Monday, May 14, 2012

New Beginnings

I've got those back-to-school butterflies in my stomach this morning.  For the first time in a loooong time, it's my "first day of school"!  I'll be taking online classes for the next year, and I'm excited and nervous at the same time {normal emotions for the start of a new school year, and the start of a new adventure}.

I'll tell you what I'm studying eventually.  I don't like to get too far ahead of myself and start counting my chickens before they've hatched, so I tend to keep things like this to myself for a while.  I'd rather get acclimated with  my school work and the subject matter first, and then start letting people in on what it is I'm up to.  My own mother doesn't even know I'm taking classes ~  that's how private I am!  My husband, my older brother, my dad and my stepmom are the only people I've clued in to what I'm doing.  My best friend does know I'm starting classes, but I haven't gone into details with her about what I'm studying.

I am super excited to begin this new chapter in my life.  I'm hoping to make positive changes both personally and professionally; get out of my current dead-end job; go into business for myself; and actually like going to work.  Sound too good to be true?  I don't think it is ~ I think the key to happiness, in life and in work, is to figure out what you love to do.  No matter how passionate you are about your job, there will always be bad days ~ you just have to find something where the bad days aren't so bad, and the good days more than make up for them.  Some people know what their passion is before they've left high school; a few more have it figured out by the time they graduate college.  I think most of us need more time than that, even, to figure out what we want to be "when we grow up" ~ and a lot of people never really figure it out!  And it's okay to take the time you need to figure out who you want to be, and to change your mind a lot ~ if you stop changing and growing as a person, you stop living.

So, my pencils may not be sharpened {this is the new millennium ~ classes are on my iPad!}, I'm not bedecked in head-to-toe new school clothes {yoga pants and a tank top, if you really want to know}, and I'm not climbing those giant school-bus steps {why are those steps so big?  Kids have such little legs!}, but it's back-to-school for me nonetheless.  I just know this year is going to be a fantastic one for me, and eventually you're all going to benefit from it too. 

Roll call!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Yummy, Salty, Crunchy...and Healthy! Snack

I've been making these Garlic Parmesan Roasted Chickpeas from Sugar-Free Mom for a few months now.  They are such a yummy, crunchy snack, and they're a cinch to whip up.  No preservatives or artificial ingredients here, and they satisfy your salty snack cravings {well, they satisfy mine anyway!}.  Last night I was flipping through a magazine that listed some Dr. Oz health tips ~ and his tip for a healthy snack?  Roasted chickpeas!  If it's good enough for Dr. Oz, it must be good enough for all of us, so I knew I had to pass along this recipe.

You might have to play around a bit with the cooking time of the chickpeas ~ 60 minutes was just a tad too long in my oven, but 45 and 50 minutes left the beans without enough "crunch".  {Tasty nonetheless, though}.  I'm thinking 55 minutes next time will be just perfect.

There's little danger of these yummies hanging out on your shelf for too long {they're addictive!}, but if you don't gobble them all in a day or two, they will get a bit softer over time.

The roasted chickpeas I'm nibbling on as I type this!

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Chickpeas
2      cans {15.5 oz each} garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2   cup grated Parmesan cheese
1      tsp minced garlic {or more, to taste}
1      Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2   tsp salt
        pepper, to taste

Drain the beans and rinse them well.  Lay them on paper towels to dry for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a bowl, mix together oil, garlic, salt and cheese until crumbly and oil is absorbed.  Add beans to bowl and toss to coat with mixture.

Lay beans on a baking sheet and bake for 45-60 minutes {until golden and crispy}.


For nutritional information or to see Sugar-Free Mom's original post, click here.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Club: 50 Shades of Grey {Review}

I love to read {as you probably have gathered}.  I also love to see what all the fuss is about when there's a new breakout trend ~  whether it be in entertainment, fashion, food or something else.  So when the buzz starting building {and building...and building...and exploding} about E.L. James' debut novel 50 Shades of Grey, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

If you've heard anything about this book, you know that it's got the literary world all atwitter over it's graphic, S&M-based sex scenes.  If you haven't heard anything about this book, you have most likely been living in a cave, away from the internet, television, newspapers, and bookstores, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog anyway.

From what I've gathered from the plethora of 50 Shades articles, interviews, and tidbits, 50 Shades began as a Twilight fanfic, although it has nothing to do with vampires and werewolves. {If you're unfamiliar with the world of fan fiction, read Wikipedia's explanation here}.  EL James is a wife and mother living in England, and 50 Shades was her first attempt at writing a novel {which became a trilogy}.  Side note for the wannabe novelists out there {myself included} ~ usually, the first piece you ever write does not skyrocket to the number one spot on the New York Times' Bestsellers List; it just doesn't.  James' 50 Shades trilogy was never intended for mass publication, to my understanding.  It simply gathered so much attention and popularity as a strictly-downloadable set that it ended up transitioning to print, and James has sold the movie rights as well.  {I have no idea how this can be adapted into a mainstream movie; absolutely no idea}.

