Like many other people, being in quarantine for most of 2020 meant I was able to spend much more time cooking, baking, and overall cultivating my culinary skills. I’m certainly not a chef by any means, and I’m still a picky eater, but these are the five recipes I enjoyed the most this past year that I’m looking forward to making again. I hope you enjoy these recipes just as much and find some inspiration!
I actually have to give full credit to my mom for finding this recipe. From the beginning of 2020 to pretty much right up until I moved in May, my mom and I made this recipe constantly. For those of you who don’t know, Gnocchi is a delicious potato-derived pasta commonly used in Italian dishes. It has a chewy, doughy, soft texture, and the taste is neutral enough that you can mix it into a variety of dishes. As you can probably guess, I prepare this recipe without the chicken, but it’s just as delicious and filling that way. It’s a perfect comfort meal for a cold winter evening, and it can be made in less than thirty minutes.
This is actually the most recent Pinterest recipe I made, and I love it for its simplicity, its bold yet simple flavors, and the minimal amount of time it takes to prepare this dish. Really, the hardest part of it is just boiling the tortellini, and that’s clearly not really labor intensive. I’ve been bringing this to work for lunch the past few days, and I have to say, I’m still not tired of it! It’s like the classy, more evolved older sister of a basic caprese salad.
Back before I was a vegetarian, I used to love tuna and considered tuna fish sandwiches to be one of my favorite lunches. Luckily, chickpeas have come to the rescue in this recipe and allowed me to enjoy a very similar version of my childhood favorite! Nori sheets are optional to give the salad an especially fishy taste, but personally, I think it tastes just as fine without. Even Nathaniel, a tuna eater, liked it, which he himself admitted he wasn’t expecting to.
I admittedly don’t know what one would call this sandwich and I couldn’t find a name or a website for the original inventor, but regardless, it’s delicious. It’s filling. It’s greasy. It’s extra. And although it was fairly messy to make, it was worth every paper towel and dirty pan. Truly, I think a decadent egg sandwich is the vegetarian’s dream, and this particular one really knocked my expectations out of the park. Like I said, I can’t find an OG recipe, but here is a pictorial!
In the deepest depths of quarantine, like many other Americans, I found myself getting extremely invested in baking bread. Particularly since I work at Starbucks, I was very eager to see how this pumpkin bread would hold up to the test. As a novice baker, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious this came out! It was thick and delectable without being too heavy, and I think it had the perfect amount of pumpkin (although Nathaniel said he didn’t think it had enough.) All in all, an absolute classic recipe.
I have to say, considering I don’t really have much of a background in cooking, I’m really happy with the different recipes and varieties of food I have tried in 2020 (even if it’s mostly pasta.) I think all of these dishes are delicious, but I especially recommend the sun dried tomato gnocchi pasta. Be sure to let us know if you try any of these recipes and what you think below!
I’ve worked at Starbucks for roughly half a year, and in that time, I have tried a LOT of coffee. I’ve tried everything from the summer 2020 Kiwi Star Fruit refresher (fairly gross, might I add,) to fall-themed pumpkin spice chai tea lattes (absolutely delicious.) And today, I am going to be sharing with you guys my thoughts on every single ∼holiday drink,∽ so buckle up and grab your lattes.
Of all the holiday drinks, I think peppermint mocha is probably my favorite. I’m just a huge fan of peppermint year-round, so being able to enjoy it in my morning coffee is such a treat. I will say, I find the regular brown mocha to be far too thick and gunky, so I always opt for a white chocolate peppermint mocha instead. You can also opt for less pumps of mocha to counteract the thickness, which I sometimes do as well. I highly recommend ordering this drink with whipped cream!
Toasted White Chocolate Mocha
The toasted white chocolate mocha is a bit different than a regular white mocha, because it has a bit more of a toffee nut flavor to it. I personally enjoy this flavor as well, and again, it’s a lot less thick and chunky than regular mocha, which I prefer. As you may have guessed, toasted white mocha also pairs very well with peppermint and I highly recommend asking for either a pump of toffee nut or a pump of peppermint in this beverage, if you’re feeling ∼fancy.∼
Caramel Brulee Latte
I am admittedly not the biggest fan of caramel, so I’m not as into the caramel brulee as I am the other holiday flavors. There’s just something about this particular flavor in particular that I don’t gravitate towards; I can’t tell if it’s too sweet or too sour, and there’s just something about it that doesn’t sit right with me. I will say, however, that the caramel brulee topping is absolutely delicious. That may be its one redeeming quality to me.
