Crispy Parmesan Zucchini

img_9050I have this love/hate relationship with vegetables.  Most of the time, if I’m being honest with myself, I hate them.  At least most of them.  I’m looking at you, broccoli.  I blame my mom and her weekly chicken broccoli casserole for that one.  😉 Love you, mom!

But…when I find a way I love them…I really love them!  I already wrote about my Zucchini Crisps, but since then I have found a new, better, easier way to make zucchini.  A way in which I could eat them every day and not get tired of them!  There are but two ingredients (four if you count salt and pepper) in my little love affair food.

Zucchini and parmesan.  That’s it!  Guys, it’s seriously so good.  And so EASY!  It’s perfect for those busy weeknights when you have to throw a side dish together quickly.

img_9052Crispy Parmesan Zucchini

1 medium zucchini
¼ cup parmesan (give or take)
Salt and pepper
Optional:  other seasonings to give different flavors to the zucchini.  My favorites are Sunny Paris and Sweet Curry from Penzeys

Preheat oven to 400°.  Cut zucchini into ¼-⅛” rounds depending on your preference.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and optional seasoning if you desire.

Place rounds on a nonstick cookie sheet.  Sprinkle each round with a generous pinch of parmesan cheese.  Full disclosure, I don’t ever measure so it may or may not be ¼ cup.  I like a small mound of cheese on my zucchini so it melts down and gets all crispy when it cools.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the zucchini is tender.  I have cooked it for 10 minutes and the zucchini is still a little chewy as well as the 15 minutes, which makes the bottom of the zucchini somewhat more caramelized and crispy.  Either way, it’s a winner!

 

 

 

Hiking Adventures

I’ve been trying my hardest to get healthy in 2017.  I wasn’t terribly unhealthy in the past, but I definitely let go of my healthy habits recently.  It’s resulted in a nearly 40 pound weight gain from my ideal weight from 2010.

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Aren’t we cute?  😛

Part of my motivation for losing weight and getting healthy in addition to living longer and being able to keep up with my son is the fact that I’m matron of honor in my best friend’s wedding on April 8th.

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The dress I ordered is just a leeeeeetle too snug so I’d like to tone up just a bit and lose just a smidge of weight between now and then.  My goal is to stay under my calories and to move 30 minutes extra every day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of exercises I want to focus on.  I’ve tried a few things in the past and my two favorites are Zumba and walking.  I’m not a runner.  I’m just not.  I hate it.  But walking is awesome!  I love putting my headphones in and pounding the pavement.  I do some of my best thinking while I walk!

Then I started thinking about how I could get Jake involved more.  We’ve introduced him to the world of video games which is a little scary to be honest.  I love me some Zelda and Mario and want him to have fun with me while we play, but I want to avoid him becoming so digitally dependent to have fun.

We don’t get outside enough in my opinion.  Our options are limited right now with the cold Ohio winter but, when it gets warmer, I want him to want to choose to go outside instead of stay indoors.

img_8962editedThis weekend was 60º on Saturday so we went hiking at our local arboretum!  We had been to another park once last year and he only lasted about ¼ mile before asking to be carried.  He’s 40 pounds now…I can carry him but only for short distances so that’s not really an option.  Part of me was hesitant to take him with me, but I figured I can’t not try, right?

img_8967editedAt our arboretum there are three paths:  the RED one is .6 miles, the BLUE is 1.1, and the YELLOW is 1.8.  I asked Jake which one he wanted to start with, explaining the differences. He chose the red (with my persuasion) to “see how things go”.

We started down the red path and I explained how to tell which trail to take based on the markers.  I think it became a game to him to find the red dots.  Every time we came to a fork, I asked him which way to go and he would shout “Mommy! It’s that way!”

img_8964editedA couple times we came across a muddy section and he would start to whine about getting dirty.  I would say “You’re a boy! You’re supposed to get dirty!”  Then I started thinking about it…why is it OK for boys to get dirty, but not girls?  So I changed it to “You’re a kid! You’re supposed to get dirty!”  Once I had to pick him up and carry him over a particularly deep muddy section, but other than that he was a trooper!  He even started splashing in the “muddy puddles” (thank you, Peppa) towards the end.

img_8970editedWe got to the end of the red path and I asked if he wanted to go back to the car or keep hiking.  He wanted to keep hiking!  So I asked which path…if he wanted to go on the red one again or try another one…and he picked the blue path.  I kept asking if he was sure and double checking that he wasn’t tired, but he was a trooper and insisted he was up for it.

love the blue path.  It goes down a little hill and past a babbling brook.  We even saw a deer on this hike!

img_8992editedI think we took a wrong turn eventually (this path isn’t as clearly marked) because we ended up only walking about 1.7 miles including the walk to and from the parking lot, but that’s OK.  I was still proud of my little buddy for completing it!

img_8965editedThe best part?  He keeps asking when we can go hiking again!  I can’t wait to check out some other parks near us…I hear there’s great hiking all over Ohio!

