Monday, June 20, 2016

Meal Plan • 6/20/16

This genius new page in my bullet journal is a total meal-planning game-changer.  The idea (and I would be so pleased if it works out as planned) is that I will pull off the post-its each week and store them in my recipe binder.  Over time I will build a collection of them, organized in the binder according to type (pasta, soups, Mexican, etc), and then when it comes time to plan each week's menu, I will be able to pull these post-its out of the binder and pop them into their respective day slots in this page in my bullet journal.

The truth is, of course, that I am constantly trying new recipes and discarding the ones that no longer serve us, so it is entirely possible that I will continually be creating new post-its, but I would like to think there will be at least some re-use involved.

Regardless, it looks cool.  And I had a zen time making it.

This week has more new recipes than usual slotted.  It is that time of year when I am far less overwhelmed than usual, and the time and space have opened in my mind to allow for tinkering and testing.  The beautiful, long, languid days of summer are my forever favorites.

MONDAY: Penne Pasta with Artichoke Lemon Pesto, Bruschetta
The kids are in an all-day camp every day this week, so quick and easy recipes are on my mind.  We are all a little bored with traditional pesto, and this one looked unusual and interesting enough (yet still fast enough) to make the cut for day one.

TUESDAY: Marinated Kale & Whipped Ricotta Pizza, Salad
I swear, I've had this recipe pinned for eight million years.  Not sure why it took me so long to throw it onto a menu.  Very, very excited to try it.  The flavor profile sounds scrumptious, and it should be easy enough if I use pre-made pizza crusts (pro tip: the ones at Trader Joe's are made without high-fructose corn syrup and keep in the freezer for such a time as this).

WEDNESDAY: Brown Rice, Black Beans, & Pico de Gallo
This sounds so simple, and it is simple, but this dish is so comforting and flavorful and I would eat it every day if it came to that.  I mean, it's just beans and rice, sure, but the pico elevates it to restaurant-quality, and if you batch-cook the beans on the weekend and freeze them until needed (or heck, use canned beans in a pinch), then the dish comes together in minutes.  I know canned beans are not ideal - the sodium is too high, the flavor isn't quite as complex, the texture is less-than-perfect, and the cost is higher - but if the choice is between canned beans and picking up take-out, I think it's a no-brainer.  Use the canned beans if that's what it takes.  Sometimes 'good enough' is actually perfect.  Also, if you have a bottle of Liquid Smoke around, I highly recommend throwing a dash or two of it in the beans while they heat up.

THURSDAY: Gnocchi with Pomodoro Sauce, olive bread bruschetta
Pre-packaged gnocchi is straight-up emergency food, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be in Emergency Mode by Thursday.  I keep a pack of Trader Joe's shelf-stable gnocchi around for just this sort of occasion.  The sauce looks like fun, and the added mozzarella will keep it decadent enough to please the children.  I'm looking forward to this dinner.

FRIDAY: Corn & Chipotle Soup, Salad, Baguette
I like simple, fresh soups for summer, and this one sounds intriguing.  Anytime I open up a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, I freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays to use in our black bean chili or to throw into salsa.  I am very interested in seeing how the addition of the chipotle flavor will affect a soup that seems as basic as this one, and plan to try it in some of my other favorite soups if it turns out as interesting as it sounds like it will.

SATURDAY: Frittata, Honey Mustard Roasted Cabbage
Frittatas are one of my fall-backs for the end of the week.  They are so versatile and will use up whatever leftover vegetables and cheeses (and even grains) that are still sitting around in the fridge, and they are always crowd-pleasers.  The roasted cabbage is another new recipe that I've been meaning to get around to, but we love cabbage and are always up for a new spin with it.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Five Things

