bach Minuet in G Minor in a box and recalled that dreadful recital. So she went to her piano and tried to play it. First, she was astonished that a young child was expected to play such an advanced piece. Then, as she played it, she found herself stuck, again, in the exact same spot as she’d been stuck decades ago at that recital. Her fingering was wrong and the piece simply cannot be played unless the fingering is correct. She hammered on that piece until 2am, until she finally got it right.

During the hours she was killing herself over this piece of music that had haunted her for decades, she realised that THIS INCIDENT had echoed throughout her life. She says:

“They [the notes she was stuck on] contained so many emotions; the reason I had hated public performance for many years; the reason I hate being forced into any kind of competition; the reason that I play the piano only when I am alone. The reason why I hate to this day any kind of expectation placed on me, including those having to do with books I am writing. My stomach lurches at the thought of public scrutiny whether expectations were met.” -Amy Tan from Where the Past Begins

Oh, man, does this hit close to home for me. I immediately remembered times in my youth where I publicly failed and it has stayed with me, too. In the exact same way. It also made me a perfectionist and it made me an information junkie: I like to know the truth, not just what someone says about it.

When I took piano lessons, of course there was a recital and I did poorly. I didn’t take lessons for long, but I quit soon after that recital. Another time, around 2nd or 3rd grade, I entered a spelling bee. It seemed like a no brainer since I was a walking dictionary! I was so nervous that I missed the first (very easy) word: ammonia. I knew good and well how to spell it, yet when I spoke, I said a-m-o-n-i-a. No idea why I did that. But this set the stage for my fear of failure. Oddly, I’ve never been shy in front of groups – hell, public speaking class was my favourite in college!! I’ve been known to jump onstage and sing with bands! I adore karaoke!

BUT, you put me in a situation where expectations are put on me and I could be held to public scrutiny and I balk every time, audience or no audience. I also detest competition of any sort. I am ambitious, but not competitive. I will crush you like sparrow egg, but not in a direct way.

Anyway, this is a little glimpse into what makes me the person I am today. I’d never really thought much about the piano recital or the spelling bee, but when I read Amy Tan’s words, it was a VERY bright light going off in my brain. I’ve often wondered why I’m so averse to competition…now I have insight into that.

I also know where my family gets the belief that I never finish anything. They saw these failures and rather than set me up to get past them, they reinforced them over the years. When I wanted to go off to college, my family was against it. They thought it was “stupid” and a “waste of time”. They didn’t want to help me with the costs – but they did help some, while complaining. I found out that my father had started a pool to see how long I’d stay in school – since I never finished anything in his mind. Finding that out HURT. But this is how my family works: once an opinion is formed, that’s it. It’s done. Everything is set in stone with them, which is why they are miserable, unhappy people who literally do the same things every single day/week/month/year/decade and can’t figure out why nothing changes. Due to their lack of encouragement and downright cockblocking my desire to get an education, I’ve carried lots of baggage about what I can achieve.

So, you parents out there, HEAR THIS:

Let your kids fail, but then teach them to get back up and try again. There is NO SHAME in failure. It is just something that happens sometimes. If you never try, you’ll never fail and if you never fail, you’ll never move forward.

My brother was never allowed to fail. He has been propped up by the family his whole life. He let go of his dream of being a trauma nurse long ago, because June and Rick demanded that he get into the family business. So he did, without question. He has never had a relationship, or a job outside the family, or lived outside the family. He has never failed. And his life is a depressing mess.

I have ZERO regrets. I don’t regret leaving the family or anything that has led me to where I am now. Every failure has brought me to this point. I’ve lived a life that has underutilized my abilities at times, but I still feel accomplished in many ways. I got an education. I left the backwater of E TN. I’ve learned so much about so many things, it’s astonishing. I am a fully realised person because of every failure and every set back. I’ve seen people who glide through life without any challenges and they always seem…I dunno…incomplete, somehow. Like they don’t really get it. And they don’t. It’s the struggles that make you stronger. It’s the challenges that bring out your grit. And that’s the stuff of success: GRIT.

So, thank you Amy Tan, for hitting that neuron this morning. It has given me new insights into myself and I feel energized by the realisations. Now, all y’all GO FORTH and CONQUER your fears! Live life without regrets! LIVE!