 

Cooking Through Construction

We are ½ of the way through February.  Can you believe it?  I certainly can’t.  But I also can’t wait for March because…my kitchen is getting renovated!  Not just new paint and cleaning out a couple cabinets.  I’m talking removing walls, y’all!  I’m beyond excited!  Here’s what we’re working with right now:

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Ugh.  Ugly.  I hate it.  It doesn’t look terrible in the picture, but what you can’t see is all the scratches on the countertop lip, the “paint” coming off the cabinets, the crappy quality of the product, the cabinets not staying screwed into the frames, and basically just the general disfuctionality of the kitchen.  My house was one of those development houses where they were just trying to get the work done in as quick of a time frame with the cheapest stuff they could find.  Not anymore!

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Like I said, we are taking down walls, adding cabinets, getting a new oven (EEEKKK!!!), painting, new countertops, new sink, new backsplash, EVEN MORE counter space and cabinet space, raising the height of the cabinets, new floors, the works!!!

Basically everything in this picture will be gone or moved:

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The one thing about this whole process I’m not really looking forward to is the whole being without a kitchen to cook in thing.  I cook dinner at least 6 nights a week, but most of the time I cook every night.  Even on the nights I’m not going to be home, I try to leave my boys with something they can heat up.

I’m combatting that by making a dinner plan for the month of March (they think our reno will take about 4 weeks) which will include a LOT of freezer meals and Instant Pot recipes.  I’m planning on starting a new series on here called “Cooking Through Construction” which will focus these oven-free foods.  Follow along with me while I experience this adventure!

Step one?  Replacing our couch.  I know what you’re thinking…how is the couch part of the kitchen renovation?  We are basically redoing our main living space.  Our house is open concept already and, with the removal of the wall separating the kitchen from the living room, that openness is going to be even more vast.

Our old couch was in sad, sad shape and we were looking for more “adult” furniture.

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So we upgraded to this beauty:

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She’s so comfy! We are still working on side tables, lamps, fans, decor, etc for the space, but step one is complete!

couch1Stay tuned for step two! (Ugh…we have so much work to do!)

If anyone is great at decorating, let me know.  I suck at it.

What’s New

Confession:  I have probably 15 blog post topics just sitting in my WordPress desktop waiting for me to type them out.  I have an additional 4 or 5 sets of pictures on my iPhone waiting to be loaded into WordPress.  Most of them are recipes, which makes them easy to postpone, as I’m going to do today.

See, I was going to share with you my chili recipe as it’s Super Bowl time.  In fact, as I type this I can taste remnants of the chili on my tongue as I sit watching the Super Bowl commercials and waiting for Lada Gaga.  I would LOVE to be one of those people who live for the game but I’m not.  Never have been.  Turn on some Kentucky Wildcats basketball and we’ve got another story.  But football?  Yeah, no.img_8398

Speaking of basketball, did I mention my little guy is playing?  He had his last game two weekends ago.  He and his buddy, Anderson, had so much fun!img_8816

But this post is not about sports.  It’s about what’s new at the grocery store!  At least what’s new that I saw today.  There are tons of things I missed I’m sure.  In fact, I wasn’t even looking for these items!  But man I’m glad I found them.

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Chobani Meze Dip

I have been looking for this dip for a while now.  I really didn’t know anything about it other than it’s Chobani, one of my favorite companies.  I have tried all sorts of Greek yogurt brands in the past and I always come back to Chobani.  For a while I was a Fage fan, but recently I’ve decided the filling is too sweet.  I love Chobani black cherry in particular.  So when I saw these dips on Ibotta (a money saving app), I wanted to try them.  I picked up the Smoked Onion Parmesan flavor today. They also have Roasted Red Pepper, Three Pepper Salsa, and Chili Lime.

