February 24, 2013

OMG Honey Mustard Pretzel-Crusted Chicken...So Good!

I made this chicken last weekend when we had family in visiting...this drives my husband nuts when I try out new recipes when we have guests...just because one little time dinner turned out awful! (Seriously, it was barely edible. Oops!) I say, this is the occasional price we pay for wonderful food exploration! And this Honey Mustard Pretzel-Crusted Chicken is a fantastic example of just that! It. Was. Delish. 

So here you have it...tasty AND company-worthy! (My 4 year old loved it too...I mean, who doesn't love pretzels and honey mustard!)

Honey Mustard Pretzel-Crusted Chicken (from cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com)
4 c. hard sourdough pretzels, coarsely crushed
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. Dijon mustard
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. water
3 tbsp red wine vinegar (or other mild vinegar...I used white wine because it's what I had on hand)
coarse salt and black pepper
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set wire rack (like oven-safe cookie rack) over large baking sheet (I put foil over my baking sheet too to catch the drips and help with clean-up). In food processor, pulse the pretzels until coarsely ground (mall crumbs with some small pretzel pieces). Then add them to a large shallow bowl. Wipe crumbs out of food processor. Add oil, mustard, honey, water and vinegar to food processor and mix until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour half of the dressing into a large shallow bowl. Coat chicken in dressing then dredge in pretzel crumbs, using your hands to pat them on and coat evenly. Set them on the wire rack and bake 20-25 minutes (a little longer for thicker breasts) or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Let the chicken sit for 5 minutes before serving with remaining honey mustard dressing.

I served the chicken with mashed potatoes, steamed, buttered green beans and fresh, bakery bread. Obviously there are lots of options for fabulous accompaniments...whatever strikes your fancy, really.

Until next time, happy cooking!

February 22, 2013

My Resolutions Tree: Setting and Staying Committed to Your Goals

The Resolutions Tree

I thought it might be nice if I got this post in before we're too far away from the New Year's beginning...it might lose some impact come September. While I personally think you can reevaluate things and set new goals anytime (like, say, March 1st!), the new year tends to be a natural time for this in our culture, so, come January, I said, let's do it!

I'm not sure that I love the term "resolutions." I think it carries a lot of baggage. A lot of "I'm going to lose fifty pounds-go to the gym everyday-and never eat another piece of chocolate again-only to be broken within days of being uttered" baggage. What I'm thinking about is more of a thoughtful consideration of your life over the last year...what's working well, what your thankful for, and what you'd like to change or add to or subtract from your life. This is something I do every year. As a matter of fact, one of my 2012 resolutions was to start this blog...and I did it last March, and I'm still here blabbing away.

Typically I write down my thoughts and, eventually, my resolutions, and sometimes even a plan for making things happen, in a little notebook. Then I try my best to remember to look at it every so often to see how I'm doing and recommit to things as needed. This year I had another idea to help me stay focused throughout the year on some of the things I deem important right now...and so was born The Resolutions Tree.

I got the base idea for this from a party idea pin I saw on Pinterest. That idea was to have guests at your New Year's Eve party write down their big resolution for the year on a piece of paper and then hang it on a centerpiece at the party for everyone to see. From that I got the idea to create a tree that I would look at daily to remind myself of things I was trying to change, add, or subtract in my life in 2013.

The first order of business was to contemplate and brainstorm. I pulled out my trusty notebook and started thinking about the past year. This was pretty easy for me because the last few months of the year were kind of rough, so I had a lot of thoughts at-the-ready.

2013 Resolutions Brainstorm

Then I made the resolution ornaments. I used a glass to trace circles on some old newspaper we had laying around, cut the circles out, punched holes in them, then cut pieces of some old yarn I had, and tied the loops. Pretty basic. I'm sure you could do something much cooler, but this worked for me at the time, when my goal was simply to get it done and focus on my resolutions. Who knows how I might change or update this as the months go by...

My resolution ornaments

Then I organized my resolutions into categories (they all sort of naturally grouped together) and wrote them all on the paper ornaments and hung them on the tree.

Read...A Lot!

