Pin-testing– oven-roasted parmesan broccoli

I’ve reached the point where I have to start cooking again, at least a couple of times a week. Since a lot of the recipes I’ve saved as keepers in the past are more labor-intensive than I want to deal with right now, I’m doing a low-key new recipe project. This way, I can actually try some of those Pinterest pins–and maybe occasionally a recipe or two from one of my cookbooks, since I’ve decided it might not hurt to cook through some of them to see if I can downsize my collection. One thing I’ve never been good at coming up with is side dishes, especially for vegetables that aren’t mashed potatoes or Green Giant steamers, so I figured this would be a good place to start.

imageThe recipe is Oven-Roasted Parmesan Broccoli. Really, it couldn’t have been simpler, and it’s probably the type of thing that I should have thought of myself. But frankly, as much as I admire chefs on the tv competition shows I like (Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen in particular) who can roll with the punches and create edible stuff out of random ingredients, I’m just not that creative when it comes to improvising in the kitchen. At least, not yet. So following recipes it is. I had the oven on anyway, to cook the last of the chicken nuggets from my pre-baby freezer cooking, and it was very simple to throw this together while those baked. Particularly because the grocery store was having $1-a-bag produce sales last week, and so these were already chopped up for me. The only change I made was to not measure the parmesan, because extra cheese is never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. My photo isn’t as pretty as the original, since the parmesan melted, I thought it was pretty good. And my husband didn’t say anything at the time, but he asked me this morning if I was going to make that broccoli again, since there’s a second bag in the fridge. So I’d say it’s a win.

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Book #24: The Green Ember

Title: The Green Ember
Author: S.D. Smith
Genre: Children’s/Fantasy
Recommended age for reading: The author’s answer on Goodreads: ” It’s aimed at middle-grades, but we’ve heard from families enjoying it with children as young as 5.
Length: 368 pages
Read: 8/7-8/11/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? I have two reasons this time. #1, my mom picked it up during a period when it was free on Amazon, and recommended it as one that might be good to add to the kid’s library. #2, while I was still pregnant, I started listening to a podcast called Read-Aloud Revival, and they rave about this book all the time on there.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes, and I’m sure that either my mom or I will read this out loud to the boy at some point.
Would my kid enjoy this?
Given the type of books I plan to raise him on, there’s a good chance.
Summary:
Heather and Picket are two ordinary young rabbits, until the day a wolf raid leaves their home in flames, and their parents and baby brother missing and most likely dead. They are rescued by their uncle and his ward, taken to the last rabbit refuge, and learn about the lost kingdom of their people and how their family history ties in.
Other notes: Perhaps it’s because I finished this during a 4 AM feeding… There was a little author blurb at the end, which featured the hashtag #RabbitsWithSwords. For some reason, I find this hilarious!

Book #23: On Discord Isle

Title: On Discord Isle
Author: Jonathon Burgess
Genre: Fantasy
Length:  276 pages
Read: 7/31-8/6/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Because I enjoyed the first book, and wanted to see what happened next.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Sure, if time allowed.
Summary:
Now that the rival pirate crews of Captain Fengel’s and Natasha Blackheart’s airships have been forced to sail together, the captains do nothing but argue. The crew is at the end of their collective ropes, since their inability to work together means that they haven’t had a successful raid since. Lina leads them in a mutiny of sorts, and they maroon the two captains on what they believe is a deserted island to work out their differences while the rest of them go off to attempt the big raid they’ve been planning. But the crew quickly learns that the more democratic, committee-led way of running their raids doesn’t work as well as they’d hoped, while Fengel and Natasha learn that the island isn’t as deserted as they thought. 
Other notes: 
This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s right on the cover art. Two words: steampunk dragon.

Book #22: Abhorsen

I have a little catching up to do, so here goes… I’ve actually finished 3 books since my last post, so since I have a baby napping on my lap and am tied to the couch, I’m going to write as much as I can for the next 2 reviews and schedule those for later.