I saw all the delicious flavors and then I saw something that REALLY caught my eye.  TWENTY FIVE CALORIES IN TWO TABLESPOONS.  Seriously?  No.  No, seriously?  I am in my best friend’s wedding in two months and my bridesmaid’s dress is just a smidge too tight, so I’m trying to loose a few pounds.  When I saw a creamy, flavorful dip for only 25 calories per serving, I had to try it.  And you know what?  It’s amazing!  So delicious!  I can’t wait to try the other flavors!  I can definitely see myself having this product on hand at all times.  I had it on crackers but mini bell peppers and carrots would be great too.

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Stonefire Naan Crisps
I have been increasingly interested in trying Indian food lately.  I’ve had a little here and there, but I’ve never been to an Indian restaurant.  I keep trying to convince my Indian pharmacy manager to take me to a local restaurant so I can get an education with my meal, but our schedules never really mesh up.  One of these days…

So, instead, I keep finding Indian-inspired items to tide me over.  Take these crisps for example.  I love naan…I still haven’t tried making my own, though I have a recipe in my Pinterest file that I’m excited to try.  Maybe after the kitchen renovation is over.  These naan crisps are light, flavorful, and the perfect vehicle for the Chobani dip!  The Tandoori spice ones are particularly delicious.  They are dangerous though.  I could kill a bag in about 10 minutes (or less).  The food scale and portion control are my friends lately.

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Snack Factory Dessert Thins

I can’t say enough good things about Snack Factory.  They started it all with the Original Pretzel Crisps, which are delicious by themselves.  Then they started adding flavors.  Everything, Honey Mustard and Onion, Garlic Parmesan.  All the flavors are good.  Not to mention that time they dipped the pretzels in peanut butter and chocolate.  Talk about killing a bag in one sitting!

Now, they have introduced Dessert Thins.  These cookie-like crackers are sweet and delicious.  You get four 2×2 squares for 130 calories and they come in the yummy flavors of brownie, chocolate chip, or, my personal favorite, lemon tart.  The lemon ones would be awesome topped with raspberry jam and some candied lemon rind!

Damn.  Now I can’t stop thinking about those peanut butter coated pretzels.  😐

halo-top16365-2500pxHalo Top Ice Cream
OK, so Halo Top isn’t new per se, but I know there are still some of you who haven’t heard of it.  Basically it’s high protein, low calorie ice cream.  I know what you’re thinking…uh…gross!  But it’s a good alternative to the high calorie stuff when you’re trying to eat better and lose weight.  You can have an entire pint of ice cream for less than 300ish calories!  Though, take my advice and split the pint in half.  Due to the high protein content, this ice cream can be extremely filling!  They have some really yummy flavors, but my favorite is the…wait for it…peanut butter cup.  I know.  Shocker.

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What have you discovered at the grocery lately that you’re in love with?  Not like I need any more deliciousness in my house…

Hoops and Dreams

Little kids playing sports.  Is there anything cuter?  Ever since Jake was young, we have had him playing sports.  In fact, most of the time he is doing at least two activities outside the house weekly.  Not only does this get out some of that little boy energy, it teaches him great life skills like teamwork, following directions, and bonding.

img_7364The first thing we enrolled him in was swimming.  There is nothing cuter than his little boy body dressed in swim trunks looking at me with a goofy smiling while wearing his goggles on his face.

img_7528Oh gosh…I could just squeeze that little kid to pieces!

During his first swim lesson, he cried bloody murder most of the class!  It took everything in me not to go in to the pool area and scoop him up.  Jeff tells me I baby him too much sometimes, but HE’S MY BABY!  It’s hard for a parent to let their kid cry, especially when he hasn’t done anything wrong!

img_7518I moved my seat to the opposite side of the pool and continued to watch him struggle through the first class.  He actually swam quite well, but he was still sniffling and whimpering throughout.  Luckily, every class after that was a breeze.  He really took to swimming and was able to swim without “floatuses” (as we call them in our house…thank you “Simpsons”) last summer!  Thankfully, he’ll be taller this summer too, so I won’t worry about him being in the shallow end as much.

img_0209editedAfter trying swimming, we wanted to see how he did with some other sports.  At daycare, they had a program called Soccer Shots, which came in once a week and introduced the kids to various parts of soccer.  There were no games…it was really just fundamentals…but Jake seemed to take to it, so we signed him up for YMCA soccer.  img_0288editedimg_9608editedHe, along with three of his buddies, played soccer during the spring of 2015.  Three-year-olds don’t really pay that good of attention to the coach during practice and I think they’d rather pick wildflowers during the game than actually “play”, but dang are they cute!

