Everyday Life and Menu Plan 3.20.17

This winter has been a doozy around the Pacific Northwest. According to our favorite weather blog, we've had a year's worth of rain in five months. We're no slouches about getting out to enjoy the sun in this part of the world, and I think even more so this year. We had just over two days of sun this week and it was all the sweeter for having been absent for so long.

A lovely day calls for a poke bowl! I hadn't hit up my favorite food truck in ages, and it just so happened to be nearby this week. (I get the mixed tuna and salmon poke, lightly seared with spicy aoli and brown rice.) And over the weekend we took a spin by our favorite nearby park for walking paths to enjoy the weather.
The kids were trying to observe a hawk surreptitiously in the photo above. Everyone at the park got a front row seat to a very 'circle of life' moment when a it went in for the kill on mister bunny rabbit. Blergh! They got out their binoculars and watched as he picked at his prey. Once the hawk took off with it, everyone took a look at the entrails left behind. Some even took pictures! GAH. I did not. You're welcome. Now seems like a perfect time to talk about food...

It's a short week of menu planning, as my husband and I are taking off for a weekend in San Diego! I've been planning my reading material and our dinners out - but if there is a MUST do, hit me up. I have orders to get some Extraordinary Desserts and multiple recs for tacos. We might rent a car this time around to explore beyond the downtown area, too. Until then:

Monday - Pizza
Tuesday - Buffalo Chicken Chili in the Crock Pot (from Slow Cooker Gourmet - I just cook chicken breasts in the pot to make this recipe even easier!)
Wednesday - Hoisin Stir Fry Bowls with Spicy Peanut Sauce (from Budget Bytes)
Thursday - Spaghetti with Ground Turkey (same recipe as Saturday Night Pasta, changing up the pasta and protein)

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, and now Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking - be sure to check out all the great weekly food inspiration!


Choosing a Vacation Read (and March Book Haul)

My husband and I are hitting San Diego again next week and I'm so excited because that means it's time to plan reading material! Is there anything more fun for a book lover than choosing what to read for a vacation?? I am normally a VERY decisive person, but when it comes to paring down books/ebooks for travel, I can ruminate on it for WEEKS because I love it so! 

Now, I use the term 'vacation' loosely, because what I bring along on a road trip with the family is different from what I might bring on a weekend trip to sit poolside, and different from what I'd bring on an overseas adventure. The many considerations I ponder:
Is this a quick and relaxing trip? If so, I will most likely go with similar reading fare. Something that jives with my summer reading or romantic reads lists.
Is this a long and relaxing trip? It's been a very long time since I went somewhere relaxing for more than a weekend - before kids, for sure. But I do vaguely recall these days and tend towards filling up the Kindle with one doorstop I'd like to tackle and the rest akin to something I'd read on a shorter trip. However, the long book should be something adventurous or romantic, like one of my favorite epic page turners. Probably not the time to take on A Little Life. On the other hand...
Am I gearing up for a long flight that has nothing to do with vacation? I remember reading The Passage as I was travelling home when my mom was dealing with her first bout of cancer. I find that reading fluff, when I'm not feeling fluffy, is pointless. I'll never forget that amazing book. But, for the life of me, I cannot imagine reading it on a sandy beach. I tried to read Angela's Ashes poolside when I was on a trip in college and still have never finished that book.
Am I going on a long/touristy kind of trip? This is the best kind of book trip! I haven't taken such a trip since my unforgettable European travels with mom. How I would have taken advantage of a Kindle 20 years ago! Alas, I read a fair amount of Wally Lamb, John Irving and Pat Conroy - long and engrossing, in order to only lug around one or two books. Now, if I were to gear up for such travel, I'd probably approach it the same as a long relaxing trip, but less fluffy - maybe I'd finally crack open A Little Life, add some literary fiction, mystery and hopefully historical fiction - bonus points for books set in my travel destination! I always wished I could have read the Robert Langdon novels BEFORE I visited the many amazing locations in The Da Vinci Code. Alas, they were still wonderful revisiting them in my mind as I read Dan Brown's novels.
All this to say that it can be upended, or heavily influenced, by my usual considerations when deciding what to read next. Did something just come in from the library? Do I need a palate cleanser after reading something really emotional? Am I burnt out on a particular genre? Did I read a bunch of shorter books recently, giving me room to pick up something with more heft? Did a NetGalley come in that I should review soon? 
It's been a long time since I shared the stack! So here's what I'm looking at right now:
The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Soon to be film starring Charlie Hunnam, which might have been part of my decision to grab this from the Choice Reads section...)
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (This much revered Hugo award winner finally came in, right as I bought it on a Kindle daily deal!)
Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton (The comparison to Station Eleven, which I really enjoyed, has me intrigued and was highly recommended by a Litsy friend.)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (There was a lot of hype around this one when it came out a few months ago, but reviews seem to be mixed now...)
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (Part of my catching up on Middle Grade award winners - this one a National Book Honoree.)
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (I have been meaning to give this author a try and a fellow book lover on Instagram said this was a good one to start with, but I also have two digital books of Williams' on hold.)
The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee (Similar to History of Wolves above - lots of initial hype on this purported sci-fi meets Gossip Girl that has mixed reviews. But I am still curious!)

