Monthly Meal Wrap Up for August (and some recipes from Dinner: Changing the Game)

This month I picked up Dinner: Changing the Game by New York Times food writer Melissa Clark, and we are definitely adding some recipes to our regular repertoire! The Roasted Sausage and Cauliflower is so simple and yet, unique - especially the yogurt sauce which takes seconds to make. I also loved the easy clean up; we served it with microwave brown rice and just tossed the foil from our sheet pans!
We also enjoyed the Cumin Chicken Meatballs with spicy green sauce. Again, super quick and easy to make with a tasty and unique sauce. This one we also served up with some brown rice and roasted broccoli. It was perfect to eat with the kids, because they really enjoyed the meatballs (they were a little plain on their own) without the jalapeno laden sauce.
This cookbook definitely delivers on it's promise of inventive, UNFUSSY food with great flavor. I hope to try a few more recipes!

As part of the Influenster network, I got a freebie trial of the new Quaker Overnight Oats and, I must say, I was rather impressed.
I've certainly made my own overnight oats, but it seems to take a lot of tinkering to get it juuuuust right with the flavors. These tasted perfectly sweet/but not too sweet and the convenience factor is HUGE. Plus there's no weird preservatives in them - just flavored with straight up sugar and banana flakes! Definitely recommend, especially with coconut milk and strawberries.

August was also a fun month for food and dining out! My husband and I tried a new restaurant for my birthday dinner and it was lovely. Carmines is a new-ish establishment in Bellevue, but opened by the folks behind longtime Seattle favorite Il Terrazzo Carmine
The grilled romaine salad with proscuitto and blue cheese dressing was sooooo good, as was my pillowy gnocchi.
My husband's risotto was some of the best I've ever tasted and I don't think I've ever devoured tiramisu so quickly. Highly recommend!
And we did some eating out at Crystal Mountain on our summer road trip. The Summit House was lovely, both the views and the food.
As was the Alpine Inn for dinner, where we learned that neither of us have ever ordered our kids a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers. We remedied that situation and now they want to order them wherever we go!
I also took them out for their first real sushi experience and they were as adventurous as I expected them to be, which is to say - the most exotic thing consumed was crab. But! I'll take it! Baby steps...
September is all about soccer season and getting back into the swing of things with school. Hopefully we'll have time to experiment with some new recipes...


Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (NetGalley Review)

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books (August 22, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
From the bestselling author of the beloved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes another perfect fable for our times--a story about women, choices, and recovering from past mistakes.
Young Jane Young's heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general. 
How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her. 
A novel about a world that continues to want to define what women are and what they can, and cannot, do, Young Jane Young follows three generations of women, plus the wife of the Congressman. Told in varying voices through e-mails and even a Choose Your Own Adventure section, it captures not just the mood of this particular, highly charged moment but is an accessible, witty, smart take on the double standards that are alive and well and waiting to trip up ordinary and extraordinary women alike.

After reading the description of this novel, I couldn't help but think of Monica Lewinsky's extraordinarily powerful TED Talk. If you haven't heard it, I HIGHLY encourage giving it a listen. Yes, this is an issues book on feminism, politics and slut-shaming. But, the tone and structure made for a highly entertaining and informative read.

The majority of the book is told from the perspective of the women in Aviva's life, which I found refreshing and compelling. I think my favorite was the first, which is narrated by her mother. Rachel's voice sucked me in straightaway. Maybe it is because I am at an age where I am well past Aviva's point of view, and a mother myself. She also has a wonderfully witty and wry sense of humor that sets the general tone for the whole novel. The congressman's wife Embeth is similarly humorous and clever with a more somber, yet equally absorbing, tone. Ruby's perspective (Avivia's daughter) was tough to read - partly because it was in the form of a melodramatic one sided conversation of a 13 year old (with her school-assigned international pen pal) and partly because Zevin created such a full and clear picture of a heartbreakingly vulnerable girl.

In the end, we finally get some perspective from Avivia herself. I appreciate how Zevin doesn't paint her as a completely innocent martyr to gain our sympathy, and tells her side of the story with all it's complexities. 

