Books

Quarantine Reading List

While I plan to write regular book reviews and “currently reading” updates, I want to take a moment to cover the noteworthy novels I’ve encountered so far in quarantine. Somehow I have managed to read over thirty books since late March! I have also become rather obsessed with audiobooks, as I’ve found that I can multi-task by listening while taking my dogs on extraordinarily long walks. I get my steps in, my dogs worn out, and several chapters knocked out at once. Killing the quarantine game.

Let’s start with my faves (because there’s a good chance you won’t finish reading this whole post and I want to at least get the word out about these FANTASTIC books that you should not miss out on):

Debby’s Best Books of Quarantine

This book is a must read. Chris Voss was an FBI hostage negotiator who spent decades honing his craft. He then moved into the business world and applied his skills in the conference room. He has so many practical examples to follow and tools you can use when negotiating– which, it turns out, is all the time. I am so glad I had a hard copy of this book because I highlighted, underlined, and wrote notes in the margins. It’s my new textbook for life.

Wooo this one is a doozy. Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, was working as an on-air reporter for NBC in 2017 when he began investigating a story about Harvey Weinstein. Farrow’s journalistic skills are exceptional and often make this feel more like a crime thriller than a news piece. I listened to the audiobook (read by the author) and loved every second.

Rounding out my top three, Brusatte’s 2018 history of the Lost World is absolutely captivating. He weaves his personal experiences in the field with scientific discoveries from recent decades. I quickly realized that my paleontological knowledge was about twenty years behind. Brusatte caught me up on the latest developments in the field and made it feel like a jeep ride through Jurassic Park.

Novels (or things I read because everyone else was reading them)

While I would typically classify this type of book as just an enjoyable beach read, I feel it deserves more credit than that. There are some hard-hitting truths about materialism, class, race, and family that are woven together in a genuinely believable story. While the end of the book seemed to fold up a little too nicely, I thought the journey was conveyed exceptionally well.

After reading (and enjoying) Little Fires Everywhere, I had high expectations for Ng’s earlier novel. While I found the story unique and poignant at moments, the pace felt exceedingly slow and some of the character’s motivations felt overly simplistic and on-the-nose. You can see some of the sparks of LFE, but you won’t feel the fire.

This book traveled around my whole friend group this summer. It’s a quick but powerful read that centers around race but touches on privilege, insecurity, “white saviors”, social media, and more. While it has it’s flaws, it’s an engrossing read that can lead to some great conversations (especially once your whole friend group has read it!).

Autobiography Corner

Like many of you, I have watched and been impressed by Trevor Noah’s commentary during these last few months, particularly with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. I knew Trevor Noah was from South Africa, but I had no idea what his experience had been like growing up there. While he is able to see humor in even the darkest moments, there were a lot of dark moments in his childhood. This is a powerful read and an important one.

This book made me regret not appreciating our First Lady more while she was in office. Talk about an inspiring human– Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton before earning her law degree at Harvard. And her proceeding career path was just as impressive as her education. As I was reading her autobiography, I almost felt disappointed that she had to take a step back from her pursuits to accompany her family to the White House. While she was an incredible First Lady, I’m really excited to see what she does with her future.

JVN captured all of our hearts on Netflix’s Queer Eye and now he’s given us a little bit of his backstory. Let me tell you, his life has not been pretty. But he was fierce and determined and made it to the… well, over the top. If you like him, you’ll love his book.

At times hilarious, at other times heart-breaking and overwhelming, Jessica truly spills all her secrets. She’s had an incredibly successful career, but at a very high cost. Growing up in the age of Newlyweds, it was fun to get a glimpse from her vantage point on how events unfolded. But while it reads fairly open, I still got a sense that the book was meticulously manicured and meant to generate sales rather than anything else.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Escapes

A brand new Netflix show, a top-rated video game, and a legendary book series. There’s no series with quite the entertainment satisfaction of The Witcher. The Witcher is about a mutant-man named Geralt who wanders the world killing beasts that plague local villages. The books were written by a Polish author in the 1990s and have sold over 50 million copies worldwide. They’re written as short stories, so they have a different pacing than other series in the genre. Fantasy lit is my favorite form of escapism, so I did not resist the pull during this quarantine time!

