September 1, 2015

What I've Been Reading

I've been a little off my game here on the blog lately. I think it's been the end of summer/beginning of the school year switch-over that's had me out of whack. No time to write. But honestly, I haven't known what to write about either. I'm not much of a planner on here. I tend to just write about whatever is on my mind at the moment. And I guess I didn't think you'd have much interest in hearing about summer's last hurrahs and back to school shopping and fall activity/schedule planning. But, there's always space in my world to talk about books...even if I don't have new absolute-must-reads to share. So, today I thought I'd share with you what I've been reading lately and give you a little peek into what's up next in the TBR pile on my nightstand. So here we go...

What I've Been Reading:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This one was a loaner from my mother. I can't say that I loved the book. Though I didn't hate it either. It was a tough novel for me. I never really fell for any of the characters and that's rough for me as a reader. Early on I wanted to give up, but eventually I got into it enough to want to finish. I did want to know how it all turned out. And I know it's a bestseller...and my mom liked it! But it never really captured my heart.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
This was a recommendation from my niece, Katie. It's dystopian YA, her favorite genre...and a super popular one right now. I liked the book. I don't think I had as much enthusiasm for it as my niece, but it was a fun, fast-paced read that I raced through in mere days. And I like to mix those kinds of books into my book line-up. It didn't challenge me or teach me or inspire awe, but it was fun and entertaining in a similar vein as Graceling.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
This was my second Brilliant Books Monthly book. As you may recall, I absolutely adored my first pick, Mosquitoland. (You can read that reco here: http://mamamanagement.blogspot.com/2015/07/i-love-this-book-mosquitoland.html.) This one, however, I had mixed feelings about. (Read: No love. No hate.) This is also a bestseller and a highly recommended book; but I had trouble getting into the story and I had some narrator issues. Each chapter in this book is written from a different character's perspective, which was fine. But I only liked two of the voices: Hank's and Lee's. And the hardest part? The only female main character? I didn't find her voice totally believable and it killed her chapters for me. Her voice and actions weren't consistent and there were places where she sounded more like a guy. And that made me stumble as a reader. That being said, there are also some magical passages in this book, and some sweet stories. I like diving into the complexities of human relationships. But this take on it just wasn't a homerun for me.

The Heir by Kiera Cass
This is the fourth book in The Selection series, (You can read a review of the first three here: http://mamamanagement.blogspot.com/2015/07/ya-reading-reco-selection-series.html.) and a loaner from my niece, Katie. The good: Cass manages, no matter what, to deliver a book that I can't put down and tend to read within 2-3 days. It's fast and it's enjoyable...like a bucket of popcorn and a rom-com. It's not winning any awards, but it's still a nice evening. The bad: I didn't think this one was as well done as the original trilogy. It starts of slower and I didn't love the heroine as much. (Though it was still fun.) And...I thought this was a one-off addition to the original trilogy. But about halfway through the book I realized that there were likely not enough pages left to finish the story. Which could only mean one thing...another book is coming! Ugh! Now I have to wait to find out what happens. So annoying! :-)

What's Up Next:

My next Brilliant Books Monthly selection arrived a week or so ago and I can't wait to dive in. I'll be opening to page one tonight and I'll let you know how it goes. Here it is:


It's Kissing in America by Margo Rabb.* I haven't read the blurb or any reviews. Though I do remember seeing a recommendation for it at one point a while back and thinking I might like to read it. So all I know going in is that Elizabeth Gilbert loved it (it says so on the cover). And that's a pretty good recommendation in my book, so I'm excited!




When I was in Traverse City, MI, in August, I made my annual pilgrimage to the actual Brilliant Books bookshop and then promptly lost myself in the shelves. I actually visited the store twice while we were there and bought books both times. :-) In addition to books for my husband and kids, I picked up six for me. (I also picked up another book at a local toy store in Sutton's Bay because it looked adorable and was written by a local author. Someday I hope to be "a local author" so I support them whenever I can!) So here they are folks...All of the books I bought at Brilliant Books last month:







I can't wait to read all of them!! I get giddy with anticipation whenever I look at the stack in my bedroom. I'd be reading them all right now if I could. Seriously. They are a mix of Middle Grade and YA books, with one adult title that's been on my TBR list for ages. I will keep you posted as I work my way through.

If you're interested in checking out Brilliant Books Monthly or learning more about the bookshop, you can find more information about it here: http://www.brilliant-books.net/surprise-book-month. It really is a lovely place.