Title: Abhorsen
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Length: 528 pages
Read: 7/24-7/30/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? to continue the series
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Absolutely. 
Summary:
The story picks up right where Lirael left off. (Once again, cutting for spoilers.) More

Book #21: Lirael

Once again, since this is a series continuation, I’m putting the summary at the end due to some mild spoilers for the first book.

Title: Lirael

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Length: 720 pages

Read: 7/14-7/23/15

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up?  to continue the series

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes:
This book is definitely the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy– by that, I mean the first book can stand alone (like the first of the original Star Wars movies), but the second is much darker and leaves cliffhangers that you have to continue the series to resolve. But, just like Empire Strikes Back, I liked it more than the first book!

Summary: (cut for mild spoilers)

More

Book #20: Sabriel

Title: Sabriel
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Length: 496 pages
Read: 7/9-7/15/15
Summary: From Amazon: Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Abhorsen [the one necromancer who has the authority to send spirits back to Death], is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face-to-face with her own hidden destiny. . . .
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? I was listening through one of the college literature classes on The Tolkien Professor‘s podcast  a year or so ago (Faerie and Fantasy), and this was the modern book that was covered at the end. It’s been on my to-read list since.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes
Other notes: Since getting into Brandon Sanderson’s works, I’ve had a much greater interest in the magic systems that fantasy authors create. There’s actually two systems in this world–Charter Magic, which is the good, somewhat regulated magic that gets taught even outside the Old Kingdom, and Free Magic, which seems to be mostly tied to evil and necromancy. There’s also an interesting contrast between the  Old Kingdom, where the Dead have been wreaking havoc since the Kingdom fell apart centuries before, and Ancelstierre, where more modern technology is the norm (early 20th century, I’d guess, since it’s mentioned at one point that the tank was just invented) and magic doesn’t generally work, but is still taught at Sabriel’s school.

Sabriel is an enjoyable heroine–there’s a good balance between her knowledge of what an Abhorsen is supposed to be and do, based on what she’s learned from her father, and being thrown into the deep end as far as what she’s supposed to do about it goes. I also enjoyed Mogget, because a snarky magical sidekick is always fun.

One note for parents, since this book is labeled 12 and up on Amazon, and I can’t help thinking about this angle now: there is one brief sex scene about midway through the book, though it doesn’t involve the main character and is not graphic at all–it’s just pretty obvious what’s going on in the next room. So if that’s a concern, you might want to check that first and use your best judgement.

Anyway, I’m already halfway through the next book in the series, since I went ahead and bought all three of the original trilogy. (A fourth prequel book has been added, but I skipped that one for now in favor of other books I wanted to stock my Kindle with.) Reading time with a baby has been interesting, since it’s mostly 15 minute spurts while feeding him. And I have discovered that trying to follow a plot around 4-5 AM is pointless, so I will admit that playing Candy Crush instead to keep myself awake has been a thing. But at least I’m still reading!

a freezer cooking review

You may recall that several months ago, I undertook a huge freezer cooking project, in order to make things as easy for myself as possible while recovering from childbirth and getting adjusted to being a mom. Now that some time has passed, and I’ve had a chance to use several of the prepped recipes, I figured I’d go back and comment on how things turned out! Mostly for my own future reference.

I never did get to any of the muffin recipes on the original list, though I did adapt a recipe to use up some berries I had at home. Truthfully, I’ve only mostly eaten the dinners so far, since my in-laws brought over this huge pot of goulash that lasted me for lunches for about 2 weeks. So for those, I’ll also be adding my husband’s comments where applicable.

The three recipes I didn’t link to were taco meat, crock pot lasagna, and the chicken nuggets. The taco meat and lasagna tasted just like they always do. The nuggets didn’t work quite as well as my initial freezer experiment, since the chicken got a little dry. In its defense, I may have overestimated how long to cook it for, since I was completely guessing. I did notice that those worked better when I was able to flip them halfway through cooking. D enjoyed them all, of course, and I’ll probably keep doing extra nuggets to keep on hand when I make this recipe. It’s so time-consuming that it just makes sense to do big batches when I have all of the breading set up anyway.