img_3228editedSince he didn’t really seem to care if he was playing soccer or not, we didn’t sign him up for the fall season that year.  But the following spring, some of his buddies were playing again, so we asked if he wanted to and he said yes.

img_3363editedCan I just say the difference between three-year-old and four-year-old soccer is pretty substantial?  The first week or two they were still in la la land for the most part, but finally things started clicking and they actually seemed to get the concept!  By the end of the season, the kids were actually playing like they knew what they were doing!

img_7450editedJake actually asked when he could play again during the summer last year, so when some of my girlfriends asked if I was signing Jake up for fall soccer, I agreed.  This time, the boys (and girl!) would play in a different league.  It was a little more organized and a little more polished.  The games were in the middle of a heat wave, but who can help that?  Best of all, Jake got to wear a jersey with his name AND his daddy’s old number on it!

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-6-23-47-amJust last week, he asked when soccer started again.  I guess he’s missing it!

We’ve been trying to keep him in a sport (in addition to swimming) pretty much the whole calendar year, so after soccer was over last fall, we started thinking about what we wanted to get him in.  We landed on two options:  basketball and ice skating (with hopes of it leading into hockey at some point).  So, being the overachievers we are, we enrolled him in both!  Luckily Daddy likes taking him to practice a lot because Mommy has to work more in December than any other month of the year.

img_8027For skating, his cousin joined him on the ice.  In the first few classes, they learn how to get up from the ice and how to walk on it in their skates.  By the end of the first “season”, which was a series of six classes I believe, Jake was pretty decent at gliding short distances.  He seemed to have pretty good balance and wasn’t scared of falling at all.  He’s just started his next set of classes, so hopefully he will continue to improve.

img_8143editedBasketball at the Y was with one of his good buddies, Anderson.  These two boys are little pistols when they are together!  They are sooo goofy, but seriously the sweetest boys ever.  Unfortunately, between working nearly every Saturday in December and having to travel a lot during January, I was only able to see one of his basketball games, but he really seemed to like it.  We even put a basketball goal in the basement for his birthday!

img_8154editedOne of my favorite things about sports for kids is that it helps them get all of their energy out in a constructive way.  It also teaches them some life lessons along the way.  I’m glad Jake inherited his daddy’s sports talent because Mommy is lacking…  I was more of a gymnastics/piano girl growing up.  img_7410editedEither way, this kid looks cute in sports gear!

Top Ten Drugstore Beauty Items

You may or may not know I manage a drug store.

You also may or may not know I have a slight makeup addiction.
screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-04-56-pmFinally you may or may not know that January at the drug store means one thing:  NEW MAKEUP!!!!  We just got our planograms last week for the resets…my favorite time of the year!

In the spirit of getting new items in for our cosmetic wall, I thought I’d review my top 10 must haves from the beauty department at Walgreens.

21559671.  CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara  This is my go to mascara!  I have tried so many mascaras in the past and this is hands down my favorite.  I just can’t make myself spend the money on high end mascaras when there are so many great ones at the drug store.  This mascara volumizes and lengthens at the same time.  It’s really quite awesome.

d15d2f-760901570_1_6402.  Coty Airspun Powder Yes, I know my mom and my grandma and maybe even my great grandma used this powder, but you know what?  It WORKS!  It’s got a very distinctive smell to it and it reminds me a little of old lady, but it’s finely milled and doesn’t sink into cracks and crevices like some of the other powders I’ve tried do.

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3.  CoverGirl Brow & Eye Makers Pencil
 Most people will tell you to avoid using brow pencils on your brows, but I’ve been using them for at least a decade and I think my brows look pretty good if I do say so myself.  I’ve tried to use the Anastasia Brow Wiz, but honestly I feel like I can do just as good a job with my pencil as I can with theirs.  And it’s about a tenth the price!  Sold.

1834310-bmp4.  Maybelline Fit Me Concealer  I love watching YouTube videos, especially when it comes to makeup tutorials.  I have several subscriptions to makeup gurus who review products and let me know what’s amazing and what’s a dud.  Nearly everyone I’ve watched has RAVED about this concealer.  Naturally I had to try some.  I believe I’m on my second or third tube of the stuff now.  It’s awesome!  It’s got amazing coverage and blends beautifully.

