Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Playlist: April 2015

In exactly one month I'll be seeing The Decemberists live for the second time. I stalked their website and Facebook page (which was actually pretty easy since any updates automatically show up on my feed anyway) for months after the new album announcement was made in hopes of discovering they'd make a stop in our area on this tour.

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Here I am showing off the shirt I got the first time I saw them in concert. The line on the back is from the song "Rox in the Box."

After several announcements, I was getting discouraged. While I'm definitely willing to travel to see a concert, I've been trying to conserve my time off (and my money!) for other trips. I already have 2 trips planned and booked to visit friends, and I'm planning on at least 2-4 additional trips before the end of this year. It just didn't seem like a big trip for a concert was in the cards for 2015.

Eventually they released another bunch of tour dates, and I was ecstatic when I realized they'd be in town at the end of May. I promptly told Eric about it, and he bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Since I'm ridiculously excited for this show, I've decided to make this month's playlist all about The Decemberists. And while this is basically just a collection of some of my favorites, the overall theme is "My Dream Setlist" for the show. You know, in case the band just randomly stumbles upon this blog and decides to make one fan very happy. (Hey, a girl can dream!) 

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Before sharing the playlist, I do want to point out that I wasn't able to include one of my absolute favorite songs because it's no longer available on Spotify. Because of this, I've decided to include it here. I love it too much to just completely leave it off the dream setlist! 

One last thing to note: they played several of these songs the last time I saw them, but they're so good that I'd love to hear them live again. If you're also a fan, which songs would you include on your dream setlist?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Pesto Chicken and Bacon with Angel Hair

What a surprise. I'm posting yet another pasta recipe. I know that everyone isn't as obsessed with pasta as I am, but it's something I make often and all of the recipes I share on my blog are delicious (if I do say so myself!).

Seriously, though, when you're a blogger who cooks with pasta as often as I do, it's pretty much a given that you'll be posting about a million recipes featuring that ingredient. I try to switch it up once in a while and post other types of recipes, but let's be honest ... These pasta recipes aren't going away anytime soon. Sorry not sorry.

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This simple meal is bursting with delicious flavor!

This dish is similar in some ways to another recipe I posted a long time ago. It's actually one of our favorite meals, so I was a little concerned this would either turn out too much like that or not as good. I initially took my inspiration from a completely different recipe, but as I was figuring out what flavors might go well together, it morphed into this. And you know what? That actually turned out to be a really good thing.

Yes, this is another creamy pesto pasta with tomatoes, but it's definitely not the same dish. Adding chicken and bacon and substituting heavy cream for cream cheese added a definite richness to this meal. If you're looking for a meatless pasta dish, this is perfect. But if you're in the mood for something with meat, you should definitely consider the recipe below!

Pesto Chicken and Bacon with Angel Hair

Adapted from a recipe on Cassie Craves.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box angel hair pasta
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 6 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon.)
  • 3 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsp low fat margarine or butter (I used low fat margarine.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup basil pesto (I used Classico.)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese for serving

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

3.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray, and set aside.

4.  Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. You'll want the bacon to be so crispy that it easily crumbles.

5.  Once the bacon is crisp, remove it from the skillet. (I just placed mine on a paper towel lined plate and set it to the side.) If you're using turkey bacon, you won't have much grease left in the skillet so you can just move on to the next step. If you're using regular bacon, drain the grease before continuing.

6.  Pour 1 tbsp of the olive oil into the same skillet used to cook the bacon. Add the chicken and cook over medium heat until it's slightly brown and no pink remains.

7.  Once the chicken is completely cooked, remove it from the skillet. Wipe the skillet clean of any remaining olive oil.

8.  Melt the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for approximately 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

9.  Pour in the heavy cream and chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

10.  Add the angel hair pasta to the boiling water. Cook according to package directions until al dente and drain.

11.  Stir the pesto into the sauce and allow it to cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

12.  While the sauce is cooking, place the tomatoes on the prepared cookie sheet. Drizzle the tomatoes with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper. 

13.  Place the cookie sheet in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes. (The tomatoes will begin to burst when they're ready.)

14.  Add the chicken and tomatoes to the pesto cream sauce, stirring to combine. Allow the mixture to cook for about 5 minutes.

15.  Crumble the bacon on the plate, then stir it into the sauce.

16.  Add the drained pasta to the skillet, and toss with the sauce until coated evenly. Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese.

I know it seems like a lot of steps, but it's actually a really simple recipe. It's not the quickest pasta meal I make, but it's quick enough for a weeknight dinner. And, if you're wondering, I served this meal with a simple green salad and a glass of white wine.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Weekend Recap (A.K.A. I Actually Did More than Sit Around Blogging and Reading in My Pajamas)

I'll be the first to admit that my weekends are typically pretty low key. I wouldn't really say they're boring (I mean, I enjoy what I'm doing), but they're certainly not blogworthy. If you're curious, a normal weekend for me consists of the following: sleeping in, working on my blog (writing and editing posts, editing photos, and responding to any comments I haven't gotten to yet), reading, watching Netflix (sometimes with Eric, sometimes without), making at least one slightly more elaborate dinner, and possibly going out for dinner or brunch at least once. Obviously I do other things from time to time, but I like to relax on the weekends.