Chestnut Praline Latte
Chestnut Praline is definitely up there in my top 2, and honestly, I feel like it’s probably the most underrated flavor. I’ve never tasted anything like chestnut praline before, but it feels like the perfect toasty, spicy, warm, holiday flavor for a chilly winter day. Unlike caramel brulee and eggnog, I feel like chestnut is a flavor that actually pairs well with coffee and enhances the overall drink experience. If you’re looking to try something new at Starbucks, definitely try the chestnut praline!
Listen, I just have to say- I am a huge fan of eggnog. It’s one of my favorite holiday flavors, and one that I look forward to enjoying at my dad’s house every christmas. But a hot eggnog latte? I’m sorry, but it is simply atrocious. For one thing, your barista will almost always be unhappy with you for ordering an eggnog latte because eggnog does not aerate very well. This means that the preparation of steaming the milk is going to be obnoxiously loud and screechy due to the thickness of the milk, and then, in the end, what are you left with? A latte that tastes like garbage. I’m sorry, but eggnog and coffee do NOT pair together and you may quote me on that! Go out and buy yourself a quart of cold eggnog instead and enjoy it that way.
Those are more or less my final thoughts on the Starbucks holiday drinks, taking into consideration the quality of the coffee and the price point that customers pay for. I would definitely recommend opting for a peppermint mocha for something more sweet and traditional, and a chestnut praline latte if you feel like trying something new. I can even justify trying the caramel brulee for shits and gigs, but for the love of god, STAY AWAY FROM THE EGGNOG LATTES.
Have you guys tried any of these holiday drinks before? What were your thoughts? Let me know below!
Often in life, there are books you discover in your childhood that stick with you forever. For me personally, that was the case with the Sammy Keyes mystery series, penned by award-winning author Wendelin Van Draanen. The series follows a junior high school girl, Sammy, and her journey through both finding herself and solving the mysteries of the world around her. It’s humorous, witty, creative, and filled with loads of fantastic characters.
Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty books for young adults and teens, but her two shining stars are, of course, Sammy Keyes, and the novel Flipped, which was transformed into a beautiful movie, directed by Rob Reiner. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and as I’m sure you can tell, her work has had a large impact on my young adult life. For that reason, I was so honored when Wendelin agreed to be interviewed by my publication. She had much to say about her spunky heroine, Sammy, but she also gave me loads of invaluable advice on how to navigate the world as a creative person and a writer.
Analog Magazine: What was your upbringing like, and how did reading and writing lend itself to you in your formative years?
Wendelin Van Draanen: My parents were Dutch immigrants, and we lived the immigrant lifestyle in which we were frugal. My parents were working towards their American Dream, and they were very much about, “You come to a new country and you become part of the fabric of that new country”, so they wanted to raise their kids as Americans. We were kind of insulated (not necessarily isolated,) but we were different from the neighbors in that [my parents] had an accent and they approached life in a very vigorous way and there was a lot of work to be done. We were always working on something, so there were no idle hands. When my siblings and I did get free from the chores, we would go out and just be wild in the neighborhood, to counterbalance the restrictive nature of home. We had lots of wild adventures that my parents would not have approved of. Books were a big part of growing up because we could go to the library, so every other week or so we would go get a haul of books, bring them home, and take them back. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kind of readers, because we had a bedtime and we stuck to it. Then I could escape with my flashlight and my book and meet up with my friends under the covers.
AM: What were your favorite subjects in school and what did you excel at as a student? What were your challenges?
WVD: My favorite subject for all levels of school was math, because math was the only subject that totally made sense. If you understood the concept and the building blocks for math, it made sense and it was easy. My least favorite subject was language arts. Those English teachers, man- you just could not please them! No matter what you did, you were going to get back your essay and there were going to be little problems with it here and there and then you’d have to redo it. Ugh, it was so frustrating. As you can probably tell from my upbringing, we were encouraged to excel, so a B+ was a very frustrating grade to get. With math, if you knew what you were doing, you were good. I feel like people who don’t like math are missing one of the building blocks. When I was a teacher, the subject I taught was math. And people say, “How do you go from being a math teacher to writing mysteries?”, and that is kind of weird until you think about it. Because a math problem is just a puzzle, and I love puzzles. I think it’s my mind just trying to make sense of something and find a solution for it. So I’m very attracted to mysteries, because I want to put those pieces together in a way that makes sense.