I put the tree on the dining room table...though it may shift to the office/library. I chose this location for two reasons: 1) It's out-of-the-way enough that everybody else isn't looking at it all the time, but it's in my sight-line throughout each day so it remains a regular reminder for me. 2) I have plans to either turn my dining room into a hybrid dining-crafting room or to add crafting space to the office/library this year, so it seemed like the right place to have it.

At the moment, I am using a red berry tree for this because I was doing this project at the same time that we were putting away the Christmas decorations, so it was there. I plan to bring in some small tree branches, put them in a vase and use that as my resolutions tree, but inclement weather conditions (and maybe a little laziness) have kept me from doing so as of yet. So sparkly red berry tree it is! It gets the job done. You could also just tack them up on a bulletin board or lay them all out in a frame and hang or prop it somewhere you will see it daily. The point isn't to have a tree, the point is to make some goals, write them down and put them somewhere you will see them all the time (not just have them hidden in a notebook you misplace sometime in April!).

So what am I focusing on this year?

Add more romance.

Well, Amy: Version 2013 is focused on five areas:
  • Purposeful Mommy Me
  • Creative Me
  • Healthy Me
  • Organized Me
  • Romantic Me
These are the areas of my life that I decided I want to really focus on this year. Then, within each of those areas I have some specific goals. For instance, for Healthy Me, I want to add 30 minutes of workout videos to my nightly dog walking routine; I also want to add weekly yoga classes BACK into my routine (after months of commitment, those somehow fell out of my routine last fall); and I want to recommit to healthy eating "most of the time"...again, that's how we typically roll around here, but the holidays had us WAY off track! I also want to commit to getting to bed earlier in hopes of 8 hours of sleep before babies call out for me, and getting back into running this summer so I can run a 5 or 10K with my dear friend, Wendy, next fall. 

So far I've been doing really well with all of these except the getting to bed earlier. It IS a process after all! And that's what I really want to talk about. The process. I think, all too often, we either don't give enough thought to our goals when we make them or we don't do the work to develop a plan to bring them to life. I also think it's pretty common to get down on ourselves and give up when we get off track. We are often so much harder on ourselves than we ever would be on a friend (Guilty!). So here are a few of my thoughts on the process...

Give it real thought and make a plan.
* Don't just write down "Lose weight" as a goal because you think you could stand to lose a few lbs. Really give the goal some thought. Is this something that is really important to you, something you want to commit time and energy to? If it's really something you want to focus on, give it the thought it deserves...Why do you want to lose weight? To be healthier? To run a 5k? To look better in your jeans? Then develop a detailed action plan to bring that goal to life, and put the first step of the plan on your to-do list or calendar...for example, step one might be to research workout dvds and order one from Amazon by next Monday. Once you've done the first thing on the list, move to the second and write that one on your to-do list. Break it into manageable parts and take it one task, and one day, at a time.

Picture how you want to fill your days and then set the goals to make it happen.
* Look at all aspects of your life when you're identifying goals. New Year's resolutions aren't just about losing weight or running a race. Think about what you want your day-to-day life to be filled with and figure out how to fill it with that. I continue to strive to bring more creative endeavors into my daily life, but I'm a natural get-it-done person...as in get the work done before you get to play. So all too often I never get through all the the to-do's so I can move on the the fun stuff. So feeding the Creative Me is on my resolutions list yet again! (So is feeding the Romantic Me, since that tends to suffer a similar fate...nothing says foreplay like getting the dishwasher emptied first!) It's called taking care of the urgent (that dishwasher DOES, technically, need to be emptied) instead of the important (I'd definitely rank my husband above the dishwasher in importance...most days).

Remind and recommit.
Develop some way...be it a resolutions tree or something else...to regularly remind yourself of your goals, and take the time to recommit whenever you lose sight of them or get off track. It's so easy to get caught up in the regular day-to-day routine and forget that you intended to create new baby books for the kids on Shutterfly or reorganize your kitchen for greater efficiency or kiss your husband more often. So it's important to have a way to remind yourself on a regular basis of what's important to you and what you're committed to trying to do. And then it's important to recommit--rather than giving up--whenever you get off track.

