Everyday Life and Menu Plan 2.28.16

It's been a pretty low key week around these parts, especially since we all seemed to be hit by a nasty cold to varying degrees.  But we did enjoy some rather spring like weather.

And I did some baking...

There are still a few of the famous Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars left in the fridge, so we'll be enjoying them along with this week's eats, some of which were pushed back from last week because we were too tired/sick to cook!

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


Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars Recipe (from Kitchen's of the Great Midwest)

It's no secret that I thoroughly enjoyed Kitchens of the Great Midwest (review here), and it has stuck with me for weeks.  There are so many reasons I keep thinking about this book, not the least of which are the recipes within.  Of all the magical sounding dishes, I think we all can agree (those that have read it) that Pat Prager's bars are the most approachable and universally appealing.  A recipe pulled from the cookbook of J. Ryan Stradal's (the author's) great grandmother, I just HAD to give them a go.

Just as it seems in the novel, they were really rather easy to put together.  I thought that the addition of graham cracker crumbs within the bar, rather than as a crust, was rather genius - and TASTY.  They are super rich, and I cut my servings into wee one inch squares.  Even a serving that small might make your teeth ache, but in the best, most nostalgic, 70s childhood way possible.

Mine also got a little crumbly, and I was a little worried when I poured the peanut butter mixture into the pan.
But I pressed the heck out of it before adding the melted chocolate layer.

I'm thinking I might have put a bit too much of those tasty graham crackers in the mixture.  I would also add more chocolate chips to melt on top, the next time around.  This, however, has not stopped my children from trying to eat them by the fist full!

This was a fun undertaking and now I'm sort of curious to try one of the other bar recipes from the book: Barb Ramstad's Kraft caramel bars...  For the time being, here's the blue ribbon winning recipe:

Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars

• 2½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs

• 1 cup melted Grade A butter
• 1 cup peanut butter
• 2½ cups powdered sugar
• 1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon Grade A butter

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter and sugar. Pat into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.


Brooks Trailhead Race 2016 Discount Code

Time to share a new race discount code!  Well, the race isn't new - this will be the second year of the Brooks Trailhead Run and, once again, I'm happy the race director asked me to help get the word out about the race.  

The start and finish of the race will take place at Gas Works Park, just a short walk from the Trailhead Store on Sunday, May 22nd.   
can't beat the view from the start/finish
There is a 15K as well as a 10K option, and both distances are awarded medals. 

If you're not sure about the half marathon distance, or want a nice little 9+ mile training run (perhaps a long run before the Seattle Rock n' Roll in June), a 15K is a GREAT option.  And I love a good 10K, too.  

I enjoyed the race last year, but was a little skeptical of the parts of the course that went through alleyways and it looks as if they are working on changing that!  Yay!
Here are the deets:

Brooks Trailhead 10K & 15K (1K kids run): Sunday, May 22nd (start time TBD, was 8AM last year)
Where: Gasworks Park
Register HERE and use code: HALLBERG16BTH for 15% off (good thru March 6, then 10% off thereafter)

Hope to see you there!  Prices go up on March 1st and there are only 500 spots for the 15K, so register soon for the best deal.

Disclosure: I was offered a race entry in exchange for getting the word out about the race; although it is sponsored, all opinions are my own.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 2.21.16

Another lovely week in the books!  We started the short week with a day off of school for President's Day, and enjoyed a late morning, brunch and a rainy day walk.

And I can't believe I became the owner of one of these crazy things this week:

Thanks to the awesome folks at Hot Chocolate, I receive some pretty darn awesome incentives!  The Apple Watch is not something I ever would have thought to buy for myself and, alas, it is WAY FUN.  I took it on a couple of runs and it definitely syncs up with my Garmin, and now I understand everyone's FitBit obsession.  I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing to be slightly fixated on my steps for the day, but I'll go with it!  And in a crazy turn of events, I will also be able to take another Hot Chocolate race trip.  I'm working on getting another vacation goin' with my husband.  We had our first trip since kiddos (in over 8 years) last year thanks to Hot Chocolate, and I'm pretty beside myself that we only had to wait one more year for another trip.

