Mac and Cheese with a Zing

We skipped spring around Tallahassee and seemed to go right into summer. The weather forecast assures me we’ll be reverting back to more seasonal weather come tomorrow but due to this heat wave, cooking has not been high on my list. In trying to ease myself back into my usual schedule, I choose a quick and easy recipe that’s a healthy take on an old favorite. This Mexican Mac and Cheese recipe is quick and easy to make. However, it’s really more of a side dish than a main entree. I’ve been pairing it with side salads and small portions of chicken to feel like I ate a good meal for dinner. It is also a Weight Watchers recipe I found online so it’s on the healthier side of things – bonus!

Mexican Mac and Cheese

Low-fat Mexican Mac and Cheese
Makes 6-7 servings

8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
5 oz. light processed cheese (NOTE: the recipe called for low fat or light Velveeta cheese which doesn’t seem to exist in Tallahassee. I ended up using 2% Milek Velveeta as it had the best nutritional stats)
1 tsp taco seasoning (NOTE: add more for more of a kick!)
1/2 cup salsa


  1. Cook the macaroni per usual until done
  2. While the noodles are cooking, cube the cheese
  3. Once the noodles are done, drain and return to the pot
  4. Add the cubed cheese and taco seasoning to the pot. Stir well until the cheese has melted
  5. When melted, stir in the salsa and serve!



A Hearty Winter Sheet Pan Dinner

I always like the idea of the sheet pan dinner than I actually like making them. Mostly because I usually look at the amount of food I’ve prepared and then look at my sheet pan and think “where are they getting their apparently GIANT cooking sheets from?!” I usually end up needed to use both of my cookie sheets and inevitably one cooks better than the other. So, I was excited about this recipe for it to call for a 13×9 pan. Brilliant! It called for me to stir every 10 minutes while cooking to avoid burning but I could do that if it meant only one pan for me to clean at the end of everything!


This is a hearty meal and actually made me 5 decent sized portions for the week so I am a fan. I did use dried rosemary as I loathe buying the fresh at Publix since the only way to buy the expensive fresh rosemary is buy a lot more than I need (it comes in a pre-packaged item) and end up tossing the rest since I don’t have anything to use it in before it goes bad. So, I used dried and actually think I did the conversion right for once! I also liked the addition of red peppers and onions to the dish – adds some great crunch in the dish to balance out the chicken and potatoes. I think this is a great winter dish so will fit nicely on people’s menus right now!

Rosemary Roasted Chicken & Potatoes [original recipe]

1 medium pepper, cut into strips
1/2 medium red onion, cut into strips
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
3 chicken breasts, cut into even strips
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F, and line a baking pan (9 inch by 13 inch) with parchment.
  2. Chop all your veggies and the chicken, and place them in the baking pan.
  3. Cover with the garlic, oil, sea salt, pepper, and rosemary. Toss until well coated. [Note: I actually did this in a bowl before putting everything in the pan – I think this worked better]
  4. Roast for 45 minutes, until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through. Stir every 10-12 minutes to make sure nothing burns.

Happy 2018!

I welcomed in 2018 very quietly. I have never been a big fan of the celebration of a new year. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like to go to bed early? Hate parties? Much prefer to simply tuck in with a good movie and popcorn? Still, I am a fan of deciding on a new list of things to work on in the new year. It is one of my favorite things to make lists and a plan and write up new calendars. I am THAT kind of person. So, what am I planning to work on this year?



Reading Goals (outside of my GoodReads Reading Challenge goal of 80 books):

  1. Finish all the books I need to read that I already own BEFORE I 1) get more from the library (there are, of course, caveats) or 2) buy more (again…caveats)
    1. Caveat #1: It’s ok to get library books for book club reading
    2. Caveat #2: It’s ok to get library books if the book is working towards one of my other goals (reading or otherwise)
    3. Caveat #3: It’s ok to buy a book if needed for book club reading (and unable to get from library)
    4. Caveat #4: It’s ok to buy a book if it’s a reallllllly good deal (Under $5)
  2. Read a good mix of these two types of books on my to-read shelf: 1) Books that have been on my to-read list the longest and 2) Continue to work on finishing book series that are lingering mid-way finished on my list
  3. Complete a re-read of the Harry Potter series (which has been something I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now so let’s get it on a list officially!)