If, however, I manage to do something a little more fun or interesting, I always make a point to do a weekend recap post. And that's what you're getting today.

One of my friends was in town for work, so we made plans to meet up on Friday evening. She asked me to bring Eric along so she could see him as well, and we had a great time hanging out. I didn't take any pictures with her (unless you count some photo booth pictures that are now hanging up on our fridge), but even if I had, I don't know that I'd share them here. I haven't told any of my friends that I blog, and I don't know if I'd feel comfortable sharing random pictures of them online without their permission. It might sound weird in the age of Facebook and Instagram, but several of my friends don't even use social media ... So I can't imagine they'd want their faces plastered all over my blog. Maybe one day I'll share this part of myself with them, but I'm not ready to just yet.

Anyway, back to the weekend.

We were originally supposed to have dinner at a restaurant Eric and I had never been to, but Danielle beat us to the restaurant and called saying it would be about an hour wait. I probably should have made reservations. Whomp whomp.

We ended up going to The Brazen Head. Eric and I go there pretty often, but it was a new place for Danielle (at least one of us was trying something new!). I didn't take any pictures during dinner (whomp whomp) because we were too busy chatting away about a bunch of random shit. We hadn't seen each other since January and even though we've had a few longer phone conversations since then, we still had a lot to talk about.

After dinner, we went bowling. Eric is actually in a bowling league with some people from his work. He's not a crazy awesome bowler, but he's usually pretty good. (And he has his own shoes, so that makes him seem more legit.) We played 3 games, and then I made him take a picture of the score after the last game because I actually won!

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I hated that it said "SKIP" over our names at the end, but that never went away so I just told him to take the picture anyway.

That's me in the middle (in case you couldn't tell). I was ecstatic because I usually don't even break 100 when I bowl. Seriously ... I suck. Apparently drinking a beer and a couple of Bloody Marys awakened some inner bowling goddess in me or something.

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It was nearly impossible to get any decent pictures there because they had the "fun" lighting on. Oh well.

Eric and I also took a couple of silly pictures while we waited for our next turn.

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I'm pretty sure we have no idea how to take a "serious" picture together.

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This one was pretty blurry, so I decided to play around with some effects in PicMonkey. I actually kind of like how it looks now (even if it's still a ridiculous picture).

After we finished bowling, we decided to stick around the bowling alley. They had a few pinball machines and other games, so we played some of those and took silly pictures in a photo booth. Once we tired of that, we decided to hang out in the bar. The drinks were super cheap but delicious (it was around $45 for like 8 drinks, and 6 of those were mixed drinks!), and the bar had a fun jukebox and darts (something Danielle and I really love playing while we drink). Again, I didn't take any pictures (though that was mostly because I was pretty drunk at that point and didn't care enough to document anything).

Overall, it was a really fun and silly Friday night. And, if you're wondering, I didn't forget about my financial goals for the month. I did give myself a pass on Friday, though, since I was spending time with a friend I only get to see once every few months (I mean, it's not like I could reschedule for another night in May since she lives in Minnesota). Also, Eric paid for a lot of the stuff out of his separate account (I may discuss this further in a separate post, but basically we each have separate checking and savings accounts and then have a joint checking and joint savings account) ... So I actually didn't spend anything except for the $5 I put in the jukebox.

Saturday was mostly spent relaxing around the house. I finished the book I was reading (I'll discuss my thoughts in the next Show Us Your Books! link-up), worked on some blog posts, and watched Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. I've already seen all of the episodes before, but I wanted to refresh my memory because I'm hoping they'll be adding season 5 to Netflix sometime in the next couple of months. It's such a guilty pleasure show for me, but I can't stop watching. It's actually one of my favorites.

I also decided to make some homemade Italian style meatballs with spaghetti and marinara sauce on Saturday evening. Spaghetti and meatballs is the ultimate comfort food for me, and I hadn't made it in a really long time. So delicious!

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I know I already posted this picture on Instagram, but I'm sharing it again. It's the only picture I bothered to take on Saturday, so I might as well!

On Sunday Eric and I had brunch at a "new to us" restaurant. I won't say much about it now since I have an entire post dedicated to it that I've scheduled for later this week. I will say, however, that we had a really great experience!

Finally, I spent the rest of Sunday working on the blog, listening to music, playing Scrabble with Eric, and reading the book I started in the morning before brunch. I'm already hooked, so the fact that it's nearly 500 pages of really small font isn't quite as intimidating as it would be if I were just "meh" about it. I'm struggling to get caught up with my reading goal (I'm still a few books behind schedule), so sometimes I'm tempted to pass over longer novels in favor of something shorter that will (most likely) take less time to read. I'm glad I decided to overlook the length this time, though. Hopefully it won't disappoint me in the end!

I'll leave you with a picture of me "reading" on the couch. I asked Eric to take a picture of me pretending to read my book since I knew I'd be writing at least a little about it in this post. (See? I remember pictures sometimes!) He was cracking me up because he kept saying things like, "Make it believable, okay? No one's going to believe you're reading! That looks fake! Is it good? Act like it's good." This was the result:

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I'm clearly not fooling anyone here. I'm mostly just trying not to laugh.

