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!


How to Develop a Reading Habit

This is a topic I've thought about delving into for awhile, since I get asked QUITE FREQUENTLY: How do you read so many books? Where do you find the time? What is your secret? 
First I'd like to address how this question might make a bookish person feel... On a recent favorite things vlog from Long Story Short, Megan spoke to this when sharing her mutual love for Book of the Month and Wendy asked how she found the time to read. Now, when a good friend asks, we can be confident that the question is genuine. Though, as Megan pointed out, it CAN feel like a negative comment. Maybe, in my case, it's a sensitivity of being a stay at home parent that the question can come across as, "Must be nice to read all day." Or, "I have way more important things to do than sit around and read." In the unlikely event that this is the sentiment being conveyed, my response would be: most of my reading happens at night and on weekends (same as when I was working an office job) and reading IS IMPORTANT. Although, I'm sure the intent of most people asking is really: Do you have any tips for reading more? WHY YES! Yes, I do.

It all comes down to creating a habit. Reading has been a habit of mine since I was a kid, so it's pretty ingrained. However, I know a LOT of people (my husband included) who weren't voracious readers as kids, but got more into the habit later in life. Wherever you fall on the bookish spectrum, it's NEVER too late to start! Here are a few ideas:
  • Read what you want. I put this first, because I think it's so, so important. It may sound intuitive. Duh, of course I'll read what I want. Yet, I think people who don't read regularly get caught up in what might be popular, what they think they should read, or what's being made into a TV show or a movie. Which can be great! Reading to form our own opinion on what everyone is talking about is a great motivator. Oftentimes, the book might not be a good fit for your taste and that can lead to conflating a dislike for a particular book or genre with a dislike of reading in general. Want to read cozy mysteries? Middle grade fiction? Romance? Strictly WWII historical fiction? YA fantasy? YOU DO YOU. No matter what you read, it's all good.
  • Do a little research, but make it fun. So how will you know what you want to read? Well, hopefully you have read at least ONE book that you have enjoyed. The easiest thing would be to Google phrases such as "books to read after reading ___" or "if you loved ___ then you will love" Inevitably you should end up with some articles from Goodreads, Buzzfeed, Book Riot, etc. Book of the Month can be an asset in this regard, if you have to start from ground zero. Here's a handy post I wrote a few years ago on finding your next book, and I would now add the awesome new Make America Read Again newsletter from friend Hillary Copsey and, of course, Modern Mrs. Darcy's What Should I Read Next podcast.
  • Make a list. Once you've gone down the rabbit hole of finding all sorts of cool new books to read, make a big list and keep it handy. Either an easy Amazon wish list, create a Goodreads account, or write it down on paper: this is an excellent addition to a bullet journal. Then when your kids drag you to the library or you pass by the bookstore, you can pull up your Amazon/Goodreads app or journal and are GOOD TO GO.
  • Get a library card. Then take your list and get a big ol' stack of books, or ebooks or audio books. Find out the checkout limits and get as many as you can/have a bunch ready to go. That way, if you don't like what you're reading, you can (and should) put it down and try another - keep the momentum going with enough books on deck. I'd say I get through half of my library pile each month and end up returning lots of unread books. This was a hard thing for me to get past, as someone who likes to 'check the boxes' in life. But, those books will be there for another day! This was a very freeing realization. I wrote another handy post on being a library power user in my neck of the woods, including tips for keeping a good stash of books in the queue on Overdrive
  • Download the Kindle app. I suppose I'm being presumptuous in assuming everyone has an iPad or a Kindle... If you don't, I still recommend it for your phone and here's why: I recommend putting a library hold on both physical and digital copies to see which comes in first. And if I start reading a physical book, I still check out the digital copy to have in case I have time to read on the go!
  • Take advantage of big AND small chunks of time. As I mentioned above, I do try to take advantage of little bits of time to get in some reading. Equally important is to recognize those big chunks of time where you can read. In that Long Story Short vlog, Megan admitted to reading during family movie night - because how often does one need to watch Big Hero 6? Ha! I totally do this during lazy Sunday morning cartoon time - bonus points for modeling good reading habits for the kids. Commuting used to be a big reading opportunity for me back in the day. Recognize these gifts of time and don't squander them.
  • Everything in moderation. I personally read an average of an hour a day: at least twenty minutes every afternoon during my coffee down time before getting the kids. Then I read anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more each night. YES, I watch TV. YES, I surf the web and type on this blog. I think the KEY is to not binge on anything in particular. As for TV, usually, we are watching about three shows at one time (right now it's Stranger Things, Top Chef and Girls) and we watch them each... once a week - the old fashioned way. Maaaaaybe two if we're antsy. After only watching one episode of something per night, I still have plenty of time write, do mindless web stuff as well as read for at least a half an hour. Plus the show lasts longer this way! I can savor it! I think Netflix binge watching is one of the main reasons people don't read as much as they may want. And I'm not saying to binge on reading either. In fact...
  • Read every day for at least 15 minutes. If you do this, bare minimum, you can read at LEAST a dozen books a year. The average American reads 200-400 words per minute and most novels are about 60,000 to 80,000 words. Even we assume reading at the slowest rate and a longer novel, that's about 400 minutes for one book. At 15 minutes per day, that's twenty seven days! That's it for a book a month. And a little more than the amount of days it takes to form a habit...
I'm probably doing a fair bit of preaching to the choir here, but now I have a handy response for the next time I get asked how I read so much. Any other favorite tips or tricks? I'd love to hear them!


