5.01.2016

Meal Planning Tips and This Week's Menu Plan

This week has been lovely, but not terribly eventful or really photo worthy (which is FINE by me). Well, I did get this one of the kids flying high on the swings today:

We're enjoying another round of summer like weather in these parts. 

Instead today, I thought after all these years of sharing weekly menus, that sharing my tips on planning the meals would probably be a nice thing to do! I did briefly touch on the mechanics of our list making many years ago, but not how to really make the day to day easier. The whole 'tips and tricks' thing just seemed so contrived to me, but after seeing this meme on Another Mother Runner's Instagram, I felt like it was my duty to say HOLD UP. I mean, is this how people go about planning meals?? That's insane! Like running a marathon without training. Start simple! Use shortcuts! Plan ahead! So, yeah, I caved. Here are some "Tips and Tricks" in no particular order.
  1. Plan ahead is the most obvious of all the tips and my list making philosophy is what's linked above. You know you have soccer practice on Tuesday night? Sausages on the grill and salad! etc. which brings me to my second point...
  2. Plan for pizza night. Pick the one night a week that you KNOW you will cry uncle and need frozen or takeout. For us, that's actually Monday. So, if it's planned, it doesn't feel like a 'failure' for ordering out and you don't fall into spiral of despair.
  3. Use the crock pot. Here's a nice little list of favorite crock pot meals.
  4. Use chicken breasts instead of tenders. When a recipe (like our favorite Satay Chicken) calls for tiny tenders to be breaded or skewered, I think: ain't nobody got time for that! Just pound thin some chicken breasts and grill/bake. I plan to do this for the Thai Chicken Fingers this week - just coat and cook chicken breasts. Done.
  5. Use prepared marinades and sauces. Last week I didn't feel like making enchilada sauce from scratch for the Turkey and Black Bean Enchiladas. SO I DIDN'T. Rick Bayless to the rescue! Also? Trader Joe's Soyaki and Red Curry Sauce to the rescue! And if you want total shortcut meals I'd check out this awesome Instagram account The Traders Table, which shares recipes of all Trader Joe's ingredients. I've yet to try one, but they all look delicious.
  6. Stir frys are easy and healthy. Just buy your protein, veggies and a sauce (as mentioned above) and you have dinner in 20 minutes.
  7. Buy frozen rice (always a staple from Trader Joe's). In three minutes you have fluffy rice (or quinoa, or cauliflower rice) and no pot to clean.
  8. If you're going to put in the effort, make sure you get two meals out of it. That crazy meal on day one of the meme is totally a weekend cook and freeze effort - mac and cheese, meatballs and soup are all things freezable! They are all on my list of favorite things to freeze I made two years ago. So on those days I don't rely on Frontera sauces from Rick Bayless, and I DO make enchilada sauce from scratch, you'd better believe I make double and freeze a bag. 
  9.  Salads are, like stir frys, so easy and we plan for one every week. Also, here are 20 great ideas from Shutterbean.
  10. Have a "looking forward to" meal every week. (Obviously, ours is Saturday date night.) The more time you spend happily cooking, the more you will probably LIKE cooking.
OK! Hopefully that will be somewhat helpful to someone? Now on to this week's menu.
  • Monday - Pizza!
  • Tuesday - Thai Sticky Chicken BREASTS with Roasted Broccoli (new favorite recipe from Iowa Girl Eats)
  • Wednesday - Fancy Mac and Cheese from the FREEZER with Salad (leftover frozen Pioneer Woman's Mac)
  • Thursday - Everything Jumbalaya with FROZEN RICE (and old Rachael Ray)
  • Friday - Taking the kids out for dinner, as it's birthday week around here!
  • Saturday - Top Sirloin Steaks, Baked Sweet Potatoes and Creamed Spinach ( trying this spinach recipe from The 350 Degree Oven for date night)
  • Sunday - Almond Apple Quinoa Salad (trying this recipe from The Messy Apron)
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!

4.28.2016

The Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi - Reading My Kid's Recommendations

One of the many things I looked forward to after having kids, was having them discover my favorite books. We've been in that territory for awhile with my son, and he's been subjected to so much Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, C.S. Lewis and of course, J.K. Rowling. Up until recently, there have not been books that he's discovered on his own that piqued my interest. I've read recent middle grade books on my own and then recommended them to him (like The One and Only Ivan or Wonder), but not ones HE has sought out on his own like those godforsaken Captain Underpants Series (of which I have no real desire to read). However, when we started amassing the Amulet Series in our house, I was definitely compelled and SO GLAD I sat down to read them all. 