And that was my weekend!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Crockpot Beef and Broccoli with Black Bean Garlic Sauce

I have a confession to make: the recipe I'm sharing today isn't something I've made recently. I actually made it (and took the picture) way back in September, but just never bothered to post it.

I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to write about this meal. It was delicious, simple, filling, and much healthier than ordering Chinese takeout ... There really wasn't any reason not to share it.

I think sometimes I just go through periods where I'll try a ton of new recipes and then I get so backed up with images and recipe notes to share on my blog that I tend to just pick the ones that were either really amazing (i.e. I'm really impressed that I could actually make it and/or I could eat it every single day for the rest of my life and be pretty happy) and/or the ones with decent pictures. And while today's recipe was really good (I'll definitely make it again in the future), it probably wouldn't qualify as "amazing" (at least not based on the standards listed above). The picture also isn't the best, and though I've never claimed to be a wonderful photographer (I'm not), I know I can do better.

But anyway, I'm sharing it now and that's all that matters. Right?

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Not the prettiest meal, but at least it tastes great!

Crockpot Beef and Broccoli with Black Bean Garlic Sauce

Adapted from a recipe on One Perfect Bite.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 1/2 lbs beef stew meat
  • 3 tbsp black bean garlic sauce (I used the Lee Kum Kee brand, and it was delicious!)
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1 clove garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 package frozen broccoli florets (They don't have to be completely thawed, but I wouldn't toss them straight into the crockpot from the freezer.)
  • 4 green onions, diced and divided
  • 6 cups cooked rice (I used jasmine rice, but any white or brown rice should be fine.)

1.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray, and add the beef stew meat.

2.  In a small bowl, mix together the black bean garlic sauce, soy sauce, 1/4 cup of the chicken broth, honey, ginger, garlic, black pepper, and cornstarch. Stir the sauce until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, then pour it over the beef stew meat in the crockpot. Stir several times to coat the beef.

3.  Pour the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth over the meat and sauce mixture, stirring again to combine. (This should help completely cover the meat in liquid to prevent it from drying out.)

4.  Cook on low for 6 hours.

5.  When 30 minutes of cook time remain, add the broccoli to the crockpot. Stir to combine the vegetables with the meat and sauce.

6.  At the end of the cook time, add half of the diced green onions to the crockpot and mix them into the sauce. Use the remaining green onions as garnish.

This meal is a great lazy Sunday dinner (especially if you're already contemplating ordering Chinese!). It requires minimal effort, and, as I said earlier, it's healthier than the stuff you'd get from most Chinese restaurants. It's definitely one of the better Asian-style dishes I've made at home as well. I still don't feel like I've perfected my Asian cooking, but this tasted pretty damn good!

Monday, April 20, 2015

10 Completely Random Facts About Me

Since I started Divulge and Indulge almost a year ago, I've shared a lot of personal things. Sometimes I've written about specific moments or periods of time, and sometimes I've just shared random thoughts and confessions.

I always enjoy writing these posts, not because they're easy or because they're all about me, but because they're the types of posts I most enjoy reading when I'm looking through other blogs. I think it's interesting to see how alike (or different!) I am from the bloggers I read. These are often the posts that push me to follow someone on Bloglovin, and they're the posts I'm most likely to leave a comment on.

With that in mind, I've decided that I'll kick off the week with a "random facts about me" post.

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I always feel awkward posting closeups of my face on this blog, but that's what seemed appropriate for this type of post.

10 Completely Random Facts About Me

1.  Since I got my learner's permit at 15, I've only been in 2 car accidents. (Thankfully they weren't too serious, and I was never the one at fault!) The weird/random part of this is that I can remember what music I was listening to when both of the accidents happened. (If you're curious, my first accident was in December 2007 and I was listening to "Music Box" by Thrice. My second accident was in June 2013 and I was listening to "Phantom Limb" by The Shins.)

2.  I think in pictures. It's kind of hard to describe, but it's almost as though there's an ongoing movie inside my head. My memories typically play out as though I'm watching them on a screen, which is both cool and a little weird.

3.  I gave up eating chocolate for about 2 years or so. I was 24 when I stopped eating it. I made the decision to cut it out of my diet because I had absolutely no self control. I could seriously sit down with a bag of Reese's miniature peanut butter cups and eat every single one (I wish I were joking). I randomly ate some chocolate at a party a few years ago, and have continued to eat it since then. I kind of wish I'd never started eating it again, but at least I don't eat it every day (or eat an entire bag of candy in one sitting) anymore.

4.  I used to be completely crazy when it came to planning my outfits. I kept a notebook throughout high school and college that detailed what I wore to school each day (including accessories and the way I styled my hair!). The purpose of this was to avoid wearing the same outfit combination to class twice in a semester. Yes, I somehow had that many clothes. I'm still a little weird with my outfit planning, but I typically just try to avoid wearing the same thing to work twice in a 3 week time frame. I don't write it down anymore, so I just rely on my memory. I figure if I can't remember the last time I wore something, no one else can either.

5.  When I was younger, I was flexible enough to twist myself into a human pretzel (legs behind my head, feet crossed and supporting my upper neck and head). I know there's a picture of me doing this floating around somewhere, but I don't know where it is now. Since I've been practicing yoga regularly, I've been regaining a lot of my flexibility. If I'm ever able to make myself into a human pretzel again, I'll definitely share a picture on my blog! (I mean, who wouldn't want to see something like that?)