Extremely magical. Set in the snowy, Russian landscape. Really lush, fantasy story-telling. It dragged a bit in places but I didn’t mind because it was so wonderful just being in that world. I listened to the audiobook and while the narrator was lovely, I sometimes got mixed up with all the Russian names (would’ve been easier to read a copy, I think).

I was introduced to The 100 by my short-lived, pre-COVID book club. This was the one and only book we read together before permanently disbanding due to the virus. I did end up reading the rest of the series, primarily due to the fact that I had them all downloaded on my Kindle while I was on a flight and they were very quick reads. While there were some interesting plot ideas, the characters were pretty weak/silly. I’ve heard the Netflix interpretation is actually more compelling and plan on watching it soon!

Good to Know

I read this book in late March, before the true ramifications of the pandemic were being felt or even predicted. With heightened economic and societal pressures from the virus, what is going to happen to the housing market? Matthew Desmond spent months living in the inner city of Milwaukee, learning about the housing crisis from the inside. His eyewitness accounts, along with staggering statistics, present a raw picture of the systemic problems in cities across America.

I’ve been meaning to read Gay’s work for years now– and this seemed like the perfect time to dive in. The opening lines of this book stuck with me: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”

I picked this up after reading that it was the secret behind Adele’s transformation. While I’m not into fad diets, I was genuinely curious about what precisely a “sirt” food was. Turns out, there’s a protein called a sirtuin and that protein plays a vital role in your metabolism. The idea is that by eating a lot of sirtuins you will naturally speed up your metabolism. There’s lots of green juices and capers involved, but they also praise red wine and chocolate so I’m into it.

Other Books I Enjoyed

I once heard David Sedaris say in an interview that “small talk doesn’t have to be small”. He has the most odd and memorable interactions with strangers and shares them in a charming way. He inspires me to write more and to pay attention, for any moment could be a story.

Hilarious, whip-smart, and filthy. What else is there to say about Ali Wong? She’s a master of the comedy craft and she’s a wonderful wife and mother. It’s terrifying to see how she balances her life, but it’s also inspiring. I listened to the audiobook and was constantly cracking up while I walked my dogs around our local park… like a crazy person. Also: the very last chapter was the cherry on top.

These wonderful science fiction stories offered a more mellow take on the future than Black Mirror. The first story, with it’s Arabian Nights-esque setting, completely captivated me. I listened to the audiobook and loved the commentary that the author gave at the end of each story. It added another layer of context and complexity to each narrative.

Even More Books (and how I felt about them, in brief)

  1. The Last Romantics – Tara Conklin (unmemorable)
  2. The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin (even less memorable)
  3. The Gunslinger – Stephen King (not my favorite King novel)
  4. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered – Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark (fun if you’re into MFM)
  5. Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis (motivating and empowering… until you realize it’s all a marketing ploy)
  6. Whiskey in a Teacup – Reese Witherspoon (charming)
  7. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (interesting? slow? Ishiguro is so masterful but I just didn’t know what to make of this one)
  8. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver (made me question whether to have children)
  9. Dare to Lead – Brene Brown (inspiring and practical! as always!)
  10. Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell (interesting, but takeaways were unclear)
  11. City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert (absolutely hated. why is it so popular? will someone please explain?)
  12. The Communist Manifesto- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (powerful and prescient)
  13. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins (surprisingly good!)
  14. Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz (rather awful, especially as far as murder mysteries go)

P.S. You can also follow me on GoodReads to see all the books I’ve ever read, peruse my reviews, and make sure I’m keeping up with my reading goals

Food

Nana’s Banana Bread

There was a short list of baked goods that were fundamental staples in our household growing up: TPC Coffee Cake, Superbowl Snack Mix, Cowboy Cookies, and Nana’s Banana Bread. Anytime I bake these offerings for friends or coworkers, I get clobbered with requests for the recipes. There’s no secret ingredients or mad science going on, but they are just exceptionally good recipes.

The funny thing is? I’ve been baking Nana’s Banana Bread wrong for the last decade.

I recently visited my sister in Ohio and she had a bunch of spotted bananas on her counter. We discussed making banana bread for breakfast and she complained, “Oh no! I don’t have any eggs!”

I looked at her, confused, “There’s no eggs in Nana’s Banana Bread.”

Her face mirrored my confusion. She walked to her recipe box and pulled out the index card with my mother’s handwritten banana bread recipe written on it. There, on the third line, was Beat in 2 eggs. What in the world? I pulled out my phone and opened the email that my mom had sent me almost a decade ago with the recipe. I had it saved in a special folder and referenced it religiously over the years. There were no eggs listed!