Popping in to share a few of the recipes, articles, and ideas that have been on my mind lately.  
  • It took me years to get the hang of pan-frying tofu, and it is still kind of the bane of my existence.  To get a crispy crust on more than one side, I inevitably flip every single stinking piece of it by hand, and while the end result is tasty and fabulous, I'm not certain that the searing pain in my fingertips is worth the hassle.  Last week, I tried a Baked Tofu recipe from Food 52, and it was outrageously easy and perfect.  This week, I had great luck with the same marinade and baking method, and served the tofu in a Thai Curried Noodle dish.  Next time, I plan to toss the marinated tofu in nutritional yeast and bake it for The Grit's Golden Bowl recipe.  New favorite cooking method, for sure.
  • Have you ever brushed your teeth with activated charcoal?  Rubbing black stuff into your teeth doesn't sound like a good idea at all, I know, but I've been reading about it for a while now and when a sample of Smart Ash (man, I dig that name) made its way into my hands, I couldn't wait to try it.  The process takes a little getting used to, and it makes a colossal mess, but after using it for a week, I am super pleased with how much whiter my teeth have become.  I only use it in the evenings, and continue to use the Doterra On Guard toothpaste in the morning, but I can see making the activated charcoal an occasional (weekly?) part of my personal care routine.  Also, THE NAME.  It cracks me up every time I see Smart Ash in print.  It's like it was designed for me.
  • Last weekend, I took a workshop on the Art of Storytelling taught by a filmmaker from 1504, and one of the short documentaries we watched was America's Boulevard - a fascinating look at the process of creating and installing a massive mural in Chattanooga, TN in an ambitious attempt at urban renewal.  The film itself is only about 20 minutes long, but it is riveting to watch a group of white Northerners swoop into a predominantly black neighborhood in the South and absolutely succeed at bringing the community together to support and help create what became one of the five largest murals in the country.  We will be heading to Chattanooga for Labor Day weekend, and I plan to re-watch the documentary with the children before we go so that they have the sociological context before we seek out the mural in person.
  • This Huffington Post article, The Best 10 Nutrition Tips From Registered Dietician Nutritionists, is one of the most sensible pieces of nutrition journalism I've seen in mainstream media in quite a while.  My favorite tip?  "One meal won't 'make' or 'break' your health." My personal nutritional philosophy is to eat super clean about 80% of the time.  That way, if I go out occasionally and eat a loaded tofu dog with a greasy, DELICIOUS side of fries (ahem, like I did on Tuesday evening), then it's no big deal.  And if I have a green smoothie for breakfast and a giant salad for lunch, but then I eat a plate of pasta for dinner?  Again, No Big Deal.  
  • I fell down the Bullet Journal rabbit hole recently, and I am so in love with the process.  Bullet journaling, if you are unfamiliar, is in essence a DIY day planner system.   Mine is very simple for right now, and I am having a blast adapting it to my needs.  If you are interested in getting started, but are completely intimidated by the absurd amount of websites devoted to it, I recommend starting with this post by Boho Berry (be sure to watch the short video by the creator of the Bullet Journal - it is embedded in the aforementioned post).  Then, if you're still interested, just dive right down the rabbit hole.  I have compiled some of my favorite Bullet Journal posts and pages in a special board over on Pinterest.  One caveat: if you like being told what to do, you might be happier with a pre-packaged planner (in which case, please let me steer you towards the Best Self Journal), but if you're the type who prefers to forge her own way in the world, and bristles when told how things are supposed to be done (raises hand), then bullet journaling just might change your life.
I hope you have a great weekend.  I am going to spend this evening practicing stand up paddle board yoga (bucket list item) at a local lake, and I am beside myself with anticipation.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quick Lit • June 2016

The first half of the past four weeks were a virtual treasure trove of fun, easy reading, and fabulous literary lovin'.  So much reading, so much blessed free time, so many great books.  It was partly because of the ocean, of course.  There was a glorious stretch of open, unscheduled time, the best backdrop ever, and a giant stack of books I couldn't wait to read.

But then...


I started reading a 900-something page ten-ton block of very well-reviewed literary fiction (not the novel pictured above), and it all stalled out.  Like, came to a screeching halt.  In the past two weeks, I have read maybe 250 pages of it, and I swear, the character development isn't even fully fleshed out yet.  I am loathe to abandon it, but I am hard-pressed to hunker down and finish it either.  

The last few weeks have been busy and boisterous though, so it's possible that I just haven't given the book enough time and attention yet.  In service to serious fiction, I have decided to give it one more weekend.  If I'm not hooked deep by the end of the day on Saturday, I'm going to bail.  Such a depressing thought...