I figured I would review this book as I review any other book ~ read it; give you an synopsis that goes a bit beyond what the book jacket tells you, without giving the entire story away, and give you my overall opinion on it.  Now that I've knocked out 10 or so chapters of 50 Shades, however, I'm going to take a different approach.  I am going to review the book section by section, as I read it, because I think my feelings on it may change daily.  I think I will see it through to the end, although as of today I'm not quite sure.  Today, I need a break from Christian Grey, without a doubt.  So instead of plowing through and reading a few more chapters, I'll review what I've read so far.

I bought all three books at once, figuring I'd plow right through them.  Now, I'm not so sure...

Day 1:  April 23, 2012
Started 50 Shades of Grey today and read through six chapters.  These chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the novel ~ we meet Anastasia Steele, a young and naive college senior; we meet Christian Grey, a cold, successful-beyond-his-years millionaire who is in his late twenties; and we meet a host of secondary characters such as Ana's roommate and best friend Kate, Ana's long-time friend Jose {who has romantic feelings for Ana that are not mutual}, Christian's brother Elliot, and a smattering of Christian's employees and Ana's acquaintances.

I probably would not have noticed the Twilight correlations if I didn't already know that this started out as a Twilight fanfic, but I can see the similarities.  Both stories take place in the state of Washington.  Ana is clumsy and awkward, like Bella.  Christian is cold and dangerous, like Edward, and warns Ana to stay away from him for her own safety, as Edward does with Bella.  Jose is the Jacob of 50 Shades ~ a friend of Ana's {almost a best friend} who wants nothing more than to be in a romantic relationship with her.

There is nothing overly scandalous in these first six chapters.  We are introduced to the characters and their personalities, and while foreshadowing into Christian's dark ways is abundant, Ana and Christian don't so much as kiss.

Day 2:  April 24, 2012
I continue reading 50 Shades, and in these chapters the "naughty" nature of the book starts to show.  Christian has made it clear that he would like a sexual relationship with Ana, but his type of sexual relationship is different than virtually any other you've ever read about in any other book.  For starters, involves a non-disclosure agreement and an extensive contract outlining the nature and rules of the relationship.  Ana sees what Christian refers to as his "playroom" {full of sex toys and...paraphernalia?}, and she is given the option of whether or not to enter a relationship with Christian.  He has an all-or-nothing approach to his relationships ~ do it my way, or no dice.  He doesn't do romance, he doesn't do "girlfriend"; straight up kinky sex, and that's about it.

Upon finding out that Ana is a virgin, Christian decides that the world of S&M is no way to be introduced to sex, so he breaks his own rules and has "vanilla" {as he calls it} sex with her.  Even these "vanilla" scenes are incredibly graphic ~ much what I would imagine reading a porn script is like {do porn movies have scripts?}.

Christian does show a softness and affection towards Ana; he holds her hand in public, he sleeps in the same bed with her on more than one occasion {going against another one of his rules}; and he even introduces her to his mother when she drops by unexpectedly.  {This, the man who refuses to have a girlfriend, ever}.  Is this foreshadowing into a relationship that turns more romantic in the future?  I'm not sure, but it seems like it.

By the time I wrap up for the night, Ana still hasn't decided whether or not to enter into a dominant/submissive sexual relationship with Christian.  I'm going to guess she decides to go for it...

Day 3:  April 25, 2012
I need a day off from the world of Christian and Ana.  50 Shades of Grey is a heavy book.  Not in weight {it's pretty standard in that department}, but in the tone of the book.  Christian is a dark, brooding character with a lot of issues {I think that's obvious}.  I also have no idea how realistic the having-to-sign-a-contract thing is ~ is that how S&M relationships work?  E.L. James says she did a lot of online research for this book, so I guess I'll take her word for it.  Still...

You can't possibly enter into the world of 50 Shades without knowing that there will be graphic, explicit sex scenes.  It's the reason there is so much buzz about the book in the first place.  I think it's fair to say if you are even remotely easily offended, this is not the book for you.  I am not easily offended, and I haven't even gotten to the S&M parts of the book yet, and already I just want to shout "Stop telling me about the sex already!  I don't want to know anymore!"  I'm just over it.  That's why I'm not sure I will wind up finishing the book ~ if I'm this over the sex scenes now, how I'm I going to feel halfway through the book, or three-quarters of the way through?

