Friday, July 31, 2015

Playlist: July 2015

You may remember my post about musical guilty pleasures last week. (If not, you can find it here.) When I was writing that post, I thought that maybe I should just wait and schedule it for this week so I could add my monthly playlist. Why would I wait until this week for that? Because I always wait until the last week of the month to post a monthly playlist.

Yes, I realize this probably sounds kind of silly. It doesn't really matter when I post things, right?

One thing you'll learn about me while reading this blog (if you haven't caught on already) is that I'm extremely anal about certain things. I like things to be as uniform as possible (though I'm well aware that I need to edit many of my old posts because they have some formatting issues and other problems). For example, when I started posting monthly goals, I initially shared my results in one post and my goals for the following month in another. I think I did this either because I hadn't come up with my goals yet or because I didn't have time to write much (or both), but since I started separating my monthly goals into two posts, I plan to continue doing it that way.

The same thing applies here. I started sharing my monthly playlists during the last week of the month, so I'll continue to do that until I decide I don't want to make them anymore. (Oh, who am I kidding? I love making these stupid playlists, so I'll probably never stop posting them.)

Anyway, after that lengthy (and probably unnecessary) introduction, I'll now move on to the good stuff.

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I tried to include the majority of the songs/bands/artists mentioned in my guilty pleasures post, and, as you can see, the result is one of the most random playlists ever.

And again, if you haven't read that post, some of these don't actually fall under the "guilty pleasures" category ... They're either things I think most people think I should have "outgrown" or things that people are generally surprised to learn I like. Once you get to "Miss Murder," though, you've reached the stuff I'm usually too embarrassed to admit I like.

On this blog, though, anything goes. So today I'm sharing a playlist that I'll totally be rocking out to in my car for the next month (or 3). No shame!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Creamy Chicken Penne with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach

Since I've been trying to cook healthier meals at least 3 times each week this month, I was hoping to finish my July Tasty Tuesday posts with something a little lighter. As I was going through my recipe notes and pictures, though, I realized I'd never posted this amazing pasta recipe. It's decadent and fattening and one of the few things I've ever made that I considered to be "restaurant quality."

So I apologize if you came here today hoping for another healthy recipe. That is most definitely not what you're getting.

If, however, you're a huge fan of pasta, you've come to the right place. I'm sure I've said this before, but I could easily eat pasta every day for the rest of my life. And if Eric loved it as much as I do (and if it wouldn't make me gain a ton of weight!), I probably would.

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And this pasta recipe? Well, let's just say I wouldn't hate it if we had it every week (or every day). My body would probably hate me for regularly stuffing it with a heavy cream sauce, but whatever ... At least I'd be clogging my arteries with happiness.

Creamy Chicken Penne with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach

Adapted from a recipe on The Cookie Rookie.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box penne or other short pasta
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise (My chicken breasts were very thick, so I wanted to make them a bit thinner for quicker cooking.)
  • 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used 1% since that's what we always have on hand.)
  • 2 tbsp low fat margarine or butter (I used low fat margarine.)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced (I didn't use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil for this, and I would suggest staying away from those for this particular recipe.)
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp Mrs. Dash Italian Medley
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper


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

2.  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.

3.  Pour the milk into a small bowl, and add the Panko breadcrumbs to a separate small bowl.

4.  Dip each piece of chicken into the milk, then place the chicken into the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Take care to coat the chicken as evenly as possible.

5.  Add the breaded chicken and butter to the skillet. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned and no pink remains.

6.  While the chicken is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook according to package directions until al dente and drain.

7.   Once the chicken has finished cooking, remove it from the skillet and set it aside. (I put my chicken on a cutting board since I planned to dice it up before adding it back into the sauce.)

8.  Pour the chicken broth and white wine into the skillet and bring to a boil.

9.  Stir in the heavy cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach. Allow the mixture to continue boiling for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

10.  Reduce heat to low. Stir in the shredded Parmesan cheese, onion powder, Mrs. Dash Italian Medley, oregano, basil, garlic salt, and black pepper.

11. Cut the chicken into smaller cubes, then add it back to the skillet with the sauce. (You don't have to cut up the chicken, but I usually prefer to do that if I'm making a pasta dish. It's nice because you'll get a piece of chicken in almost every bite. Again, though, this step is optional.)

12.  Allow the chicken and sauce to simmer together for another minute or two.

13.  Stir in the drained pasta, making sure to mix it thoroughly with the sauce.

I know it looks like there are quite a few steps, but it's actually a pretty easy dish. I just like to be as thorough as possible when I'm giving recipe instructions. Basically I want to be able to look at any recipe I've made and replicate it with ease. (And that obviously extends to anyone reading this blog as well.)

Since this is such a rich, heavy meal, I served it with a simple green salad and a glass of white wine. It may not be the ideal light summer dinner, but it's delicious!

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Weekend in Columbus: BFF Trip 2015

Last weekend was one of the best weekends I've had in a long time. After nearly 2 years without seeing each other, Kevin and I made up for lost time with countless hours of talking, venting, laughing, shopping, and eating. The weekend flew by, but I'm so glad we were able to make time to see each other (even if only for a few days).

We took quite a few pictures, but, as you'll see, the majority were of our food and drinks. At the end of the trip I realized we should have taken more pictures together, but oh well ... Maybe next time!

I know I posted a few of these on Instagram already, but here are some snapshots of the weekend:

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Our first meal of the weekend was at Cap City Diner. It was such a funky, cute place and definitely not what I pictured when Kevin first suggested a "diner!" Here you can see the menu, a half eaten piece of bread (I didn't take the picture soon enough, obviously), Kevin's meatloaf dinner (definitely the star of the evening!), our cocktails (I had the Candied Ginger Margarita and he had the Georgia Peach), and my shrimp banh mi wrap with wild rice salad. My meal was light yet filling and packed with flavor ... So good! I'd definitely go back!

