book · reviews

The Elite– book review

When I posted about reading The Selection by Kiera Cass, many of you said you felt the story sounded interesting and that you would like to hear if I read the second book. Well… I did! This week the boys and I went to the library and the first book I picked up for myself was The Elite.

If you want to refresh your memory about what happens in The Selection, you can read my post here.

35 girls arrived to steal the heart of the prince, and now only 6 remain. America Singer still doesn’t know what she wants to do. Who should she love? Does she stay and try to become the princess or leave and go back to her first love?

America went into the selection feeling that the whole process was wrong. She envisioned the prince picking based on looks, politics and/or other reasons than love. She saw that many of the girls involved were more in getting the crown than loving the man. But that all changed the more she got to know Maxon. Now she doesn’t know what to think.

America learns more about how Illea comes to be as well as why they now live in a caste system. What does she do with this new found information? Will it change how she feels about Maxon and the possibility of becoming a princess?

I can tell you this…. I’m ready to head back to the library and pick up the next book in the series!

 

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food · life · through my camera lens

Our new city

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Last night we went into the city of Pittsburgh to see Nitro Circus. We are really enjoying IMG_20180622_102302_113these trips into the city. Just like here we lived outside the city in Orlando, but we didn’t go into the city of Orlando that often. Actually most things that people associate with the Orlando area actually aren’t in Orlando itself. The city of Orlando is rather small as far as cities go. There is a lot to do in the Orlando area, but the city itself didn’t hold as much to see and do as bigger cities.

The unique thing about the city of Pittsburgh is that even though it has the attractions and appeal of a big city, there is a lot to it that has more of a small city appeal.

IMG_20180621_204424Last night we were on the banks of the Monongahela River. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the city is surrounded by three rivers. The Monongahela (refereed to as the Mon by locals) is the south of the city. We were in an area called the South Side Flats, this is still in city of Pittsburgh, but the outside of the downtown area. During Nitro Circus we were looking across the Mon into the downtown area.

I love the bridges that you see around Pittsburgh. As I mentioned the downtown area is surrounded by rivers, that means you have to cross bridges to get downtown. While I’m not a fan of the traffic you find on these bridges, I love taking pictures of them.

We already have plans to head back to this new area we discovered. We want to ride the incline, go on a duck boat tour and just hang out near the rivers. We look forward to checking out other sections of the city to see what else our new city has in store for us. I know we will continue to enjoy our new home, town and city for years to come.

life

In Summerrrrr

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Today is officially the first day of summer. The boys have been out of school for a few weeks. The weather has been warm and the fresh fruits and veggies have started rolling into the grocery stores. So, I guess today doesn’t feel any different than the other days. But, it is the official start of summer. The longest day of the year.

I enjoy the season of summer. I love the fresh fruits and veggies of summer. So many of these you can get all year long but they don’t taste the same as summer fresh. I’m looking forward to peach season. Peach is one fruit that I feel is only worth eating when they are summer fresh.

Summer means slower mornings. Later evenings. Less plans and more family time. It means trips to the library, playing games and hiking. Trips to the pool, grilling and hanging out outside. Summer means reading, watching movies and laughing together.

The boys and I went and got library cards on Tuesday. I picked up two books, including the Elite which is the book after The Selection. I am also reading a book about Grit. That book is a bit text book feeling, but it is a good read. Richard already read this book, and we are considering having the boys read it too. I’ll share more information about it when I finish it.

The boys are already spending more time helping in the kitchen. They have already cleaned their desks, floors, closets and toy boxes. Next week we will tackle their bureaus… ugh!

I love the fact that I’m able to spend the summers with my sons. I realize that there will be a time when they don’t want to spend their time off with their mom, but for now, I’ll enjoy it.

So, happy first day of summer to you. I hope this summer finds you enjoying the sunshine and smiles, relaxation and simpleness of life. Happy summer!

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family · food · through my camera lens · Uncategorized

Meatballs and weekday sauce

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When I was growing up, it seemed like a majority of the friends my brother and I had were Italian. We on the other hand do not have a drop of Italian blood in us. But that never stopped us from enjoying Italian foods! I love anything in red sauce, who doesn’t? I would be very happy if you gave me a bowl of red sauce and a loaf of Italian bread… yum!