Until next time, I bid you good reading!



* Note: I am now on page 110 of Kissing in America and am already in love with this book! Full recommendation coming soon! :-)



August 18, 2015

I Want to Remember...

I want to remember Portia's long, skinny legs...how they go on for days and turn the color of perfectly golden pancakes in the summer the sun. I want to remember Holden's tiny butt...white as cream, rounded and small, and shaking when he dances naked while getting dressed in the morning. I want to remember their strong, slender, milky feet and tiny, delicate toenails that curl under at the tip. I want to remember their wide eyes looking deep into mine as they squish my cheeks between their little hands and tell me that they love me. 

I want to remember Portia's subtle lisp and how the words tumble out of her mouth surrounded by gasps of breath when she's excited, and the way she says "mazagine" instead of "magazine." I want to remember Holden's wild hand gestures, expressive faces, and full body explanations--his general inability to contain his excitement within his tiny body when he has something to say. 

I want to remember their crazy dances and silly games, their wild imaginations, their energy and joy and oozy buckets of love. I want to remember every tear and boo boo, every squeal of joy, every moment of accomplishment, every first...peeing in the potty, zipping their jackets, writing their names, reading a book, riding a two wheeler, making a hole-in-one at mini golf. I want to remember every cuddle and nap on my shoulder, every bedtime story and lullaby, every meal, every vacation, every splash in the pool and dig in the sand. I want to remember my husband making them laugh, throwing them in the pool, teaching them to swing a bat, and chasing them through the yard with a squirt gun. 

And I want to remember me, at my best with them; me being the mom I want to be. Me being the listener, the cuddler, the kisser of booboos and chaser of bad dreams, the attention giver, the food preparer, the surpriser, the fun haver, the tickle monster, the squeal-inducing chaser, the gift giver, the hugger and kisser, the back scratcher, the question answerer, the never-ending patience haver. I want to remember it all...

So where did this come from?

Two places.

We recently came across a video of Portia on her first day of preschool at 2 1/2 years old. She's singing this adorable, made-up song about the first day of school. And it's amazingly sweet and funny. And I realized that I had forgotten that version of her. The age, that look, that voice. I'd forgotten. I don't want to forget that.

And...

I recently did this exercise where I thought about how I want my kids to describe their childhood when they grow up and what I want to leave behind when I die. I'm not trying to be morbid and I certainly don't want to rush through my kids' childhood. The idea was to think about where I want to end up-- what my big picture, important life goals are; to really ground myself in that so that I could see if what I'm doing now has me on the path to get where I ultimately want to be.

Because here's the thing: if one of my goals is "to raise happy kids turned happy adults, filled with warm memories and lots of love; kids who follow their dreams and share that love," but I spend most of my time tackling a to do list, writing emails and looking at Facebook, well, then I'm not on a great trajectory to achieve my goal. Maybe my time would be better spent playing a game or doing a craft with my kids, or helping them with their homework or watching the show their putting on for me. If one of my goals is "to leave behind stories, lots and lots of stories," then writing, telling stories to my kids, and talking with friends are actually great uses of my time.

Because here's the other thing: our time here on earth is not infinite. As much as it might seem, on any given random day, like it is...it is not. And guess what? Our kids will grow up and move away (or at least out of the house). Some day I will die. It's the one thing we can truly say that we know for certain will happen, right? And when that day comes I want to have truly lived and remembered every moment with my kids (because not only was I there doing it, but I was also paying attention). I want to be able to picture their infant faces and their kid bodies and their wondrous souls. And I want to leave behind a long and winding rope of people who felt loved and appreciated and honored by me. Especially my kids.

I want to leave behind a legacy of strength and love and compassion and understanding and joy and silliness and laughter and growth and learning. And that legacy began 40 years ago. And it continues today, and tomorrow, and next week, with every choice I make, with the ways I choose to spend my day and the attitude I choose to have. It's not happening when I have more time or when the kids are a little older or when the weather is nicer or when I lose five pounds or when I retire. It's now. This day. This moment.

This is my life.

I want to live it, savor it, love it...and remember it.

Until next time, here are my words of wisdom for you: live the life today that you want to remember tomorrow. And pay attention.



August 7, 2015

Recipes for your Garden Haul: Sesame-Ginger Cucumber Salad


Look! A bird! A plane! No, it's more cucumbers!