6.  I have 2 birthmarks. One is a medium size patch of medium/dark brown skin (it gets darker if I'm tan) on the front of my right thigh. The other is in my hair. The eyelashes on my left eye are white blonde (my right eye has black eyelashes), I have a patch of white blonde in my left eyebrow (this is usually covered up with brow pencil), and before I started dying my hair black, there was a chunk of white blonde in the left side of my hair (starting around my temple). I'm sure if I stopped dying my hair it would probably show up again, but that's not going to happen. This is also why I don't leave the house without at least darkening my eyebrows and adding a coat of mascara to my top lashes.

7.  As a kid, I refused to eat cheese or drink milk. As an adult, I'm still pretty picky when it comes to these things. I'll only eat cheese if it has been melted into something and there are plenty of additional elements. For example, I'll eat a quesadilla with meat, peppers, and onions, but I won't eat a plain quesadilla consisting only of a tortilla and cheese. That seems really gross to me. I've also never eaten a grilled cheese sandwich. In fact, I typically order sandwiches and burgers without cheese (unless it's a "fancy" cheese, like gruyere or havarti and completely melted). And I still won't drink milk because I find even the look of it disgusting.

8.  I have incredibly vivid dreams. Many times I won't remember if something actually happened or if it was just a dream. Usually it's something mundane like a conversation where I find myself saying, "Didn't we just talk about this a few days ago?" and the other person looks confused and responds with, "Uhhh no, I don't think so." There were a couple of times back in college, though, where I dreamt I hooked up with someone and couldn't remember whether or not I actually had. One time I just decided to ask the guy since we were pretty good friends. Imagine my embarrassment when he replied, "No, we definitely didn't hook up. But ... You're dreaming about me, huh? How was it?"

9.  I'm an only child, and it shows. (I hate stereotypes, but this one actually rings pretty true for me.) I wish I could say I'm this amazing selfless person, but no. I can be pretty selfish at times and I almost always insist that things be done my way.

10.  I love traveling, and (luckily for me) Eric does too. In the nearly 8 years we've been together, we've been to places in 6 countries (China, Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and, of course, the U.S.) and done things together in 13 states (Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). We've both been to other places separately (for example, I've also been to Tibet, Mexico, and a total of 26 states in the U.S.), but I think it's cool that we've had so many opportunities to experience places together since we met in China in 2007. (If you haven't read the story of how we met, you can do so here.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - April 2015 Edition

Lately I've been neglecting my blog a little too much. I'd love to say it's because I've been busy doing really exciting, amazing things, but that would be a lie. What I've actually been doing is alternating between binge watching shows on Netflix and reading.

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I'm late to the Show Us Your Books! party yet again (though, to be fair, I'll probably always be at least a day or two late since the link-up falls on a Tuesday and that day is always reserved for a recipe post), but I figured better late than never. I skipped the link-up completely last month, mostly because I was busy moving my blog over from Wordpress and reformatting a bunch of shit, but also because I'd been slacking when it came to reading.

I'm still a little behind schedule with my 50 book challenge, but with the way I've been devouring my books lately, I should (hopefully) be able to get back on track soon.

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Sister by Rosamund Lupton - 318 pages

Completed on 02/23/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I rely pretty heavily on Amazon and Goodreads recommendations for books, and after reading about Sister, I knew I wanted to read it. I finally picked it up on one of my trips to Half Price Books, but it sat on my bookshelf for quite a while before I got around to it.

I'll be completely honest: I didn't really get into this book until about 50 pages in. But once I got into it, I had a hard time putting it down.

The entire novel is essentially a long letter written from Beatrice (or Bee) to her younger sister, Tess, who has gone missing. As the novel (or letter) progresses, Bee remembers various events (both large and small) that had an impact on their lives and their relationship with one another. The sisters have remained close throughout the years, but after Bee travels from her home in New York back to her hometown in London to try to find out what happened to Tess, she realizes she may not have known her sister as well as she once believed.

I won't give too much away in this review, but I will say that while I really enjoyed the book, there were parts of the twist that I really didn't love. I think part of it was due to the fact that I had figured some of it out before I got to the big reveal. While I love being right, I hate when things are a little too obvious (especially in a crime or psychological thriller).

That being said, I felt that Rosamund Lupton did a great job bringing the characters to life. I loved that the two main characters in particular were molded into real people with real flaws, real quirks, and real emotions. I actually cared about what happened to them, which made it a much more powerful (and enjoyable) read.

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The Child in Time by Ian McEwan - 263 pages

Completed on 03/07/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Oh, Ian McEwan. I want to love you, I really do. You're incredibly talented and you have such interesting ideas. But the execution ... Oh God, the execution.

I struggled through this book, sometimes only picking it up because I was desperate to finish it so I could move on to something else. I know it's silly to force yourself to read a book you don't like, but I really want to finish every book I start this year. I know it's probably weird, but it's a personal thing ... I don't really like not finishing things I start (even though it seems to happen all the time when it comes to my writing projects).