Kitchen Goals

  1. Learn how to make bread is my major goal in the kitchen this year – we’ll see how this goes!
  2. Make at least one new dish a month and write a blog post about it
  3. Make one “fun” recipe a month and share it with folks. I have been collecting tasty baked good recipes for years and never have a reason to make them so folks at work, get ready – I am making them and then getting them out of my apartment.
  4. Try to cook seafood this year. I am scared of cooking seafood – I don’t know why. Maybe I fear my apartment will permanently smell of the fish market? This may be a short-lived goal if that is indeed the case!

I have more vague goals about taking up running in a more regimented way again, to try and explore more of Florida, start day hiking etc. But this set of goals are pretty concrete so I wanted to share them out to keep me accountable over 2018.

End of Year Book Reviews

I am, of course, still reading but wrapping up reading for the year as I head into a busy holiday season with my family. It will be my first holiday celebrated entirely in Florida (or without snow!) so I’m both excited to be avoiding the airport and bummed to be missing what is a guaranteed white Christmas up north.

I finished my GoodReads Reading Challenge for the year a few weeks back actually. I am now five books over on the year for an even 80. I will probably add another 2 to that before we hit January 1. I kind of did abysmally on my reading goals for the year so I’m re-thinking how I want to structure next year! I know the first goal out of the gate is to read all the books in both my to-read drawer AND on my Kindle. I am not allowed to get a book from the library until those are read. That will probably take me a few months, to be honest, so maybe by March, I can trust myself in the public library again!

I’m also woefully behind in sharing out reviews of the books I have read so I’m just going to hit the highlights of my fall reading:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: I had forgotten how much I love E. Lockhart and her ability to make me care so much about such flawed, and sometimes really unlikable, characters. This book plays with a great unreliable narrator. Definitely a lot sadder than Frankie’s story, I still enjoyed the gray space this story occupied in who was right and wrong in what happens.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross: I started out my year with the first book in the series and really enjoyed it. This one was less memorable to me. I did enjoy reading it but I don’t really feel compelled to read the next book in the series and since I have enough other things to read, it’s not getting added to the reading list anytime soon.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts: This was recommended as a great fall read to me and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere of this book was key to me pretending it was fall in sweltering Tallahassee. The main character was a tad annoying at times but I liked her enough to enjoy the story and also to want to know what happens to the other characters introduced in the book so this series got added to the reading list.

starsaboveStars Above by Marissa Meyer: I really miss this series. I mean, I am glad she brought it to a satisfying conclusion but I really love these characters. This book is a series of short stories discussing the characters either before or after the action in the main three books. It was fun to get some of the backstories of my favorites and I adored the final story where we get a “where are they now?” type story with everyone. I am a sucker for that type of story with characters I love.

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe: I picked up a signed copy of this at his book reading here in Tallahassee a long time back so I was happy to finally take the time to read the book. Books about books are the best. Particularly this type where it’s just like a long conversation with a good friend over tea about books. This was also surprising tear-jerking in parts. The chapter where Schwalbe discusses his experience as a gay man in NYC during the height of the AIDS epidemic required multiple tissues.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz: This was sadly disappointing at the end of the day. I got annoyed with Darcy. She swung from one extreme to the next too quickly. I also found it hard to believe the character we’re presented with is as successful as she is supposed to when she goes to pieces immediately the second something makes her uncomfortable. The swings were just too much to buy, to the point where she was just really unlikable and annoying. Bingley, however, is delightful as Darcy’s best friend and I liked his romance with Jim Bennet.