To be continued....?


{photo credit for first photo:}

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yummy "Fettuccine" Dish!

Yes, "fettuccine" is in quotes.  Why?  Because this post is all about a Hungry Girl pasta swap that uses tofu shirataki noodles instead of real pasta.  Wait...keep reading!!!

Okay, it took me a good six months of reading my daily Hungry Girl email newsletters {where she often touts the amazing product that is the tofu shirataki noodle} before I actually worked up the courage to give this recipe a whirl.  For most of us, when we think "tofu" we think "ew".  I'd never actually tried anything tofu before, but I still thought "ew".  But sometimes you've got to step outside the box a little and try something different;  you never know if you don't try!  Hungry Girl offers a million and one {this might be a slight exaggeration...but only slight} recipes that utilize tofu shirataki noodles; the one she boasts about most often, however, is her Hungry Girlfredo.

There is nothing healthy about Fettuccine Alfredo.  Nothing.  Well, okay, the gallons of cream do have calcium...but that's about it.  Depending on the brand of pasta you use, a cup of white or whole wheat traditional noodles will cost you around 40 carbs {and who really has ONE cup of pasta?  Anyone?}.  Now, carbs are good for you; carbs are great for you, actually ~ they provide your body and your brain with the fuel you need to exercise, think, and function.  But carbs are in everything, not just grains ~ carbs are in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, as well as breads, pastas, and other grains.  When you're trying to cut back on calorie intake and not go overboard on the starches, these tofu noodles make a great swap for traditional pasta ~ at 40 calories and 6 grams of carbs for a whole bag of noodles, how can you go wrong?

 I found the House Foods Tofu Shirataki Noodles that Hungry Girl recommends at my local Whole Foods {my Stop and Shop doesn't carry them}.  They were in the dairy/refrigerated aisle near the other tofu products.  The secret to these suckers is to dry, dry, dry them!  Open the package, dump the noodles into a colander, rinse them thoroughly, and spend at least the next five minutes patting them dry with paper towels.  These noodles hold onto a lot of water, and if you don't dry them thoroughly, you will wind up with a watery "Alfredo" sauce ~ not the effect you're going for.

Would you fool friends in a blindfolded taste-test into thinking that this is real-deal, made-by-an-Italian (or even made-by-the-Olive-Garden} Fettuccine Alfredo?  No, I don't think you would.  The texture is a bit different {these noodles are a little chewier than traditional pasta}, and of course this dish isn't doused in cream sauce.  But with a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning {I use garlic salt as well ~ yummy!}, this really does make a great, livable substitute.  I prefer to have mine with some grilled chicken, but plain works just as well.

A serving of Hungry Girlfredo {the entire recipe} has 99 calories and 2 Weight Watchers PointsPlus.  For the rest of the nutritional information, check out Hungry Girl's post here.

Hungry Girl's Hungry Girlfredo

1 package House Foods Tofu Shirataki Fettuccine Shaped Noodle Substitute
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
2 tsp reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
1 tsp fat-free sour cream
Optional:  salt and black pepper {*I also use some garlic salt or powder}

Use a strainer to rinse and drain shirataki noodles well.  Pat dry.  In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for one minute.  Dry as thoroughly as possible, using paper towels.  Cut noodles up a bit, using kitchen shears or a knife.

Add cheese wedge, grated topping, and sour cream, breaking the cheese wedge into pieces as you add it.  Microwave for one minute.

Stir well.  If you'd like, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!

Looking for some other tofu shirataki noodle recipes?  They come in fettuccine, spaghetti and angel-hair shapes {and macaroni, but that's newer and hard to find}, and Hungry Girl has plenty of recipes for them.  Follow this link for more HG tofu noodle recipes, or type "shirataki" into the search bar on the Hungry Girl website.  {Hint:  the "Know Your Noodles" guide has links to about a half-dozen of her past tofu noodle recipes}.  I've also tried the So Low Mein with Chicken recipe {even better warmed up for lunch the next day}, and the hubby and I are planning to whip up the Humungous Shrimp and Veggie Noodle-Fry this week {both use the spaghetti-shaped shirataki noodles}.

I know the word "tofu" is scary to some, but with the Hungry Girl recipes, you'll find that you can slash the calories on some of your favorite dishes instead of giving them up entirely!



photo credit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club: Little Earthquakes {Review}

Well...hmmm.  I didn't not like this book.  I just didn't love it.