Digital Books in the Queue:
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron (NetGalley ARC)
What's Become of Her by Deb Caletti (NetGalley ARC)
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Nix by Nathan Hill
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Tiny Little Thing and Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

I may tuck Good Morning Midnight in my bag, since it's a pretty slim book and read one of the Beatriz Williams books or Taylor Jenkins Reid, since they seem relaxing vacation-y. As always, I am open to suggestions!


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (3.13.17)

Welp, last week was quite meh around here - just weekdays filled with the usual and the weekend being shot with a sick kid. I think I jinxed myself when I told a friend at the Y that the only ones who've been dealing with winter colds around our house are myself and my son. Although I suppose this still holds true, since my daughter decided to change things up with a lovely stomach bug. We're chillin' at home today, but luckily we were able to enjoy the annual Shamrock Shake treat before it all went down.

Daylight saving time is certainly not helping matters. Both kids were totally sound asleep when it was time to get up and that is hardly ever a problem - I had a lovely glimpse into the teen years this morning... Every year I'm reminded of this hilarious Last Week Tonight video. No, it's not because of the farmers!
Here's hoping we get back on track with our sleep schedules this week.

Monday - Pizza
Tuesday - Parmesan Tomato Basil Soup in the Slow Cooker (from Little Spice Jar)
Wednesday - Chicken Shawarma (trying this recipe from the New York Times)
Thursday - Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato and Roasted Asparagus (a favorite from Damn Delicious)
Friday - Spicy Avocado Enchiladas (going St. Pat's GREEN for our Friday tex-mex with this staple from The Novice Chef)
Saturday - Seven Flavor Beef (a favorite Saturday indulgence, recipe from Wild Ginger)
Sunday - Greek Turkey Meatball Salad (pulling leftover meatballs from the freezer for this tasty salad recipe from The Perfect Pantry)

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, and now Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking - be sure to check out all the great weekly food inspiration!


All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (NetGalley Review)

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 7, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother—who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood—and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke. But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? 

I found this book to be a refreshing surprise! There have been a spate of novels in recent years of introspective female protagonists, without much in the way of plot. Most of what I've read, I didn't care for because there was nothing to connect me emotionally to these characters. However, Attenberg brought to life a woman that was so very compelling and impossible not to root for, even if she was infuriating at times. Well, a lot of the time! But, Andrea just seems so real, like someone I know, used to know, or parts of someone I used to be. I felt like I was able to understand her modus operandi, which I think is lacking in many introspective narratives, and her emotions just leap off the page:
"The permanence of my impermanence. I stand in possession of it. I stand before him at the entrance to a subway station, in possession of nothing but myself.  Myself is everything, I want to tell him. But to him it is nothing, because that's how he feels about himself right now. He is alone, and so he nothing. How do I explain to him that what applies to him does not apply to me? His context is not my context. How do you blow up the bus you've been forced to ride your entire life? It wasn't your fault there were not other means of transportation available"
Her family is also written with such authenticity, and I adored the interactions between her and her mother. Especially when she quips to Andrea:
 "I'm just saying you've lived without me appearing regularly in your life before, you'll do it again."
I was also caught off guard by the way the book was structured. It read like a collection of short stories, or pages ripped from a diary and told out of order - but in juuuust the right way for the author to paint a full portrait of Andrea's life. This was jarring at first, feeling like I was on a fast moving train and looking out the window, only to go through a tunnel and end up in a different time and place. One minute I'd be laughing at her cheeky wit, and the next I'd be reeling from an emotional gut punch. It seemed symbolic of her life:
"Her life is architected, elegant and angular, a beauty to behold, and mine is a stew, a juicy, sloppy mess of ingredients and feelings and emotions, too much salt and spice, too much anxiety, always a little dribbling down the front of my shirt. But have you tasted it? Have you tasted it. It's delicious."
This 'stew' unfolded in an exceeding clever way, layering tension and suspense to a novel that is not plot driven, yet kept me turning the pages. I read it in two nights of "just one more chapter, just one more chapter..." It's barely over 200 pages, so even if it doesn't necessarily sound up your alley, I'd HIGHLY recommend giving it the short amount of time it takes to read. It is, indeed, delicious.
Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an advance copy for my review.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 3.5.17

This week was busy with kid commitments and my baby losing damn near all her teeth!
Well, just three. BUT, these were her first ones and she sure had the tooth fairy on her toes. Wednesday saw the loss of the first tooth during recess:

That same night, tooth number two hit the dust while brushing:
And THEN, on Saturday, tooth number three lost it's battle with an initial attack by a Jimmy John's slim #4 and the fateful blow, delivered by a bite of donut concessions at the school play:
On one hand, I feel so sad that her wee babe smile is a thing of the past. And on the other, I kind of forgot what an ordeal it can all be, as eating has been fraught with some drama. So I am thankful these first ones, especially the top two, happened quickly. Hopefully now that she's not petrified of eating her teeth (ewwwwwww) there will be a little more peace at meals this week...