The Bookshop on the Corner and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan: A friend who knows me very well gave me these books for our early Christmas gift exchange. Colgan’s heroines take me awhile to warm up too but they always develop so wonderfully into women I want to be best friends with, I know I need to just stick through the tough bits. Bookshop was such a cozy read! Delightful characters too and gave me the urge to sell everything and buy a book truck (oh, and move to Scotland). In Chocolate,  Anna Trent very much fits into that category of Colgan heroine but is also so determined, you’re rooting for her to succeed before you know it. This book also makes me want to suddenly become brilliant at making chocolate. And move to France to live in a garret to do so. Clearly, Colgan mostly just makes me want to quit my job, move to Europe and do some job I’m not really qualified to do…

52 Cups of Coffee by Megan Gebhart: I enjoyed this read. The audience is supposed to be recent or so-to-be-recent college graduates but I think there is something for everyone whether you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up yet or if you’ve always known and are hitting some bumps on the road.

newsworldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles: A very subtle read. It’s a classic western in many ways but the language really elevates this book. The writing is beautiful in its simplicity and evokes a world that is long gone and we only think we know from the movies. Captain Kidd and Johanna are incredible characters to watch grow to trust each other over their treacherous drive from North Texas to San Antonio.

Belle’s Library by Belle (aka the Walt Disney Company): This was a divine little read that was basically like have a long conversation with Belle about books. So, pretty much perfect!

A lighter stew

I adore my mother’s beef stew. I will make it at least once a winter if not twice. However, it’s not the healthiest version of stew you’ll find so when you’re trying to be good in light of the upcoming holiday season, it’s not the best fit. But I really wanted a good hearty stew for the Crock Pot last weekend. So, I went to my go-to spot and Hungry Girl didn’t disappoint.



It is so tasty; I’ve been eating it with a few slices of french baguette.


This is a broth-based stew so it’s not thick but it’s chockfull of veggies and super tender meat. It also makes a ton of food. The original recipe said it made 6 servings but I’ve been eating it since Sunday and am pretty sure I’ll have enough to go to this coming Sunday so yeah, LOTS of leftovers. I also have been adding just a splash of new broth when I’ve been reheating to avoid having the meat dry out at all. Overall, this is a big winner for me and is going on my winter rotation for sure!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Stew [original recipe here]


2 lbs. raw boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 cups chopped carrots (1 lb. bag)
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (1/2 8 oz. package)
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onions (3/4 of 1 large onion)
8 oz. russet potato, peeled and cubed (1 medium-sized potato)
1 cup chopped celery (8 oz. or half of a celery hearts bags)
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef broth


  1. Place beef in the slow cooker. Sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except broth.
  3. Top with broth. Cover and cook on high for 3 – 4 hours or on low for 7 – 8 hours, until beef is cooked through.
  4. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Transfer beef to a bowl, and shred with two forks.
  5. Return shredded beef to the slow cooker, and mix well.

A story within a story set of films

Every once in a while, I remember I own DVDs. Between Sling and Netflix, I rarely actually watch the movies I own anymore. I am trying to work on that. So, Saturday nights if I have nothing else going on (most of the time) or a book I want to dive into (more likely to be my conflict), I try to re-watch some of my own movies and always ask myself, “do you still want to keep this?”

This weekend I re-visited one old movie that inspired the new movie. Paris When It Sizzles is not the best Audrey Hepburn movie but it’s so ridiculous, I pretty much forgive it for being not the best. It also has a randomly appearing Tony Curtis which makes it that much better in my mind. It’s the story of a playboy screenwriter who needs to deliver his next script in the next three days. His patron sends him a typist to type up the final draft of the script. However, she arrives to discover said screenwriter has not actually written the script yet at all. So, the two of them work together over three days to write a script. The movie is both the screenwriter and typist working on the script as well as the script itself being played out with them in the lead roles. It’s rather overacted, suffering from its time period, and doesn’t actually make much sense in the end but it’s so ridiculous and funny to me that I don’t mind. It’s also like a perfect time capsule of Paris in the 1950s on film; the cinematography is lovely. I can get over the dodginess of the main character and how he treats his typist enough to enjoy the film though it’s definitely tough at times.

So, we’ll move along to the modern version of the same story, Alex & Emma. A down on his luck writer Alex, who gambled away his advance and is suffering from a major case of writer’s block, must deliver his new manuscript to his publisher in three days to get the rest of his money and pay off the loan sharks on his case. However, his computer gets destroyed so his answer is to hire a stenographer, Emma, in order to dictate his novel. During dictating the novel, the writer and stenographer also act out the parts of the 1920s love story in predictably ridiculous fashion. In comparison with its inspiration, Alex & Emma fix a lot of the plot holes and actually come up with an interesting story for the novel. It also depicts healthier, more normal romantic relationships so I appreciated that a lot after watching the shudder-inducing swarminess of Paris When It Sizzles. Also, Kate Hudson is really delightful as Emma and all the other characters she gets to play in the book scenes (Ylva, Ilsa, Eldora and Anna) as Alex falls in love with her, both on and off the page. Luke Wilson as Alex is sort of lukewarm in general but that’s sort of his schtick so I didn’t mind it too much. This is a fun romantic comedy that is a little different than the usual formula.