22656075.  Real Techniques Makeup Sponge  Speaking of blending, these makeup sponges are seriously magically.  In my opinion they are just as good if not better than the beauty blender and…here’s the best part.  A beauty blender costs you $20.  These sponges?  Five bucks.  5!  Yeah…sorry beauty blender.  You are the weakest link.

img_47856.  Loreal La Palette Nude 1 & 2  When the Naked Palettes by Urban Decay came out, of course I had to get them.  I wear browns on my eyes about 98.5% of the time.  I LOVED the naked palettes.  Then Loreal decided to up the stakes.  They came out with dupes (duplicates for those of you who aren’t on the up and up) for the Naked Palettes at ⅓ the price!  I picked a couple up one day and started playing.  I never looked back.  That’s one thing I love about drugstore brands.  Sometimes it takes them a year or so, but they almost always come out with a dupe for the fan favorites.

shc1683_ct_410indiglow_btl-wcaplogo7.  Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish  New this year, but very similar to the Complete Salon Manicure, which I love as well.  This polish is infused with Argan Oil (the buzz word of the 21st century), but it keeps the polish on at least twice as long as other polishes.  I still haven’t ventured into the gel nail world (mostly because I’m lazy), but this is a cheap alternative to it in my opinion.  This color, Indiglow, has been my winter go to color since early January.

dp1023201417014837m-tifWant to know my non-drug store go to summer color?  It’s Oh Cabana Boy by Orly.  I’m a sucker for hot pink!

22063428.  Maybelline Line Stiletto Liquid Liner  When I first started putting on liquid liner, I picked this one up.  I’ve tried several, but I find the felt tip applicator very easy to control and the color pay off is tremendous.  I have since found a high end liner I prefer more, but for years and years this was the only liner I would use.  If you’re just starting out with liner or have a hard time controlling those liners where the brush goes all over the place, I recommend trying this one.

22033029.  Neutrogena Night Calming Cleansing Towlettes  So this isn’t really “makeup” per se, but it’s definitely a necessity when you need to take off your makeup.  I keep a pack in my nightstand and on the nights when I’m just too tired to go wash my face, I at least take off what I can with these wipes.  They’re quick, easy and convenient!

227562910.  CoverGirl Professional Natural Lash Mascara in Clear…but not for your eyes!  One of the things they don’t tell you when you become pregnant is that you’re going to lose your hair after you give birth.  OK, they might tell you that part, but they don’t tell you that growing that hair back is a pain.  And it leaves you with a lot of flyaways!  Sometimes, hairspray just doesn’t cut it.  On those days, I break out the clear mascara and paint my flyaways down!  Just a quick coat on the hairs will help keep those pesky things in place.  A word of caution though…don’t use too much or it will make your hair look greasy!

You may have noticed that I don’t have any lip items on this list.  Well…I’m really not a lip girl!  I would rather go without lip products than with them most days.  Sometimes I get a wild hair and decide to try something.  Remember that note about hot pink?  I do, in fact, have hot pink lipstick!  My husband tells me I look ridiculous though…

What are your go to drugstore products?  Would you guys like to hear about my go to high end products?

 

 

Pizza Bites

img_8783I have been reading Damn Delicious for a few years now.  Her food is…well…damn delicious!  She’s also a wonderful photographer and has a great sense of humor.  While I was groggily flipping through Instagram the week of Christmas, I stumbled upon this recipe for Cheesy Pizza Bread.  I immediately pinned it onto one of my Pinterest boards and within a week or so, I had made it twice.  Jake tried it the first night and demanded it the next night for dinner again.  It’s super quick and easy to whip up on a busy weeknight, though it’s not exactly figure friendly.  Since I made this recipe the first time, I have made it at least three or four other times.  It’s definitely a keeper in our house!

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Pizza Bread 
(adapted from this recipe on damndelicious.net)

1 16 oz tube biscuits, cut into quarters
¼ stick butter, melted
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
¾ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp salt
1 cup pizza sauce
½ cup pepperoni chunks (I get a roll of pepperoni and chop it into small cubes)
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella or several slices of fresh mozzarella

Preheat oven to 400º.  In a small cake pan sprayed with cooking spray, arrange your biscuit pieces in an even layer.  In a small bowl, mix butter, parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic powder, oregano, and salt.  Combine well, then spread evenly over the biscuits.  I like using a pastry brush for this part.  Next, top the garlic buttered biscuits with the pizza sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.  Bake for 14-16 minutes or until cheese is melted and biscuits are cooked.

Confession: I could eat an entire pan of these myself.  I won’t…but I could.  I don’t think I won’t anyhow…

 

Buffalo Chicken Nugget Wraps

I have decided I hate vegetables.  And fruits.  And all I want to eat is cheese, bread, and meat.  Pretty typical mental state when I decide it’s time to shed pounds.  Sigh…one of these days I’ll reach my goal weight again!