In other news, we've officially started collecting Original Funko Pop! bobbleheads.  I bought Rey last week and my husband was slightly envious, so he picked up Chewie and Vader, out of respect for our dogs.

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


What the Kids are Reading: A Tribute to Mo Willems

We parents are all in the know on this one, AMIRITE?  Mo freaking Willems is everything to the Kindergarten set, and I'm so excited that I'm back in the thick of early readers with my 5 year old daughter.  Of course we're reading lots of Elephant & Piggie, but her favorite is Cat the Cat, Who Is That?  (And, currently, Naked Mole Rat.)

They are the perfect confidence boosting earliest of reading books, with few words, simple sight words and lots of repetition.  Plus, in traditional Mo Willems' style, they are adorably funny.  

Both kids have been fans of his stories: the Pigeon Book Set has been handed down in our house - they hold The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! in highest esteem.  Pigeon books are hilarious read-alouds, and it's so fun to spot him in various other Willems' books.  Pigeon makes an appearance in the back of most Elephant and Piggie books, the aforementioned Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (which is an automatic hit, because: NAKED), Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and of course, the most celebrated of Willems books: Knuffle Bunny.
Yes, my daughter likes to draw Knuffle Bunny.  And in looking up titles for the links above, I'm realizing that there are even a few new to me titles, or ones I've been meaning to pick up: like The Story of Diva and Flea for my 8 year old and perhaps Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator! for my daughter...

If you've got wee ones in the house and aren't already on the Mo Willems train, I highly suggest hopping aboard!  If you don't have kiddos, all these books go over SO WELL as gifts for the small people in your life.  Or even stuffed versions of the beloved characters.  Yes, my daughter is pining away for her own Knuffle Bunny, of course. 


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 2.14.16

Happy Valentine's Day y'all!  We did an early celebration last night with our favorite at home date night meal.

Yes, it was just the two of us, but the first bottle of wine we opened was rather 'meh.'  So we HAD to run out and get two more, just in case.  Thankfully, the second one we opened was excellent.

I helped out with my daughter's Valentine's Day party and it was delightful and hilarious.  Also, did you know that Valentine's Day is like second Halloween for the kids?  Yep.  This is just one kiddo's haul.  And we took them out to get doughnuts this morning to add insult to injury.

We also had a couple of extra days off of school for mid winter break and utilized the time to have play dates with friends and a trip to the library.  The giraffe my daughter is holding is her class pet Jemima whom she is taking on adventures for the week!  

As for food this week...

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


The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (A NetGalley Review)

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 1, 2016)
Description from the publisher:

From the author of the New York Times bestselling Spellman Files series, Lisa Lutz’s latest blistering thriller is about a woman who creates and sheds new identities as she crisscrosses the country to escape her past: you’ll want to buckle up for the ride!

'In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...'

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

With heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, The Passenger is an amazing psychological thriller about defining yourself while you pursue your path to survival. One thing is certain: the ride will leave you breathless.

Told from Tanya's point of view as she tries to outrun her past, we're given glimpses of her secrets with these epistolary email clues between her and someone from her hometown.  As the story moves along, we gain a bit more of an understanding as to who the mysterious writer is to our heroine.  

It starts off at a rather frenetic pace, especially when she meets 'Blue.'  However, somewhere after the second or third persona she takes on (out of at least FIVE), it shifts into a slower gear.  It was a bit tedious reading about her stealing another driver's license, going to another cheap motel room, etc. that it was losing it's urgency.  Lather, rinse repeat.  

The hometown email exchanges power the story along, as it gives just enough little glimpses into her past to keep you intrigued and wanting to know the full story.  Honestly, I think that the author should have parsed out MORE in these messages, because the 'big reveals' in the last part of the book were huge and plentiful.  I think that the very end would still have had the desired gut punch, even if Lutz gave more hints earlier in the book - especially during the repetitive parts.  I also would have liked to know more about my main character.  I was having a hard time deciding whether I should root for her demise or redemption.

In the end, it was some compelling stuff and it actually reminded me a LOT of a major plot line in Veronica Mars, which is one of my all time favorite shows.  I find myself still thinking about it, days after I've finished.


