Lazy Summer Reading

I am happy to report I seem to have finally shrugged off my spring reading slump and am enjoying some lovely lazy days reading. I think it helps I’ve been sticking to books about food, romantic comedies and only one “serious” read (but it was so good, it was worth the few tears!). Here are the titles that helped me get back to reading more like myself:

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

This was a fun read; as someone who often finds herself hungry for what the characters in her latest book are eating, I enjoyed Nicoletti’s deep dive into literary food. Also, as a book to help one out of a reading slump, this reads fast and easy. But does make you really hungry so maybe avoid if also on a diet. I also found the recipes to be quite complex – nothing I couldn’t do if I tried but during the summer…who really wants to be cooking and baking all that much?

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

This was the book Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) recommended to me (well, the third book since the first two were already out of stock). But it did not disappoint. This book is delightful. A bit You’ve Got Mail meets Clueless, it’s fairly predictable but that’s the beauty of it. It has characters you’re rooting for the whole time even when they are in the dark about what is going to happen next but you definitely know. And you just need books like that sometimes; they are comforting and wonderful to devour in one seating. This would be a perfect beach read if you’re in need of one. (and I gushed on this at book club so much it’s the first book we’re reading in the fall!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

After easing myself back on the reading train, I hit up this title which I picked up at the local indie bookstore on sale a few months back. This was such a bittersweet and beautiful book to read. I took it slow; it was a story I both wanted to savor and also slightly dreaded what would happen next. June is such a fantastic and heartwarming character – both still so young and naive while being an old soul at the same time. She’s a teenager so she also has her annoying moments but her relationships are fascinating to watch develop, crumble and rebuild over the course of the novel. The book also made me tear up, which not many books achieve, so kudos to the author for that. Seriously though, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommend.

Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas

Really quick (re: one sitting) book to read. Fun, cute (but predictable) rom-com read that just really makes me miss traveling and England…a lot. The main character manages to be less annoying than some in this genre can be so kudos for that. It did take be a bit to get into the book though – I almost DNF’d before it really caught my attention and then I flew through the rest.

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Tackling seafood in the kitchen

I am always apprehensive to take on seafood in my kitchen. One, because I haven’t much experience cooking with it and two, living in an apartment, the smell is a bit of a deterrent as well. But I really like a lot of seafood (I’ve successfully made crab cakes before)and it’s one of my goals this year to try to get brave and cook more seafood at home. So, this weekend I tackled shrimp.

Shrimp was on sale at Publix which is why it was the one I decided to try this weekend. The guy at the seafood counter enjoyed trying to help me figure out what I needed (he was very patient with me since I didn’t have a clue what I needed really). I bought it deveined but not peeled so I did have to take the tails off and peel them all before cooking. It was my favorite task I’ve done in the kitchen but it wasn’t awful and went better than I expected actually.

What actually failed is I tried to use frozen zucchini noodles for this recipe and I didn’t have them thawed enough which caused some issues. In the future, I’ll cook the noodles as the package notes and then integrate into the recipe. I think that would work fine and still saves me from the spiralizer (which isn’t hard to use but is a pain in the butt to clean afterward). This recipe had a bit more of a kick than I expected but it’s still tasty and the shrimp cooked up so easily. I was impressed by how quickly they turn that shrimp pink! While I don’t think I’ll be hanging onto this recipe, I have got over the fear of shrimp in the kitchen so I have some other recipes I hope to try this year!

[no picture this week as 1) I forgot to take one and 2) Mine did not look as good as the site I got the recipe at so go there and see their pretty dish!]