Well last night we decided to have meatballs. We had purchased a french baguette at the store on Monday and we didn’t want it to go stale before it was consumed. Blake told me over the weekend he wanted to help with the cooking this week, so I had shown him Alton Brown’s Chicken Parmesan Balls recipe. We decided this would be the meatballs we make this time around. I typically make the meatballs from this recipe anytime I make meatballs. P1080320

The boys decided they would both help make dinner. Blake helped make the meatballs. He measured and mixed and then formed the meatballs while I cooked them in the cast iron skillet. Colby made the sauce almost completely on his own.

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Chicken Turkey Parm Balls

  • 3 oz panko bread crumbs
  • 4 oz parm cheese (I used a combination of parm and asiago since I didn’t have enough parm)
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning mix (dried herbs not salad dressing)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 oz of fresh mozzarella
  • weekday spaghetti sauce (see below)
  • Heat oven to 400
  1. mix 1/2 oz of panko and 1 oz parm cheese in a small bowl and set aside
  2. combine chicken, egg, 1 Tbsp oil, bread crumbs, parm cheese, basil, garlic powder, Italian seasoning and salt in a large bowl. (use your hands it’s your best kitchen tool!)
  3. use cookie scoop to create equal size balls
  4. heat 1 Tbps oil in pan.
  5. brown balls in the pan, work in batches and do not over crowd the pan. remove to paper towel lined pan/plate as you go.
  6. put balls into baking dish and cover with weekday sauce. sprinkle on reserved panko and cheese. top with fresh motzarella
  7. bake for 10 min or until the cheese is melted.
  8. serve however you want (in a roll, on pasta, just on a plate, eat it right out the pan…?)

Weeknight sauce

  • EVOO
  • 6 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning (herbs not salad dressing mix)
  • 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  1. heat oil in the pan (enough to coat the bottom of the pan
  2. add crushed garlic
  3. add remaining herbs
  4. heat until the garlic is starting to brown around the edges, making sure to continue to break up garlic if you didn’t chop it up
  5. add in the whole can of tomatoes
  6. let cook 5 min or so then begin breaking up the tomatoes (Colby used the wooden spoon then I used a potato masher) to the consistency you like your sauce

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This was really good. The boys did find the sauce a bit spicy. I think next time I’ll use 1/2 or 1/4 tsp of the red pepper flakes. I enjoyed the texture, taste and mouthfeel of these meatballs. I would make them bigger next time if I was making them for the subs. I tend to choose to make my meatballs smaller so I know they cook through and they also do not need as much binder then. I will certainly be making both the meatballs and sauce again since everyone enjoyed them.

 

family · life

Fun at the grocery store?

Yesterday we needed to do our weekly grocery shopping. I don’t mind this chore, but doing it with the kids in tow is not always fun. Typically they aren’t bad, but they just hate the whole process. I will say I’m at least glad that I don’t typically end up with a ton of extra stuff when they come with me. I think the area we may have splurged a bit in was fruit, but who can complain about that?

But, yesterday went ten times smoother than normal.  Why?… you ask! Well that is because our grocery store has added a new way to check out. They now have hand held scanners that you can take around the store with you and scan the items as you take the off the shelf. We also have fabric bags that we take shopping with us, so we had everything scanned and bagged before we even got to the checkout.

The boys took turns pushing the cart and scanning. They are also good about popping down isles to find items they want. In the produce section they helped by going to the scale and weighing the items we were purchasing, printing out the label and then scanning the items.

I was worried that shopping would take longer or we’d end up getting other items we didn’t need, but that didn’t happen. The shockingly they both helped bring the groceries in from the car.

We had a good day yesterday all around. I jokingly said to Richard last night, “Who are these children and can they stay for the rest of the summer?” Don’t get me wrong I know my boys are actually good kids, but they are tween so they test limits and get on my nerves… it’s their job.

 

family · food · through my camera lens

Breakfast…Quesadillas? Recipe By Blake

Hi everyone, Blake here. Toady, I decided to have a breakfast burrito, and with a regular recipe and a bunch of dumb luck, I ‘created’ a new food item. Here it is….