(Side note: My mom wrote all our family recipes and tucked them inside cute wooden boxes for us as Christmas presents. Literally, one of the sweetest, most memorable gifts I’ve ever received. If you’ve got time this quarantine– consider writing recipe cards for friends or family!)

My sister and I laughed, still a little unsure of who had the “correct” version of the recipe. We texted our mom and she said “Of course there’s eggs!”

I shook my head in amazement. I always warned people who wanted to try making the banana bread that it was a “tough one” because you had to bake it perfectly or it would completely cave in. Turns out, I’d made the baking process 10x harder by eliminating the ingredient that provides stability and structure. Unreal. At least it always tasted good!

So, without further ado, here is the Bouzeos family recipe for the most excellent banana bread:

Nana's Banana Bread

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cream together:
– ½ cup shortening (or Crisco butter stick)
– 1 ½ cups sugar

Beat in:
– 2 eggs

Add and mix until well blended:
– 3 large ripe bananas mashed
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tbsp vanilla

Sift together:
– 2 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking soda

Prepare separately:
– ½ cup buttermilk (substitution: ½ cup of milk with 1-2tbsp of vinegar)

Alternate adding the sifted flour and the buttermilk to the banana mixture.

Optional:
– Stir in ¾ cup chopped nuts

Pour into 9×5 crisco/floured loaf pan and bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.
Or pour into muffin tins and bak at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Sometimes I’ll get a little crazy and add cinnamon or chocolate chips. If you decide to bake it, let me know!

Food

Quarantine Cocktails

Soo… there’s a good chance that you’re treating the COVID blues with booze. At the very beginning of the crisis, “U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55%… according to market research firm Nielsen. Spirits like tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails led the way, with sales jumping 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales were up 66% while beer sales rose 42%” (according to The Associated Press). Wooo boy.

Day-drinking is officially the norm now. And with all this hot weather, I’ve taken it upon myself to find the perfect summer cocktail. While I am no mixologist, I have dug through the internet archives to uncover the most refreshing concoctions. Here’s my three faves:

1. Rosemary Gin Fizz

My romance with gin began on the Greek Peloponnesus. After 18 holes of golf at Costa Navarino, my golf partners and I would retire to the clubhouse patio for gin and tonics. They were zesty and strong, cooling us down and reviving us for an evening of revelry. G&Ts were essentially our version of pre-gaming.

Over the years, I’ve gravitated more towards bourbon-based cocktails. COVID was the perfect excuse to revive my interest in gin. I bought some Beefeater last week and began experimenting. I looked into some grapefruit-forward recipes and I liked the citrus notes, but none of them felt quite balanced enough. Then, I came across the Rosemary Gin Fizz. I had fresh rosemary on hand and decided to make some homemade infused simple syrup. The Rosemary Gin Fizz is essentially lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, and gin, topped with club soda and a garnish. The flavors complement each other so well. My husband, who is not a big drinker and really doesn’t like the flavor of gin, had to hand it to me– “Oh wow, this is actually really good.”

2. Brown Derby

I was determined to make the ultimate grapefruit cocktail– primarily due to the fact that I had purchased an enormous bag of grapefruit at Costco. Bourbon is my typical alcohol of choice and I had a nice bottle of Four Roses in my kitchen (also from Costco– don’t judge me). A quick Google search of “bourbon + grapefruit” led me to the Brown Derby. After testing a few variations, I determined that my preferred sweetener is honey simply syrup— it just seems to mix better than sugar or honey from a jar.

The Brown Derby is described as “Old Hollywood in a Glass” and it does feel like that. It’s classy, rich, and smooth, like a hot summer night in Los Angeles. The citrus gives it a summery feel, but the bourbon and honey give it more warmth– a certain coziness. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time.