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Our first full day together was mostly spent at the Easton Town Center, which is the perfect place to go if you're a huge fan of shopping. I even managed to make my elementary school dreams come true with a visit to the American Girl store! (If you're wondering, I had both the Addy and Samantha dolls as a kid. They're actually still at my mom's house. I wanted to save them in case I ever had a little girl of my own.) These pictures are of our lunch spot, Northstar Cafe, (he had a cheeseburger and side salad and I had a salad with chicken, avocado, goat cheese, and a lot of other delicious stuff) and a fountain in the shopping center.

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After a long day of shopping, we had dinner at Local Cantina. This place was amazing ... There was even a live band that played the most interesting mix of 90s jams I've ever heard! I once again took a picture of the menu, my veggie nachos (I could eat those every night!), Kevin's chicken quesadillas and rice, our partially eaten queso (I seem to have trouble remembering to take pictures of appetizers prior to digging in), my Bacon Bloody Mary, and my Mexican Mule. This was one of my favorite places from the weekend!

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We finished things off with beers at the Pigskin Brewing Company. (Okay, if we're going to get technical, Kevin's boyfriend and I had beers and he had a glass of wine.) It's apparently a pretty new bar, and it was really cool. (I especially liked their musical selection. I love it when bars play great music!)

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The next day we did some more shopping and had lunch and a major dishing session at the food court. (I didn't take any pictures of any of this, though ... Sorry to disappoint.) That night we went to the Short North for cocktails and dinner. We kicked things off at The Guild House, a "posh" (to use Kevin's new favorite word) hotel in the area. We took a couple of pictures of the bar/restaurant area and our cocktails. They were delicious!

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After our cocktails, we headed over to one of Kevin and Marc's favorite restaurants in the city, Marcella's. After just one bite, it was easy to see why they love it so much! Here you can see the menu, yet another mostly eaten appetizer (we had the Melted Pecorino Cheese, which came with crostini, apple slices, and truffle honey), my dinner (we all actually ordered the exact same thing: fettucine with meatball), and the white sangria Kevin and I had. Everything was delicious! I could easily eat that meal every day for months and never get tired of it (though my pants probably wouldn't fit anymore).

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After dinner we spent some time walking around the area. This gorgeous fountain was in a small park nearby. It's probably my favorite picture from the weekend.

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We finished the weekend off with brunch at Scrambler Marie's. I had a delicious breakfast burrito and hash browns, and Kevin had a classic platter of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast. Simple yet satisfying.

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Apparently Kevin gets Starbucks every day now. Every day. I told him he's insane, but since I was technically on vacation, I decided to give in and have one every day as well. That picture of me isn't the best, but it's one of the only ones we took together this weekend. (And, of course, it was in Starbucks!)

And finally, I just had to share a couple of pictures of Kevin's adorable dog, Fitch. He's a Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie mix), and one of the sweetest little dogs ever!

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That is a seriously awful picture of me (I blame the awkward angle and way I'm sitting), but Fitch looked so cute that I had to include it anyway.

And that was my weekend.

I'm pretty sure I gained 10 pounds while I was away. So much for eating healthier this month! (This is also probably why I didn't feel like taking a lot of pictures of myself ... I definitely feel less attractive/photogenic when I'm feeling bloated and overly full!) This week the plan is to get back on track with healthier meals and at least 3-4 days of workouts. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Closeness Has Nothing to Do With Distance

If you're reading this, I've already boarded a plane and am on my way to visit my best friend, Kevin. He lives in Ohio (or nearly 800 miles away, according to Google maps).

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I found this while looking for images with long distance friendship quotes.  If you like it, you can purchase it here. (And no, this isn't a sponsored thing ... I just wanted to give proper credit!
Long distance friendships aren't easy. In fact, the majority of my closest friends live elsewhere: Ohio, Kentucky, Washington, Florida, West Virginia, and Minnesota (to name a few). I think this goes with the territory as an adult (especially if you've moved to another state at some point in your life), but it can still suck at times.

It's most difficult when you spend a lot of time apart. I haven't seen a few of my friends (Kevin included) since my wedding in November 2013. It's not that we don't want to see each other ... It's just that we all have other responsibilities. It's not always easy to get away (even for a long weekend!) or coordinate schedules, and it's definitely not cheap.

But even though I don't see them as often as I'd like, I still consider these people to be some of my closest friends. These are the people I immediately run to when I need advice or want to share news (whether good or bad). These are the people I trust with my secrets. These are the people I can spend hours laughing or crying with. These are the people I want in my life forever, even if we have to work a little harder to maintain our friendships.

This weekend, though, Kevin and I won't have to work as hard ... We can just enjoy the time we have together. And since we've always been able to easily pick back up where we left off, it won't even feel like it's been so long since we've seen each other. I'm really lucky to have a friend like this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Crockpot Turkey Sloppy Joes and Parmesan Zucchini Rounds

After sharing some of my most embarrassing musical guilty pleasures yesterday, I'm hoping I can redeem myself with today's recipes.

I rarely share two recipes in one post, but I decided I'd make an exception today. These two things don't have to be made together, of course, but I think they're a great combination (especially if you're trying to cut some calories!). 

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Eric and I have actually made these sloppy joes several times in the past, but I never bothered to post the recipe. I'm not sure why ... They're really good! We like them so much that we even made a huge batch one weekend last fall when we had a bunch of people over to watch a Husker game. They were a big hit, and everyone was surprised when we told them they were made from ground turkey. They don't taste "light" at all, but they're much lower in fat and calories than traditional beef sloppy joes.

And the zucchini? This was quite possibly one of the simplest side dishes I've ever thrown together. It's also one of the healthiest, which was a huge bonus! We usually have potato or pasta salad with these sloppy joes, so it was nice to mix things up and pair them with something lighter.