For the taco meatloaf and BBQ turkey meatloaves, the biggest issue was also estimating the cooking time when going from the freezer to the oven. We already knew the taco meatloaf was a keeper recipe. D commented that he still likes that better than the turkey meatloaf, but that he’d still eat the latter again. (Good thing, since we still have a second one in the freezer.)  I was pleased with that one, personally– it was really moist, even after having been frozen, and I felt like it will be a good alternative to beef-based meatloaf when I can get ground turkey at a better price.

We’ve also eaten the bacon ranch chicken pasta before, but this was my first time trying to prep it as a freezer meal. The ranch mix did separate a little in the freezer, but it cooked up fine. Freezing the bacon in a separate bag worked out really well, too! I cooked the pasta at the end and mixed it into the chicken mix, just like I usually do. I thought that overall, this one did adapt to the freezer very nicely, and I would do it the same way again. And we’re in agreement that the flavors are even better on the second day, since they have more time to meld, though I like the extra sauciness of day 1 better and D likes the drier version that it becomes on day 2 better.

The two recipes besides the turkey meatloaf that were new-to-us that we’ve eaten so far were the Hearty Western Casserole and a pasta sauce recipe. We ate the western casserole on hamburger buns. It was very easy to heat and go, since everything was pre-cooked. My only complaint is that the cheese kind of got lost in there, so if I make this again, I’d probably add the cheese fresh at the end of the cook time. D liked it overall, but said there was too much corn for his taste. (And that it needed more meat, but he says that about everything!) I’d used a bag of frozen corn instead of the can that the recipe called for, and I suggested that maybe next time I could cut the corn in half and add some red bell peppers, and he liked that idea. I’m a little undecided about the pasta sauce, tbh–I think I personally would have liked it better if I’d combined the Italian sausage with another ground meat to cut the intensity of that, since I’ve discovered that sausage-heavy meals don’t always sit well in my stomach. I feel like it needed more tomato sauce as well, since the portion I froze was barely enough to cover a regular-sized box of pasta. Overall, I don’t think this will be my go-to from-scratch pasta sauce recipe.

As for other meals, the blueberry baked oatmeal turned out well, and was pretty easy to eat from a bowl with one hand and the baby in the other arm! I’ve also tried the two pizza dough-based recipes so far for my lunches. The chicken alfredo calzones were ok, though I think I would have enjoyed them more with all-white flour pizza dough. (I used some whole wheat flour in the mix to try to make them healthier.) And it needed more bacon. I guess I just felt like they were a little bland, but not so terrible that I can’t stand to eat the rest of what I have. On the other hand, even though they didn’t look pretty at all, the pizza spirals turned out delicious! The carrot and zucchini didn’t affect the flavor in a bad way at all (I left out the onion, because ick), and I’m a big fan of recipes that have extra veggies but don’t taste like they do. And the partially whole-wheat pizza dough mixed with the flavors much, much better than in the calzones. This one is a keeper. Which is good, because now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I need easy lunches. If I can prep them ahead of time, even better.

Books 18-19: The sequels edition

Well, I’m back.

With a baby.

My plan to load up the Kindle has served me well so far. He’s 16 days old, and I’ve finished 2 books since he was born. Between late-night feedings and his propensity to only nap in the day when he’s being held, it might be awhile before I have two hands again. I’m writing the bulk of this post with one hand on my Kindle, too.

Anyway, on to the book reviews, shall we?