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (2.20.17)

The rain returned this weekend, but that doesn't keep us Pacific Northwesterners indoors! We were hoping to hit the zoo this weekend, but the weather was better for a little nature walk under the cover of trees.

Of course the one nice day we had over midwinter break was the day I had reserved seats for us to go see Lego Batman.
We all enjoyed it and I am SO GLAD our local theater has been bought by AMC and remodeled with the recliner seats that you can reserve ahead of time. WIN.

Sadly, our date night dinner plans got pushed back because our regular sitter had something come up and I went through calling THREE backup sitters and none were available. Boo. If it were a special occasion, I probably would have expanded my search. Alas, we were just heading out for Mexican and not necessarily for Valentine's Day, so we rescheduled for this week. 
The kids sure do love Valentine's Day. Like Halloween, I ain't into it and I'm glad they had fun at school! Only one day off this week for President's Day and then it's back to our regularly scheduled programming, praise be.

  • Monday - Pizza
  • Tuesday - Autumn Chopped Salad (from espresso and cream)
  • Wednesday - Aidells Sausage and Roasted Potatoes
  • Thursday - Satay Chicken and Roasted Broccoli with Brown Rice (we grill chicken breasts with this marinade from The Spruce)
  • Friday - Penne with Spinach Sauce (an old favorite from Giada)
  • Saturday - DATE NIGHT.
  • Sunday - Turkey Chili Taco Soup (delicious and easy recipe from Skinny Taste)
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!


Oiselle Tenacious Ten Race Discount Code!

Now that I have a few more deets, I thought I'd put up a post (complete with promo code!) for the TENACIOUS TEN

Y'all, Oiselle is finally sponsoring a race! After five years of being a part of this great team, I couldn't be more excited! And, there's a TEN MILE option - which I've always wanted to run. If this distance appeals to you, too, get registering soon: there are limited spots for the 10 mile race and, as of earlier this week, there were only about 40 left. Alas, I still have not rid myself of plantar fasciitis, so I won't be able to partake. However, there is a 10K option as well. I am doing a new treatment for my foot (which I may detail here once I'm done) and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do 6.2 leisurely miles by April. I may just use the beginner training plan to ramp up my running. Thanks to the amazing Beth at Running Evolution, there is a personalized beginner training plan:
This is the new iteration of the Brooks Trailhead Run, formerly Emerald City Run, and before that - the Seattle's Best.  The start and finish of the race will take place at Gas Works Park, on Saturday, April 22nd. Yay a SATURDAY RACE!   
can't beat the view from the start/finish
Both distances include a finishers medal, and forget about inevitably ill fitting shirts, everyone registering gets a TRUCKER HAT:

What: 10Mile, 10K, 1K kids race
When: Saturday, April 22nd (start time: 8AM )
Where: Gasworks Park (course maps here)
Register HERE and use code: READANDRUN17 for 10% off 
Hope to see you there!  Prices go up on next Thursday, February 23rd, so register soon.