In the meantime, I scour several websites looking for the next yummy meal I can eat to help me get to that weight I desire.  Skinnytaste (as I’ve mentioned several times in the past) is one of my favorites.  She has a ton of great meals and even inspired me to ask for an Instant Pot for Christmas.

The other day I was checking out my Instagram feed when I happened upon one of her posts for Buffalo Chicken Nuggets.  Well…this is right up my alley.  We in Casa de Bethany love anything buffalo.  Except for Jake.  He’s kind of a wuss.  I mean he’s five but still.

She served her nuggets with bleu cheese on a skewer, but I decided to make a meal out of mine.  One thing I decided to change…she did about half regular bread crumbs and half panko.  I prefer some extra crunch so next time I’m going to do at least ¾ panko (if not the whole mixture).

Note:  these nuggets aren’t spicy at all.  In fact, Jeff stated that he would have liked them to be even more spicy.  I could have easily remedied that by using the Franks Red Hot like the recipe called for instead of the Buffalo wing sauce I chose.  Her stuff tends to be a little spicier than I like, so I was a little nervous.  Next time, I’ll go with the Original Franks.

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Buffalo Chicken Nugget Wraps
(adapted from Skinnytaste)

½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp chili powder (or more if you like it hotter)
⅛ tsp black pepper
½ cup panko bread crumbs
olive oil spray
2 tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Original sauce
2 tsp olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
Ranch dressing
Iceberg lettuce

Preheat oven to 425°.  In a shallow dish, combine garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, black pepper, and panko bread crumbs.  In a separate shallow dish, combine hot sauce and olive oil.  Dip chicken chunks into the hot sauce mixture then the bread crumb mixture.  Place on cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Lightly spray bread crumbs with olive oil spray.

Bake at 425° for 8-10 minutes then flip.  Spray once more with cooking spray and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Serve in lettuce cups with ranch dressing.

For a delicious side dish, try my Zucchini Crisps!

 

A Year of Jake

Years ago, when I started this blog, I wrote about everything.  Food, Dayton, food, the weather, food, pregnancy, food.  Eventually those posts about non-food related things sort of fell off.  My blog turned into a food blog and, while that’s perfectly fine, I wanted to return to my roots so to speak.  I have an increasingly terrible memory.  It’s actually quite alarming sometimes that I can’t remember things.  Therefore, I am going to add more non-food things back to the blog.  I want to look back ten years from now, read what I wrote and think “YES!  I do remember that now!”  Thank goodness I was a life blogger when I was pregnant!

In the spirit of this notion, I would like to take a look back at some of my favorite pictures of my family from 2016.  It’s not too far into 2017 to do that, right?

img_1434The year started off with celebrating our friend, Anderson’s, 4th birthday.  He’s the little dark haired boy behind Jake.  This kid is so sweet and a great friend to my little buddy.  Super hero and little boys go so great together!  Anderson’s mom, Shannon, was amazing!  She had all kinds of fun little games for the kids to play including walking a balance beam and smashing ice cream cones with hulk hands!  Plus she got a DONUT CAKE from a local donut shop here.  Since this party I’ve ordered at least three more!  It was amazing…

IMG_2135.jpegIn March, we flew to Fort Myers for a weeklong vacation to see my parents (Grandpa John and Grandma Nan) at their winter home.  Jake loved the heated pool they had and asked to go swimming at least three times a day.  We could barely get him out!  This trip was when we started ignoring naps.  We tried to get him to take a nap the first day, but all the excitement was too much for him and he couldn’t sleep.  He did pretty good temperament wise and even stayed up until his normal 9PM bedtime!Fort Myers.jpgThis kid is definitely a beach baby though.  He loved swimming in the ocean and collecting sea shells.  We also took a trip to an alligator preservation and saw live alligators from an air boat!  What a cool experience!

img_2703As you may know, I work for Walgreens and in May it was Red Nose Day!  From March to May, we sold red noses to benefit several charities all around the world.  If you aren’t familiar with the program, you should definitely click on the link above!  It’s an awesome organization that helps millions of children all over the planet.

img_2753Jake went on his first field trip this year too.  They went to see “Duck for President” at a local theater.  Apparently it was super cute and the kids had an awesome time!

img_2773Grandma Peggy came for a visit in April and stayed for a week.  We hung out with her on her first night here at one of her favorite local spots, Dewey’s.  If you’re a local and you haven’t tried it yet, you need to figure out a way!  Awesome pizza and salad!

img_2831This goofy face makes me smile every single day.  There’s no significance to this picture other than that.  Pure silliness in this child and I love him more and more each day because of it.

img_2970Another random photo that I loved of us.  Here we were, waiting on Daddy to order Subway sandwiches for us and I snapped this.  Cute kid.  Love him!