The Amulet novels follow the adventures of Emily Hayes, who discovers the alternate world Alledia in the attic of her great-grandfather's home where she and her mother and brother move to after her father dies in a car accident. Along the way, she gains a ragtag bunch of allies who help her in her quest to discover her power, defeat her foes and to get back home to Earth.

At first, I was a little disappointed that there needed to be a horrible Disney-esque killing off of a parent right at the beginning to drive the main character's motivation. And the event that drags Emily and her brother Navin into the world of Alledia, is their mother's kidnapping by a rather disgusting tentacled beast. Yet the story, world building, and breathtaking illustrations completely make up for this one quibble. It's a wonderful tale of good vs evil and that things are not always what they seem. There are familiar elements of classic fantasy: curses, chosen ones, wise men, masters and apprentices that are comforting, as well as clever plot twists. I also love that the protagonist taking the lead is a girl and in many ways it reminds me of my absolute favorite book from when I was about my son's age: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle - wherein a young Meg Murray is on a quest with her younger brother to save their father and lots of crazy, otherworldly things transpire. I even have an autographed copy!
Now I'm thinking that I need to buy A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel version... Re-imagining classics as graphic novels seems to be all the rage these days. Yes, I succumbed and bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition  and plan to get The Chamber of Secrets Illustrated EditionReading a graphic novel is a completely new experience for me and so very enjoyable. It adds such an intimate way of seeing a character's emotions or the setting of a scene. I wonder if I am being spoiled with Kibuishi's beautiful imagination and illustrations. I love the two page spreads whenever the characters happen upon a new magical place:
On one hand, I'm so glad that my son discovered these books and we will continue to enjoy them together. On the other hand, we will still read Harry Potter books, A Wrinkle in Time, etc. in the original format and THEN the graphic novels as an added bonus. I do think there is something to be said for leaving things to the imagination first. But books that are original graphic novels have a place in my heart now, too. He's asked about reading Smile, so we may give that a go. Recently, though, he gobbled up The Spiderwick Chronicles, so I think I'll get to reading that next!

4.24.2016

Everyday Life and Menu Plan 4.24.16

As I predicted, it was a nice and uneventful week around here! I eked out one last iced coffee before our unseasonably warm weather left us early in the week.

Another week, another picture of sandals and beverages apparently.

And I discovered my new food obsession of poke and Sam Choy's food truck. If you're local, I HIGHLY recommend checking out this deliciousness. 
I got the mixed tuna and salmon poke, lightly seared. Mmmmmmm.

We finished up the week with my daughter's first foray into outdoor soccer, and she an awesome job. It was also as entertaining as you might expect, seeing a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds running around the field.

I'm thinking that this week will be a repeat of last week, but not in the food department at least...  
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!

4.22.2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - A NetGalley Review


Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 3,2016)
Description from the publisher:
London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.
Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.
Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.
And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.
Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

I usually try to parse out reading WWII novels, but there seems to be a wealth of them being published lately. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Chris Cleave's novels, so there was no way I would put this one off, and I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy. (I highly recommend Incendiary, Little Bee and Gold.)

Cleave's stories are all so emotionally eviscerating, so I was on my guard to read one set mainly during the London Blitz and the Siege of Malta. What makes his novels so unique, is their raw, visceral, emotional gut-punch material and, notably: a huge guilty secret. I think that might have set myself up to not have those expectations met. I kept waiting for some terrible undisclosed plot point to be revealed about one of the characters and that never really happened. Which was my bad, really. This was much more nuanced stuff: lovely, yet unpretentious, it's a stark and vivid story of how war transforms people. Knowing that his grandparents love letters inspired the story is just so wonderful. And there were certainly those telltale Cleave scenes of raw, visceral emotion. Once Mary becomes an ambulance driver in London, there are some episodes that are very difficult to read and one where she faces her own death that is written in the most harrowing way. And after reading this book, I feel as if I, too, have been to Malta during the siege. Alistair's time there is so real you can taste it, and there, too, are some unforgettably written scenes - one that reminded me of Little Bee, in a way.

At first it was difficult to emotionally attach to Mary, ostensibly the main character. She starts off as aloof and naive, and goes on quite a difficult journey - coming of age during WWII. It was slightly easier to identify with Alistair from the beginning, and his trials as he goes off to war. But I think that is probably by design, and somewhere along the way I fell a little bit in love with her as her motivations change. 

“There was a sadness in her mother’s eyes. Mary wondered whether it had always been there, becoming visible only now that she was attuned to sorrow’s frequency.”