"The rub of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories is that if you don't make a few bad choices, the story will be terribly boring. If you do everything right and you're always good, the story will be very short."

As a kid who was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure books, I thought it was a perfect narrative device to illustrate Aviva's inner dialogue as she faced the moral dilemmas that would profoundly affect her life (and those around her). It added that wry sense of humor each of these women possessed. My only complaint with the end was that it went way too quickly. I kept looking down at my place in the book and thinking, "There's no way that there's only 3% left in this book!" I wish Avivia had a little more time to tell her story, and given us a little more of her life in the moments that came after the ending.

This is a powerful story, told with humor and heart that I have come to expect from Gabrielle Zevin. Many thanks to Algonquin books and NetGalley for providing a copy for my honest review!


Should Reading to My Kids Count Towards Tracking on Goodreads?

Recently, Book Riot had a post on whether to count audio books when tracking your reading. It seems crazy to me NOT to count them! To your brain, they are not 'cheating' and you are spending almost similar amount of time consuming a story. The same goes for re-reads in my opinion: you are taking that precious time to engage with the written word, that for sure counts as reading. 

I sometimes feel not quite guilty, but some small hesitation when I add children's books to my Goodreads 'read' pile. For example, graphic novels - I never counted re-reading A Wrinkle in Time in graphic novel form. And when I read The Amulet Series after my son finished them, I only counted it as one book in my tracking. Should I go back and add six more books read?? Raina Telgemeier writes the most amazingly heartfelt stories with her pictures and words: Smile and Ghosts are must reads. Since they only took me the time it would take to watch a movie, I hesitated adding them to my list. Yet I read We Should All Be Feminists in the same amount of time! It all seems to even out to the length of an average book at the end of the year (a respectable 341 pages per book last year) so I count my monthly Newberry book, occasional middle grade read or graphic novel. It evens out with all that time I spent reading The Queen of the Night, right?

In thinking about time spent reading, it got me thinking about ALL THE TIME spent reading to my kids. Does that count for anything? I mean, aside from the obvious benefits of bonding and building my kids vocabulary, empathy, education and all. I'm certainly not talking about counting Goodnight, Moon or the millionth reading of Madeline. However, my kids are at an age where I am reading books to them that have some heft. I am a huge advocate of reading to your kids until they go to college, if you can swing it (also corroborated by Connecting Boys with Books) and I am still going strong with my seven and ten year old. This year I've read every Roald Dahl book you can think of with the younger, and just finished The Goblet of Fire (when Rowling starts to get particularly loquacious) with the older. We read a new Harry Potter with him every summer, and oftentimes we're reading for more than a half an hour a night. The caveat: my husband and I take turns and do a quick catch up on what happened with each other between readings. When we read Flora and Ulysses with my ten year old, I wanted to add it to my Newberry list of books read. Yet I had that 'guilt' feeling of counting it since I didn't sit and read it the whole way through. At least it's one I easily sat down and read on my own in an evening or two. But half of Harry Potter? Does it count for anything? I'm genuinely curious if parents count any of these books. Perhaps this means I SHOULD go back and add those other Amulets...

Ultimately, it's about what my goals are - if I want to conquer a set number of pages per year, I suppose I could figure out a way to work that into my Goodreads challenge. But that doesn't seem like a goal I want to pursue. More than anything, I like to look at the breakdown of the books I read: how many new releases vs backlist, fiction vs nonfiction, or how many books written by women or POC. My yearly goal is somewhat arbitrary, in that I usually just aim for more books than the year prior. So, I'll probably just keep on with not counting the books I read to my kids, unless I take the time to read the other half or whole on my own, and continue to see it as one of my favorite things to do together. A practice that I hope doesn't end anytime soon.


Monthly Meal Wrap Up - July

In keeping with my summer bucket list item of ramping down blog posts, it has been AWHILE since I talked menu plans. To be honest, I felt like the weekly format was getting a little stale. Even though I write it all down and plan weekly, so much is similar from week to week and not exactly noteworthy every seven days. Since I DO still like to refer back to new things we've tried and fun things we eat, I thought I'd switch it up and start doing a monthly wrap up. (Weekly menus are always available to scroll for ideas, though - which I do myself quite frequently!)