Crockpot Turkey Sloppy Joes

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Six Sisters' Stuff.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 10.75 oz. can condensed tomato soup
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp classic yellow mustard
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Hamburger buns for serving

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

2.  Add the ground turkey to the skillet and cook until it is no longer pink, breaking it up as it cooks.

3.  Toss in the diced onion and green pepper near the end of cook time, cooking until just tender.

4.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray.

5.  Drain any excess grease from the skillet, then add the turkey and vegetable mixture to the crockpot.

6.  Add the tomato soup, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, garlic salt, and black pepper to the crockpot. Stir several times to mix thoroughly.

7.  Cook on low for 4 hours.

Parmesan Zucchini Rounds

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Five Heart Home.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • Garlic salt
  • Black pepper
  • Mrs. Dash Original blend
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
(Please note that I didn't actually measure out how much seasoning I used. I just sprinkled my zucchini slices as evenly as possible with each of the 3 seasonings listed. Feel free to use whatever amount you like, but I will say that you shouldn't need much.)


1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2.  Wash and dry the zucchini. Cut the vegetables into slices about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick.

3.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray it with cooking spray.

4.  Place the zucchini slices on the baking sheet, leaving little to no space between them.

5.  Sprinkle them as evenly as possible with the garlic salt, black pepper, and Mrs. Dash.

6.  Add a tiny amount (use your best judgment because I didn't measure out how much I used on each slice) of Parmesan cheese to each of the slices.

7.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. (I only baked mine for 12 minutes because my cheese was melted by then and I didn't want to risk burning them. If you think you'd like the cheese a little more golden brown, I'd suggest leaving them in a little longer ... Just make sure you check on them regularly to make sure they're not getting overcooked or burnt!)

If you're looking for an easy, healthy meal full of the flavors of summer, this is it. And if sloppy joes aren't your thing, I'm sure the zucchini rounds would also pair nicely with chicken or fish.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Musical Guilty Pleasures

Many people in my life have referred to me as a "music snob." With today's post, however, I'm going to prove that this title may not be accurate 100% of the time.

I've wanted to share some of my musical guilty pleasures for a while, but every time I started to write this post, I'd get embarrassed. I know, I know ... That's completely ridiculous. I mean, who cares what someone else secretly loves, right?

The thing is, I pride myself on having excellent taste in music. (This goes back to the "music snob" thing.) It's silly, but it's true. I love sharing music with other people (as you may have noticed with my monthly playlist posts), and talking about the music I love. I love concerts and listening to a new release by a favorite band. I love everything about music ... And sometimes that means loving completely random things I wouldn't normally listen to.

After reading this post by Kristen, I decided to just get over myself and share the embarrassing (and probably not so embarrassing) things I listen to. For ease of reading, I've broken these up into the following categories: Music I Probably Should Have Outgrown By Now, You May Be Surprised I Like This, and I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Actually Listen to This. Trust me, that last category will have the most items included.

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Image provided by Pixabay and edited by me.

Music I Probably Should Have Outgrown By Now

I don't necessarily think people "outgrow" music they love, and I'm most certainly not embarrassed that I listen to any of these bands. However, I decided to include this category because sometimes when I'm discussing music with other people they'll say something like, "Oh, I used to love them back in high school!" I'm sure nothing is meant by it (other than a change in musical tastes), but sometimes I feel like I was expected to move on from them as well.

1.  Screamo/Post-Hardcore Bands - I'm especially referring to Emery and my favorite band, Alexisonfire. (I love Alexisonfire so much that I convinced Eric to go with me to Montreal in December 2010 just to see them live. They weren't doing a U.S. tour, and I had to see them. Totally worth it!) Again, I'm not embarrassed that I love these bands, but I feel like it's not what most 30 year old women would listen to.

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2.  Marilyn Manson - I've posted at least a couple of playlists in the past that included Marilyn Manson songs, so it's probably no surprise that I love this band. I do mostly stick with everything from Holy Wood and before (the newer stuff just doesn't do it for me), but, since I'm not an angsty 13 year old kid anymore, I think most people wouldn't expect them to be included in my list of favorite bands.

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3.  90s Grunge Bands - Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains ... I love them all. I love them now just as much as I did when I was a kid (though I refuse to listen to any post-Layne Staley Alice in Chains!), and I'll probably always love them. But, again, since I'm no longer an angsty teenager (and it's not the early 90s), I think it surprises most people that I'm still such a huge fan.

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You May Be Surprised I Like This

Sometimes when I tell someone I like a certain band/artist/album/song they seem shocked. I get it sometimes (like if it's nothing like anything else I typically listen to), but sometimes I don't think it's that surprising. Here you'll find some things I'm not embarrassed to admit I like, but, for whatever reason, they seem to surprise people.

1.  Muse - Stephanie Meyer almost ruined them for me ... Almost. But if I'm being honest here, I loved Muse well before Twilight was a thing. Some of their stuff is just kind of "meh," but most of it is great.

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2.  21 by Adele - This album has a ton of great songs on it, but it's not really the type of thing I normally listen to. I'm not embarrassed that I like it since she's undeniably talented, but it seems to surprise people when I tell them how much I like this album.

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3.  Rage Against the Machine - I usually hate rap metal, but these guys are different. They're good. (I mean, have you heard Tom Morello play guitar? It's fucking amazing!) And if you want to see me rock out like a crazy person in the car, put on Rage Against the Machine. It's quite a sight to see. Also, they did a song with Maynard James Keenan ("Know Your Enemy"), so that earned major cool points from me!

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4.  Counting Crows - A lot of people seem surprised when I tell them I love this band. Some of their more recent stuff hasn't been that great, but few things beat August and Everything After. I would consider that one of my all-time favorite albums.

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5.  "Out Tonight" from Rent - I actually like most of the songs from Rent, but this is definitely my favorite. It's a great song to belt out in the car (when you're alone, of course). I may or may not sound like Penny from The Big Bang Theory when I attempt this one. (She starts singing around 30 seconds into this clip if you want to skip ahead to see what I'm talking about.)