Title: Firefight
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Sci-fi/Young adult
Length: 427 pages
Read: 6/25(?)-7/1/15
Summary:  After the events of Steelheart, David finds himself struggling with his former beliefs about the evil nature of the Epics, even as he’s trying to put together research about how their lives before Calamity tie into their weaknesses. Meanwhile, he, Prof and Tia travel from Newcago to Babilar (formerly NYC) to take out a few dangerous Epics that are threatening to destroy the city. David also hopes to find his former teammate, Megan, also known as Firefight.
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Because I wanted to continue the Reckoners series. Also, I’m at the point where I will happily read anything Sanderson writes. It’s that good.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes.
Other notes:  This also falls into the category of “books my kid might like when he’s older.” And I’m glad to know that a third book is in the works!

Title:  Prairie Fire
Author: E.K. Johnston
Genre:  Fantasy/Young adult
Length: 304 pages
Read: 7/2-7/8/15
Summary: Siobhan, Owen and Sadie enlist in the Oil Watch, and quickly find that the military has its own ways of punishing dragon slayers that bend the rules. Owen and Siobhan are assigned to Alberta, which is pretty much considered the worst location to be assigned. As the first bard in awhile, and with her burned hands limiting her mobility, Siobhan struggles to find her place. Meanwhile, they make some new friends in the squads assigned to work with them, and face some new and terrible breeds of dragons.
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? To continue the story.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes
Other notes: I wasn’t prepared for the ending. And it made me cry, which isn’t something that happens all that often. It felt like there were some loose ends at the finale, but in this case, I think it fit.

Some quick book reviews

I got a little slowed down on my reading, mostly because non-fiction always takes me longer. I always feel like I have to really take my time and pay attention so I can thoroughly absorb what I’m reading. And frankly, I just have a much harder time getting into them than fiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s not something I should read, so I do give it a go from time to time. I’ve also read 2 more since then, so I didn’t want to fall too far behind. So without further ado, here’s books #15-17 for the year (and wow, I am so far behind compared to last year….oh well.) Title: Teaching Them Young Author: Dr. Chuck Betters Genre: Non-fiction (specifically parenting) Length: 252 pages Read: I forget exactly when I started- 6/9/15 Summary: Biblical principles for raising young children, based on the first 9 chapters of Proverbs New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? My husband and I decided to both read this one, since we’re right on the verge of parenthood. Rating: 5/5 Would I read it again? I’m sure I’ll be referencing this one quite a bit. Other notes: This book was actually written by the former senior pastor at my church, based off of a months-long series of sermons he did several years ago. I didn’t listen to those sermons at the time, because a) there were two services happening and I was attending the earlier one with a different preacher giving the sermons, and b) I really wasn’t in a place where I wanted to hear about parenting for weeks on end when I hadn’t even had a boyfriend (or a date) in several years. So I am glad that he turned it into a book so I could revisit this when I was ready. Title: Wraithsong Author: E.J. Squires Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance Length: 364 pages Read: 6/13/15 Summary: High school senior Sonia is just trying to get through the end of the school year and chafing under her mom’s seemingly unreasonable rules about dating. In the days leading up to her 18th birthday, she learns that the reason is that she, her mom, and several relatives she’s never met are a type of creature from Norse mythology called a Huldra, and that she can control people with just one kiss. At the same time, she’s trying to fight off her attraction to the new boy at school, Anthony. Then her life becomes total chaos when her mom is kidnapped, Anthony seems to know more about what’s going on than he’s willing to share, and she has to decide whether she can trust his offer to help her rescue her mother. New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? Because I had some time to kill last Saturday afternoon, and it looked like a pretty quick read. (Which it was, at least for me.) Rating: 4/5 Would I read it again? Probably not, but I’m not sorry that I read it. Other notes: I will admit that Norse mythology is one of the ones I know less about, given that most of my exposure to it has been its influence on Tolkien, American Gods, and the Marvel movies. So I’d never heard of a Huldra, but the premise was interesting–and a nice departure from vampires and werewolves and angels and the like, given that it was paranormal YA. Also, this book was free when I downloaded it. (As of when I’m writing this post, it is still currently listed as free for Kindle.) Book #17: The Mozart Murders by Loucinda McGary http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JAZU5YW/ref=cm_sw_r_pi_dp_FvBHvb1KA2FQX Title: The Mozart Murders Author: Loucinda McGary Genre: Mystery Length:  154 pages Read: 6/17-6/19/15 Summary: (from Amazon) A serial killer is stalking the donors of the San Francisco Philharmonic and it is up to police detective Phillipa ‘Flip’ Morland to stop him. With her partner in the hospital, Flip must team up with classical musician Professor Jeremy Burke to catch the madman they’ve dubbed ‘Amadeus’ for his penchant of playing Mozart while he commits his brutal crimes. New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? I needed something to kill time at the doctor’s office, and didn’t want to break into the Kindle books that I’m specifically saving for after this kid finally decides to show up. Rating: 2.5/5 Would I read it again? No Other notes: There were things I appreciated about the book. As a long-time fan of the show Castle, I could appreciate the way the actual “trying to track down the murderer/find proof that he was the guy” portion of the story went. As a classical musician, I could appreciate those particular references–and the professor playing the flute as his primary instrument didn’t hurt, since that’s my instrument as well. Aside from that, though, I found the building relationship between Flip and Jeremy to be predictable, and the physical aspect of that was written a bit graphically for my taste. I did also find that there were several places where the editing could have been better, such as the wrong homophone being used, or the wrong tense, or a word omitted. I have to admit that it’s a little bit of a pet peeve of mine for a published Kindle book, especially when there’s normally a charge involved! Thankfully, I didn’t actually pay for this one, since it was a freebie at the time that I downloaded it.