I've heard, of course, the old adage ~ "never judge a book by it's cover".  But, you know something?  I do often judge books by their covers.  I'm more drawn to certain books on the shelf or the "new release" table based on the visual appeal of the cover.  Regardless of the cover, if it's a book in the genre I tend to read {usually chick-lit, fiction, female-protagonist pieces, although not always}, I always read the back cover or inside flap to find out what the story is all about, and I usually flip to the first page right there in the store to see if the book grabs me right from the get-go.  Sometimes the book with the most interesting cover has me zoning out before the first page is over ~ then I know it's not for me.

Not only do I use a book's cover to help draw me to it, but I usually form an opinion about the tone of a book from the cover as well.  A James Patterson mystery's cover is probably going to look very different than Elizabeth Berg's newest novel about a wife and mother trying to find her own identity outside of her family role; and the vibe of both those covers will be different still from the picture-heavy tome featuring the history of Boston's working class, or the unauthorized autobiography of Justin Bieber.  So, you can see why I feel somewhat comfortable throwing caution to the wind and ignoring that famous pearl of wisdom, and in fact judging a book by it's cover.  But I've come to realize that while the cover may be able to tell you some things, there can be a lot more under the surface that the cover doesn't even hint at {maybe those old wives do actually know what they're talking about...}

When I saw the cover of Little Earthquakes, with it's pretty pastels and chubby baby legs {not to mention just a hint of diaper-butt}, I figured I was in for a lighthearted story of new motherhood.  The Miami Herald quote on the front cover told me that this book was "hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful", so I figured I could expect some serious moments ~ you know, giving a grounded portrayal of marriage and motherhood, not just a head-in-the-clouds idealized version.

Instead, I found very little hilarity in Little Earthquakes ~ it was far too serious and borderline depressing to be funny.  Is motherhood really that much of a bummer for the average Jane?  I don't have kids myself, and while I don't expect that being a mother is all sunshine and rainbows, I'd like to think that there's something enjoyable about it ~ otherwise, what's the point?

When we meet the main characters, they are three very pregnant strangers who meet in a pre-natal yoga class.  Becky, Kelly and Ayinde form a fast friendship {out of convenience and the fact that they have impending motherhood in common, initially}, and the novel sees them from pregnancy, through delivery, and into full-fledged motherhood.  Each woman has her own issues and personal problems going on, which is fine ~ we all have our own drama to deal with, and marriage, motherhood, and life isn't all sunshine and rainbows.  Their issues range from a meddling mother-in-law to financial worries to infidelity.  A fourth main character, Lia, is dealing with her own baby issues and personal struggles.  Lia is outside of the yoga-friends loop but winds up being a friend to the girls as well {after basically stalking them for months in a fairly creepy fashion...but whatever}.

So many elements of Little Earthquakes are far-fetched and unrealistic ~ starting with the rapid formation of the women's friendship.  Perhaps most annoying to me?  Ayinde's husband is a professional athlete; when she is in labor, the nurses and doctors all but ignore her except when they're asking when her famous husband is going to arrive, at which point they follow him around like puppy dogs.  I've known both professional athletes and healthcare professionals; people are impressed with celebrity, yes, but they are not usually quite so ridiculous about it; also, giggling, ooh-ing and aah-ing over a high-profile patient {actually, a patient's high-profile spouse} in a hospital setting goes against just about every code of professionalism.  The parts of the book that mention how everyone Ayinde encounters thinks her husband is so amazing, drooling and falling all over themselves and saying ridiculous things, was so irritating to me I almost couldn't stomach it.  I think it's safe to say Jennifer Weiner has not spent any length of time with any public figures, or any labor-and-delivery nurses either.

I wouldn't tell you to not bother reading this book; if you're caught up on your to-read list, your favorite shows have gone into reruns, and you're looking for something to fill the time, it's definitely not the worst book you could read.  Hey, I read it start-to-finish;  when I really dislike a book, I can't even make myself do that.  In a nutshell, it was just more of a downer than I was expecting {those chubby baby legs are so misleading!}, there were so many unrealistic or unbelievable elements, and it just wasn't the best effort that Weiner has ever put out. 

{photo credit:}

Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter "Nest" Cookies {Times Two!}

Easter and eggs are pretty much synonymous with one another {not that there's much mention of eggs, brightly colored or not, in the Bible ~ but we tend to take a little creative liberty with our holidays these days}.  Of course, on Easter morning children will be waking up to baskets brimming with bright green "grass", a plethora of candies, perhaps a toy or two, and even a few dip-dyed eggs in some houses.

If you want to keep the Easter Egg theme going from morning straight through to dessert, give one of these yummy Easter egg "nest" cookies a whirl.  Both recipes call for just a handful of ingredients {especially if you use ready-made dough and frosting for the sugar cookie variety}, and the second kind is even no-bake!