6.  "Nara" by E.S. Posthumus - Even if you think you have no idea what this song is, you probably do ... It's been played in a bunch of movie trailers over the years, and it's also the Cold Case theme song (though I don't think I've actually ever watched an episode of that show). It's a really beautiful instrumental song, and I listen to it all the time.

7.  "Hands of Time" by Rachel Diggs - I first heard this song on Pretty Little Liars (one of my guilty pleasure TV shows), and I fell in love. She has a few other decent songs, but this one is by far the best.

I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Actually Listen to This

I think the title of this category speaks for itself.

1.  "Miss Murder" by AFI - I don't know why I love this song so much, but it's damn catchy (and also embarrassing).

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2.  90s One Hit Wonders - This encompasses a lot of songs, but some specifics include "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something, "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba, "If You Could Only See" by Tonic, "The Way" by Fastball, and "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers (though this song is technically from the 80s, it didn't gain much attention until the 90s so I'll include it).

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3.  "Love Shack" by The B-52's - This song just reminds me of great times with some of my close friends from home. A few of us even made a music video using this song for a class assignment in high school. And right now I'm really glad I don't know how to convert VHS to digital video (and also that I don't even have a copy of the video readily available!). There are some things I just don't think I can share with the internet.

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4.  Bush - I know it's probably very uncool to admit that I still listen to Bush, and that's probably why I don't often tell people I do. I stick with their 90s albums only (Sixteen Stone, Razorblade Suitcase, and The Science of Things) not just because they bring back great childhood memories, but also because they're really good.

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5.  Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson - I like a few songs from her other albums, but I never loved any of those the way I love Breakaway. I listened to this album all the time during my senior year of college, mostly because many of the songs applied to my life at the time. And I still stand by the belief that "Addicted" is one of the best pop songs ever.

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6.  "Tik Tok" by Ke$ha - I don't know why, but I love this song. If nothing else, it raises a lot of really excellent questions: How does one feel like P. Diddy (or is it just Diddy now?)? Why would anyone want to brush their teeth with a bottle of Jack? And, perhaps most importantly, has Ke$ha ever even seen Mick Jagger? Girl, he is not hot.

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7.  The Spice Girls - I'm not just talking about the really famous songs. Oh no. I love pretty much every song they've ever released. I suppose they could have easily gone into the Music I Probably Should Have Outgrown By Now category (I mean, I'm not in middle school anymore!), but since they're more of a guilty pleasure for me, I think they belong here.

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8.  "My Happy Ending" by Avril Lavigne - I cringed just writing that. But yes, it's sad but true ... I really like this song.

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9.  "Fighter" by Christina Aguilera - I actually like a few of her other songs as well, but this one is a particular favorite.

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10.  Ashlee Simpson - She is probably my biggest musical guilty pleasure. (I've even seen her in concert ... And I was sitting in the front row.) Lip syncing debacle aside, I just love her (especially her first two albums)!

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I could probably list more musical guilty pleasures, but I think I've embarrassed myself enough for one day. Oh, and if you're saddened by the fact that I didn't include that many links to songs or videos, don't worry ... My monthly playlist (which will be posted next week!) will include many of the songs and bands mentioned here. So basically it will be the most random playlist ever made.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - July 2015 Edition

The fact that I read as much as I did since last month's Show Us Your Books! link-up is pretty impressive. I feel like most weeknights I either head to the gym, have an appointment and/or errands to run, or try to spend some time blogging (writing posts, reading and commenting on other blogs, and replying to comments). And my weekends have been even busier. In the past month I've traveled for work, attended a wedding, celebrated Eric's birthday, gone to various parties/celebrations with my in-laws, had a Skype date with a couple of my girlfriends, and driven down to Kansas City to hang out with Eric's older brother, his wife, and their 2 adorable little girls.

I could probably name a few more things I've done recently, but I won't bore you with every detail of my life. Let's just say that finding time to relax with a book wasn't always easy.

But, since I love reading, love participating in this link-up, and also decided to join this reading challenge, I tried to make reading a priority. I'll probably never be the kind of person who reads and reviews 15 books every month, but I'm really trying to avoid showing up to this link-up with only 2 books to review (like I did in May).

If my reviews get too long for your tastes, please feel free to scroll to the end for my "TL;DR" summary. I know some people just want an answer to the "Should I read this or not?" question, and that's okay.

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Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro - 319 pages

Completed on 06/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Have you ever read a book that probably just wasn't right for you at the time? Cutting Teeth was like that for me.

I didn't go into this book blindly. I knew it was about a group of 30 something parents who spend a weekend away together (along with their children). As a 30 year old woman contemplating when/if having a kid is right for me, I thought it might be an interesting look at the lives of women (and men) around my age who have already taken the plunge into parenthood.

Each chapter is told from a different person's perspective (though several people have multiple chapters devoted to them). I mostly liked this style of writing, but since there were so many characters, I felt like there were too many chapters about some people and not enough about others.

The characters themselves weren't particularly likable (and several made so many bad/questionable decisions that it annoyed the shit out of me). A couple of things that happened toward the end of the book just sort of ruined it for me. I was like, "Wow, she really decided to go in this direction? Okay ..."

Julia Fierro's writing was engaging, though. I found myself laughing out loud at certain points in the novel and feeling slightly embarrassed when I could relate to some of the characters. (Like I said, they weren't particularly likable.  Not exactly the kind of people you'd want to relate to.)

Overall, I don't think Cutting Teeth was a bad book. I didn't like it that much, but it's not because it was poorly written. I think it just hit a little too close to home in some ways. Julia Fierro basically took many of my fears about becoming a mother and the ways in which my life and relationship with my husband will change and said, "Yeah, you're right. This happens all the time." So yeah ... Probably not the kind of book I should be reading when I'm already so unsure of what I want when it comes to kids.