3. Strawberry Summer Sangria

What is summer without sangria? We had some friends over for dinner the other night (members of our tiny COVID-bubble) and I knew our friend, Jon, loved a good sangria. I had some ripe stone fruit on hand, so I started hunting for recipes. When I stumbled across the Strawberry Summer Sangria, I knew it was a winner. All of my favorite fruits, plus red wine and agave nectar? ALL the “yes”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Grand Marnier so I subbed in a generic brandy for that extra boost of alcohol. I sliced up all the fruit, doused it in a bottle of wine, and put the pitcher in the fridge to sit overnight. When our friends came for dinner, I scooped the fruit into glasses, poured in some of the wine, and topped it off with a little seltzer. I was savoring my second sip when I looked over at Jon’s glass — it was empty. “Jon! Do you want some more?!” I said, startled at his speed. “I think I should slow down a bit,” he said laughing, “It was just so easy to drink with the seltzer.”

Yes, this sangria is dangerous. But it is also incredibly delicious. (Side note: I apologize for the lack of pictures– it was literally gone before I thought of snapping some.)

What are you drinking during quarantine? Send me your tips and tricks!

DIY

DIY 002: Watercolor Painting- Part 1

Back in February (during the pre-COVID era), my husband and I were strolling through our favorite, local outdoor shopping center and we wandered into a home decor store called Z Gallerie. I loved the ridiculously gaudy nature of the shop’s collection. My husband hated it. “It’s all useless!” he declared with a broad sweep of his hand and an exasperated sigh. I giggled because, well, he’s absolutely right. Who needs a giant glass octopus beverage container for their dining room table? But who wouldn’t want one? One piece did catch my eye, though: a large, framed watercolor painting of four horizontal brush strokes in varying shades of pink. It was so simple, yet the massive, metallic frame made it seem glamorous. The price tag read $249.95. “I bet I can make this for under $50,” I told Jimi. He looked at me with genuine concern and asked, “But why would you want to?”

The next day I went to Michaels and purchased paint, brushes, paper, and three frames for $25 (thank you for those coupons, Michaels— you are truly the new Bed, Bath, and Beyond). I then stashed the bag with all these goodies behind my dresser and promptly forgot about them. My inspiration was as fleeting as the fads at Z Gallerie.

Fast forward to a few months into quarantine: I re-discovered that bag of brand new art supplies and felt like I’d won the lottery! Hurrah! A new project I can use to distract myself from how terrifying the world is right now!

Instead of recreating the original watercolor inspiration piece, I decided to instead focus on learning basic watercolor technique. My friend, Lauren, had heard about a class that her husband’s friend was conducting via Zoom. We both signed up and logged on at the appropriate time. For $10 we got an hour-long tutorial on the various painting techniques used in watercolor. 

Now, I definitely didn’t need to pay ten bucks for a class. The personal interaction was sweet and it was great to feel like I was supporting the artistic community, but tbh there are so many great resources on YouTube. This video includes all the basic watercolor techniques we learned in our $10 class. And this one is a great one for making small flowers (actually, everything on Shayda Campbell’s channel is magic). Lauren and I have been sharing videos and our latest endeavors with each other since that first class. It’s nice to have some accountability (and encouragement) along the way. 

I’ve been painting about once a week (on average) for 3-4 hours a session during the last three months. I’ve never practiced art this consistently before and the amount of tangible progress I’ve made is incredibly motivating. Watercolor is an easily accessible art form (low cost, simple technique, plenty of access to instruction) that offers unlimited growth potential. I’m starting to learn how to blend and shade colors, how to get the right water : pigment ratio on the page. It feels very organic and exploratory.

The other great thing about watercolor painting is that it is fundamentally an imperfect art form. Water has a mind of its own and soaks into the page in different ways. You can drip it, push it, dry it, and try to force it to do what you want. But ultimately, it’s simply going to do its thing. Everything you make with watercolors is going to be unique and flawed– and the final product will be better for it.

Interested in trying your hand at watercolor? Here’s some equipment to get you started:

I purchased my paints and brushes at Michaels, but these are really similar.

This is the exact pad that I currently use. I typically cut the sheets down to 8″x5″ in order to fold them into 4″x5″ cards. I do like having the option of using the full sheet for a landscape or a framed picture, though!

DIY

DIY 001: Macrame Plant Hanger

Hey y’all– I decided to spice up the old blog with some of the fun projects I’ve taken on during quarantine. Enjoy!

Plants are my new best friends
(just don’t tell my dogs).

In late May, I decided to take a little field trip into the heart of Los Angeles. Driving further than I had in months, I gloried in finding street parking in the very heart of the Flower District. I put on my mask and prepared to steer clear of fellow shoppers (AKA potential COVID carriers). Only, there was hardly anyone in sight. I was the only one on the sidewalk. I walked by several small shops that had corded off their entrances for shoppers, offering pick-up only. The first shop that allowed guests drew me in like a moth to a flame. It was filled with green houseplants– not a flower in sight.