Zucchini Pasta with Shrimp & Tomatoes (original recipe here)
Servings: 6 (which…I disagree with. Mine came out to more like 4)

Ingredients
3 medium zucchini, remove most of the peeling (or zucchini noodles already made)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice (I used the kind in a bottle – it was fine)
1 cup halved grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 pound raw shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined

Directions

  1. To make pasta, attach zucchini, one at a time, to a vegetable spiralizer. Use the smaller holes for spaghetti.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until opaque and pink, 2-3 minutes. Place shrimp on a plate and cover.
  3. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté 1 minute. Add remaining olive oil, zucchini pasta, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and lemon juice, and tomatoes, toss to combine. Continue cooking until pasta is tender, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  4. Place shrimp on top of pasta, cover skillet and remove from heat. Allow to set for 1 minute, ensuring shrimp is hot.

Getting a healthy(ish) Cheeseburger Fix

I adore cheeseburgers. It’s one of those dishes that I am always in the mood for, no matter what. I will never say no to getting a cheeseburger. It may be a bit of a downfall though when trying to eat healthier. So, I have collected LOTS of “healthy” cheeseburger recipes over the years. Most are just deconstructed salads than never really satisfy a craving for a big old burger. But, I tried a new recipe out last week that did a pretty good job finally!

First of all, I love a dish that comes portion controlled out of the gate. I am hit or miss about measuring out portions as well as I should be these days. I am trying to get back into my good habits but it’s not going well. So, this recipe immediately wins because it uses a handy muffin tin to portion out the correct amounts for me! I also like that the serving for this is two “muffins” so basically you get two cheeseburger sliders for dinner. I also liked the meat mixture to create the “burgers” – adding the mustard into the meat mixture really adds a nice little kick and then the ketchup and pickle on top make this an excellent cheeseburger substitute. It also comes together really easily with a fairly small amount of chopping for once. This one went onto the keeper pile for sure!

Cheeseburger Mini Loaves

Mine aren’t very neat but they were tasty!

Cheeseburger Mini Loaves (original recipe here)
Makes 6 servings (2 loaves per serving)

Ingredients
1 lb. raw extra-lean ground beef (4% fat or less)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (about 2 large) egg whites or fat-free liquid egg substitute
3 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. yellow mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray (use a paper towel to make sure the spray is spread all over the inside of the cups).
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients except cheese. Evenly fill muffin pan, and smooth out the tops.
  3. Bake until firm with lightly browned edges, about 35 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until melted, about 3 minutes.
  5. Optional: Serve with a dollop of ketchup or mustard and a dill pickle chip on top

Not hitting the spot (but it’s me, not the recipe)

There is nothing wrong with this recipe really. Other than it really should have told me to “half-moon” cut all the vegetables, and not just the zucchini, it’s very cool looking and easy to make. Lots of chopping but let’s face it, all recipes have lots of chopping. But, it’s just not hitting the spot for me this week. Also, and I find this very rarely, it’s a recipe that is not holding up as leftovers. I may make this again when I have company and it will all get eaten at one sitting as it was really best right out of the oven. I will also serve it with a side of spaghetti and sauce. It is a dish that needs some sauce to really make it sing.

Primavera Stuffed Chicken (original recipe on Delish.com)
4 servings

Primavera Stuffed Chicken

There is chicken there among the giant pieces of veggies (fixed the recipe to deal with that next time around!)

Ingredients:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt
ground black pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 zucchini, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
3 medium tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
1 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced and halved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 c. shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Place chicken on a cutting board and make 5 slits in each breast, being careful not to cut through completely. Place on sheet pan.
  2. Drizzle oil over chicken and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
  3. Stuff each chicken breast with zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, and red onion.
  4. Sprinkle each chicken breast with mozzarella.
  5. Bake until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, 25 minutes.
  6. Serve with a side of pasta and sauce.

A Slow Reading Season

I will admit, I have not been living up to my reading fiend reputation this spring. See my post over the weekend in which I admit to a major reading slump. But, there may be light at the end of the tunnel!

I have been doing what I call the Romance Weed of 2018 this spring where I am re-reading (and getting rid of a lot) of my romance books. I am a sucker for a historical romance but I find I re-read the same ones a lot so no reason to hang onto all of them. I am less in love with most of the contemporary romances I still had – most of them have been sent on their way to make room for ones I actually enjoy reading.