Today I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short, snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past four weeks.

About Grace, one of the best books I have read in the past twelve months, is an ethereal novel about fate, family, desertion, and redemption. Spanning nearly 30 years, Doerr manages to convey the passage of years effortlessly while still slowing down the story at times to meditate intensely on a particular setting. Winkler, the man at the center of the novel, has dreams that sometimes come true, and in one brief, desperate moment, he abandons his family so that his infant daughter will not die in the way he has dreamed will happen. The story (and the years) that follow are portrayed in a mesmerizing, dream-like manner, and there were sentences - whole paragraphs even - in which the language is so rich, I could have read them over and over again. Luminous, beautiful, amazing story. 

If you read the inside jacket of I Let You Go, you might expect an incredibly sad and depressing novel about the loss of a child, but there is so much more to this story than meets the eye. The book begins with a terrible hit-and-run accident in which a child is killed (I almost walked away based on that one fact - losing a child is a fear I have no interest in exploring) and then follows Jenna as she tries to start a new life on the coast in an attempt to escape her grief and her nightmares. The action is split between Jenna's faltering first steps on her own, and that of the detectives who spend a year trying to find the driver of the car. The setting is richly detailed and the characters are tightly drawn, but what really sets I Let You Go apart is the plot twist in the middle and the suspenseful aspects of the story. 

In the 1980s, three young girls spent their days playing in and around a ramshackle long-closed roadside hotel where something happened that ruined their friendship forever. In the present day, one of the girls, still living on the property, has killed her family and herself in a gruesome manner, and leaves a clue that hints at what happened long ago. The tale unfolds as it jumps around in time from the 1950s, when the hotel was in its heyday, to the 1980s and to 2013, and unapologetically tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock. The Night Sister made for a quick and enjoyable beach read, weaving together suspense, spookiness, and outlandish (but fun) ghost story elements.

The Four Agreements is a life-changing spiritual self-growth book that offers a simple but powerful framework from which the reader can quite literally change their life for the better. The agreements themselves (be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, always do your best) are widely distributed, but are illuminated here in this slim volume in a way that cracks the code for those seeking freedom from the usual neuroses that we fixate upon. Caveat: the author claims to have been given this information in a dream, and some of the wording may strike the reader as too new age-y, but this is one of the few books I have returned to over and over and over and over again for years. At 138 small-sized pages, it can be skimmed and read in one sitting, but is better (in my humble opinion) savored slowly in order to properly chew on the amazing wealth of wisdom.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Meal Plan • June 13

This weekend, as I was fed by some of the best chefs in the Southeast at the Southern Grown Festival on Sea Island, I was already flummoxed by how to put together a meal plan for the coming week.  I was eating so well, you see, and while I was inspired by these chefs, I was also intimidated to return to my own kitchen and come up with anything even remotely tasty after the foods I sampled.

And then, on the way to the Farewell Y'all Brunch on Sunday morning, we heard the news about Orlando, and the world shifted.  We took a walk on the beach before brunch, and I thought about the then-20-something people who had lost their lives.  While we ate, we found out the number was much, much higher, and things stopped making sense.  There we were, at an exclusive beach club on a breathtakingly beautiful island, with outrageous amounts of incredible food being set before us, and at the same time, there were hundreds of families in a horrifying limbo only 200 miles south of us.

It was sobering.


I hugged our friend a little tighter before we got in the car and headed back home.  I told him I love him.  Because I do.  I love our friends from way down deep in my heart and I think it is important to say it out loud.  The days are long, after all, but the years are short.

That seems to be my go-to response in these situations, but how scary is it that I have a go-to response at all?  How do we even live in a world in which I have a go-to response to horrific events?

And yet, here we are.  We got back home last night, and we reunited our little family, and we returned to our routines, and it seems absurd to even think about the fact that I need to come up with a meal plan, but the truth is that I do.  No matter what goes on in the world, I will need to feed my family.  We will need to sit at the table together and enjoy our dinner, even though (and maybe because) there are so many families tonight that will never have that chance again.