I went a little crazy. I grabbed a Golden Pothos plant, then a pretty Peace Lily, followed by an interesting looking Pearls and Jade Pothos. I turned to the shopkeeper and asked, “Do you mind if I put these on the counter?” She shrugged and gestured to the empty shop. “Thank you!” I said, dumping my finds on the counter and diving back into the potted plant jungle. I added some smaller succulents to my collection, as well as a baby ZZ plant. Thankfully, the prices in the Flower District were the primary reason for my trip — my entire counter full of plants cost less than $50. After loading up the car (and splurging on a bright bouquet of spring blooms), I drove my new plant family back to my apartment.

Did I buy enough? Spicey seems to think so.

Plants? Check.

Counter space? Umm….

I needed to hang these babies. Several of the plants came with hangers, but they were basic and rugged — more suited for a back patio than a living room. A google search ensued. Thankfully, I stumbled upon Persia Lou’s website where she offers detailed instructions for creating the perfect macrame plant hanger. I ordered the macrame cord and gold hoops on Amazon, along with a couple of swag hooks for hanging.

Spicey is skeptical.
Tying my first set of knots.

I quickly realized that the most difficult part was going to be customizing the distance between the knots to suit the size of each unique plant. I decided to follow the precise instructions on Persia Lou’s blog the first time around and adjust on future attempts. It took a little work to get the knots both correct and spaced appropriately, but the directions are quite clear.

Once I finished my first hanger, I turned to the plants. I had purchased some plastic containers at Home Depot, but I didn’t want to see the plants in such generic-looking pots. I decided to jazz up the containers with some gold spray paint. On the first go, the paint pooled and dripped down the side, but it turned out to be a happy accident as it gave the pot a little more texture (almost like it was made of clay). When the containers were dry, I migrated the plants to their new homes.

My first macrame hanger turned out to be perfect for the Pearls and Jade Pothos:

I went a little wild on the second hanger, trying out a new combination of knots. I thought the intricacy of the design was lovely, but when I placed the Golden Pothos in the hanger it looked constricted and awkward. The proportions were just off. I removed the pothos plant from the hanger and swapped in the String of Pearls succulent. It was a perfect match!

I made two more macrame hangers, one standard one for the pothos plant and one more unique for the Burro’s tail (see photo at the top of this entry). They both turned out quite lovely.

It’s been two months now and all the plants are growing like weeds! I’ve been trimming some of the longer pothos stems and placing the cuttings in water to propagate. We’re on a tight budget these days, so I’m excited about continuing to add plants to the collection without any additional cost!

Here’s a quick budget breakdown on this project:

4 Plants (2 Pothos x $8/each , 2 Succulents x $6/each) = $28

4 Plastic Planters (2 6″ x $1.97, 2 8″ x 2.97) = $9.88

1 Bag Indoor Potting Mix = $4.99

1 Roll Macrame Cord = $9.99

5 Metal Rings = $3.35 (15 = $10.06 on Amazon)

4 Swag Hooks = $11.96

Grand Total: $68.17

Less than $20/each! I’m obsessed with my new friends. BONUS: Pothos plants filter your air!! Can you beat that during a pandemic?

Have you adopted any plants during quarantine? I’d love to hear about them! Also, let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!

Wild Card

My Life on the Big Screen

“Debby– I have got to know what you do for work now! I keep seeing all these crazy pictures on Facebook and Insta!”

These days, I love getting asked about my job. Twenty-four hours after I returned to the States, I marched down to a casting office and dropped of my headshots and resume. Since then, I have spent four amazing months hopping from set to set, working all sorts of interesting and quirky gigs.

Continue reading “My Life on the Big Screen”

Wild Card

Bad Hair Day

“Thank you for your submission for the hair modeling audition tomorrow…” the email began. I racked my brain, trying to remember the details about this casting assignment. I joined LA Casting two months ago, in hopes of booking more commercials and featured background roles. I applied to roughly twenty gigs every day and in return received the occasional response. I was mostly booked for background jobs on low budget short films, with a smattering of interesting new Netflix shows and commercials.

Continue reading “Bad Hair Day”