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The Pact by Jodi Picoult - 389 pages

Completed on 06/21/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This book was on my "To Read" list for a long time, and I purchased it at Half Price Books several months ago. I really wasn't sure whether I'd like it or not ... The premise sounded intriguing, but I've never really been one for the type of stories they make into Lifetime movies. A lot of people seem to love Jodi Picoult, though, so I was willing to give it a try.

I liked The Pact much more than I thought I would. I didn't think it would be terrible or anything (I never would have purchased it if I did!), but I wasn't sure if it would be my kind of book. And, for the most part, it wasn't (except for the darker parts of the plot, of course). But that really wasn't a bad thing.

The novel tells the story of two families, the Golds and the Hartes, who have been inseparable for years. Their children, Chris and Emily, have grown up together and eventually decide to shift their friendship into something romantic. After a 3:00 a.m. call one November morning, everything changes. Emily has been killed by a gunshot wound to the head, and only Chris knows what really happened.

While at times the book was overly dramatic and unbelievable, there were things that really got under my skin because they were so true. Emily is dealing with severe depression, and it was sometimes difficult for me to read because some of the things she said and did could have been lifted from one of my old journals. I think a lot of readers probably view her as weak, but I saw a frighteningly realistic portrait of a young girl attempting to deal with some pretty heavy shit on her own and coming to a breaking point when she realizes it's too much for her to handle. Yes, she should have talked to her parents, gone to a therapist, something ... But when you're in the middle of a downward spiral, your options are never that obvious.

Chris, on the other hand, seemed like a huge asshole. I wanted to like him in the beginning of the book, but as I read on, I thought he tried too hard to seem like the devoted, loving boyfriend when he pretty much always put his own needs ahead of hers (particularly when it came to sex). I'd say more about this, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.

Overall, I'd say this is worth reading. Jodi Picoult is a good writer, and I'll probably check out at least a couple of her other novels at some point. As I said before, this isn't the type of book I'd typically go for, but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper - 285 pages

Completed on 06/25/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I was really looking forward to reading this. I thought it was going to be amazing and full of nightmare fuel, but it wasn't. Not at all.

I felt cheated by the time I finished this book. Not because I'd wasted time on it (though that was certainly true), but because Andrew Pyper's writing style seemed to be of the "I'll-just-throw-a-bunch-of-random-shit-together-and-readers-will-buy-into-it-because-I'm-quoting-Milton-so-I'm-obviously-smart-and-sophisticated" variety. If you're looking for a smart, sophisticated horror story, this isn't it. In fact, I'd say that The Demonologist read like a really bad action flick with cheesy dialogue.

The main character, David Ullman, is an English professor at Columbia with special expertise in Milton's Paradise Lost. He is approached by a mysterious woman who requests that he travel to Venice to see a particular phenomenon. She tells him that her client has carefully selected him based on his academic qualifications and knowledge of demonology. He initially turns her down. After his wife announces that she's leaving him, he decides to take the woman up on her offer, bringing his young daughter, Tess, along.

After witnessing the "phenomenon" (a man that is likely possessed), David returns to the hotel to find his daughter on the roof's edge. Although it is written off as a suicide, David knows that something darker is at work. And so begins his journey to track the demon who has stolen his daughter from him.

I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads only because I actually liked some of the ideas in the book. For example, the notion that the metaphorical demons that some people wrestle with (depression, addiction, the need to bully, etc.) are actual demons that they've somehow opened themselves to. (I'll note here that I consider myself Agnostic. I won't completely rule out the existence of something greater than myself, but I wouldn't say I have real faith either. I'm not saying that I believe what Pyper is saying, but I appreciate the unique perspective.) And, despite the fact that none of the characters were well developed, I still give Pyper credit for creating an intelligent, driven woman to play the role of David's best friend and colleague.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to keep me from being disappointed in this book. If you're a fan of horror, I definitely wouldn't recommend this ... It's just not scary at all. It seemed like it was slapped together in a hurry, and the ending was very Hollywood. (In case you're wondering, I don't like those types of endings. At all.) Everything doesn't need to be tied together neatly in a pretty little package at the end of a story (especially not when it was a complete clusterfuck just a few pages before). I never understand why authors do this ... I always just assume it's because they either couldn't think of a decent ending so they wrote whatever came to mind first or because they're up against a deadline and need to submit something.

I do have another Andrew Pyper novel on my "To Read" list. He's received a lot of acclaim for his work, so it makes me wonder if The Demonologist just happened to be the one book he's written that wasn't very good. Because, really, that's it in a nutshell: not very good.

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey - 403 pages

Completed on 07/02/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I'll begin this review by saying that I'm not really a fan of the zombie genre. I watched the first season of The Walking Dead, and I just couldn't get into it. I know so many people who love that show, but I found it really boring. Sometimes I think I should give it another chance, but I don't know ... I kind of feel like I'd be wasting my time. I could mention some other entertainment featuring zombies that I don't really like, but I figured The Walking Dead would be the best example since it's so popular.

When I first looked this book up on Goodreads, I didn't read many reviews or look at the tags/genres very closely. I basically just read the short description, thought it sounded interesting, and added it to my "To Read" list. Later, as I was trying to come up with my preliminary book list for the Literary Ladies Summer Reading Challenge, I decided to give this one a closer look. It sounded like it could potentially have a pretty kickass female character (and it did!), so I chose it for that category ... And then I realized it falls under the zombie genre.

I kept an open mind, though, and decided to read it anyway. And I'm really glad I did!

The Girl With All the Gifts was a refreshing take on the zombie genre. While it definitely had some of the main elements you'd find in other books/movies/TV shows featuring zombies, there were a lot of things in this book that made it stand out (in a good way). This wasn't just a "let's-fight-the-zombies-and-blow-up-a-bunch-of-shit" kind of book. That's not to say that there weren't some sections like that, but the novel focused more on ethics, scientific discovery, and themes of identity than on killing zombies.