Angela’s Mirliton Casserole

I learned about mirlitons, aka gator eggs, aka chayote squash from my friends from New Orleans. I had mirliton casserole at a gathering and loved it, so I wrote my own recipe. Enjoy! WELCOME GOOGLERS! This is a legit recipe, given the thumbs up from all my NOLA friends. Bon Appétit!


Angela's Mirliton Casserole

This is a great addition to any holiday spread! The spicy boil flavours and fresh chayote squash make for a delicious side dish. You can make it with shrimp and crab or without.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Cajun
Keyword chayote casserole, mirliton casserole, shrimp and crab side dish, shrimp side dish, spicy shrimp and mirliton casserole
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings 8
Author misangela


  • 4 large chayote squash (mirlitons) or 6 medium ones
  • 1 pound small salad shrimp frozen is fine
  • 1 can crabmeat use 2 if you love crab
  • 3 cups breadcrumbs or stuffing mix I use half cornbread and half regular
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 large onion or 2 medium, small dice
  • 2 stalks celery small dice
  • 1 red bell pepper small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tsp cayenne more or less to taste
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt to taste
  • 2 Tbl butter, salted
  • 5 scallions fine slice
  • ½ cup parsley fine chop
  • 1 lemon zest and juice
  • ½ cup parmesan shredded
  • 1 bottle Zatarain's Boil liquid
  • French's Onions to top casserole


  • Prep all your ingredients before you start to cook. Mise en place will greatly improve your cooking!
  • Start a large stock pot of water to boil.
  • Peel, seed and dice mirlitons. About 1" dice. When water boils, pour in the whole bottle of Zatarain's and add the chayote. Cook for about 15 minutes until the squash is tender.
  • Remove squash with spider or slotted spoon to a large bowl. Cook shrimp in the boil water just until opaque. Remove shrimp when done and reserve liquid.
  • In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Sweat onion, celery, pepper and garlic. Cook gently until soft. Add cayenne and S/P. Set aside.
  • In the large bowl, break up the chayote squash until consistency you like. Add in the cooked veg, scallions, parsley, breadcrumbs, dry mustard, lemon zest and juice, and parmesan. Stir to incorporate.
  • Finally, gently stir in shrimp and crabmeat until thoroughly combined. Check seasoning. If it's a little too dry, add in some reserved cooking liquid.
  • Put into a large 9x13 dish or two 9x9 square dishes sprayed with food release spray. Top with French's onions and bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

Artichoke & Green Chile Dip

Nick found some random dips on sale at Kroger the other day and one was an artichoke and green chile dip. It was good, but I thought I could reproduce it and maybe make it even better. I did! I served this at the party and it was snarfed down in a hurry. It’s easy and delicious!

Artichoke & Green Chile dip

1 8oz package of cream cheese, room temp
2 tsp garlic paste (or 1 clove of garlic, pasted)
1/3 cup mayo
1/3 cup sour cream
4 oz can diced green chiles, drained
1/3 cup monterey jack cheese, fine shred (I think pepper jack would be even better!)
1 4oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1/2 tsp dill
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard (or 1 tsp dijon)

Cream together first 4 ingredients by hand or with a mixer until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and let sit in fridge for at least half an hour before serving. Great with veg or crackers!

Buffalo Cauliflower Pasta Bake


Buffalo Cauliflower Pasta Bake

I ran across this recipe the other day and was intrigued. I cut it down to fit a 9×9 dish and cut down the pasta. I did some other tweaks as well and it turned out SO GOOD. If you want it completely low carb, I think you could leave out the pasta and panko, and make about half of the sauce. This dish dirties a lot of pans, but is TOTALLY worth it. :)
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword buffalo cauliflower pasta, buffalo sauce, cauliflower, cheese, pasta
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Author misangela