The basic premise is interesting: a man goes to the grocery store with his 3 year old daughter. As they wait in the checkout line, she suddenly disappears. The first chapter deals almost entirely with this incident and the immediate aftermath, and McEwan does an excellent job describing the sheer panic Stephen (the father) feels as he tears through the store looking for his little girl. But honestly, the story could have stopped here and been just that: a short story.

I understand that Ian McEwan was trying to weave together these grand themes of time and what it means to lose a child, but oh my God ... The way he went about it was all wrong. The majority of the subplots were ridiculous (particularly the way Stephen's friend Charles suddenly regresses into a man-child intent on passing his time in a treehouse in the English countryside), or, in one case, completely random (Stephen happens to witness an accident while driving and helps the driver get help ... This is never really tied in with the rest of the story, and it left me wondering why it was even included in the novel).

And the ending ... Ugh. I know this is such an overused phrase, but these words just kept repeating in my mind as I read the last few pages: "I just can't." It was awful. The only reason I didn't give this book 1 star on Goodreads was because the first chapter was so good.

I've given Ian McEwan plenty of chances. I read Atonement. I read In Between the Sheets, a collection of short stories that contained exactly one story I actually enjoyed. Then I read The Cement Garden and believed that maybe I could be a fan ... So I decided to give him one more try with The Child in Time. I really wish I hadn't wasted my time.

Sorry, Ian McEwan. This was your last chance. I won't be reading any more of your books.

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The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan - 380 pages

Completed on 03/21/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Before I even start my review, I just have to quickly comment on the cover because this is one of those times when "don't judge a book by its cover" is a very appropriate statement. I don't know who approved the cover art, but it would have been much better without the brooding woman. It just looks ridiculous.

But anyway, moving on.

I read this book for the first time several years ago, and I really enjoyed it at the time. I couldn't remember much about it, though, so I decided to reread it. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much this time around.

The Red Tree is essentially a book within a book within a book. (Yes, I meant to type it that many times.) It's supposedly a manuscript that author Sarah Crowe was working on before her death, though it's more of a journal than an actual novel. Sarah rents a house in rural Rhode Island in hopes of escaping both her writer's block and the mixed feelings she has surrounding the suicide of her ex-girlfriend, Amanda. While living in the house, she stumbles upon a manuscript written by the house's former tenant, a professor obsessed with an ancient oak tree growing on the edge of the property who eventually hung himself from the very tree he was writing about. Sarah peppers her journals with excerpts from the professor's manuscript as she begins to grow obsessed with the tree herself.

The Red Tree is, in a word, unsettling. There are a lot of supernatural elements, and certain parts of the book are creepy as hell. However, the overall novel just fell a little flat for me this time. It was like a less awesome version of House of Leaves. (I kept thinking this as I was reading, so I found it funny when, at the end of the book, I noticed the author cited House of Leaves as one of her inspirations.)

The character of Sarah really annoyed me this time around. While I admittedly had forgotten much of the book, I think I would have remembered such a whiny character. But oh my God ... Sarah was supposedly in her mid-40s, but she acted like an angsty girl in her teens or early 20s. I kept thinking, "This must be what I sounded like to everyone around me when I was younger." And then I just felt sad and embarrassed because who really wants to sound like that all the time? Sarah was full of complaints and bitterness about everything from her writing to her ex-girlfriend, and it just grated on my nerves after a while. Yes, she was going through a difficult time, but Caitlín Kiernan created a character that seemed unworthy of sympathy. 

I don't hate the book or feel like I wasted my time with the reread, but it took me around 2 weeks to finish it because I wasn't overly engaged. It's not a bad book, but I was disappointed that I didn't enjoy it as much this time.

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Out by Natsuo Kirino - 400 pages

Completed on 04/04/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I started this book about 2 or 3 years ago, but never finished it. This is really unusual for me (I can think of only 2 other books I've ever started but never finished, and I'm working through one of them right now). The reason I didn't finish this book years ago was because I got busy and set it aside for several weeks. There are quite a few characters and subplots in Out, so when I picked it up again, I was completely lost.

I'm glad I decided to try reading it again, though. Natsuo Kirino may have created a huge cast of characters, but she weaves their stories together in a masterful way.

Out focuses primarily on the lives of 4 women, all night shift factory workers who have become fairly close friends. Yayoi, a young mother of 2 with an abusive husband, decides to end her suffering by murdering him. The act was not premeditated, however, and, panicked and desperate for help, Yayoi calls Masako, the friend she feels she can trust the most. Masako agrees to help her dispose of the body and cover up the crime, and she secures help from Yoshie and Kuniko, her other friends from the factory. Kirino gives readers a glimpse into the lives of each of the women, but also delves into darker territory when the yakuza (or Japanese mafia) become involved.

This is a really interesting novel, and I was extremely impressed with the translation. I've read quite a few books that have been translated from other languages, and some things just seem a little clunky and weird ... But with Out, it was easy to forget that it was originally written in Japanese. There's also a useful chart at the beginning of the book with some yen to dollar conversions, which I consulted at numerous points throughout the novel. A lot of the plot (and several of the subplots) centers around money, so it was nice to have that as a reference.

Although I really enjoyed this book as a whole, there were a couple of things that prevented it from achieving 5 star status on Goodreads.