I really don't want to give too much away in my review (especially since M.R. Carey does such a great job at the beginning of the novel giving readers only small bits of information at a time), so I won't say much more. I will say, though, that I loved that he created several strong, intelligent female characters. I always appreciate that!

If horror and zombies aren't your thing, don't worry ... It's not overly scary and I actually wouldn't categorize it as "horror" (even though Goodreads does). It's the kind of book that makes you think, and the science is actually pretty spot on. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but if you do read it, you should do some research on the fungus mentioned multiple times throughout the book. Carey created a mutation of something that exists in nature, and that's actually pretty fucking scary.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - 458 pages

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

You know those books that everyone raves about and then when you finally read them you wonder, "Why does everyone love this so much?" Well, this was not one of those books.

Big Little Lies definitely lived up to the hype. I was up late with this book every night, sacrificing sleep in order to greedily gobble down page after page. I couldn't put it down!

Liane Moriarty does a wonderful job weaving a story around the lives of 3 very different, very vibrant women. Madeline is a bright, funny woman who thrives on conflict (and therefore often says exactly what's on her mind). Celeste is Madeline's close friend, a rich and beautiful woman hiding a dark secret. Jane is the newest member of their close-knit group, a shy, quiet, young single mother who just moved to the area (and who is harboring a dark secret of her own). The characters are interesting and believable ... I loved that their interactions and conversations were so natural. (One of my biggest pet peeves is when an author writes really unnatural, stiff dialogue/interactions!) I even picked up a new catchphrase from the book: "Oh, calamity!" (I've already been using it regularly at work. Everyone loves it, I'm sure.)

This novel isn't just about 3 friends and their secrets, though. From the beginning, readers know that someone will be dead by the end of the novel. Moriarty's writing seamlessly flows between humor and intrigue, and, as I said before, I was completely hooked.

I will say that I figured out part of the twist before it was revealed, but in this case I really didn't mind. I was honestly shocked when I found out who was killed, and after that, it went in a much different direction than I anticipated. (And that wasn't a bad thing. In fact, I think the ending Moriarty chose was more satisfying for me than the ending I thought she might write.)

I have The Husband's Secret on my "To Read" list, but I might have to add some of her other books as well. If they're as awesome as this one, I'm sure I'll be even more sleep deprived! (I'm kidding ... Kind of.)

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The Good Girl by Mary Kubica - 350 pages

Completed on 07/11/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Big Little Lies may have lived up to the hype, but The Good Girl did not. This book, which promises to be perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, was, well, not.

I was initially sucked in by the premise: a young woman in her mid-20s is abducted by a man she intended to have a one night stand with. What she doesn't know is that this man isn't some random stranger in a bar ... He was hired to kidnap and deliver her to a group of men planning to hold her for ransom until her rich father (a prominent judge in Chicago) pays up. At the last minute, the man decides to take her to a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading both his employers and the police.

When I read that blurb, I wanted to know why he changed his mind. I wanted to know if the woman, Mia, would ever be found. I wanted a thriller that would keep me up at night, guessing until the very end. Instead, what I got was a boring novel that barely held my interest.

The Good Girl is Mary Kubica's debut, so I'll cut her a little slack here. Some debuts are amazing, but many are just so-so ... The author seems to still be figuring out his/her voice, he/she hasn't quite mastered the art of character development, etc. As I was reading, I found both of those things true for Kubica.

The story is written from 3 separate points of view: Eve (Mia's mother), Gabe (the detective hired to find Mia), and Colin (the man who abducted Mia), and regularly flows back and forth in time. Unfortunately, the voices of the characters were all pretty much the same ... If the chapters hadn't been clearly labeled, I would have had trouble differentiating between Eve and Gabe. (The exception was Colin ... Although his voice wasn't that much different, the chapters told from his point of view were pretty obvious since he was the only character hiding out in a small cabin with Mia.) I think the novel would have been more effective if it were told from just 2 points of view (if the author was determined to write in first person) or if it were written in third person (like Big Little Lies, which more effectively moved between the points of view of several characters).

I also hate to say this, but I really didn't like the overall writing style. I feel like I can enjoy a variety of writing styles, but The Good Girl often seemed awkward. Many of the sentences were short and choppy, and the dialogue was generally very "blah." Near the end of the book, I remember thinking, "If I have to read about Mia's "clumsy" hair one more time, I'll probably end up throwing this book across the room!" For some reason that description just annoyed the hell out of me.

The ending was actually okay, and I'll admit that I didn't see the twist coming in the final chapter. However, when considering everything else I'd just read, the twist didn't make much sense. Kubica had a good idea at the end, but the overall execution just didn't work for me.

Kubica's second novel, Pretty Baby, is still on my "To Read" list. I may still eventually give it a try to see if she's figured her shit out, but I won't hold high hopes for it. I don't want to be disappointed again!

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Under the Skin by Michel Faber - 311 pages

Completed on 07/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Under the Skin has been on my "To Read" list for years. I knew only a little about the plot (which is all I'll reveal here to avoid spoilers), but that was enough to pique my interest.

Isserley spends her days and nights driving up and down the Scottish Highlands. Although she isn't really going anywhere, she drives with purpose: she's looking for hitchhikers (specifically muscular male hitchhikers). Once she finds her perfect victim, she engages him in small talk until she hits a toggle switch in her car to release a drug that will knock him out. She then drives him back to the farm where she lives to meet his unfortunate and horrifying fate.

If you're at all interested in reading this novel, please please don't read any spoilers. Don't even read the extended summary on Goodreads. The less you know, the better. Michel Faber does a great job slowly revealing Isserley's "mission" and the fates of the hitchhikers, and it would be a shame to ruin it.