MONDAY: Kale & Cannellini Bean Risotto
This recipe is a family favorite.  The technique couldn't be simpler, and the final dish is comfort food at its best.  I needed comfort food today.

TUESDAY: Cheese Plate
I'm going out for dinner with a girlfriend, but the rest of my family is still going to need to eat.  The husband took a class on cheese making over the weekend with the fine folks at Sweet Grass Dairy, and we brought home an absurd amount of amazing and potently stinky cheese.  The kids cannot wait to dig into these treats.

WEDNESDAY: Thai Curry Noodles with Broccoli & Tofu
This is a new recipe, and I am looking forward to trying it out, but I may bake the tofu before tossing it into the simmer pot.

THURSDAY: Roasted Buddha Bowl
I love this dish.  Rice, topped with caramelized, roasted vegetables and crispy roasted chickpeas, and drizzled with a tart, creamy vegan sauce.  Also comfort food.  I think I'm seeing a pattern here.

FRIDAY: Smoky Potato Cakes with Kale & Ricotta, Salad
I have only made this recipe once before, but it was impressive for such an easy, quick-to-put-together dish.  Looking forward to trying it again.

SATURDAY: Mozzarella-Stuffed Arancini, Spicy Marinara
This isn't the quickest recipe in my arsenal, but it is an absolute crowd-pleaser.  The whole family gets excited about gooey mozzarella oozing out of a crispy breadcrumb covered ball of rice.  Serving it atop spicy marinara elevates the experience to a whole other level.

SUNDAY: I dunno, man.  It's Father's Day, which I suppose means I need to cook on my only day off.  I will almost certainly keep it easy.  Probably vegetable crudités with my homemade Blue Cheese Dip - it's one of Preston's faves.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Five Things

Just a few of the articles, podcasts, and recipes that have been on my mind lately.
  • The Miracle Morning:  Boho Berry's blog post about the book The Miracle Morning gave me a lot to think about and reinforced for me the importance of starting the day right.  The book is about the wonders of having a solid morning routine, and I couldn't agree more.  My best days are the ones that start with a little quiet time, some inspirational reading, 15-30 minutes of exercise, and a bit of journaling, and I like to set my alarm an hour early in order to make those things happen.  
  • Speaking of mornings, I made this Peanut Butter Banana Overnight Oats recipe this week, and it was just right when I came back in the house starving after an early morning run.  The protein and fiber satiated me, and the advance preparation couldn't have been easier.  It literally takes less than 5 minutes to prep the recipe the night before, and then it's ready to go at breakfast time.  Even better, it's already packed in a jar and can be grabbed from the refrigerator and taken to work with zero hassle.  Total win.
  • Twelve Things Ariana Huffington Wants You to Do Before Bed :  Clearly, routines have been on my mind lately.  At night, I like to go to bed and read a book for 30 minutes or so before falling asleep.  My brain appreciates the break from electronics, and I enjoy the ritual of spending some quiet time with some good, quality fiction in a low-light setting in the most comfortable bed in the world. 
  • Brene Brown on Big Strong Magic:  I really, really enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcast series on creativity when it came out last summer (was it that long ago? now I'm not sure...), but this episode, featuring the amazing Brene Brown, was so powerful and mind-blowing that I have listened to it at least four times over the past six months.  I copied quotes from it into my journal, and have spent countless hours mulling over the topics they discuss.  It is the stuff of pure genius.  The language is a little salty in parts, but it's worth putting on your big girl panties for.  Good, good stuff.  And if you haven't yet read Gilbert's Big Magic, I highly recommend it.
  • Have you noticed the hilarious and pervasive mango theme going on at Trader Joe's this summer?  Mango is the new pumpkin, you know.  A lot of it is pretty excellent, some of it is so-so, and a few items are just weird, but I am totally, absolutely, completely head-over-heels in love with the Mango Body Butter.  If you want some though (and you live in Athens), you better hurry, because I'm going to go by there again in the next few days and buy out their entire stock before it disappears for the season.

I hope you have a great weekend.  I'm headed down to the coast for the Southern Grown Food & Music Festival at Sea Island, and I'm so excited I almost can't stand it.