I felt like some of the minor characters didn't deserve as much attention. There were points in the book when I was like, "Why is this even relevant? I don't really need to know this much about this character ... Unless they play a vital role in the story later." A couple of these characters actually did play a larger role later in the novel, but a couple of the others really didn't need 10 pages (or more) devoted to their backstory.

I also didn't love the ending. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. It was just ... Weird. I'm very anti-spoiler, so I won't go into a lot of detail, but I was kind of confused by Masako's sudden change of heart. It really didn't fit with her character, and although I kind of get where Kirino was probably trying to go with the idea, it just didn't work.

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Stranger than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk - 233 pages

Completed on 04/10/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This was another reread for me. I first read this book about 8 or 9 years ago, and while I could remember bits and pieces of the essays, enough time had passed that I mostly felt like I was reading it for the first time.

I've mentioned before that I'm kind of a Chuck Palahniuk fangirl. (Though I'll admit that I wasn't very impressed with Snuff or Pygmy and I just sort of stopped reading him after those were released.) That being said, this collection of non-fiction essays probably would only appeal to someone who really enjoys his work. While I'm sure that most people would find at least a few of the essays interesting, it's not something I'd recommend to someone who doesn't typically enjoy his writing style or subject matter. (And, honestly, if you aren't a fan, you probably won't give a shit about any of the essays in the last part of the book because they're all about his own personal experiences.)

I'm so glad I reread this book because it gave me some much needed inspiration. I'd finish an essay and just immediately start tapping away at my phone, adding to my list of notes for blog posts and other writing projects. Although I haven't started writing any of those posts yet, the ideas are there ... So they'll show up eventually. (Probably sooner rather than later.)

A few of the essays were just "meh" for me, but most of them were interesting and/or inspiring. They reminded me why I fell in love with his writing in the first place, and I'm now planning to reread at least a couple of his novels this year. At least a couple of the essays also gave me that odd sense that someone had just plucked thoughts from my brain and placed them in plain sight. There's a strange comfort in knowing that someone else sees things that way. (And bonus points if it's someone you admire anyway.)

Chuck (I like to pretend we're on a first name basis ... I did meet him, after all) is releasing a collection of short stories next month, and, for the first time in a while, I'm really excited about the new material. I used to buy each of his books on the day they were released (or I'd preorder from Amazon), but I haven't done that in a long time. I've decided to do that when the short story collection is released, so hopefully he won't disappoint me. (I know this really isn't relevant to my review, but I wanted to throw it in as a way of saying that sometimes rereading a book by an author you really enjoy can reignite your passion for his/her work.)

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Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon - 447 pages

Completed on 04/16/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I couldn't put this book down. It's gotten a lot of mixed reviews from Goodreads, but, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed it. The only reason it took me 5 days to read it was because I had to do other things (you know, like work and go to yoga and spend time with my husband). I don't think I'm a very fast reader, but I read over 200 pages in one sitting when I started it last Saturday. I just needed to know more!

I've read a couple of Jennifer McMahon's other books (Promise Not to Tell and Island of Lost Girls), but they weren't as good as this one. As with those novels, McMahon tells the story in alternating chapters of past and present. Lisa, a 12-year-old girl with an active imagination and intense love for fairy tales, goes into the woods one summer night and is never seen again. Before she disappears, she tells her little brother, Sam, and cousin, Evie, that she's been chosen to become Queen of the Fairies. 15 years later, Sam and Evie are no longer on speaking terms. He's in a loving relationship with Phoebe, a woman who relies on him to forget her own dark past. But after receiving a call from Evie, who claims to have information about Lisa that she needs to share with Sam in person, the couple begins to experience strange things that they can't explain ... Things that may be connected with Lisa's disappearance.

I'll admit that I really hate when authors lay everything out for you because I like to draw my own conclusions. Unfortunately, McMahon is a repeat offender when it comes to this. I feel like all of her novels could be really great (even though they all stem from the same "girl goes missing" trope) if she'd stop spelling everything out for her readers.

Despite my hatred for this type of storytelling, I gave this novel 5 stars on Goodreads. This was mostly due to the fact that Don't Breathe a Word really sucked me in and held my interest. I felt like I hadn't been so completely immersed in a book in a long time, and I think that alone was enough to warrant a high rating.

I will say that my other biggest issue with Jennifer McMahon's novels is that the endings are usually a complete clusterfuck. This was no exception. I felt like she was just trying to throw every random twist she could into the last few chapters to make it more interesting, but it just backfired. I liked some of the ideas, but some of them seemed to be there merely for shock value. (And, if you're like me and it takes a lot to shock you, it won't even have the disturbing effect she seemed to be going for.) 

Don't Breathe a Word had a lot of flaws (including some inconsistencies that really annoyed me), but I thought the story itself was really fascinating. Some parts of the novel reminded me a bit of Pan's Labyrinth, and I really love that movie. And, despite the flaws, I'm glad I read this book. As I said earlier, I've been falling behind on my 50 book reading challenge, and this book (along with Stranger than Fiction) really helped me get out of my rut.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: One Pot Tortellini with Italian Sausage in a Tomato Cream Sauce

I know I've mentioned this before, but I love one pot meals. They're just as easy as crockpot meals, but they don't require a 4-8 hour wait. And nothing is better than only having one pan to clean up after making dinner (except maybe having no pans ... But that's obviously never going to happen).