Be kind to yourself.
I'll be honest. I'm not always that good at this one. I know I say things to myself that I would never even think of saying to a friend. And I'd be willing to bet that I'm not alone in this. I don't know why we think it's okay to talk down to ourselves, but we seem to. But try to catch yourself and correct it when you do. Don't berate yourself for not making something happen. Be kind. Give yourself a break. Then reevaluate your plan and recommit to your goal. Get up, brush yourself off and get going again.

So there you have it. The Resolutions Tree. Try it. And let me know what your goals are for 2013.

Until next time, I bid you good goal-setting!

Exercise 5-6 times a week.

February 13, 2013

My Current Favorite Times of Day

One of the pieces of art I look at while sitting at my kitchen table

1. In the morning, after breakfast, when we don't have anywhere to be right away...the kids play so well together...I get stuff done, and it's a joy to watch them together.

2. In the morning, when my daughter is at school, and my son and I get a little one-on-one time. He. Is. Precious.

3. In the afternoon, when I'm putting my son down for his nap...once he settles down and snuggles in with me...I just love to feel his warmth and weight on my chest. I savor these moments. I know they won't last forever.

4. In the afternoon, when my son is napping, and my daughter and I get a little one-on-one time to hang out or read together or do a craft. She is always sweetness and light when we are alone.

5. In the afternoon, when my son is napping, and my daughter is playing quietly, and I have a few moments to myself...I make myself a cup of decaf coffee and settle in at the table to do "some stuff" on my computer. Ahhh.

6. In the evening, after all the craziness has died away, and my daughter and I are snuggled in her chair in her room, and I can smell her freshly washed hair...we read books together and then cuddle and rock for a bit before she climbs into bed.

7. At night, when my husband and I snuggle in together on the couch and watch a show on TV.

8. At night, once we've climbed into bed, and we sit side-by-side reading our books and he scratches my back.

What are your favorite times of day? Make sure you take moments throughout the day to appreciate your unique and wonderful life and all of the loves in it.

Until next time, happy living!

February 11, 2013

Gwyneth Paltrow's Lemon Pasta...A Fresh Twist on Pasta Night

Pasta is an easy, family-friendly, go-to dinner option and something I often incorporate into my weekly menus. So I am always looking for ways to mix it up in the pasta department and Gwyneth Paltrow's Lemon Parmesan Spaghetti fits the bill perfectly!

I checked out her cookbook from the library a few months ago and tried a few recipes. I enjoyed the cookbook overall, but particularly loved this recipe because it's both good and easy (my favorite kind these days, as cooking with kids underfoot isn't always easy!). The flavor profile is super kid-friendly (both of my kids loved it) without being chicken-nugget-esque "kid food" and the recipe really couldn't be simpler. The lemon flavor is light and fresh, so even though you're eating pasta, it doesn't feel heavy. I serve this up with a nice salad and a little bread. So, here you go...

Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano from My Father's Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow

3/4 box of spaghetti (I use a whole wheat pasta to make it healthier)
coarse salt
1 lemon
1 1/2 c. grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3-5 tbsp pasta water
handful fresh basil leaves, torn

Boil spaghetti in salted water according to package directions. Zest lemon into large bowl. Slice lemon in half and squeeze juice into bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, pepper and pinch of salt to bowl. Mix in olive oil to form a wet paste. When spaghetti is done, add 2-3 tbsp of cooking water to lemon and cheese mixture. Add spaghetti and toss thoroughly, adding more pasta water as needed. Roughly tear in basil leaves. Serve with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and grated Parmesan.

Give it a try. I promise, you won't regret it.

Until next time, happy cooking!

February 1, 2013

Young Adult Reading List Update...I Finished! (My Summer Reading List. In October. I know...)

So, about three months ago I actually finished reading my (now 16 year old) niece's Top Ten Favorite Books (so far)...I know, it's pretty sad that I'm just now posting about it. But really, does it matter much when I share the book reviews, as long as I share them? Well, that's what I'm telling myself.

So, just to refresh your memory, here's Katie's Top Ten List, as I shared it last year:

1. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
2. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
3. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
3.5 The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
4. Divergent by Veronica Roth
5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (awesome!!!)
6. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
7. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
8. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
9. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
10. Matched and Crossed both by Allie Condie

If you want to read what I thought of the first batch of the books I read, you can read my last post on it here: http://mamamanagement.blogspot.ca/2012/08/summer-reading-updateam-i-running-out.html Now, on to the last group I read...

Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Veronica Roth's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

I loved this book. I would definitely say that it was one of my favorites off of Katie's list. And if you're looking for one YA dystopian future novel to check out, try this one. I thought the plot was interesting and creative and the writing was great. I enjoyed this one enough to say that I plan to read book two, Insurgent, sometime this year...and I'm pretty excited to do so!

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every thirty days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. No one has been able to solve the mystery of the maze...yet.

The Maze Runner is another crazy, inventive, dystopian future novel. (Can anyone name a genre that my niece likes? Anyone?) Overall, I enjoyed the book and found the plot creative and interesting. But I had a little issue with the pacing...it was a bit of a slow-starter for me, and I found a portion of the middle dragged a bit. Now, I know that this is book one in the literary world's favorite thing right now-- A trilogy-- and therefore the ending is designed to set up the beginning of the next book, but I really didn't love how this one ended. It didn't leave me with a particularly strong desire to read book two. Still, a fun read nevertheless.

Matched by Allie Condie
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

I know, I know, more dystopian YA. But think of how much you'll have to talk about with all those young adult readers out there!! This is also another first-in-a-trilogy. And another like-but-not-love for me. A fun enough read but didn't leave me clamoring for more...there may just be too many other wonderful books out there to bother with book two...but who knows. Maybe I'll just ask Katie to tell me what happens!

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
So here's a big, fat departure from the rest of the books on the list! And, I must say, I was pretty surprised to find it on Katie's list. Publisher's Weekly said, "Supporters will hail this New Age self-help book on the law of attraction as a groundbreaking and life-changing work, finding validation in its thesis that one's positive thoughts are powerful magnets that attract wealth, health, happiness... and did we mention wealth? Detractors will be appalled by this as well as when the book argues that fleeting negative thoughts are powerful enough to create terminal illness, poverty and even widespread disasters." 

My thoughts? Well, I do tend to believe that when you focus on the negative the negative is what you get, and when you focus on the positive good things often abound (because you're looking for them!). But I had never really thought of it in the terms that The Secret lays out. And I definitely take issue with the idea that it's somehow your fault if you get a disease--that you have drawn that into your life with your own thoughts. So I take from this book what I do from other similar books...take the nugget that's of use to me and throw away the rest.

So, there you have it. Ten (really twenty) books recommended by my wonderful niece. What I liked the most about this challenge? Two things: Working from a list of recommended books from another book lover (plus, I liked the insight into and connection with my niece). And, having a set, finite list of books to read from. Sometimes I find myself almost overwhelmed by all of the books out there that I really want to read--WHAT DO I READ NEXT??? It was nice...kind of like school...having a pre-determined list to work from. So I think I'm going to create another list to work from. I'll let you know.

In other books news...

I did finish Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter in time for my book club meeting a couple of weeks ago. The group's reviews were mixed, at best. Most weren't big fans. I, personally, liked it...though I didn't love it (you won't find me gushing about it the way I do Shadow of the Wind or The Book Thief). But what I liked about it was the way it took very different people with very different lives in different times and different countries and showed the moments when they realized the difference between living for the dream of a life they hoped to live and truly living the real life in front of them right now. I thought these snapshots of human existence and the "we are more the same than we are different"-ness of it were lovely.

Then, in the spirit of New Year's reorganization, I just finished Getting Things Done by David Allen. And, as a result, am in the midst of a massive paper/planner/calendar/office reorganization. More on that later... And I am almost done with This Is Why You're Fat by Jackie Warner (or Bravo! reality TV fame). Also part of a New Year recommitment...this one to health and well-being. More on that later too!

And finally, I just started The Puzzle King by Betsy Carter...and I mean just started...I'm on page 29. So far...I like it. My favorite line so far? "And then yesterday, the last day of September, the sun came out and the air smelled young and fresh. It was as if July had momentarily skipped around the corner, and now it was back." Sigh. Love.

So that's the word in book news here. As always, let me know if you're reading anything wonderful...I'm always looking for new, fabulous books to add to my reading list. And feel free to friend me on goodreads.com or check out the Books Worth Reading list on this blog for more books I've enjoyed.

Until next time, I bid you good reading!