Monday - Pizza
Tuesday - Curried Lentil Soup (from the Cozy Apron)
Wednesday - BBQ Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwiches (pulling leftovers of this recipe from Natasha's Kitchen out of the freezer)
Thursday - Alpine Chicken Casserole and Green Salad (longtime family recipe similar to this one from Allrecipes.com)
Friday - Baked Chicken Taquitos (a favorite from Our Best Bites)
Saturday - Penne Alla Vodka (longtime staple from Rachael Ray)
Sunday - Thai Meatball Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, and now Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking - be sure to check out all the great weekly food inspiration!


Books I Read in February

A Separation by Katie Kitamura you can read my review here!

The Unseen World by Liz Moore
This story of a girl unraveling the mystery of her father's life, as he loses his battle with Alzheimer's, felt so real and raw, almost like a memoir. The cast of characters were wonderfully idiosyncratic and I loved them all. It was also a compelling coming of age story, with some astute gems like this one on teen girls:
"Ada could barely keep up with their swinging, shifting moods. They seemed to her like birds in flight, like starlings, changing direction with such collective unspoken force that it seemed as if they shared a central root system, a pine barren jointed together and invisibly beneath the earth."
The jumping back and forth in time to reveal plot points could be jarring for some, but I thought this created the perfect level of suspense. I also loved the way the author employed characters imbued in the science of AI to tell a story of what makes us human. 
"sometimes, in her bed at night, Ada pondered the idea that she, in fact, was a machine --or that all humans were machines programmed in utero by their DNA, the human body a sort of hardware that possessed within it preloaded, self-executing software. And what, she wondered, did they say about the nature of existence? And what did it say about predestination? Fate? God?"
Sometimes it got a little long in the tooth, but overall, it was a haunting and memorable novel with one of the best epilogues I've ever read.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
I was a little hesitant to read Yoon's latest since I enjoyed, but had some issues with, her first novel Everything Everything. Yet I heard so much good stuff and, well, THAT COVER convinced me to add it to my Book of the Month order. This boy meets girl narrative was rather timely, given that the girl is an immigrant from Jamaica and about to be deported. The boy is the son of first generation Korean immigrants and Daniel's viewpoint added the perfect compliment to Natasha's. Told in their alternating perspectives (along with a perfect sprinkling from supporting characters) they felt a little sappy and precocious, like a John Green novel, and similarly adorable. It's very much in the vein of Just One Day, but with a much heavier and thoughtful undercurrent. I also enjoyed the science geekery and identified with Natasha on many levels. I have to wonder if writing something a little less fantastical (only SLIGHTLY less than Everything Everything) and closer to her real life (as a Jamaican married to a Korean) made this novel a great success for Yoon. Kudos either way!

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
As thrillers go, this book hit all the right notes and I was sucked in, guessing the ending until the last pages. I'd also give Mejia pretty high marks for character development. I felt as if I had a good grasp on their inner lives and motivations. There were interesting themes to ponder on love and family. Still, straight up thrillers are just not my go-to. I'd give it a solid three stars, and would highly recommend if you are looking for a good whodunit. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Oh, this was a wonderful book! Ada and her brother Jamie are evacuated from London at the start of WWII, and in the process, escape an abusive relationship with their mother. This was ROUGH to read at times, as one would expect with a WWII novel (which is why I have a one or two a year limit). However, the parts that were difficult center around Ada's struggles with a normal maternal relationship and my heart was in my throat for much of the story. Not only did my heart go out to Ada, but I thought that her and her brother's caregiver, Susan, was a perfectly nuanced and deftly developed character that added many layers to the book. I am so glad I finally read this one in my effort to delve into more Newberry honor books. It's heartbreaking but, ultimately, hopeful. And there's a SEQUEL, The War I Finally Won, coming out this fall!


30 Minute Italian Sausage and Barley Soup (and Menu Plan 2.27.17)

This has been a rather un-fun week around here. My son is on the tail end of a lovely case of bronchitis and I was gifted with some sort of sinus infection. Bleh. So! Since everyday life was rather boring this week (other than another fun bout of snow today - but I think I've exhausted the snow pictures here) I figured I would share a recipe I threw together recently that turned out RULL GOOD. 
I have tried a few sausage and barley soup recipes over the last couple of months, but none were quite what I wanted - one without mushrooms, but with tomatoes, and using quick cooking barley. So I made my own!

30 Minute Italian Sausage and Barley Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound Italian Turkey Sausage
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • half a red bell pepper, or roasted red pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 4oz fresh spinach leaves
  • 32 oz box of chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup quick cook pearl barley (Trader Joes makes a great one, but I've seen a Quaker version at my local Safeway)
  • salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pot, preferably cast iron, over medium heat and add sausage. Break up sausage until browned, add diced onion, carrot and bell pepper and saute until soft - about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes and chicken stock to the pot, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add quick cook barley and reduce to a simmer. Cook according to package directions (usually 10-15 minutes). Stir in spinach leaves once barley has cooked and serve with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese!

This week:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, and now Beth Fish Reads weekend cooking - be sure to check out all the great weekly food inspiration!