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Is there anything better than pasta with a creamy sauce and lots of melty cheese?

I love having recipes like this on hand for the nights when I'm too busy to make an elaborate dinner. While it's definitely not healthy, it is delicious. It's also quick ... It's on the table in just 20-30 minutes with minimal prep and minimal effort.

If you're looking for another one pot pasta dinner to add to your recipe collection, look no further. This one won't disappoint!

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A closer look at the cheesy, creamy goodness.

One Pot Tortellini with Italian Sausage in a Tomato Cream Sauce

Adapted from a recipe on Yellow Bliss Road.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 20 oz. package frozen or refrigerated cheese tortellini (I used frozen tri-color tortellini.)
  • 3-5 Italian sausage links, sliced (I only used 3, but I'm planning to use more the next time I make this. 3 didn't seem like enough for us, but it could be plenty for those who don't like tons of meat in their pasta dishes.)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup white onion, diced
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced fire roasted garlic tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


1.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until softened.

2.  Add the sliced Italian sausage, and cook until browned.

3.  After the sausage is thoroughly cooked, add the chicken broth, fire roasted tomatoes, tortellini, sea salt, and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.

4.  Turn the heat down to low, and allow the pasta, sausage, and sauce to simmer for about 7 minutes.

5.  Add the spinach to the skillet, stirring well to incorporate it into the sauce. Turn the heat up to medium low and cover. Cook for another 8 minutes (or until the pasta is cooked through), stirring occasionally.

6.  Remove the skillet from heat, and pour in the heavy cream. Stir to blend the cream into the sauce.

7.  Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the top. Cover and allow to sit until the cheese has melted.

I served this meal with a simple green salad (mostly to offset the heavy cream and tons of cheese). This meal was pretty perfect, but I may play around with it in the future since it's a great base recipe with lots of options (different meats, sauces, cheeses, etc.).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Lemon Herb Roasted Potatoes

There's a little Greek place here in Omaha that Eric and I love. It's a family run restaurant that features simple but delicious specialties. We always start with the dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and I almost always order the gyro platter, which comes with a side salad and the most amazing potatoes.

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This is such a simple recipe, but it's so good!

Since I first tried those potatoes several years ago, I've been looking for a recipe that might produce something similar. I knew I'd never replicate them exactly, but I was sure that I could make something comparable if I could figure out which spices they used. (All I knew for sure was lemon, oregano, salt, and pepper.) And since I rarely make side dishes that are more elaborate than steamed vegetables or a salad, I thought it would probably be a good thing to have a recipe like this available. Sometimes you want something different, you know?

A few weeks ago I was searching Pinterest for some side dish ideas, and I saw a recipe for lemon herb roasted potatoes. When I followed the link and read through the recipe, I got really excited because I thought they might taste a little like the Greek potatoes I love so much.

I'm happy to say that I was right! While they don't taste exactly the same, the flavors are very similar. And, most importantly, these potatoes are delicious.

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I know I already posted this picture on Instagram, but I wanted to include it here as well. This was such an awesome meal!

Lemon Herb Roasted Potatoes

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Rock Recipes.

Ingredient List:
  • 8-12 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into very small (about 1 inch) chunks
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 2 tsp thyme

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 

3.  Parboil the potatoes for 3-5 minutes. (If you don't know what that means, don't feel bad ... I didn't either. After consulting with Google, I found that "parboil" is just a fancy term for boiling something until it has barely softened.) I would strongly suggest sticking close to the pot while the potatoes are cooking to ensure they don't get too soft. 

4.  Drain the potatoes and place them in a medium bowl. Let them stand for 5 minutes.

5.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the potatoes, tossing several times so that the potatoes absorb the juice (they should begin to soften a little more as they soak up the juice).

6.  Add the garlic salt, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Stir to combine.

7.  Pour in the olive oil, stirring to coat the potatoes as evenly as possible. (The potatoes will be much softer at this point, which is why it's very important not to boil them too long in the first step!)

8.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray.

9. Place the potatoes in a single layer across the lined cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until they begin to get crispy on the outside. (The original recipe recommends turning them every 20 minutes, but I didn't. I would recommend checking them every 20 minutes or so to make sure they aren't sticking, though.)

These potatoes are seriously amazing: crispy on the outside and buttery soft with a burst of lemon and herb flavor on the inside. They were the perfect side for the steak Eric grilled a couple of weeks ago. I'll definitely be making these again soon!

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Blogging Comfort Zone: How Much Should I Share?

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Image provided by Unsplash ( and edited by me.

When it comes to blogging, I struggle with a lot of things.

One of my biggest struggles is simply finding the time to write quality content. I know that I'm probably not as busy as some people, but I still regularly find myself with a pretty packed schedule.

Unfortunately, having some quiet time alone doesn't always translate into writing an amazing blog post. Sometimes I'm too tired to come up with anything even remotely coherent. Sometimes I haven't really done anything I'd consider "blogworthy" (if I'm being totally honest, my life can be pretty boring at times). Sometimes I sit down in front of my computer and my mind just goes blank.

And sometimes I think of something I'd like to write about, but I'm not sure if I should share it.