The Stack - February 2016

The library haul is somewhat more robust this month.  Mostly due to the hefty 832 pages of A Little Life.  We'll see if I get to it in February.  It scares me for several reasons.  I know so many people who LOVED it, and as many who gave up after giving it a good 100 pages.  We'll see...

Currently I'm reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and plan to read my library ebook of Fates and Furies next.  A Girl is a Half Formed Thing was an impulse 'paperback picks' choice, so I have at least 2 guaranteed renews and 3 months in which to read it (I'm down to two months on Orphan Train).  

Lastly, I'm waffling on whether to read Between the World and Me or get the audiobook version, as I hear that it's an excellent listen.  Either way, I'm reading it this month or early next!  I also have a few new ebooks at the ready:

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (NetGalley ARC)
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry

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

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (NetGalley ARC)
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
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
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 very much open to suggestions on this list or otherwise!


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 2.7.16

 We kicked off the week with the kids' first after school enrichment program!  The Challenge Island: Shark Tooth Island themed STEM program was too cool to pass up.  They're sorted into tribes (complete with face paint) and they're holding up the helicopters they made to 'land' on the island.  Can't wait to see what they have in store for next week.

I think most parents know exactly what's goin' on here.  Time for writing up Valentines cards!  Thankfully they didn't need much cajoling to get cracking on them and, in the past couple of years, they decorate the card receptacles at school.

I enjoyed lots of lovely February running weather.

And I braved another nutty Oiselle sample sale, but it's always worth it - even if I just get one item, my favorite Long Rogas for only $10!

Now it's time for Super Bowl viewing and some chili.  This week:

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


Books I Read in January

Overall, January was a great month of reading.  I think, like last January, there might be a contender for best of the year...

Winter by Marissa Meyer
I'm always impressed with how Meyer incorporates fabled characters into these stories, and to end the series (you can click on the links for my reviews of: Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Fairest) she wove another great tale.  It was, however, a little long in the tooth - clocking in at 832 pages.  I suppose she didn't want to make it seem like an easy battle for Cinder and her counterparts, but she could've edited out one or two skirmishes.  That being said, I did like that she took a few twists and turns to get to a satisfying and not cookie-cutter ending. 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
This was one of the most unique books I've ever read, and I ADORED it.  Stradal tells the engrossing story of Eva Thorvald, chef-savant with a one in a million palate, but not from her point of view.  Each chapter is about a particular dish that pertains to someone in Eva's life in one way or another, and it really is like a collection of short stories.  But one by one, they piece together the puzzle of her life in the most deft and subtle way.  I was blown away by how I felt as if I knew the main character, without ever hearing her inner dialogue.  There seemed to be a hint of magical realism, which I enjoy, and I loved that the author trusts the reader to fill in the gaps to find the story.  It is one of the very few books I would re-read to learn more, knowing how it comes together - just fantastic stuff.   

I think I checked the cover once or twice to make sure that this wasn't a Rainbow Rowell novel - which is high praise, in my opinion. Like Rowell, Albertalli, can do achingly sweet YA romance juuuust right, with characters so full of life, great relationships between friends and family, and spot on dialogue.  There are f-bombs as well as freakin' in all the right places, and simple passages with some heft.  My favorite:
But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.
You can check out my answers, as well as quite a few others, to some discussion questions over at the Ladies Literary Society!

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Link is to my NetGalley review.)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was a nice little story, but I don't know if the crusty old man with the heart of gold is my kind of literary trope (unless that man is A.J. Fikry).  It's like the movie 'Up' but much slower paced and, unfortunately, no talking dogs.  To give us the background on Ove's grumpiness, we get glimpses into his past which begin as enlightening, albeit tragic.  And then the horrible just. keeps. coming.  As if the author was rubbing his chin and thinking 'how can I make sure that Ove was dealt the worst possible life, so as to explain the grump factor.'  One or two of those flashback situations would have sufficed to make me that grumpy.  And the stubborn interactions with his present-day neighbors felt like Groundhog Day, not as funny as the first couple times around.  However, I did enjoy the characters (yes, including Ove and especially the pregnant new neighbor) and the non-repetitive interactions between them all (especially Ove with his longest neighbor and rival).  I can definitely see why people liked it, because it goes out on a high note of lovely and bittersweet.