The “buggy list”, revisited, and other thoughts

Now that I’ve got around 2 weeks left, give or take, I figured it was time for another update.

  1. Finish typing up/printing the keeper recipes. Done, aside from the burger recipe I pin-tested this week. Which I should probably write up.
  2. Get my stupid computer fixed. Check.
  3. Finish the nursery. The shower is this Saturday, so I’m still in waiting mode a little. But I did get those curtains dealt with.
  4. Finish getting my hard drive organized/cleaned out. Forget it.
  5. Wash and put away all the baby clothes. Aside from whatever I’m given on Saturday, and a couple of random things we’ve been given since the last post, done.
  6. Clean ALL the things! D took care of this. (I’ve got a good man!) So now it’s pretty much just attempting maintenance.
  7. Lots of sewing. I’ve reached the point where sitting at the sewing machine is just too physically difficult, between the size of the bump and my back refusing to let me sit comfortably anywhere for too long. But aside from the car seat cover and bath towel, I did finish everything else on the list I gave in the last update.
  8. Stock the freezer with as much food as I can. I’m taking a break, currently. All of the dinners and lunches I wanted to make are done. My mom’s promised me any muffins left over from tomorrow’s shower to take home and freeze, and I did make a double batch of baked oatmeal and a batch of muffins that are safely stored away. Right now, my bigger concern is coming up with dinners that don’t take much effort or many ingredients to make, so I can minimize any chance of wasting food when I do actually go into labor.
  9. Get the hospital bag prepped/stock up on necessary toiletries.  It’s as done as we can for now. We did make a Costco run to stock up on things like dog food, shampoo, toilet paper, my contact lens solution, etc. We’ve also got the bag packed as much as we can, considering that some things that we use on a more daily basis (cell phone charger, my hairbrush and glasses case, etc) will have to be added more at the last minute. But everyone tells me that labor doesn’t happen nearly as quickly as it does on tv, so as long as we stay organized, packing the rest shouldn’t be an issue. Right?
  10. Stock the Kindle!  Done.

So I think I did pretty well with this list, right? Additionally, we did get the car seat installed in our car, we spent a few evenings back in April taking classes offered at the hospital, and I have a birth plan that the hospital provides printed and mostly filled out, minus a couple of questions that I need to contact the parent education team about. So I guess in most ways, I’m ready. (Though everyone keeps asking me if I am, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be mentally ready for this.)

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