Jake also played on TWO soccer teams this year.  He played at the YMCA in the spring and a local team during the fall.  Parents…be warned.  “Fall” soccer starts in the summer and man those games are HOT!  I was just sitting on the sidelines and I think I lost a gallon of water in sweat.  I felt kind of bad for the kiddos having to run around during the game, but they didn’t seem to mind.  Also…fun fact…Jake got the number 6 for this jersey during the summer soccer season.  This was Daddy’s soccer number all through childhood and high school.  I love it!

img_3550Jake received an apron and oven mitts from Grandma Peggy because of his interest in cooking.  He still loves to help in the kitchen and is getting better and better every week!  I bought him a set of kid’s knives to help him practice but I keep forgetting to pull them out.  Definitely adding this to the winter to do list since we’re stuck inside so much.

img_3566Did I mention he loves to swim?!  He graduated from his level 4 swimming class this summer and is now in level 5.  He’s got some skills to learn still but he has zero fear of the water!  I can’t wait to take him swimming this summer.  Last summer, he was just tall enough to stand in the shallow end and not have the water go over his nose.  He’s grown even more (obviously) so next year I will be even less nervous to let him swim without us in the water with him.  Luckily, one of his cousins is 10 and loves to swim too.  She’s a great “babysitter” in the water.

img_3693Another first for our family this year was camping!  Jeff’s sister, her husband, their three girls, and our family all camped out at a lake close by.  We spent one night under the stars, which was a perfect introduction for us into camping.  I think everyone loved it.  Some more than others!  I need a cot next time I think.  I’m a princess.  I know.

img_3784We also spent a ton of time at the splash park!  These kids are awesome and they love playing in the water.  There is also a regular park adjacent to the splash park, so they can run back and forth.  Several moms and I had a standing Monday night date during the summer. We would pack food and bring it to the park so we could eat and the boys could play.  It was amazing and I can’t wait to go back in a few months!

I also love that Jake met most of the kids he is friends with now when they were infants at the day care we go to.  I’m hoping they will continue these friendships for a very, very long time because not only are the kids great, but the moms are too.  We have a standing Girl’s Night once a month to eat, drink wine, and catch up.  It’s a wonderful thing.

 

Again, no significance in this picture.  I just love how cute he looked in his little Tommy polo shirt.  Does that even make sense?  It’s not a Polo shirt, yet it’s a polo shirt.  Anyhow…

Jake took his first official train ride this year!  After one of his soccer games, we drove to a nearby town, where they have a train they dress up with various themes.  They often do Thomas because that’s a no-brainer.  They also do the Polar Express, which we wanted to do this year, but didn’t get tickets in time.  A fun part about this day was that Jake’s friend Jack, who had moved away to Columbus earlier in the year, was able to come down and play!

img_6358One of the most fun things we did last year was going to Anna Maria Island, a “funky little town on the coast” or so my t-shirt says.  Guys, this place ROCKS.  It’s so cute and quaint, with just enough to do that you don’t get bored.  The town is very easy to navigate and has a free public trolley that goes all along Anna Maria and nearby Bradenton and Holmes Beaches.  It’s just a short drive away from Sarasota and Bradenton, too, so you’re never too far from anything.  We got a place right on the beach and spent tons of time in the ocean and looking for shells.

Jake even surfed for the first time!

We went with our friends, Kristy and Will.  It was an amazing trip and I can’t wait to go back!

Grandma Peggy came back in the fall and brought her partner, Grandpa Wes, with her.  One of the outings we took them to was the Renaissance Festival, a must for us every year. Jake LOVED riding the camel and I think the grandparents liked the interesting people.  Plus, of course, they got to hang out with their favorite little man!