One Dozen Page Turning Romantic Novels

Happy Valentines Day! Over the years it's become more of a focus for my kids, filling out all of those twee cards for classmates. Although, we usually try and schedule a date night for the weekend, yet have never exchanged gifts. If I WERE to get a gift, forget a dozen roses - I can unequivocally say that I'd much rather have a dozen books! To that end, I thought it would be fun to put a list of my favorite romantic novels together. 

If I can find a way to recommend Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, I'm going to do it! The idea that this novel can be placed into one category (ostensibly Sci-Fi) is RUBBISH. I found it to be such a profound and thought provoking story about what makes us who we are and the ends we will go to for those we love. 
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is an epic, cinematic and sweeping romance that weaves together love stories from the golden age of Hollywood to present day. I'm still hoping that the movie version happens, because it's just begging to be made. 
If you haven't already read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, why on earth not? It's hilarious, endearing and a book I recommend often because I've yet to meet someone who didn't enjoy this story of a man with Asperger's finding the love of his life. 
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, as I've mentioned before, has many similarities to Dark Matter and is a total tear jerker. Two people who fight for each other against the odds of time and space, what's not to love?
I love Jojo Moyes work and I was one of those people who loved Me Before You. Since I'm gathering that it's a bit polarizing, I would suggest one of her novels with more overall appeal: The Girl You Left Behind. This is a wonderfully told historical fiction love story using the dual timeline approach: present day and WWI. 
Lastly, but certainly not least, My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares is probably my most favorite sappy romantic novel. The protagonist is reincarnated over and over, and through the centuries he retains the memory of his first love. He searches the world for her, her soul, in each new life.
(Links are Amazon affiliate, and you can read my full reviews by author here.)

As I was thinking the list over, so many great love stories are YA and I had to make a separate category!
I couldn't decide between two of Gayle Forman's books, so I put them both on the list: Just One Day and the subsequent novels (Just One Year , Just One Night) are so lovely and engrossing. Like the film Before Sunrise, they are a little far fetched, but high on the swoon factor. 
If I Stay is her best novel, and I also enjoyed the sequel Where She Went. It's a heartbreaking and raw story, but a MUST READ. 
Speaking of must reads, you've all read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I'm sure. So I don't need to say anything further, right? Right. 
Sarah Dessen is the QUEEN of YA romance and I've read quite a few, but I loved Saint Anything the most. She deals with tough issues in her books, but always creates a love story with characters you will fervently root for until the end. 
I read Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum recently and I couldn't put it down. It was predictable but DELIGHTFUL. 
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is one of my favorite books EVER. There are several love stories woven together masterfully in this unforgettable novel about love and loss.
(Again, links are affiliate to Amazon, you can read more of my thoughts on most of these books by finding them here.)


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (2.13.17)

Since we moved to Seattle over a decade ago, I have never found myself perturbed by the rain. In fact, as a bookish person that tends toward being an introvert, I kinda like it! But, when we have a sunny day after a spell of rain, I'm more aware of how it affects my mood and enjoy it more. Today was one of those random beautiful midwinter days and we took advantage of it, strolling around a favorite park.

It's kind of crazy to think that just a week ago we were treated to a SECOND snow day this winter! The first one came before Christmas and was on a Friday. This one arrived on a Monday, and it was another lovely extension of the weekend.
It was followed up by a not so fun day off of school because of icy roads, and the snow was mostly gone, so the kids were feeling a little pent up. And this week we have midwinter break, and ANOTHER three day week. Serenity now...

Update on the Gimme Some Oven Moo Shu Chicken we tried last week: it was GOOOOOD. 
Looking forward to trying The Garlic Diaries recipes 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!


Books I Read in January 2017

I went a little overboard with ARC requests, so I reviewed two new releases last month! I think January is similar to September, with a bevy of great releases and it's hard to choose just one. I'll be back to just one a month, for the foreseeable future...