I didn't realize that I really did enjoy this book until it was over, which was fitting, given one of my favorite passages - when she realizes that she loves Alistair:

"When the hour had come for the war to take him away, that had been the first and last moment she had known without doubt that she loved him. One knew how one felt only when things ended." 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is available on May 3rd and I would definitely recommend checking it out!



4.17.2016

Everyday Life and Menu Plan 4.17.16

We had quite a fun filled week around these parts, and are enjoying some CRAZY summer like weather. Funny enough, it's the same weather we experienced this time last year during The Blathering! And, just like last year, I happened to find myself in Pike Place tooling around. We decided to take the kids there to play tourist for the day.

He saw this on the wall just before the 'Gum Wall' and declared it "very nice."
The Gum Wall grossed them out, though. 
The views never disappoint, and they love to spot Mount 'Reindeer' (my daughter's name for Rainier) on such a clear day. Can you spot it?

The night before, my husband went out to one of our usual date night haunts. The weather was just calling for margaritas, and sandals!

And the night before THAT was the school carnival, which is always a good time.
Limbo cake-walk!
I fear that this week will be totally boring in comparison...

As for meals:

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!

4.14.2016

The Stack - April Library Haul


In honor of National Library Week, I thought I'd share the ENTIRE library haul we have going on in our house and include the kids' stacks this month! Currently the almost 6 year old girl child has the following stashed willy nilly around her room:
Yes, she's still a Mo Willems devotee, and we're making our way through the many Mittens early reader books in addition to all the Elephant and Piggie books. Did you know the last of the dynamic duo is going to be published next month and it's called The Thank You Book?? I'm already dying from the sweetness. I also really wish I was able to jet our family off to New York to check out this exhibit

The almost 9 year old child's stack, which is usually kept in somewhat neatly next to his bed:
Right now, I'm thankful that (like his clothing) he's totally on board with most everything I pick out for him. I grabbed How to Eat Fried Worms out of nostalgia and he's yet to read it, so the jury is still out. I think I did well with The Spiderwick Chronicles, and surprisingly, Farmer Boy. It's a Laura Ingalls Wilder that I had not read, but thought might me a good intro for him and we've enjoyed reading that one together before bed. So far it's not terribly exciting, but there is something rather compelling and intriguing about immersing ourselves in the story of a 9 year old farm boy in the early 1900s. The Captain Underpants books are just par for the course for the grade school set, he's also enjoying another goofy comic: Timmy Failure, and a book about sharks - because he's never really outgrown them.

As for me:
New to the stack this month is Mr. Splitfoot, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist and Half of a Yellow Sun. Although I think this month may be comprised mostly of Kindle reading, since last month's Everything Everything came in via ebook so I returned the physical copy from last month's haul. The Nest also came in from the library on ebook and I was too curious about all the buzz on that one to put it off. Lastly, I am reading another NetGalley ARC (Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave) on the Kindle. I should get around to Half of a Yellow Sun before the end of the month, though, as I'm reading it for a book club!

New e-books ready in my queue:

Golden Son by Pierce Brown
You by Caroline Kepnes
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (no, I haven't read this yet!)

As well as the ones I've had ready for awhile:

I'm Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry
The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Happy Again by Jennifer E. Smith
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

As always, I'm interested in any thoughts/if you've read the books on this list or others I should know about!

4.10.2016

Everyday Life and Menu Plan 4.10.16

Last week was not what I'd call an 'ideal' Spring Break, by any stretch of the imagination. However we managed to persevere, and I can now hang up my 'Cruise Director' hat until summer. Things were thwarted by my youngest getting sick the weekend prior to break and then passing it on to me and her big brother for most of the week. Thankfully, I only got a week long sinus headache and a short lived/mild fever. My son was not so lucky and was hitting 102 for nearly three days straight. We did get out for a bit for some fresh air early in the week, so that I could get my run in and some sanity.

And when he was feeling a bit better, we got out to see Zootopia, which I really enjoyed - especially the Shakira theme song!
By the end of the week we were able to get out for a picnic lunch with friends.
And capped off the week with a family trip to the zoo, where I finally got to see the Grizzly Bears frolicking in the water which my kids had seen on a previous trip with their dad and I was rather JEALOUS.
We were also lucky to have such lovely weather through the weekend and even did a little work on this year's goal to get the wee one out of training wheels. She took a few turns on my son's old bike with the pedals off to work on balance before getting on her bike.
Lovely or no, I'm rather glad to be getting back to our regular routine and having the kids out of each other's hair for most of the day - because the bickering sure does ramp up during breaks...

This weeks eats:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!