If you're still not sure if this is the book for you based on that summary, I'll tell you this: it's equal parts disturbing and hilarious. It's also one of the strangest books I've ever read. As I was reading, I kept wondering what the movie version could possibly be like. I'll probably end up watching it at some point just because I'd love to see how the characters and situations Faber created translate to film.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Michel Faber is, without a doubt, very talented. There were a few parts of the book that dragged a bit for me, though. It also didn't deliver the satisfying ending I was hoping for, which is why I didn't give it a higher rating on Goodreads. (I gave it 3 stars, if you're curious.) The ending wasn't terrible or anything ... I just wanted something more.

And now, as promised, my TL;DR summary:

Big Little Lies shouldn't be missed. I stayed up late reading it on multiple occasions because I couldn't bear to put it down.

The Pact and The Girl With All the Gifts were both very enjoyable and worth checking out. I didn't love them the way I loved Big Little Lies, but I'd recommend them both without hesitation.

Under the Skin was good but not great. Michel Faber's writing was wonderful, but it felt like the story was lacking in some way. Still, it's worth a read if you're looking for something different ... I've never read anything quite like it.

You won't be missing anything if you pass on Cutting Teeth, The Demonologist, and The Good Girl. They weren't so awful that I wondered how they ever managed to get published (though I'll admit that question ran through my mind a few times while I was reading The Demonologist), but I wouldn't recommend wasting your time on them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Sweet and Spicy Salmon

I've been trying to cook fish a little more often lately. Not only is it a goal of mine to make healthy dinners at least 3 times a week this month, but we also have quite a bit of fish on hand from a recent Costco trip.

Just a few years ago, I was completely intimidated by the thought of cooking fish at home. I have no idea why ... Fish is actually one of the easiest proteins to work with. I feel like it doesn't take much to create a flavorful fish entrée, and you can simply toss it into the oven for about 15-20 minutes. And, while I'm admittedly still intimidated by the thought of cleaning, scaling, gutting, and filleting a fish, I can definitely handle cooking with the fish I pick up at the grocery store.

That's why I get so excited when I come up with a fish meal myself. I can't claim that I didn't glance through Pinterest for ideas (I totally did), but I didn't use any of the actual recipes. I basically just considered what type of flavors I wanted, and what went well together ... And then I created a sauce and paired it with some salmon.

I'm sure there are other similar recipes floating around out there. I mean, let's be honest ... A lot of people know that soy sauce, honey, Sriracha, garlic, and ginger go together. But I'm going to live in my fantasy world a little while longer and pretend that I've just created a groundbreaking new recipe.

Okay, okay ... I may not be ready to take on MasterChef yet, but I'm still allowed to be excited when I come up with something that tastes amazing and is actually healthy!

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Sweet and Spicy Salmon

A Divulge and Indulge original recipe.

Ingredient List:
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp honey (I added in the additional 1/2 tsp after doing a taste test and determining the sauce was a little too spicy. You can obviously adjust the amounts up or down to fit with your own tastes.)
  • 1 tbsp Sriracha (This will make the sauce pretty spicy. If you want something a little milder, feel free to cut the amount in half.)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • Diced green onions for serving (optional)


1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, Sriracha, 1 tbsp honey, ginger, black pepper, and garlic salt. Taste the sauce, and if it's too spicy, mix in the additional 1/2 tsp honey.

4.  Spoon the sauce over both sides of each fillet.

5.  Bake the fish for 12-15 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork. Serve with diced green onions if desired.

This was a ridiculously quick and easy meal. As you can see from the picture, I served the fish over a bed of jasmine rice with a side of steamed broccoli. If you're a seafood lover and want something a little lighter for dinner, this is the perfect thing to try!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Got a Case of the Mondays? 5 Simple Ways to Get Out of a Funk

Mondays are always the worst days for me. I have trouble sleeping anyway, but winding down from the weekend on a Sunday night (even when that weekend was completely relaxing and low key) is so hard. I then, of course, wake up feeling sluggish and irritable. One cup of coffee isn't enough to get me going, but because I insisted on hitting the snooze button a million times before getting up, it's really all I have time to gulp down.

And then I'm heading off into the morning traffic, which, since I leave pretty early, really isn't that terrible. However, there is inevitably at least one idiot out there who does everything in his/her power to piss me off.

When I finally manage to pull into the parking lot at work, I'm greeted with massive amounts of shit that needs to be done right away. I, unlike a lot of people, am fortunate enough to actually really enjoy my job. I'm busy most of the time, but I always feel accomplished at the end of the day. Mondays, however, are always our busiest days. Factor in my lack of sleep and general grumpiness, and it just feels like a major shit show.

I know it sounds like I'm writing this in order to complain about my first world problems. I'm not. I don't even have "a case of the Mondays." (Well, no more than usual anyway.)

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I'm writing this because I think sometimes we all need to give ourselves a boost. We all have days that suck (or that suck the life out of us). As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, it's not always easy for me to lift myself out of a funk ... But it's important that I at least try.

These are a few of the things I do when I've had a particularly trying day. Sure, these things won't fix my mood when I'm going through a period of major depression ... But they definitely work on the average Monday when I just feel zapped of energy and need to shake my grumpy mood.

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Image provided by Unsplash ( and edited by me.

1.  Hit the gym.

This is the easiest way to naturally boost your mood. I think it's pretty safe to say that most people already know this, but I had to include it anyway because this is usually the first thing I do if I'm feeling sluggish and blah. I feel amazing for the rest of the evening after a great workout. And if I've gone to a yoga class, I also feel more energized and less anxious.

2.  Relax with a book.

If you've read many of my posts, I think you probably already know that I love to read. For me, reading is all about escaping into a completely different world. So when I'm feeling the need to get out of my own head for a while, getting lost in a book is the perfect distraction.

3.  Turn the music up in my car and sing along.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm one of those people you see at red lights completely rocking out in the car. I've always loved music more than most things, so it's probably no surprise that I often use it to boost my mood. There's something particularly satisfying about singing at the top of my lungs in the car, though, especially if I've had a really stressful day.