AM: What different careers have you had along your journey to becoming a full-time writer?
WVD: Ramping up to become a full-time teacher, I did a lot of odds and ends. I drove a forklift…I did a lot of different things. But my career-job was becoming a math/computer programming teacher, and then it was while I was working as a teacher that I was influenced by the kids in my class and inspired to try writing a story.
AM: What inspired you to create the character of Sammy Keyes and flesh out her story into such an extensive, vibrant, staple of young adult literature?
WVD: I think it was being a teacher and seeing that students were still reading Nancy Drew, and that my students had very little in common with Nancy Drew. I just thought it would be cool to take someone who represented the kids who I saw every day in the classroom, and put them into situations where they would stumble their way through right and wrong. I think when you’re an adult and you can see the behaviors of people and recognize the mistakes that you yourself have made… there’s not a big reception on a teen’s part from an adult, you know? Their peers are very important to them, and so I wanted -more important than the adults- to create a peer who would have these experiences and think about things, and about right and wrong, and the steps to take given dangerous or stressful or emotional situations. I wanted to have her make the mistakes a normal teen would make, but then have her draw conclusions that she would then apply to the next time she was faced with a similar situation. I think that those factors are what drove me to write about Sammy. Growing up is hard- it’s much harder than calculus!
AM: The first Sammy Keyes book was written in the late 90s, and the last book was finished 18 years later. However, in the Sammy Keyes universe, only 2-3 years passes. Was it difficult for you to develop with modern technology while trying to keep up with the timeline of the story?
WVD: Technology, man. It is a beast and it keeps messing with you. Being a writer and including technology in your writing is a dangerous thing, because it may completely change in six months. Having a series that spanned 18 years which only spanned 2-3 in Sammy world was challenging. She doesn’t have a cell phone; how do you explain that none of her friends are texting? How do you make it relevant to kids now when all the technology makes the world such a different place? So, when they went and redid the covers recently, I asked if I could go through the entire series and emphasize little references to technology. When’s the last time you’ve seen a payphone? Sammy has a payphone! It’s like, “Okay, kids don’t even know how to use a payphone anymore.” But how do you change the series so that it is still relevant to today’s kids? And so, I went through and I would add a little word or I would subtract a little word, so that it would kind of mold to technology. Instead of flipping open your phone, you would tap on your phone. So I would change “flip” to “tap.” And I couldn’t get rid of the payphone- it was a big thing- so I would add the word “ancient” in front of it. So she goes to this ancient payphone. Just the technology and updating it across the series, and especially at the very beginning, there were some challenges. When we get to the end, Heather’s got a cellphone and technology’s referred to, but I had to get rid of CD players. There were things that were already outdated, like in Psycho Kitty Queen she had a CD player. I think with all the experience of writing over the years, I’ve become a better writer, but not applying my improved skills to Hotel Thief and Skeleton Man and Sisters of Mercy and other early books, I had to tell myself, “You’re just here for technology. That’s all you’re here for.”
AM: The Sammy Keyes series is full of several diverse, unique, well-developed characters. Are any of the characters inspired by real people from your life?
WVD: That’s interesting, because the answer to that is pretty much no- Sammy’s a hybrid of the characteristics that I liked in the students I saw everyday. I would say that if there were, it would be an amalgamation of people. The ones who are the bad guys- they are more a person who has become a character than a character who was just a character. I usually start from a place with the bad guys, I start from a place of annoyance about a person, and then over time, they become the character. I usually hold onto who they were to begin with. You have people who are mean to you in life, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. But if you do something about it on a page…it’s very satisfying.
“I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen.”
AM: One of the most notable aspects of the Sammy Keyes series is the undertones of real-life social and human issues, such as gang culture in Snake Eyes and environmental awareness in Wild Things. Did you purposefully add in these elements to introduce young readers to these topics in an accessible, creative way?