Monday, June 06, 2016

Meal Plan • June 6

I do not recall whether I have addressed it here or not, but one of the reasons I eat so clean for breakfast and lunch is so that I can be a little more decadent and easy-going with my dinners.  The children are more than happy to join me in green smoothies for breakfast and Rainbow Bowls for lunches, but even they would mutiny if I only served The Healthiest Foods Ever for every single meal.  And the husband?  Well, that would be no bueno.

He is very supportive of my nutritional proclivities, and for the most part he doesn't mind that half of the dinners I serve are vegan.  But he also likes cheese.  And eggs.

And if I'm being totally honest, I like them as well.  I don't like them all the time - as a matter of fact, I feel sick if I eat too much cheese, and so I limit it to dinnertime.  And even then, I still prefer to not have it at  every dinner.

Thus, we have reached a relatively happy dinnertime balance.  I manage to squeeze in around six servings of fruits and vegetables at breakfast and lunch so that I can loosen up a bit and have some pasta for dinner.  Or cheese.  Or something else that's a little less than ideal.  And a few of our dinnertime meals remain vegan, and a few of them are utterly ridiculous (like tonight's pre-packaged gnocchi cooked in oil and topped with mozzarella and parmesan).

All of life is a balancing act, yes?  It's about progress, not perfection.

MONDAY:  Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans
This was an emergency dinner.  My client errands ran late, and it was after the witching hour before we hit Trader Joe's to get the week's groceries on our way home.  I wasn't sure what to make for dinner since we were running so far behind, so I grabbed a package of gnocchi and did a quick Google search when I got home.  This recipe was quick and easy to pull together, and was not only relatively healthy, but also surprisingly delicious for something thrown together at the end of a long day.  (Pro tip: I used the Power of Greens mix from Trader Joe's.  Spinach would work just as well).

TUESDAY: Chickpea Curry with Brown Rice Medley
The whole family enjoys this recipe.  It calls for coconut rice, which we found to be unnecessarily fatty, so we simply cook the Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley in vegetable broth to serve with it.  I have even cut half of the coconut milk in the curry itself - using vegetable broth for the other half of the liquid.  These little tricks cut a lot of fat and calories, and using vegetable broth ensures that you don't lose out on any of the flavor.

WEDNESDAY: Crispy Black Bean Tacos
This recipe isn't our healthiest dinner ever (see the cheese & the oil-cooking method), but it is one of our favorites.  And it is SO EASY and SO FAST - ideal for a quick dinner after a long day of work, especially if you throw together the bean mixture the night before and leave it in the fridge so that you only have to pull it out and spoon it into the tortillas with a little cheese before tossing them onto the skillet.  The beans and the corn tortillas are healthy enough, too, and a little cheese goes a long way here.   Serve it with some guacamole for a dose of healthy fats.

THURSDAY: Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale and Brown Rice
I can't wait to try this recipe.  I found it linked on the blog of a nutritionist I like, and it sounds scrumptious.  If you're a tofu newbie, this looks like a great one to try.  Bonus: the preparation looks to be idiot-proof.

FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY: I'll be at the Sea Island Southern Grown Food & Music Festival all weekend, so not only will I not be doing any cooking, I will be eating (a lot of) food prepared by some pretty phenomenal well-known chefs.  And I'll be at the beach.  And Jason Isbell is playing.  Pinch me.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Quick Lit • May 2016

I have lately fallen a little bit in love with zero-based scheduling (but not for the reasons you might expect).  Much like zero-based budgeting, in which every dollar is accounted for and told how to behave, with zero-based scheduling, you take a look at your calendar and the list of tasks/appointments/etc and then you schedule the entire day down to the minute (okay, the hour).

It sounds constraining and painful, and I balked at first, but since I - like everyone else -  constantly sing the tired refrain of there-aren't-enough-hours-in-the-day, obviously something needed to give and this seemed worth a shot.

Because if what you're doing isn't working, then maybe it's time to try something new, right?

So far, I have learned a few valuable things.  (1) The train will get derailed and I absolutely will have to re-juggle the schedule as the day goes on.  (2) Holding too tightly to the original schedule will result in nothing more than frustration and tears.  (3) Using a pencil is advisable.