4.  Wear something new.

While I don't always have the luxury of wearing something new for the first time, I sometimes like to save things for the days I think I'll need a pick-me-up. There's just something about putting on a new outfit or pair of shoes or accessory that instantly makes me feel a little better and more confident.

5.  Write in a journal.

I mentioned that reading can be a great way to escape your thoughts, but what if you want to reflect on them instead? Writing can be extremely cathartic. In fact, I've worked through some of my most serious issues by putting pen to paper and letting every ugly emotion find its way to the page. You don't have to be dealing with something major to get something out of this, though ... Sometimes it just feels good to have a place to vent about whatever annoyed you that day.

As I said, these are just a few simple things I try to do when I want to lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. They may not work for everyone, but they're quick and easy fixes for me when I find myself feeling really blah.

What are some of your tricks for getting out of a funk?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

New Restaurant 5/12 in 2015: Sunset Grill (Overland Park, Kansas)

I feel like I've really been slacking when it comes to trying new restaurants this year. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to try at least 12 new places in 2015, but, since I really wanted to share this with my food loving husband, I'm not counting any of the new places I've tried solo or with friends. If I included those, I'd probably already have 12 restaurants checked off. (Or I'd be really close.)

When we went to visit Tony, Stacy, and their girls (these people are my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and 2 nieces, if you're wondering) the last weekend in June, we mostly either ate at our "usual" places (like Joe's Kansas City BBQ, formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's but still just as delicious) or made stuff at their house (including my first ever attempt at homemade sushi!). We did manage to squeeze in a new brunch place Sunday morning before we left, though.

Sunset Grill seemed like a local favorite kind of place. (I'm basing this on the fact that it was pretty busy the entire time we were there, and also the fact that Tony said it was one of their favorite spots for brunch.) It had a really cute interior (that, of course, I didn't bother to take pictures of) that made you feel like you were on vacation at the beach. It's a really casual, low key kind of place, perfect for families or a relaxing breakfast/brunch. (They only serve breakfast on Sundays, though, so if you're in the area and planning to check it out, please keep that in mind!)

As for the food, I liked it but didn't love it. I think Eric liked it more than I did. I ordered the Florentine, which was a spin on the classic Eggs Benedict. The spinach was good, the bacon was flavorful and only slightly crispy (which I prefer to super crispy), the eggs were perfectly poached, and the English muffin underneath had a nice crispness, which I really appreciated since they can occasionally get soggy underneath sauce and toppings. I just didn't like the hollandaise they served with it (mostly because it wasn't really hollandaise). I was expecting something classic: lemony and smooth. It was definitely smooth, but it tasted nothing like any hollandaise I've ever had. And, while I'm no expert, Eggs Benedict (and its many variations) is one of my most ordered breakfast/brunch dishes ... So I've eaten my fair share of this sauce. The sauce at Sunset Grill almost had a bit of a sour cream taste. It wasn't terrible, but it was a little bland and not what I was hoping for when I ordered something with hollandaise.

Additionally, the hash browns they served tasted like they'd been microwaved and weren't seasoned at all. I found that really disappointing since I love breakfast potatoes. The fruit cup they served with my meal was a pleasant surprise, though ... Fruit cups at places like this are usually loaded with melon (which I hate!), but this one was filled with some of my favorites: strawberries, bananas, grapes, and pineapple.

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The Florentine.

Eric, on the other hand, ordered a pretty classic meal, which may be why he had a slightly better experience. He ordered the Meat Lover's Sunrise Skillet and just kept adding shit to it. I asked him what was in it, and he couldn't even remember everything he asked for. Here's what he could remember: scrambled eggs, diced potatoes, sausage, bacon, ham, cheddar and Jack cheeses, pico de gallo, mushrooms, black olives, and spinach. There may be more under all of that madness (see below), though. His meal came with a side of pancakes, which are not pictured here. We actually didn't try each other's food this time (mostly because we had a little person sitting between us who insisted we eat on either side of her), but he said everything was good and he gobbled it all up ... So I'm going to assume his food was a little better than mine.

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The Meat Lover's Sunrise Skillet.

Overall, it was a decent place to grab brunch. It wouldn't be my first choice, but I'd be open to trying other things on the menu if this group wanted to go again. I'll just stay away from their hollandaise (and hash browns).

And since I know you might be curious about the homemade sushi, I took a few pictures to share on the blog. I didn't get any real action shots (unless you count the one of Eric posing with his knife and the raw fish he was cutting up), but that's okay. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, but it's very time consuming (this feast took 4 people about 3 hours to make). You also need the right supplies (Tony and Stacy received some as a Christmas gift last year). Eric and I don't have the supplies for this right now, and since we're really trying not to buy any kitchen stuff until after we buy a house (a.k.a. until we have more room to store it!), I won't have any sushi making tutorials on the blog any time soon. Sorry.

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Eric was put in charge of the fish due to his superior knife skills.

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All of our ingredients (minus the tempura shrimp) prior to rolling: tuna, salmon, crab sticks, avocado, cucumber, spicy mayo (basically mayo mixed with Sriracha), and, of course, nori seaweed sheets and rice.

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You can totally tell we're amateurs (and this was one of our best looking batches!), but it tasted delicious!

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Our sushi feast!  I'm not kidding when I say I probably ate between 30-40 pieces of sushi plus tempura shrimp.  No regrets!

And because at this point I'm basically recapping that weekend anyway, I'll end this post with a few pictures we took at a local petting zoo. The baby goats were my favorite ... They were so sweet!

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It was kind of hard to get a good picture through the screens, but this breed of chicken was so funky looking we just had to get some pictures!

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The aforementioned baby goats.  So cute!

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I know you can't see my face, but whatever.  Here I am with my youngest niece, Lucy, who we affectionately call my "little buddy."  My other "little buddies" here are the goat and the giant iced coffee from Starbucks.