Ingredients:

Two regular eggs

dash of water

Any decent slices of ham as needed ( I used off the bone ham from Giant Eagle.)

Any amount of slices of Colby Jack cheese as needed

Two taco-size tortillas

A little bit of butter

Equipment:

A grilled cheese or panini press

About a 6′ pan/skillet

A bowl, any size

Procedure:

Step 1: Crack the eggs in the bowl, then poke the yolk, preferably with a fork. Mix it around until it is all the same color. Pour the water into the bowl.

Step 2: Turn on the stove, and put on its highest heat setting. Move the butter around in pan/skillet until it dissolves.

Step 3: Pour the eggs in and then cook it until it’s fully cooked. Then have the wraps, ham and cheese out and ready.

Note: Here’s where this dumb luck came into place. We (myself and my mom) had turned the oven on, but my  skills on proportions weren’t so good, and we decided to do this:

Step 4: Take out the press and begin to heat it.

Step 5: While the press is heating, put cheese on the bottom of one wrap, then put ham on top of the cheese. Then, put the eggs in. After that, do vice versa of the ham and cheese, but putting ham first. Last, put the other wrap on top.

Step 6: Heat the quesadilla until desired, take it out, cut it, and enjoy!

If it ends out well, it should sort of look like this:

I tried it, and it was pretty good! Unlike this picture!P1080312

Happy cooking, and see you in my next blog, whenever that is!

-Blake

family · life · through my camera lens

Frozen in the summer

This week the boys were in theater camp. When we lived in FL the boys were involved musical theater in their school. They got to perform in Lion King, Seussical and Willy Wonka. When we moved here they didn’t have anything like that at their school. They got busy asking around for places that had musical theater for kids. Both kids found friends we acted for Jeter Backyard Theater. While we didn’t find out early enough to get into their spring performance we did find out in time to get them into theater camp.

The boys are doing two weeks of camp this summer. This first week they were performing with kids from 4th-12th grades. The oldest that they remembered being on the cast was 15 years old. They went in on Monday, auditioned and found out their roll before they left for the day. Tuesday-Thursday they learned the script, songs and blocking. Friday night at 7pm they put on Frozen Jr. This was the first time this play is being put on ANYWHERE. Jeter and two other companies across the US are piloting the production for Disney Theater. When they go back in July they are doing Frozen Kid. This will be a slightly shorter performance. They will be working with a younger cast that time around.

For this performance, Blake was one of the townspeople. He was very happy that he would be in a lot of the scenes and actually had a line. Colby was one on of the “hidden people” (the rock troll people). He wasn’t in as many scenes, but actually had a solo line in the song “Little Bit of a Fixer Upper”. They had soooo much fun and are super glad they did it and excited to go back in July.

I love that my boys are into performing like this. I grew up on the stage too. I had my first performance in the third grade and performed until my freshman year in college. There is something about being on stage. I always loved getting to know the other actors and helping each other show their best on the stage. It is a place where the odd are accepted and respected for what they can add. You learn structure, flexibility, public speaking and so much more. Can’t wait to see what roll they get in their next production and hope they continue to choose to perform going forward.

book · reviews

Hello Love– book review

You can tell it is summer by the rate I am reading books. Or maybe it is because I have been reading lighter stories lately. Last night I finished reading Hello Love, by Karen McQuestion.

This is a really cute story, predictable, but cute.

Hello Love by [McQuestion, Karen]Dan lives with his daughter Lindsay and their dog Anni. Anni, so named because Dan’t wife Christine gave Dan Anni for their anniversary. Christine passed away a year ago of cancer and Dan is trying to hold all the pieces of their lives together. Every night Anni waits for Christine to come home, which makes it hard for Dan since he knows his beloved Christine will never return again.

Meanwhile… Andrea is dealing with moving past her recent divorce from Marco. Her friend Jade drags her off on an outing where Andrea is expected to push away all the negatives of her life and as the cosmos for something more positive. Andrea plays along even though she doesn’t believe it will work.

One day Lindsay lets Anni out and she is “dognapped” from their driveway. Lindsay and Dan are devastated.