Interestingly though, what I am finding is that there are in fact more hours in the day, and I do have time for everything I want and need to do.  Namely, I wanted more time for nonfiction reading (I do my fiction reading at night when my brain has no interest in being filled with more facts), so I scheduled 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to drink coffee and to read.  

Eureka, right?  More time to read.  I am in love.

Today, I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short, snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past month.

One Good Turn, the second in the Jackson Brodie series, takes the standard detective novel in a comically absurd direction, but oddly, it works. A bizarre and ridiculous series of events connects a disparate cast of characters in ways so laughably outlandish that the reader doesn't even have to suspend disbelief - the unbelievable coincidences are meant to be unbelievable, and they are, ultimately, the driving narrative force. It is a silly novel, but it is cleverly written, and I love the author (though this is one of her earlier - and definitely not one of her best - works).

Aim True is a glorious celebration of authenticity, yoga, nourishing food, inspiration, and natural beauty. Kathryn Budig, a beloved yoga teacher who fills her classes with laughter and physical challenges, effortlessly distills onto the page everything she has stood for in the yoga community: body acceptance, pushing physical limits, and finding one's own inner strength. Filled with beautiful photos, recipes for both food and for beauty products, multiple yoga practices, and joyful writing, this book will be a mainstay of my yoga library for years to come.

As far as loveably dysfunctional families go, the members of The Nest's Plumb family will go down as some of my all-time favorites. Four siblings have waited for years to inherit a family trust that was never meant to be more than a small gift, but has grown over the years into a Significant Amount. In the process of waiting for the youngest member to turn 40 (the date in which "the nest" will be disbursed), many of the Plumbs have leveraged the money ahead of time and find themselves in slightly desperate positions. There is the handsome Manhattan screw-up, the prim New England mom, the gay antique shop owner, and the once-promising novelist who hasn't published a book in 20 years, and the money that will either divide the family or give them each a chance to redeem themselves. Never heavy-handed, Sweeney manages to convey each of the characters' foibles in a way that keeps the tone light-hearted and more than a little hilarious. The novel rides the fine, beautiful line of beach read and literary fiction, and was riotously fun to read.

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

Meal Plan • 5/8/16

All weekend, I have stared suspiciously at next week's schedule, hoping for some insight on how to Make It Work.  I gave the calendar the side-eye this morning (in fear), went over the details with the kids at lunch (in horror), and gave it a glance again a few minutes ago (this time, with dogged determination, because it doesn't matter how many activities we are juggling or how many work deadlines are looming, life is always a little bit off the rails and it's my job to make it work).

So that's what I plan to do: make it work.  And as we all know, making it work means sucking it up and just doing the work.  And doing the work, as I think we all know, includes making a meal plan to avoid the oh-crap-we're-starving-what-are-we-going-to-eat scramble.  Breakfasts will be green smoothies or whole-wheat toast topped with peanut butter, sliced apples, and cinnamon.  Lunches will be Rainbow Bowls (I often post pictures of my weekly lunch bowls on my Instagram feed) or leftovers from the previous night's dinner.  Dinners will be idiot-proofed: healthy-enough, easy, and fast.

MONDAY: Kale & Cannellini Bean Risotto & Spicy Corn on the Cob
This risotto is a long-time family favorite, and it is a recipe I can throw together in my sleep.  Bonus: it's a one-pot meal, and if I double it, the kids and I will have leftovers for lunch.

TUESDAY: Slow-Cooker Spinach Lasagna
This miracle meal is another family favorite, and since we have afternoon appointments that day, I can throw everything together in the crockpot after lunch so that we arrive home to a dinner that is hot and ready to be served.  To make it more nutritious, I usually double or even triple the amount of spinach called for.

WEDNESDAY: Crispy Black Bean Tacos
Another family favorite - I'm starting to see a pattern here.  This one comes together in minutes so long as pre-cooked beans are available (canned beans are even easier - there's no need to be a purist here, especially in a pinch).