But what else have I managed to read this spring? I finished up the Annotated Northanger Abbey, a birthday gift this year. Jane is always a good read and the annotated editions are my favorites. I am a nerd when it comes to Austen and context! I next read John Green’s latest title, Turtles All The Way Down for book club. I really enjoyed this, if that’s the right wording. I found the character study of a teenager dealing with her first relationship while suffering from severe OCD and anxiety fascinating. The mystery plot and the fun best friends and their drama that surrounds the main character were engaging but sort of beside the point. The book shines as a character study and as a way to glimpse into a brain that just cannot shut off once it gets started down a thought path.

I have also been trying to read the “oldest” books on my Kindle. I read two of those this spring, Confessions of a Public Speaker (which was interesting with some good tips for someone like me, who does public speaking only when it’s absolutely necessary and still loathes it) and Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir, A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France. This wasn’t quite what I was expecting; it’s more a series of essays around a recipe rather than a linear memoir. Beautifully written, Brennan has a talent for evoking the time and place in Provence that she is writing about and making me want to give the south of France a second chance someday (I was not impressed my first visit in high school).

Lastly, I’ve already finished my book club book for June. I wanted to send the club off with a nice fluffy beach read (we will be on hiatus until September after this meeting) so I went to a current favorite, Jenny Colgan. Despite a slump, Colgan’s books were ones I devoured this winter and into spring whenever a new one fell in my lap. Every time I read one of her books, I want to run off and start some business that will improbably somehow be a success and lead me to meet a delightful cast of characters. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe did not disappoint. If someday I suddenly buy a book truck or bakery in the middle of nowhere, you can blame Jenny Colgan.

I also finished a book I picked up at a reading last summer (don’t judge me). A bit Southern gothic, a bit just odd but delightful, Gradle Bird has a cast of characters that are all damaged and just looking for someone, anyone, to love them. That love, however, comes at a cost for some of the characters. While there are tragic elements to this story, it is ultimately uplifting and a perfect summer read. You can practically feel the humidity coming off these pages as J.C. Sasser evokes the typical summer weather of Georgia perfectly to compliment her story.

I am, in the spirit of my newfound reading zeal, DNF’ing my current read. It was my second time trying to read The Golem and the Jinni and clearly, this book and I are just not meant to be. I made it further into the book this time but it’s just not grabbing me and nothing really seems to be happening. I mean, things are happening, but they just don’t seem to be moving anything ahead in the story so I’m moving on to the next titles in my stack and hope for better success as I go!

Remembering it’s OK to DNF

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Annie (left) and Anne (right) during the Q&A

I had a lovely time at Shelf Help with Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) last night at The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA. I only get up there it seems when The Bookshelf has an event I can’t pass up. Modern Mrs. Darcy has long been one of those blogs I never skip in my Feedly. Bogel is a true book lover and it shows in her care and thoughtfulness in book recommendations for her readers. The event included a personal book recommendation from Anne (the third book was the charm for me and I will be diving into Tell me Three Things sooner rather than later but the first two books are also on the list to acquire!) as well as a live podcast recording and Q&A with Annie, owner of The Bookshelf and host of From the Front Porch and Anne. One of the things they discussed was reading slumps, something I will admit I have been in all spring (it’s been bad – I think it really started last fall – and I’m just now starting to pull myself out of it). Something that came up during the slumps conversation is how do you decide to stop reading a book. Do you stop because the title is not your cup of tea, it’s not engaging you for some reason or it’s just the wrong time/place/moment to try to read that title? Annie admitted to being a “completionist” while Anne said she’s fine to put a book down with the idea she’ll come back to it later. Annie asked though, do you ever go back?