Both are still keepers for the collection though Paris When It Sizzles is one that really shouldn’t be re-watched very often. I’ll stick with Hepburn’s better Paris comedy, Charade. Oh, there’s the next paired re-watch with Charade and the lackluster remake, The Truth About Charlie (though Mark Walberg is adorable per usual)! I own both of those too which surprised me LOL

Oceans…the final frontier



A side by side image of a reef taken just months apart from Chasing Coral [Image Source]

I am not a good swimmer. I am still thankful I somehow managed to pass the swimming unit in gym class. I have never much progressed beyond the doggie paddle to be quite frank. But water has always been a love of mine. I adored being near it, watching it. I brave my hatred of sand and sun for it. I loved, even more, being out on it. I don’t come from much of a boating family but we often took boats during our travels and I was lucky enough to have a friend’s family adopt me a few summers for their family boat trips on Lake Ontario and into the St. Lawrence. It is perhaps another thing that bothers me about where I live in Florida. On a peninsula,  covered in lakes, I managed to find a town that doesn’t have much water to it. Water is close by in most directions. But I don’t see it on a daily basis unless I go looking for it.

In 5th grade, all my friends and I went through the “I’m going to be a marine biologist” phase. Seriously, I was looking through the pages of my 5th grade “yearbook” the other day and at least a quarter of the girls in my class wrote that down for their answer to that question. I know all of us, at least the ones I’m still in contact with, are not in any kind of science field. That’s a different discussion. I’m not sure why we were all in that stage. We had a very science-friendly classroom that year; we raised baby snapping turtles and visited the swamp for our class field trip. It was awesome. I just know a part of me never really grew out of it even as I started to realize that science involved a lot of math and I wasn’t very good at that.

So, fast forward to 8th grade and our first research paper. We were given a list of prompts to pick and I chose the one that leaped out at me, “Discuss why ocean pollution needs to be addressed on a national and international level.” I proceeded to fill 10 pages, single-spaced, of facts and figures and reasons why we needed to worry about that. Keep in mind this was supposed to be about a 6-page double-spaced paper. I still have this paper – one of many research papers I’ve written over the years and I think it’s one of my favorites because I was still so full of hope when I wrote it. I truly believed all those facts and figures meant we could do something to help. That, of course, we would because well, the facts said we should. Science didn’t lie.

I watched Chasing Coral recently. It’s much along the same lines as Chasing Ice, just coral reefs instead of glaciers. It made me cry. I remember tearing up with Chasing Ice but there were some major tears during Chasing Coral because the 8th grader in me is so disappointed. She is even more disappointed and frustrated and just plain angry than I think the 32-year-old me is. Even as I read yet another article on how climate change is being ignored, willfully denied and/or actively encouraged by those who should be doing something about it. Our oceans are the balance of our planet. As they go, so do all of us. How we cannot act when they are sending up major distress signals be it by coral bleaching or unheard of hurricane seasons? I guess in the end we’ll get what we deserve. Is it petty to hope the climate change deniers get it first?

But, I will not end on a petty note. I’ll end on a passionate note. On the note of an 8th grader who believed her words and research could make someone sit up and take notice and do something about it.

The damages and impacts on the environment, the marine life, and humans that marine pollution is causing still isn’t enough for governments to realize that by polluting the ocean, they’re polluting us. The ocean’s delicate balance and relationship with us is being pusher further past its limit each day…The science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s often depicted space as the growing frontier. Why not stay closer to home? The ocean’s depths hold just as much possibility as space, but not for much longer…Do you really want your grandchildren asking you what a blue ocean looks like? I doubt it, but to pass a clean and blue ocean onto our children and their children, we must take steps to protect the ocean and save it from ourselves. And we must take them now. For as Arthur C. Clarke said, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.”