Yes, I know.

Just go with it.

So here's a lovely, light little summer side dish for you! (And another great way to use those cucs!)

Sesame-Ginger Cucumber Salad

recipe adapted from www.reciperunner.com
1 large cucumber, thick sliced and quartered
1 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp fresh, grated ginger
1/8 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Cut your cucumber in half lengthwise. Put the flat sides down on your cutting board and slice each half in half again, lengthwise. Then slice the four spears into half inch slices so that you end up with nice chunks of cucumber. Put the cucumber in a medium size bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients except sesame seeds. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and toss to coat. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top and refrigerate until ready to serve. It's that easy!

Notes: This recipe can easily be doubled if you have two cucumbers and more people. However, it really should be eaten the same day that it's made...those cucs can get a bit mushy if they're left in liquid for too long.

Until next time, happy cooking!



P.S. For more recipes for your garden haul, check out my Pinterest board here: https://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/recipes-for-my-garden/.



August 4, 2015

Recipes for your Garden Haul: Cucumber Sandwiches


The garden haul in this photo is from a few weeks ago. I haven't been taking pics lately, but I need to. Next week I'll share some photos of the garden itself, along with the fun stuff we're harvesting (and, of course, some garden recipes).

So, we're moving on from zucchini recipes (as promised) to cucumbers...because that's what's coming in in my garden right now. I've got a few simple cucumber recipes to share this week. (I think every recipe involving cucumbers is simple.) In addition to those, my husband's been making lots of fun cucumber drinks and we've canned some cucs for dill pickles (as well as some hot peppers) that will be ready to eat later this month.

I also highly recommend using up extra cucs by making cucumber water. It's lovely. To make it extra interesting you can add some fresh ginger and lemon to your cucumber water. It is light and refreshing and very spa-like.

But today, we're talking cucumber sandwiches.

They're not just for English High Tea!

(And they are actually quite delicious. Seriously. Give them a try.)

These are so simple. They are cool and light. Perfect for a hot summer day. And they are a delicious way to use up the 542 cucumbers that are growing in your garden...or is that just in my garden???

Seriously people, those things are taking over! They have squeezed out the summer squash plant; they would be squeezing out the beans and lettuce if I hadn't put up a barricade; they might be trying to take over the world! It is a crazy tangled mess in there, but boy are those cucs delish.

So here's another way to use them...dainty, proper, English cucumber sandwiches.

Cucumber Sandwiches (makes 4 sandwiches)

recipe originally found on www.chindeep.com
3 oz. cream cheese
2 tbsp mayo
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cucumber, sliced (I leave the skin on unless it's really tough)
8 slices, bread of your choice (I think a softer bread works best, but any kind will do)

Mix the cream cheese, mayo, garlic and Italian seasoning together in a small bowl. (If you let your cream cheese sit out for a little bit before mixing, you can just mix it by hand. If your cream cheese is very firm you can either soften it a bit in the microwave (just a little though, don't heat it up) or you can mix this all in a mini food processor.) Spread cream cheese mixture on all 8 slices of bread. Add one layer of cucumber to 4 of the slices of bread. Sprinkle cucumber lightly with salt and pepper, to taste. Top with other bread slice. Cut and serve. (You can cut the crusts off to be extra proper, but I don't bother...I like crust.)

There you have it. Super simple summer sandwiches...say that 5 times fast.

Until next time, happy eating.




July 30, 2015

Recipes for your Garden Haul: Zucchini Bread


Since this is, like, my fourth zucchini recipe this month, I thought I should do a little research to sell you on eating all of this zucchini. I mean, we all know that zucchini is a vegetable, so I'm guessing that we all assumed that it's pretty good for us. But just how good is it? Well, here's what I found...

It's a good source of vitamins C and A, as well as the B complex vitamins. It's rich in phytonutrients (antioxidants) and is a great source of potassium (apparently it's even better than a banana!). It also delivers some good minerals--iron, zinc, magnesium and manganese, to be specific. And it's a low calorie, high fiber food. So there you have it.

Zucchini = Good for you.

So let's make some zucchini bread!!

I've already shared recipes for Zucchini Brownies and Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread, well now here's a recipe for a more traditional zucchini bread...and boy is it good! This loaf lasted about 4 days in our house...and it only made it that long because we were gone the better part of one of those days! It's moist and flavorful and I loved it!