For me, no and I think that’s OK. What is less ok is that I’ve reverted to my old completionist ways. I was that girl who slugged through any book she started. I spent an entire summer in college painstakingly making my way through classics I thought I should have read by then and hating every minute. But I finished them. Then, during my first job out west, where I lived in a small town with nothing much to do and read more books per week that I ever have in my life (before or since), I started to realize I was wasting time on books I didn’t care about while my to-read list was growing by leaps and bounds. If I ever wanted a chance to read all these titles I said I wanted to read, I was going to have to get tough. So, I gave myself a page limit. 50 pages. If a book didn’t have me in 50 pages, it was going on the DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf on GoodReads and I was moving on. This was one of the most liberating decisions I had ever made as a reader. It was OK to not finish a book. To admit that some books and I just weren’t meant to be and to move on to the next one. I could have skipped for joy. And yet somehow, I forgot that feeling.

I think this current reading slump started because I was having to make my way through books I didn’t particularly care about, or even sometimes like, for my book club. That need to finish so I could lead discussions for the club spilled over to books I then was reading for myself. I found myself resenting having to read. I have NEVER felt like that in my life and I got really frustrated, angry and sort of scared. What was happening to me?! Every title was suddenly one I had to finish again and I hated it. People, this was no fun.

So, I’m bringing DNF back into practice. I perhaps won’t be quite so rigid with the page count this time around but I’m thinking if I’m 25%-ish in and I’m struggling to connect, the book is DNF and I’m moving on. I’m hoping this will bring me out of this slump of mine. I found other suggestions from Annie and Anne to be helpful as well. Anne also suggested talking to other book lovers and admitting to a slump and seeing what they recommend or just asking them to talk about what they’re reading. Hearing someone else’s enthusiasm, even for a book you think sounds like nothing you ever want to read, will help you remember why you love the act of reading. I think Anne also recommended reading some old favorites on your shelves as a way to get back into reading. My one concern with that is I am a major re-reader and once I start down that rabbit hole, I’d just keep re-reading and never start something new. It would be a different kind of slump in a sense (sort of like how I keep adding new shows to my Netflix List but all I do is keep re-watching episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and West Wing…).

The event last night was perfectly timed to help with this slump of mine. I’m DNF’ing my current book (it was my second time trying to read it…I think we’re really not meant to be) and moving onto to something new and hopefully, this will be the right book and the right time to push me into a summer of getting back to my old reading self. Thanks Annie and Anne!

 

I keep trying lettuce wraps…

Sigh. I love bread. I really do. In every form they have figured out how to make bread, I adore it. But it does not adore me so well so I try to be wary of eating bread with every meal. So, lettuce wraps. Everyone…I keep trying. I think there is some secret to using lettuce as a bread substitute I have not cracked yet. I think part of it is Publix fails in having the kind of lettuce everyone suggests to use (Bibb) so I usually am trying to make iceberg lettuce work and let’s be honest…it never works for much of anything. So, I’ll keep trying!

This recipe is tasty and if anyone has Philly cheesesteak cravings, this should satisfy it! The recipe lightens the recipe a lot and it was super simple, always a bonus. I also always enjoy when I get to have steak at home (with cheese!).

Philly Cheesesteak Lettuce Wrap

Requires a fork since I fail at lettuce wrapping

Philly Cheesesteak Lettuce Wraps (original recipe on SkinnyMs.)
Serves 4 (with two wraps a piece)

Ingredients
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean steak (I used the kind they sell for stir-frys as it’s already cut!)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry oregano leaves
1 yellow onion, sliced into strips
1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
8 large lettuce leaves (I used iceberg – it fails. Try for the original recipe recommendation: bibb lettuce)
1/2 cup shredded provolone cheese (I have some Italian mix as Publix didn’t have a straight provolone option to buy)

Directions

  1. In a large skillet over high heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the steak and season with salt and pepper. The oil will splatter so be on guard for that!
  2. Add the oregano, onion, and the green and red bell peppers. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the beef is cooked through and the peppers and onions are soft.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the lettuce cups and sprinkle cheese on top. Serve hot so the cheese melts for you.