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
This book got a LOT of airtime on Book Riot and was also a Book of the Month pick, so I was intrigued. It was a gorgeous and sumptuous novel about an unlikely 19th century heroine of the of the Paris opera. I'm glad I started with lots of free time at the tail end of the holidays because it clocks in at 561 pages. An atmospheric novel is not usually my cup of tea, but the historical fiction aspect, and Lilliet's character haunted me and kept my attention. In many ways, it reminded me of Fingersmith: a very long, 19th century immersive story of plots within plots within plots... Sometimes I felt that Chee was trying a bit too hard with his provocative prose, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
"I wished it all to burn, to become a fire that would lay waste to the city, for me to turn from ember to inferno under the breath of whatever it was that would listen to my prayer and answer it."
Sometimes it dragged, while simultaneously seeming too complicated. This can certainly make for a frustrating reading experience, so your mileage may vary.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Oh my goodness! I'm kicking myself for not having read this sooner. But I'm also jealous of anyone who hasn't read this most DELIGHTFUL true story of Helene Hanff and her letters exchanged with the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road. I love epistolary novels, and this was just a great segue into a nonfictional account of correspondence during the late 1940s until the 60s. It's the perfect uplifting book, which is handy these days, as a shining example of how people can be wonderful to each other. 

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce
The premise of this story, a woman who kills a fellow student at 12 years old tries to move on from her past, was JUICY stuff. Though, major swaths of time were skipped over, which gave me a bit of whiplash and I wish I had gotten to know Rio and the other main characters better. It's not often that I say this, but this book could have been a good 50 pages longer! I was totally sucked in by her moral dilemma of whether the ends justify the means, and whether people can fundamentally change over time. I also enjoyed the peek into Japanese culture and being able to identify with Rio as a runner. I look forward to future work from Kelly Luce, for certain.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel you can read my review here.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker you can read my review here.


A Separation by Katie Kitamura Review (Wherein I get on my soapbox about Gone Girl comparisons.)

A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 6, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
This is her story. About the end of her marriage. About what happened when Christopher went missing and she went to find him. These are her secrets, this is what happened...
A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it's time for them to separate. For the moment it's a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go look for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she's not even sure if she wants to find him. As her search comes to a shocking breaking point, she discovers she understands less than she thought she did about her relationship and the man she used to love.
A story of intimacy and infidelity, A Separation is about the gulf that divides us from the lives of others and the narratives we create for ourselves. As the narrator reflects upon her love for a man who may never have been what he appeared, Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on the brink of catastrophe.

Alas, I think I went a little crazy in requesting ARCs at the beginning of the year and should have been more discerning as to what I might enjoy, versus what has been getting a lot of hype. This was an intriguing debut, but not a book to my liking. 

One review called it the 'literary Gone Girl.' Just to reiterate here, I enjoyed Gone Girl. I thought it was clever, suspenseful, and masterfully elicited strong emotions from all who read it. Nearly THREE YEARS have passed since it's release. Can we please stop with the Gone Girl comparisons as marketing ploy? I don't think I'm alone here in being tired of this, and I feel as if it's actually detracting from the greatness of Flynn's work. In every instance, I find that the book being compared does not live up to Gone Girl. How does that reflect on the original work? The things that made Gillian Flynn's book great (excruciating suspense, clever plotting, multiple narrators) were not present in A Separation. Okay, rant over.

Now, that is not to say great things were lacking in this novel - there were some searing observations about human nature, and Kitamura masterfully set an evocative scene of a sleepy seaside town in Greece. I did a fair bit of highlighting:

"The effect was not a new candidness or verisimilitude to the photographs that proliferated-on our phones, computers, on the Internet-but rather the opposite: the artifice of photography had infiltrated our daily lives. We pose all the time, even when we are not being photographed at all."
"One of the problems of happiness-and I'd been very happy, when Christopher and I were first engaged-is that it makes you both smug and unimaginative."