A little swath of butter and it is a bite of heaven. Give it a go...

Zucchini Bread
2 c. shredded zucchini, extra water squeezed out
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 c. plain yogurt (not fat free)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
6 tbsp butter, melted (and cooled a bit)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray and flour. Shred your zucchini, peel and all. Place your shredded zucchini in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and squeeze out some of the excess water, then set aside 2 cups of it. (If you have extra, you can freeze it already shredded and ready to go in a ziploc freezer bag.) In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, yogurt, lemon juice and melted butter until combined. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry using a rubber spatula. Add the zucchini and mix just until combined. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool for ten minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.

If you like nuts in your zucchini bread you can add some chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter just before you pour it into the pan, or you can sprinkle some on the top (like I did) once it's in the pan, before it goes in the oven. You can also mix a little cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the top of the bread before you pop it in the oven. I did this too...tis yummy.

Until next time, happy baking!


P.S. This is the last zucchini recipe for a bit. Up next...cucumbers! :-)




July 28, 2015

Recipes for your Garden Haul: Spaghetti with Zucchini, Walnuts & Raisins

Look! More zucchini recipes!

Hopefully this isn't getting old, because I'm not going to lie...as long as I keep finding good ones, they're gonna keep coming.

But this one is savory, not sweet. And it's what's for dinner at my house tonight!

Oh, and it's easy, light and delicious.

Here you go!

No, this is not my stylized shot. I forgot to take a photo when I made it so I took a photo of the picture in the magazine (Real Simple) where I found this recipe years ago. Weak, I know.

Spaghetti with Zucchini, Walnuts and Raisins
12 oz.Whole Wheat Spaghetti (about 3/4 of a box)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2-3/4 c. walnut halves, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs zucchini cut into thin half moons (about 4 small zucchini or 1 really big one)
3/4 c. raisins (golden or regular)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions then drain. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over, medium-high heat. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, probably less than a minute. (Note: Be careful working over this high heat. Pay attention so that you don't burn your walnuts or garlic!) Add the zucchini and raisins to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing occasionally, until the zucchini is just tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the pasta to the zucchini mixture and toss to combine. Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving.


The whole dinner takes about 20 minutes to make. It's pretty quick and easy--chopping the zucchini is the only real work. You do have to babysit it a bit on the stove though, so you don't burn the nuts and garlic. But it's great for using up your garden zucchini and it's a nice, light summer pasta dish.

Until next time, happy cooking.


July 22, 2015

Recipes for your Garden Haul: Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread


And we're back!

It's time for another recipe using the delicious stuff you're growing in your garden. And since I have a whole lot of zucchini, I'm sharing yet another zucchini recipe. This time it's a light and refreshing Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread.

I thought this one was a fun twist on the traditional zucchini bread recipe. In case, like me, you have a lot of zucchini and are looking to mix things up a bit. So here you go!

Glazed Lemon Zucchini Bread
2 c. cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 c. canola oil (I use a coconut oil/canola oil blend)
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 c. buttermilk
zest of 1 lemon
1 c. grated zucchini


for glaze:
1 c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp milk

Grease 9x5 loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs, then add oil and sugar and mix until well blended. Add lemon juice, buttermilk and lemon zest and mix until combined. Fold in zucchini. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and mix until well combined. Pour batter into greased 9x5 loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool a little then remove loaf from pan. While loaf is still warm, make glaze and spoon over the bread. Let the glaze set up before cutting and serving.

Notes: 1) An easy way to keep buttermilk on hand for recipes like this without always having to buy fresh is to buy powdered buttermilk. You can keep it in the fridge and then mix it with water for whatever amount you need for your recipe. 2) If you like a lot of glaze on your bread (like I do), you can spread some on the bottom of the loaf too. There are a couple of ways to do this: a) you can put a puddle of it on a plate and then set your loaf in that puddle before spooning the glaze on top of the loaf, or b) once you've glazed your loaf and the glaze has set up, you can use a knife to scoop the "run off" and spread it on the bottom of the loaf. 3) And one last thought. If you have more shredded zucchini than you need for a recipe, you can freeze it. Just load it into a freezer bag and save it for later...I'd recommend doing it in 1 or 2 cup servings so you'll only need to thaw what you'll use next time.

For more recipes that use what you're growing in your garden, check out my pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/recipes-for-my-garden/.

Until next time, happy baking!