As a blogger (even a blogger with a very small following), there's always a question of how much is too much. What am I comfortable putting on the internet for random people (and possibly people I know) to read, and what should remain private?

This is, without a doubt, one of my biggest struggles with blogging. I can be private about some things, but, for the most part, I'm a pretty open person ... And this can easily turn into oversharing.

So where do I draw the line? How do I know what's okay to tell others about myself and my life experiences?

These are questions I ask myself every time I sit down to write a more personal blog post, and, unfortunately, I still don't know the answers. If I'm sharing a personal story, I usually just start writing ... I know I can edit out anything I decide I'm uncomfortable sharing before I post.

But, depending on the topic, the entire post could make me uncomfortable ... So what then?

If I'm being completely honest, I often get nervous when I'm posting anything even remotely personal on this blog. (And I know this probably sounds crazy because I'd estimate that at least 90% of my posts have been labeled as "Personal.") But every time I hit "Publish," I think of the fact that anyone could read what I've just written and see the pictures I've just posted. And while that's obviously the point of blogging (I mean, I want people to read my posts and comment and hopefully find them at least somewhat interesting), it's also something that's always in the back of my mind.

I think I've shared a lot on this blog since I started it last April (I haven't quite reached my blogiversary yet, but it's getting close!), but I'm still trying to figure out where to draw the line when I'm sharing personal thoughts and stories. I've never been embarrassed about anything I've written, and I'd like to keep it that way.

If you're a fellow blogger and feel like sharing your thoughts, how do you decide what's appropriate to share on a public blog and what's best left private? Is there anything you'd absolutely never write about?

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned: My April Goals

As I said in yesterday's post, this month the focus is on finances. I have to admit that after my ridiculous spending last month (mostly on stupid shit like fast food and Starbucks), I'm excited to create some goals that will (hopefully!) inspire me to think a little more about my purchases before I whip out my debit card.

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Image provided by Pixabay ( and edited by me.

My April 2015 Goals:

1.  Completely cut out frivolous food purchases. For me, this basically means no fast food on the nights I don't feel like making something at home, no $5 lattes, no dinners out, no going out for drinks (buying a $10 bottle of wine to drink at home is acceptable, though ... I mostly just want to cut back on expensive drinks at restaurants and bars), no going out for ice cream/milkshakes/frozen yogurt, and no snacks and/or coffee drinks at work. I know that sounds like a lot of things to cut out, but seriously ... I can easily spend $9-$15 a week on coffee drinks at work alone. If I add in all of the other stuff I mentioned, my monthly food spending is typically in the $150-$250 range (and that's not including groceries!). That's actually kind of sickening. I'd definitely love to save that money this month, and I'm sure my body will thank me for spending 30 days without gigantic burritos, fried shit, and tons of sugary drinks!

2.  In an effort to keep myself from buying a bunch of random (but delicious!) junk, I'd like to create a meal plan for the month and stick with it. I haven't been making meal plans lately, and it's obvious: last week I got food from a restaurant 6 times. (To be fair, Eric was gone for most of the week and I didn't feel like cooking dinner for just me ... But that still seems like a crazy high number for one week.) Meal plans keep us from saying, "I can't think of anything I want to make tonight, so let's just order takeout/go out for dinner/grab fast food."

3.  Earn at least my first Swagbucks daily goal every day in April. One of my New Year's resolutions was to use Swagbucks more often in an effort to earn a gift card I could use toward the purchase of an expensive item I really want. I've been using Swagbucks every day since January 1st, but I haven't reached my daily goal every day. I've been able to hit it most days, but my first goal is usually pretty high and sometimes I get really busy ... So sometimes it just doesn't happen. This month, though, I'm determined to get the bonus (300 Swagbucks) for hitting my daily goal every day!

4.  Continue putting money into savings. I'm using a fairly aggressive savings plan I found on Pinterest (there are tons of options out there to fit a variety of budgets and savings goals if you're looking for a plan to keep you in check!), and I've been putting money back according to that plan on a weekly basis. I'm actually doing this in addition to what I was already putting into savings each month, and I'm really proud that I've resisted the urge to spend rather than save (for the most part, anyway)! This is almost a "cheat" goal since I know I'll accomplish it, but I wanted to add it to my goals for the month since it definitely falls under the "Finance" category.

5.  Pay at least $50 more on my car payment this month. I paid a little more last month (not much more, but every bit counts!), and I'd like to continue bumping my payments up little by little. My goal is to have my car paid off in another 12-18 months. This seems doable (especially if I keep making slightly higher payments each month). I'm starting small right now, but I'll eventually work up to making double or triple payments each month. (That's the plan, at least!)

I think the most difficult goals for me are going to be cutting out frivolous food purchases and sticking to a meal plan. I mean, I really like food. And coffee. And going out for drinks.

I'm going to be completely honest here and say that I almost caved at work yesterday. Yes, I was ready to throw away my first goal for a Starbucks Doubleshot 2 days into the month. That's just ... Really sad. I managed to resist the temptation, but the fact that I even considered saying, "Fuck it, I just won't make avoiding frivolous food and drink purchases a goal this month" proves I have a real problem when it comes to cutting back on things like that. I'm going to be so proud of myself if I manage to go the whole month without wasting money on junk food/drinks!