Speaking of the summer bucket list, the kids and I checked off blueberry picking and we made these delicious blueberry muffins from Smitten Kitchen, as well as many stacks of Sunday blueberry pancakes.

We've also done quite a bit of grilling and chilling, and made an old favorite that pre-dates the blog - so, a recipe we dug up from nearly six years ago!
Mmmmmm. Dry rubbed flank steak, with chimichurri sauce that we served with roasted potatoes and wilted spinach. The recipe is from a long ago show on the Food Network that has stood the test of time. Alas, The Hearty Boys has not.

My husband showed me this roasted cauliflower and quinoa recipe he found on NBCNews.com and said that it seemed so interesting (vinegar soaked raisins! Capers! Coconut Oil! Tumeric! Toasted garlic!) that we had to try it. 
It was fantastic: the flavors totally work and were ADDICTIVE. We served it with some simple grilled chicken, since this recipe is rather complex. In the future, we might just skip toasting the quinoa.

Also on the summer bucket list was to try a new summer cocktail and I did that RIGHT AWAY. This Gold Rush Cocktail from The Kitchen has been my go-to: bourbon, an easy honey syrup, lemon and mint.
We didn't do too much eating out this month, other than fun festival food like shaved ice at the Bellevue Arts Fair...
And I always stop for a Fisher Scone, which I did at the Kirkland Classic car show. 
However, we are heading out on a little road trip this week and my birthday date night got pushed back - so there may be a bit of restaurant recapping going on for August. 

I also thought it'd be fun to delve into more cookbooks (Can't get enough books! Alllll the books!) so I picked up a few from the library and will hopefully find some fun new recipes to share.


Books I Read in July

Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais
You can read my review here!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Definitely a good pick for a summer read: a love triangle which predominantly takes place in a seaside community on Rhode Island. I did get a little infuriated with the main character's willful ignorance about the nefarious players in her life, and it was pretty easy to figure out the plot twist by at least halfway through. But, I didn't predict the wild and dramatic way it all came together in the end with the very real hurricane of 1938. Overall, it was a fun book - it read like Elin Hilderbrand decided to write a historical fiction novel.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
The story of two people who fall in love on the day of the 9/11 attacks drew me in immediately. As someone who was of a similar age at the time, and became engaged within a couple weeks after that fateful day, I could easily identify with their emotions. But... as the love triangle emerges, I became rather infuriated with main character's poor decision making on MANY LEVELS. It was one I wanted to throw across the room at the end for it's utterly un-redemptive qualities (I refrained, because it was from my beloved library). I won't put any spoilers here as to why, but I will on my Goodreads if you are so inclined!

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
I am realizing now that I have read a trio of love triangle stories in July! Must be a common beach read theme... Of the three, I enjoyed this novel the most. Taylor's descriptive writing of Florida and the sea are just lovely. It felt reminiscent of the show Bloodline, with the setting and complex family drama. The main character is also flawed, but she comes to right the mistakes she has made in her life by the end - a wry and unexpectedly bittersweet treat. I also thought that the narrative of shark preservation was enmeshed well into the story, and eye opening.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
My Newberry pick for the month did not disappoint, just as it hadn't when I read it nearly thirty years ago! I had forgotten the gist of the story, and it was wonderful to rediscover such a great character in Kit. Not only does Speare create such a fantastic visual contrast between Kit's home of Barbados and Connecticut, but she takes on really heavy issues that are still so very relevant today: slavery, religious persecution, and feminism. Absolutely a classic for all ages.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
When it comes to historical fiction, I'm a sucker for the dual timeline narrative and this one did not disappoint. It is set in present day and 1921 in Tulsa, the latter leading up to the massacre and burning of the black neighborhood Greeenwood. Rowan, a young black girl finds a skeleton in the cottage house floor that her parents are renovating one summer. Then the story bounces back and forth in time as the clues come together to solve the mystery of the body. I furiously turned the pages and waffled on who I thought it was, hoping for it to be certain characters and not others. At the same time, it was a well told coming of age story as Rowan learns about the past, while dealing with an unforeseen tragedy in the present.