THURSDAY: Coconut Curried Cauliflower Soup
I'm excited to try this recipe for the first time.   If it turns out to not be filling enough, we can always make popcorn for a snack before bedtime.

FRIDAY: Hungarian Noodles & Cabbage
This is another new-to-us recipe.  We have evening plans, and this looks like it will come together relatively quickly (I can finish up my work while it cooks) and we can scarf it down before heading out.

SATURDAY: Pear & Gorgonzola Flatbread, mixed green salad
Another new recipe.  Another evening when we need to eat and run.  I will buy whole-wheat flatbread from Trader Joe's to up the nutrition factor.

SUNDAY: I dunno, man.  Snacks?  Restaurant?  Starve to death?  Doesn't matter.  I don't cook on Sundays.

In other news, after years of using my smartphone as my planner/calendar/to-do list, I recently went back to using an actual-factual paper planner, and my productivity has shot through the roof.  A client & friend turned me on to Self Journal, and I am really digging the focus on short-term goals.  It's good stuff, friends, and it's free if you print the PDF yourself (I loved using the PDF for a short while, so I went ahead and bought a paper copy).  The goal-setting instructions and guidance in the first few pages of the journal (which you can also access for free) are super inspiring and it gave me the kick-in-the-butt I needed to get over the mid-year slump.

I would love to know if you still use a paper planner, or if you are thinking of returning to one.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quick Lit • April 2016

The past four weeks have been the oddest, most bizarro reading weeks in recent memory.  I read about 1500 pages, which isn't all that unusual, but what was unusual was that all those pages were contained in two novels.  But two more wildly, madly different novels I don't think I could have chosen.

One was published in the past year, and is shortlisted for a dizzying array of literary awards.  The other was dystopian, slightly older, also won awards, but involved - oh, this is difficult and embarrassing to admit - vampires.

That's right.  I said vampires.

Well, sort of vampires.  More like bat-people, really, but who am I to parse words in this case?

Today, I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short, snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past month.

A Little Life is a dark, disturbing, beautiful masterpiece of a novel, though it feels and acts less like a work of fiction and more like an emotional wrecking ball. The story follows four highly-intelligent, creative, and ultimately successful college friends from the time they meet in the dorm through the subsequent thirty-odd years of their lives in New York. Clocking in at 700-plus pages, the reader is absolutely enveloped in the character study of Jude, a psychologically damaged and deeply flawed lawyer, and these people who love him with an intensity and devotion that is both completely understandable and shockingly horrifying. My heart was ripped out of my body throughout the book and crushed between its pages, and I cried myself to sleep more than once in the reading. A Little Life is a book I will never, ever forget. {Trigger warnings - more than I can even list; sensitive types may want to give a wide berth to this book}.

The Passage is a dystopian novel of epic proportions, but somehow still defies being pigeon-holed into the typical commercial fiction categories.  In a nutshell, the end of the world (or at least the North American continent) is set in motion by a scientific experiment designed to extend life.  The testing is, as you would expect, taken over by the military and it - also as you would expect - goes absolutely and terribly wrong.  The first 250 pages lead up to, and slightly past, the end of the world event itself, and the characters and story lines woven throughout those pages are rich and gripping.  Then the book suddenly jumps ahead 92 years, and the action shifts to a new set of characters living in an isolated location amidst the aftermath of the virus.  The middle portion of the book takes a little getting used to as the new setting, new characters, and the new world they are living in are introduced, but it wasn't long before I found myself swept away by the story of their survival and their search for answers.  At 700-plus pages, the author takes the time and makes the effort to vividly bring the characters to life and to delve into subplots, and it is refreshing to see a story like this executed so well.  But be warned, this is only the first book in a trilogy, and one must be willing to truly commit some time to see it to the end.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Quick Lit • March 2016

We have a long-standing family motto to never go anywhere without a book.  It doesn't hold as much weight as it once did, now that we have phones with ample reading material available and with us at all times, but the children still pack books every time we leave the house, and I am returning to my roots on that front.  I had about 30 free minutes recently between finishing up with a client and picking the kids up from their classes.  It was a beautiful day, so I parked the car, rolled down the windows, slipped off my shoes and reached for the book I had just picked up at the library.  It was glorious.