Andrea, who works for a management company, get a complaint of an illegal dog. She finds the dog there and feels the dog is being abused. Instead of calling the police, she takes the dog and claims it as her own.

Dan and Andrea’s paths cross from time to time. Will they ever realize the connection they truly have. Can they each find what they are searching for in life?

This is a great summer/beach read (even if half the book is set in the winter… that’s not important). It is an easy read where even if you know what is going to happen you want to continue to read to make sure all is right in the world. There are a less predictable moments, and those help to keep the story rolling. If you like dogs and want a happy ending story, then Hello Love by, Karen McQuestion is a good book to pick up.

 

food · reviews · through my camera lens

Alton Brown’s Chewy Peanut Butter Cookie

P1080303When I went to the grocery store on Monday, they had a sign saying that Tuesday, June 12th was national peanut butter cookie day. That was enough incentive for me to bake peanut butter cookies. I mean who doesn’t love a good PB cookie?

So I decided to look in a few cookbooks I have and settled on Alton Brown’s Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies from his cookbook EverdayCook. The recipe starts by telling you that this is  “A one-bowl, no mixer cookie that’s also gluten free.” I hesitated at first, but decided to give it a go anyway…

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookie

  • 1 c. smooth Peanut butter (I used Recess’s peanut butter)
  • 1/2 c. light brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  1. Heat oven to 350
  2. line cookie sheets with parchment paper (I used my silpats)
  3. put peanut butter and both sugars into a large bowl, beat together with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated
  4. add the egg, baking soda, vanilla and salt. mix until will combined
  5. roll dough into 1 oz balls (I used a cookie scoop)
  6. place 8 per cookie sheet (or whatever fits with space between for spreading)
  7. flatten cookie using a fork to create cross hatches
  8. bake for 10 min or until the cookies look dry and are just lightly browned
  9. cool for 2 min the sheet pan.

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Ok I will be honest these cookies turned out a lot better than I expected them to. The whole concept of cookies without flour just sounds totally wrong to me. But, they taste like peanut butter and sugar, and what could be better than that? I did have a slightly difficult time mixing the peanut butter and sugars together with the wooden spoon. I did get it to fully incorporate, but I think I’d pull out my hand mixer and make it go that much faster next time.

Richard and Colby both enjoyed these too. I didn’t send them into work with Richard because they only made about 14 of the size I made.  They are rather crumbly, which is odd since they do not have a dry mouth feel. I will certainly make these again!

 

book · reviews

The Selection- book review

Over the weekend I finished reading The Selection by Kiera Cass. I picked it up as a free book through Amazon Prime. I’m noticing that they have a lot of first in a series books as part of the prime books.  Of course… suck you in with a good story and then you are willing to pay for the rest of the series? Well this is on series that I am considering giving in and paying for.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself, let me tell you about the book.

This book is set post World War 4. When the world we know it doesn’t exist. There is now a royal family and caste system in place. Moving between castes is near impossible, especially for females. Well that is unless you are part of the “Selection”. Thirty-five girls, one from each region will be selected out of the masses, and this selection will change their lives. For one… the biggest change of all.

America Singer wants nothing to do with being part of the selection. She loves Aspen, but he is in a lower caste. Can they figure out how to make this love work? When America’s name is called as the selected girl from her region, she is shocked and still critical of the whole process. But, when she meets Prince Maxon, she begins to think of life differently.

What will happen when America goes from her “just good enough” home to living in the castle? Will she get along with the other girls? Will she make it past day one never mind to the end of the selection process?

I really enjoyed this story. It reminded me a lot of The Hunger Games, without the whole making children kill each other part. The world is again that post apocalyptic state of the world. There is a government that is ruling over the world that holds everyone into a caste system. The government is a royalty who is searching for the right person to marry their heir. They are searching among the masses to show that anyone can be the next princess, even though the system set in place makes it difficult to move up and crazy to move down.

I found myself sucked into this story and wanting to join America in her adventures. I found myself running the gamete of emotions with her and now I need to get the next book since this one left off with 6 girls still in the selection process. I guess I’m off to find “The Elite” Hmmm maybe I can get it at the library? If not, I will pay to download it on my kindle… it’s that good.