On either of these nest cookies, your "eggs" could be jelly beans, Cadbury mini-eggs, Easter-colored M&Ms, or any other candy you think looks good.   Bright jelly beans will look the most striking, but chocolate-based candies will probably taste better combined with the other ingredients.

All credit goes to Pillsbury and Art of Dessert for these festive morsels!  {Follow the links for the original posts ~ especially Art of Dessert's, who included great step-by-step pics}.

These sweet little pastel-y darlings are a snap to make with your preferred store-bought sugar cookie dough and frosting; or, use your favorite homemade recipes to give them an extra special touch!  {Hint:  while homemade buttercream frosting made with real butter is divine, it tends to have a yellow tint; these cookies look best with a pure white frosting.  To achieve this in a homemade frosting, use shortening instead of butter}.

Easter Nest Cookies
yields 24 cookies

1 pkge {16 oz}   refrigerated sugar cookie dough {or homemade sugar cookie dough}
12 oz                  fluffy white frosting
1 cup                  flaked coconut
                          food coloring
                          jelly beans {or egg-shaped candy of choice}

Bake cookies as directed on package {or according to your recipe}.  Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Frost cookies.  Add coconut to a 1-quart resealable food-storage plastic bag {separate into multiple bags if you're making the "grass" more than one color, as in the picture}.  Add 2-3 drops of food coloring, shaking bag to blend color.  It may be necessary to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water to help disperse the color evenly or additional food coloring until desired color is reached.  Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of coconut on each cookie.

Top with jelly beans or candy.

For a true "nest" to hold your candy eggs, try these adorable, no-bake sweets.  You only need three ingredients {including one not often found in desserts!}.

Bird's Nest Cookie's
yields 30 cookies

12 oz         chow mein noodles
12 oz         butterscotch morsels
90             egg-shaped candies

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Pour the butterscotch morsels into a microwave-safe bowl and place them in the microwave.  Heat for 30 seconds; remove to stir.  Return morsels to the microwave and heat again for 30 seconds.  Stir until melted.  Add in the chow mein noodles and mix until combined.  Use a 1/4 measuring cup to portion out the cookies onto the baking sheet.  If the mixture starts to solidify in the mixing bowl, you can reheat for 15 to 30 seconds to melt.  Place three egg-shaped candies in the center of each cookie, first dipping the bottom of the candies in melted butterscotch to help them stick to the nest.  Allow to set for at least 5 minutes before serving or transferring.

AoD tip:  Depending on the brand of butterscotch you use, 12 ounces may not seem "wet" enough to coat the noodles.  If so, just up the amount of melted butterscotch morsels.

{photo credit:;}

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jello Easter Eggs {with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting}

I've saved the link to these easy, festive little Easter treats for the past few months.  I knew they were too cute not to share, but I had to wait til we hit Easter season.  ButterYum posted these festive and colorful sweets last April ~ you only need a handful of ingredients and an egg-shaped mold {like this one from Freshware}.  ButterYum recommends a snap-together type mold, which you should be able to find on eBay.  Check out their original post here.

ButterYum's Jello Easter Eggs 
with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients and Instructions ~ Eggs

3 ounce       package of Jello (any flavor)
1 1/4 cups  boiling water

Lightly spray egg mold with non-stick cooking spray.  Snap mold together and set it on a small tray to catch any spills.  {The mold I linked to doesn't snap together}.  Combine Jello and boiling water together; stir for 3 minutes until the Jello is completely dissolved.  Slowly pour mixture into 3 whole eggs {or 6 halves}.  Repeat as many times as you like, with as many Jello flavors as you like, until all your eggs are filled.  Chill for at least 4 hours.

When you're ready to unmold the eggs, slowly pry the mold halves apart if you're using a snap-together mold {use a butter knife to gently coax the halves apart} and, using a sharp chef's knife, cut the eggs in half lengthwise using one continuous motion.  {If you're using a half-mold, like the one linked to above, you skip this step}.  Next, use a melon ball tool to make a well in the large end of each egg half.

Ingredients and Instructions ~ Frosting
makes enough to fill approx. 24 egg halves

8 ounces       cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup         sugar
1 tsp             vanilla
1/8 tsp          salt
1/2 cup         heavy cream

Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth.  Add the heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form.  Put the cream cheese filling into a pastry bag that has been fitted with a star tip and pipe the filling into the egg halves.  Chill until it's time to serve.

Note:  If you're filling the eggs with the cream cheese frosting more than six hours ahead of serving, you may want to add a packet of Dr. Oetker's Whip It to help maintain the consistency of the frosting.



{photo credit:}