  • 4 qt pot
  • skillet
  • 1-2 qt saucepan
  • 9x9 baking dish


  • 1 med cauliflower, cut into 1" florets white or orange will work
  • 1/2 lb elbow macaroni OR cavatappi, penne, farfalle - any smallish pasta will work
  • 2 Tbl kosher salt
  • 6 Tbl butter, cut up
  • 1 small white onion, small dice about 1/2-2/3 cup
  • 2 stalks celery, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Franks Hot Sauce It is the way. ONLY Franks!
  • 2 tsp L&P Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbl Flour A/P or SR, whatever
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp DRY Franks seasoning Look for it in the spice section. Optional, but adds a depth of flavor!
  • 1 1/2 cups half n half Whole milk is OK; whole buttermilk is GREAT!
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese or all cheddar if you wish
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup panko
  • 1 Tbl EVOO for panko
  • 1/2 cup Blue cheese crumbles to taste


  • Get all your veg prepped and ready to go. Mise en place is really important for a multi-step recipe such as this.
  • Spray a 9×9 baking dish with nonstick spray. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 Tbl salt. Cook cauliflower until tender, about 6-8 minutes. I like mine completely cooked at the end, so I go 8 minutes. If you like it a little al dente, just do 5-6 minutes.
  • Remove cauliflower with a slotted spoon or spider to a colander, but keep water for the pasta. Add the pasta and cook until its al dente. Remember, the casserole will be cooked more in the oven.
  • Melt 3 tbl butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook celery and onion until soft then add in the cauliflower and garlic. Add about half (1/4 cup) Franks and half (1 tsp) L&P, and cook for a couple of minutes more. Set aside.
  • Melt 3 tbl butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, mustard and dry Franks, if using. Whisk in half & half and remaining hot sauce + L&P and stir for a minute. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Off heat, add sour cream. Check for heat level and add more Franks if you wish.
  • To assemble the casserole, put a layer of macaroni in the bottom of the baking dish and cover with about 1/3 of the sauce. Mix the remaining macaroni in with the cauliflower and veg, then layer that in. Pour over the remaining sauce. 
  • Mix panko with about a tbl of EVOO, then mix in the blue cheese. Layer that over the top of the casserole.
  • Bake casserole in a 350°F oven for about half an hour, or until it is bubbly and the panko is browned. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Reading List 2017

I’m going to attempt to list every book I read this year. This includes cookbooks and graphic novels. I’ll give a rundown of each book as I finish it. No description means it’s in progress. [Updated Dec 18 2017, 27 books this year! NOT BAD!]

KINDLE! I don’t read much on Kindle but I am reading Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman and I just read Dead Trees Give No Shelter by Wil Wheaton. The Gaiman book is an entertaining collection of vignettes. The Wheaton novelette is a really great short read. Speaking of Wheaton, if you’ve not listened to Ready Player One read by him, DO SO. It is incredibly well done!

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – SLOW. OMG so slow. It’s very literary, you know, florid descriptions and language. But SO HARD to get through. And very long.

The Peach Keeper, Sarah Addison Allen – Short book, sort of a mystery/ghost story. Pretty good.

China Dolls, Lisa See – The 2nd book by her I’ve read. She’s kind of an Amy Tan knockoff (one of Tan’s proteges). I like her mix of history and fiction. I learned a lot about WWII treatment of Japanese from this book. The other book I read from her last year was Dreams of Joy, which was set in the late 50s when the New Society (Communism) took over China. This book had some VERY disturbing things in it about how the people of China suffered during this time. But again, historical fiction is a great way to learn history.

The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout – This is a family history kind of story. It’s depressing and slow. Not very good.

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh – I didn’t think I was going to like this one, but I did. It weaves the story of an orphan girl’s life with the Victorian tradition of using flowers to convey messages. Every flower (and other plants) has a meaning and this book uses these meanings to tell the story. Clever and overall a good read.

Blackwood Farm, Anne Rice – This 2002 novel is more of the Vampire series but with a ghost story twist. It’s long and full of her usual verbose style. It’s written in first person as a story told to the reader, a style she’s used before. It’s long and just OK. Lestat makes an appearance, so there’s THAT.

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, Patricia Tanumihardja – Got this for Xmess, but read it in January. Awesome recipes of every kind of Asian comfort food. Tons of soups and noodle dishes.

Les Diners de Gala, Salvador Dalí – An art book that happens to have recipes. It’s a collection of the recipes that Dalí’s wife Gala used for various dinner parties. Some of the recipes are very weird. But I didn’t get it for the recipes, it’s a beautifully done large coffee table book. I love it!