We also checked out another local place, EnterTrainment Junction, for Colin’s 5th birthday.  He’s the one in front in the train picture.  Colin is the sweetest, most loving kid on the planet.  He’s always got a great, goofy smile on his face and an infectious laugh.  The kids loved how HUGE the place was and of course the train theme was top notch.  Jake asked if he could have his birthday party there a few months later!  He always wants his parties where Colin had his.  First Chuck E Cheese (no, kid) and now this place!

img_7722We also introduced our new neighbors and fellow day care members to one of our favorite Fall traditions…”haunted” hay rides at Windmill Farms!  We go during the day so it’s not really that haunted, which suits me just fine.  I can watch scary movies and zombie shows all day long, but put me in anything that resembles freaky and I’m out.

img_7987We also joined up to go Trick or Treating with the same neighbors plus another buddy.  Jake wanted to go as Rubble from the TV show Paw Patrol, a favorite for this age group.  So many people commented on his costume!  They loved seeing one of the “puppies” they knew from TV!

Also this fall, I wanted to get a photo of all the grandkids for Jake’s Grandma Teri and Grandpa Cliff (Jeff’s parents).  While waiting for the others to arrive, I snapped a few photos of him.  This kid is SO photogenic!  I can’t remember a time I took him to the arboretum where I didn’t get a frame-worthy photo.  Oddly enough, I never remember to frame them.  I think I might still have pregnancy brain.  Is that possible five years later?

img_8433Of course 2016 couldn’t be complete without his birthday celebration!  We chose to go to the bowling alley for this party.  It was fun, but not quite as fun as last year’s party at the gymnastics place.  There’s that Colin again!  See what I mean about that goofy, infectious grin?

img_8553To round out 2016, all the kids participated in a Holiday Special, where they get up on stage and sing.  I love all these kids so much.  They are a great group and each one of them brings a little something different to the mix.  It also helps that all of the parents are pretty awesome too and we all get along quite well.

There you have it, folks!  That’s Jake’s year in review.  I left out so much, but if I’d included everything, this post would last until 2018!  We had a pretty fantastic year and it’s already shaping up to be a pretty great 2017.  We just heard that we are slated to start our kitchen the first week of March, so now I’m pumped but also nervous because there are so many things that still need to be done!  That’s where lists come in handy…

Instant Love

Instant Pot.  Where the heck have you been all my life?

instant-pot

Gina at Skinnytaste has been talking about her Instant Pot (IP for short) for a long time and I just thought it was a pressure cooker.  Oh boy, was I wrong!  Apparently, this little baby can do pretty much everything but your dishes!  I received one (actually two) for Christmas and immediately went about finding the perfect first recipe to make in it.  I settled on a Skinnytaste recipe for starters.  It seemed only fitting since she was the main reason I was inspired to put it on my wish list to begin with.

Now, I’m not a huge soup person, but when I was meal planning this weekend (as I do every Sunday…more on that in the future), it was chilly and dark outside.  A big bowl of chicken soup sounded perfect.

This chicken soup, however, is not your traditional chicken soup.  When I think of chicken soup, I think of chicken, veggies, noodles, and delicious broth.  This soup has bright cilantro, creamy avocado, and pillowy potatoes with not a pasta noodle in sight!  After all, it is a Skinnytaste soup!  Served with a delicious Chobani yogurt, it’s made for wonderfully simply but scrumptious (and surprisingly filling) meals this week at work!

chicken-soup-2Skinnytaste’s Pressure Cooker Chicken Soup For My Soul
(from the Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook)

6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped scallions
4 garlic cloves, minced (I like the jarred stuff from Trader Joes)
1 medium tomato, chopped (I left this out…not big on tomatoes)
6 small potatoes, halved
½ red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chicken bouillon (in the jar) or 2 cubes dried
2 bay leaves
3 ears corn, halved (I also left these out because it’s not corn season)
Avocado (I use ½ for each bowl but I’m into that sort of thing)

Turn your IP to saute and add your olive oil.  While your pot heats, sprinkle your chicken with salt and cumin.  I added a little pepper too because I’m a spicy gal.  Saute your scallions and garlic for a minute until fragrant, then add your tomato.  Cook until soft.  Add the chicken, potatoes, red bell pepper, ¼ cup of the cilantro, 5 ½ cups water, bouillon, and bay leaves.  Cook on high pressure for 25 minutes, then quick release your IP.  Add corn to pot and cook on high pressure for an additional 3 minutes or until corn is warm and potatoes are cooked through.  Remove bay leaves and serve.

chicken-soup-1I liked mine with an extra sprinkle of cilantro, half an avocado diced, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Quick, easy, and hits the spot!

Stay tuned for more creations involving my new kitchen love!  I’ve already made a meatloaf and potatoes dinner, brown rice, butternut squash, and salsa verde chicken in it since Sunday!  I can’t wait to tell you how they turned out.  Hint:  keep watch for that meatloaf recipe…