It was certainly smart, but it felt detached. Much of the prose was languid and lacking urgency or emotion, in what seemed like a rather urgent and emotional situation!  I prefer a plot driven narrative and some emotional pull, so I should have steered clear when it was lauded as written with "exquisitely cool precision." As I said, there were some astute observations that really made me think, but nothing that I would describe as beautiful prose. If this is to be compared to any recent novel, I'd say it most resembles Fates and Furies: a cerebral, sociological study of a marriage that was also critically acclaimed. I can SEE the admirable qualities in this book, but they are not for me. However, if you enjoyed Fates and Furies, you might really enjoy the tone and character analysis in A Separation.

Many thanks to Riverhead for an advance copy for my honest review!


Everyday Life and Menu Plan (2.5.17)

How is it that my husband escaped the nasty cold my kids had last week and I did not? Blargh. It's been a very slooooow week. I'm glad to have a lazy day to watch some commercials, and maybe a little football, so that I can rally this week. Word on the street is that we might have another snow day tomorrow! So, I bumped up my usual Monday shopping trip and got it done today.

I almost always grab something new to me on my Trader Joe's trips and I'm pumped about this mixed nut butter. Mmmmm. And, as with the last round of potential snow, we hit up the library for extra books.
Hopefully I'll be doing a lot of this tomorrow.
I took this earlier in the week as part of the Bookriot daily #riotgrams challenge. The prompt was 'where I read' and 90% of my reading is done on the couch, hopefully with a huge latte. I'm mostly doing the challenge on Litsy, and I totally forgot to add Litsy to my favorite things list last week. If you are a total book nerd, it's a really fun social media app. It's like Goodreads and Instagram had a baby. As with Twitter and Instagram, I'm @BornReadChicago on Litsy and you should totally check it out.
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!


A Few of my Favorite Things (...that are saving my life right now)

It's been a loooong time since I did a favorite things post and Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next Podcast) gave me a nice excuse to pull one together. (Funny enough, Anne's podcast was on my most recent list of favorite things!) I regularly link up with her monthly reading and thought it would be a fun (and helpful) exercise to join her in thinking about what is 'saving my life' right now, as we hit the dead of winter.

Books are an obvious answer, so I'll take it a step further with my new reading material! In my endeavor to severely limit Facebook, the New York Times and Vanity Fair have been filling that time with much more worthwhile material. 

Who doesn't love Chris Pratt? I mean... Seriously?

Buying fun and inexpensive beauty items always cheers me up! I'm partial to all sorts of colored lip balms and gloss that I can score at Target (especially the Chapstick Total Hydration ones) and I also love Zoya nail polish. Once or twice a year they do a 4 polishes for $15 (shipped!) promotion. 
These just came last week and I'm looking forward to trying some new colors.

Am I the only one who thinks the Smoked Butterscotch flavor needs to be a permanent addition to the Starbucks menu? It is definitely giving me life right now. And also this magnificent elixir:
This Lemon Ginger Echinacea juice from Trader Joe's is SO GOOD. It's fantastic right out of the fridge - like a kicked up lemonade, or hot - like lemon ginger tea. And some days, hot or cold, it's necessary to throw in a shot or two of bourbon.

My husband and I are devotees of The Crown and are almost done with the first season.
I was sad about this fact, but then I realized that the final season of Girls starts soon and the adaptation of Big Little Lies which looks AMAZING. But! I'd advocate for reading the book first.

In addition to the What Should I Read Next and Pantsuit Politics podcasts, Pod Save America (formerly Keeping it 1600) is keeping me sane these days - HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
On a sappier note, my little family and my kiddos save my life on a daily basis. They are more joy than pain-in-the-rear, for the most part. They're doing great in school and the stuff they bring home can make my week: 
(Very nice use of vocabulary words and spelling of coffee! She knows me well.) And now, more than ever, I don't know what I'd do without my weekly Saturday date night dinner chat sessions with my husband. 

Lastly, being a part of so many wonderful groups of conscientious people gives me life. Y'all know who you are: if I've seen you're face in recent months, know that you are giving me light and life these days. Much love!

Oh, and I usually include a song in my Favorite Things, so I must admit that specifically this version, the Lost Frequencies Remix of Cold Water by the Biebs is LYFE. I mean, it's implied in the lyrics: I'll be your life liiiine tonight... Just take a deep breath and let it goooooo.