Since then, I have made a point to take my book even if the chance of reading seems remote, because one just never knows when a little window of free time might pop up like it did that one lovely day.  This morning, I knew the chances of downtime were unlikely when I left the house, but I brought my book anyway, and it proved serendipitous.  I arrived at a client's office for a meeting only to find he was running late, so I sauntered on in and made myself at home on his sofa with my book.  I would have gone slightly insane at those ten wasted minutes but for the chance to tuck back into a compelling story.

More than just the stolen reading moments though, I treasure the conversations that are sparked by the presence of the books.  Usually, it is just a bystander stopping to smile at the three of us with us books tucked under our arms as we walk into a waiting room, but sometimes a stranger will remark upon our choice of books, asking whether we have read anything else by the author perhaps, or regaling us with a story of why they enjoyed the same particular book.

I can talk about books all day long.  With anyone.

Today, when my client walked into the office, I tucked a bookmark into A Little Life and set it aside on the conference room table.  Another client popped his head into the room and pointed at my book. "What do you think so far?" he said, "The reviews have gone crazy for it, but a friend said it was very dark and it just made him uncomfortable."  

I was simultaneously dumbfounded and thrilled.  Here was a man I had worked with - at a distance, mind you - for a couple of years, and I had no idea he was a fellow book nerd. 

This, THIS, is why we should never go anywhere without a book.  Book nerds are the best, and they make me feel less alone in this bizarro world.

Today, I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short, snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past month.  

Among the Ten Thousand Things is a startling novel about a family falling apart in the aftermath of an affair. Told from the points of view of both spouses would have been interesting enough, but what makes this debut novel such a standout is how the story unfolds in the eyes of the children. The misplaced anger of the teenager, along with the confusion and distress of the 11-year-old daughter, are painful and a little disturbing, but are presented with remarkable insight and clarity. The adults are a bit more one-dimensional, and I was never totally sure whether that was a purposeful move. The story briefly jumps ahead in time twice, offering a glimpse of how the affair ends up informing the children even as they grow into adulthood.

John Green is a master of YA fiction, and Looking for Alaska is a multiple award-winning standout in the category. The book's action centers around the relationships between Pudge, the narrator, his roommate, The Colonel, and their enigmatic, alluring friend Alaska. Tension builds early, as time is counted down towards an as yet undefined event, but which the reader knows will be A Big Deal. Boarding school students, clever pranks, interesting characters, teen angst, high drama, great wit, and a devastating defining moment all collaborate together to form one heck of a compelling story. However - and this is an important distinction, I think - this novel would fall a little flat for those readers who are not fans of the technicolor world of young adult fiction.

The Lake House is an epic, sweeping mystery packed with interesting characters, complex plotting, and a magical, well-drawn setting. Kate Morton's books are known for their uber-suprising twists at the end, and this one is no exception. A complaint I hear often about her books is that everything gets tied up nice and neat at the end - too neat, in the view of some readers - and while I understand the vexation over this (I myself prefer a loose end or two to be left to my imagination at the end), I am willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to Morton. Her mysteries are so well-written, and so expertly developed, and, in the case of The Lake House, so thoughtful and suspenseful at the same time. The book begins slowly, almost ploddingly for the first 100 pages, as Morton develops the characters and the multiple plot lines, but it is well worth sticking with as the next 400-ish pages are pure joy to read.

The third book in The Series of Unfortunate Events, The Wide Window is a darkly entertaining, utterly hilarious, very intelligently written children's story. In this installment, the Baudelaire orphans are once again moved to another new home in which horrible things happen and the evil Count Olaf, as you already suspected, shows up to commit heinous deeds. The historical references in this one are particularly absurd and comical, as are the vocabulary and grammar lessons that are woven in at the just the right times. These books beg to be read-aloud, and even the 12-year-old in our house has insinuated himself into story time in order to enjoy them along with the eight-year-old. Indeed, my older child laughs the loudest of all. As I have said about the previous two books in the series, I do not think these books are for sensitive children, but my children find them enthralling.

This post contains my affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting The Postmodern Planet.