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Joshilyn Jackson – Eh, it was just OK. Kinda predictable, but it’s an ok beach read. I did like its Southern hillbilly roots and the insight into just how dysfunctional Southerners can be.

Carthage, Joyce Carol Oates – A twisted tale of family drama. I identified with one of the main characters, Cressida, in that we are both misunderstood by our families and we share a strong disdain for our families. Her escape and return resonated with me.

Hyperbole and a Half (hardback collection), Allie Brosh. A collection of her online blog/comics with commentary. LOL hilarious at times. A good read.

Haul from Half Price Books

Peony in Love, Lisa See – It’s a bit one note, but OK. It’s a story about a Chinese opera and a girl who dies and becomes a ghost that haunts the man she was supposed to marry. Not much history other than the practice of foot binding (“lily feet”) and the Peony opera.

Wildflower, Drew Barrymore – Meh. It’s a collection of short essays from Drew’s life. She is a lunatic. Poor thing. Pisceans are always weird, but she is OUT THERE. She had no discernible upbringing, so I guess it’s the outcome of that. And her father was nuts, too. It’s a good summer read.

Magical Thinking, Augusten Burroughs – A funny memoir! I think I’ve read it before, but it’s still good the second time!

Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows – I found this book fascinating. This lady spent several years living in China and it’s her description of what it’s like to try to learn Chinese. Very insightful and a good read if you’re a language nerd like me.

What Comes Next and How to Like It, Abigail Thomas – This is a delightful little memoir that is written a lot like blog posts. I identify with Abby and her take on the world is much like mine.

Waiter Rant, The Waiter (from the website) – This is taken from a blog, but the writing is very good. The author’s insights into restaurant culture is spot on. Good read.

Thai & South-East Asian Cooking (cookbook, various authors) – I’ve already perused this one, but not read it through. Nicely illustrated and lots of soups, which are my current obsession.

Haul from Ollies!

Moar Books!

Hungry Heart, Jennifer Weiner DELETED. NOT INTERESTED.

All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner – UGH. This book is about some privileged white mom with a whiny brat of a kid. No wonder she’d addicted to Oxy. Had to abandon this one. Doesn’t bode well for the other Weiner book.

Woman of the Dead, Bernard Aichner MOVED TO 2018 LIST

The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende – I’ve started this one and I love it. Allende has a beautiful way of writing. This is an exquisite novel. I cried at the end. I highly recommend this one!

Close Range, Annie Proulx (not pictured) – Started this book Dec 2017. It’s a collection of short stories all having to do with cowboys on the range. Many are set in the early 1900s. Not what I usually read, but so far, they are so well written that I’m really enjoying the book! MOVED TO 2018

Haul from Goodwill!

Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, Julia Child – Great cookbook/cooking how-to. It’s Julia! Of course it’s good!

Out Stealing Horses, Per Peterson – This was a rather bleak book, set in Norway. It’s translated from Norwegian, actually. It’s a good, twisty story but a little slow. Worth a read, tho.

A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain – Great book! Written from when he was shooting his Food Network series. Very colourful and entertaining.

Willful Creatures, Aimee Bender – A delightful collection of strange short stories. Interesting points of view, interesting characters, just good, engaging short story writing. Loved it!

Something Chinese that I got because it’s pretty. No, I won’t be reading this since I can’t read Chinese.

Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – A historical novel about a Polish boy who escapes the camps and is discovered by a Greek man who smuggles him out of Poland, back to Greece. Lots of history of the Nazis and their influence in Greece during WWII, which I really had not thought of. Also lots of history embedded in the narrator’s remembrances of his family and what they went through during the war. A dry and literary book, but still interesting for the history that you learn while reading it.

Tweet Heart, Elizabeth Rudnick – UGH. NO. This is a kids book. Geared for high schoolers. Couldn’t tell that from the description on the back. Did not read this, obviously.

Where the Past Begins, Amy Tan – OMG such a GREAT book! I really love Amy’s writing anyway, but her memoirs are always touching and this is no exception. I cried at the end. She is one of our best writers and you should read every word of every book she writes.

The Prudhomme Family Cookbook, Paul Prudhomme – This is from 1987 and it’s chock full of really great recipes! I’m glad I picked this up at a yard sale! It’s family recipes from all his brothers & sisters and parents and grandparents. Great collection!