Remembering it’s OK to DNF

IMG_0750

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!

 

Advertisements

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.

Curry Away

I have been reading. And cooking. And not sharing so I’m sorry. I am lining up a bunch of posts this evening to get me into June and hopefully, I can keep up on top of things better this summer (hope springs eternal).

I was ready to try another curry. This one is a bit more traditional than my first curry attempt but I liked it better. What I feel I might have done wrong though is this was a bit soupy (and didn’t match the picture on the blog where the recipe) but I found I liked the added bonus of the “soup” with the rice I served it with. This is still quite mild (because I am a wimp) so it was a nice step up from my first curry. It also made a ton! So 6 servings easily.

Coconut Curried Chicken over Brown Rice

A nice big portion is always a bonus in my book!

One-Pot Curried Coconut Chicken (original recipe on SkinnyMs.)
6 servings (1/6 of the recipe and served with 1 cup brown rice)

Ingredients
1.5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 tablespoons curry powder (I used yellow curry powder, a red would make it spicier)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 white onion, cut into strips
1 can lite coconut milk
1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1.5 tablespoons honey

Directions

  1. In a large pan over medium-low heat, sauté the onion and bell pepper in olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring every so often until onions are softened and translucent, for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the spices, garlic and chicken pieces, and cook for about 3 minutes, until spices are fragrant and the chicken is a bit golden on the outside.
  3. Add the coconut milk and sweetener, stir, increase heat to high and bring almost to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Serve over brown rice.

Royal Tea Garden Tour

One of the bonuses to visiting Walt Disney World so often is I can take the time to enjoy the many “extras” that exist on property that if you need to be running from one park to the next, or from one Fastpass to the next which is probably most accurate, you might not want to take advantage of. The tours WDW offers (and there are a lot!) are some of my favorite extras. I don’t do them as often as I would like but when I have the time, they are some of my favorite memories.

The Royal Tea Garden Tour is a relatively new offering, only available during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival. I missed catching it last year so made sure it was on the agenda for this past trip. As a tea nerd and someone who will never say no to a scone, I braved the WDW tour phone line to book a spot.

 

IMG_0558

An empty bridge into France

The first bonus to the WDW tours is you often get to see areas of the park devoid of people. One of my favorite memories is walking through Epcot to get to the front of the park for my Backstage Magic tour before the park was open (I even got a rose from one of the horticultural staff that time!). This time, while the park was open, I was in World Showcase before anything else was open so most people weren’t headed in that direction. I got to enjoy empty France and United Kingdom pavilions and also just enjoy all the blooms of the Flower & Garden Festival without all the crowds aiming for the food booths.

 

The Royal Tea Garden Tour has a check in starting at 9:30am at the Rose & Crown. A friendly cast member will check your name on their iPad and hand you a badge. You’re told you can wander more if you’d like and just reconvene at 9:45 on the Rose & Crown patio. A lovely couple from Pittsburgh adopted me for the morning and we chatted until our tour guides arrived. Rick from London and Owen from Northamption (of Kinky Boots fame) then introduced themselves and took over us to the tea gardens. Now, the tea “gardens” are a bit of a misnomer. If you’ve ever visited during Flower & Garden, you’ve seen the teapots gracing the gardens behind The Tea Caddy in the UK pavilion. These are individual tea gardens growing the different plants Twinings uses to create their different blends of tea.

 

IMG_0547

Entrance to the English Tea Garden at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

 

Rick began by sharing the history of the Twinings company and telling the group about the current company and its main flagship store in London, his hometown. Rick then started in explaining how tea is grown on plantations, what the process for creating the tea leaves is once plucked and the difference between black, green and herbals teas. He then started explaining all the different blends currently being grown in the UK gardens. With each teacup garden, he explained the blend, the different plants grown to create the flavor and how it was best brewed and asked if anyone had tried the blend and if they’d liked it. In this way, we worked our way through the garden. You could ask questions at any time. I appreciated one person asked about how to officially pronounce “Twinings” – Rick reminded the group of the history of Thomas Twinings, the founder. He family traditionally had produced twine and the name was originally spelled “Twynings” so that is the correct pronunciation. Rick and Owen were both engaging speakers and clearly enjoyed the tour though they both thought it was fairly funny they’d come to the States to learn so much about tea.

The tour is fairly short, and you aren’t given the usual Disney tour earpieces, so in the small garden, if you weren’t close to the cast member speaking, it could be a challenge to hear them. Rick and Owen were aware of this and projected well and often did “sound checks” to make sure everyone could hear them. Luckily, the gardens themselves mean the group needs to stay cozy (close together) so I did not have a problem hearing at any time. It was also chilly and windy, though sunny, the morning I took the tour so the wind often carried the speaker’s voice helpfully.

 

IMG_0566

Tea and Scones at the Rose & Crown

Following the tour, you return to the Rose & Crown patio for tea and scones. They have all the different blends of tea currently being grown to try as well as two scones per person. One is a savory scone, cheddar and herb, served with a bacon butter and the other sweet, a traditional golden raisin scone with clotted cream. Rick and Owen also circulated the entire time, trading our tour badges for a little bag of Twinings tea to take with us and answering any other questions about the tour or themselves and where they were from in the UK. You’re welcome to have as much tea as you’d like, though the official ending time for the tour is 10:30am. If you wanted more hot water after that time, Rick and Owen could get it for you if you asked.

 

 

IMG_0588

Your “parting gift”, samples of blends on display in the Garden.

The tour is held only once a day, every day and does go rain or shine. For $18, no AP discount, I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the tea gardens, try new and different teas (as well as find a new favorite – I’m currently obsessed with the Twinings green tea with pomegranate, raspberry, and strawberry blend) as well as spend some time with two of the UK cast members. They were well versed in the teas being grown, had tried them all, had favorites to recommend and could answer questions about the growing and drying process. Obviously, Twinings is the tea WDW uses so it’s the only one mentioned but I liked the aspect of the tour where we learned the history of the company and how it grew over time. A new life goal? Become a master tea blender someday by taking a master class at the Twinings flagship store in London!

 

This ranks high on the list of tours I’ve taken at WDW. It’s affordable, fun and has a delicious treat at the end of it (that was really quite filling!). If you enjoy tea, gardening or just the ambiance of the UK pavilion of Epcot, I would recommend this tour highly during the Flower & Garden Festival.

 

One-Pot Asian Feast

I love one pot dinners. Fewer dishes. I adore cooking but I am a messy cook with so many dishes. The clean-up from me cooking is longer than cooking half the time. I have been slacking on the cooking front so it’s time to get back at it. Despite some scheduling setbacks this week, I finally got myself back into the kitchen to try a Sesame Chicken recipe. Some of my Asian recipes are hit or miss. Some are too watery; the sauce doesn’t thicken and ends up just kind of blah. This recipe is one of the better ones I’ve tried and I would recommend if you have a hankering for Chinese take-out with a healthier twist.

 

IMG_0388

The sauce thickened perfectly! I love a heartier sauce.

 

One-Pot Sesame Chicken [original recipe]
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch strips
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin 1 inch ribbons
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup green onion, sliced

Directions

  1. Heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Once hot add the chicken and carrot. Cook until the chicken is firm and cooked through. Drain off any excess liquid.
  2. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except sesame seeds and green onion. Whisk until smooth and pour over the cooked chicken. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, or until thick and chicken is coated.
  3. Stir in the sesame seeds. Remove from heat and top with green onion.
  4. Serve with brown rice.

 

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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:

  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!

IMG_0283

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]

Ingredients:
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

Directions

  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.