WVD: Absolutely. I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message. Mostly, I just want to present a situation and I want my readers to come away thinking about it, discussing it or expanding their view of it. In Wild Things, the whole thing about Sammy is that she thinks, “Why would anybody want to save a condor? It’s stinky and eats dead stuff, it’s ugly, what’s the big deal about saving a condor?” And then, by the end, she understands. But I think a lot of kids would relate to Sammy thinking, “Oh, well, it’s a bird who eats dead stuff. Who cares.” It’s like a game of basketball as opposed to running laps. You get to play a game, you get a little competition, you’re jumping and you’re running…as opposed to “Here’s the whistle, you’ve got to go around the track.” I’d way rather have my readers play a game of basketball than feel like I’m marching them around a track.
AM: Was it difficult for you to ultimately end the series after eighteen books, or did you feel relieved by the sense of closure to Sammy’s story?
WVD: Oh my gosh, it was so hard and emotional for me. She was like the daughter I didn’t have. First she was my peer, and then time went by, and she didn’t get any older and I did. I had two sons, so I didn’t have a girl. The eighteenth book came out about the time my son turned eighteen, so he was leaving home, and there were all these things ending at the same time. I was so emotional, and just the thought that I’d been with this girl and I’d lived in her world for all these years, and I’d think about her all the time. To create a story, you need to have a character and their world in your head, and I had her in my head all the time. And then, all of the sudden, it’s like I’m reaching the end and this was the last one. I do feel like a series should have what I call a “swan dive”: you should go out big and strong. You shouldn’t fizzle away. Anyway, I reached my goal, she had survived middle school (barely), but it was time, and it was really hard. People have asked me if I’ve planned to write a YA version of Sammy, and I just don’t. I think she belongs where she is; there’s a reason that she exists where she does. I think middle school years are the hardest years, and if you have a friend like Sammy to help you through those, I think you’re going to be alright.
“I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message.”
AM: Do you have a proudest series that you’ve written so far, or would that be like picking a favorite child for you?
WVD: I have two short series for younger readers, and I have Sammy Keyes. If we’re talking proudest series, that would have to be Sam. It took such a big part of my life to create. Picking a favorite title of any kind is not something I want to try to do, because they’re all special in their own way.
AM: What is something that you wish more people knew about you?
WVD: Wow. I’ve always tried to keep myself secret. I think that I have an initial impression that is not in keeping with what is actually me. I have blonde hair, I’m tall, I’m thin… but I’m not that person. I am someone who struggles with her ups and downs. I run a lot because it helps to stabilize my mood, and I get cloudy- let’s put it that way. I get cloudy and I feel misunderstood. I think it’s partly my own fault because I’m blonde (and I can’t help the tall), but this is just my structure. I think it projects an image which is not in keeping with who I am and my soul. You would hope that people would judge you on your work and the way you conducted your life, but in our society, we’re very snap-judgmenty. And so, I withdraw. I tend to withdraw as opposed to fighting a battle that I feel one couldn’t possibly understand. I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen. And so, just the notion that “You’ve got all that” doesn’t reflect what it took. Anyway, that got a little heavy.
AM: What are your other hobbies besides writing?
WVD: Reading, running, and rock ‘n’ roll. There is nothing more freeing than rock ‘n’ roll. My husband’s a drummer, and he’s also a young adult book writer. He and I, and our two sons once they became teenagers, started a band together. I have trouble sitting still, so rock ‘n’ roll is very physical for me. It’s just a fun release, and doing it with my family is so cool. Reading is what I do because I love to read, and running is for my health, my cardiovascular system, and mostly, my sanity.
AM: How do you think social media has lent itself to you as a writer and a creator? Do you feel like it has created a more personable relationship with your audience?
WVD: Yeah! I would say that for the positives, that’s true. I would also say that it helps me still feel connected to my career of being a teacher. Teachers on Twitter are very positive people. Twitter has a lot of negative people, but the teachers put forth support, they share ideas, they’re very forward-thinking, and I love feeling like I still have exposure to that community. That to me has been the best part of social media- the teacher presence.
AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers and readers?
WVD: To be a writer, you need to be a reader. I really firmly believe that. Read read read, and then to be a writer, you have to write. And writing, actually, is work. You have to sit down and do it. I have a lot of people in my life who have always said they always wanted to write a book. Maybe they got to chapter one, and then they discovered that it’s work. If you really want to be a writer, you have to read a lot, and then you have to write a lot. Like anything else, you only get better at it when you do it. ★
You can keep up with Wendelin by checking out her website or by following her on instagram @wendelinvand