Create Community: Volunteer

Certainly you have heard of random acts of kindness.  You’ve probably seen the Christmas-themed lists to “get you in the mood” for the season.  There is even a website focused on just this idea where educators teach it in the schools.  They have highlighted World Kindness Day (November 13), Random Acts of Kindness Friday (November 24), Random Acts of Kindness WEEK (February 11-17)!  Who knew?!?

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Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that.  Random.  Those little things can make a big impact on someone’s day, but maybe you loved the feeling you got when you surprised someone so much that you wanted to do more.  I’d like to compare it to your casual and sporadic toss of cash into an offering plate as opposed to your committed, designated and regular donation amount to your church or organization of choice.   There is something very encouraging to the receiver about a giver who is committed and consistent in their donation (whether it be resources, money or time).

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Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering is such a win-win for you and your community.  Not only do you personally benefit from serving in a cause that you are passionate about, but (even more importantly) you serve the people in your community.  That in turn, makes where YOU live even better!

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Local food bank: Food prep

In 2005, researchers from the National Conference on Citizenship counted the number of nonprofits in 3,100 counties all over the country.  A short three years later, the recession hit and they discovered something astonishing:  The towns with a higher concentration of nonprofits were less likely to become unemployed than those with less nonprofits.  “Just one extra nonprofit per one thousand people added up to a half percentage point few out-of-work residents.”

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Together We Rise: Helping Kids in Foster Care

I was amazed when Warnick started noting some of the jobs citizens volunteered to do: put on a police uniform to help patrol the streets (Pasadena, CA), man the front desk of city hall (Naperville, IL!!), direct lost passengers around an airport (Philadelphia, PA), write parking tickets (Deer Park, TX).  Not only did these volunteers help their towns by saving them money, but they probably had a much deeper respect for the people who do those jobs on a regular basis.  Think about it: my first job was a waitress at a breakfast restaurant.  Not only do I have a great appreciation for a great server, I’m pretty aware of when they are not doing a good job.  And yes, I do tip pretty well.

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Not only can volunteering give your mood a boost and extra dopamine, it gives you a stronger “place identity.”  While I might identify myself as a teacher or parent in my town, my volunteering creates an opportunity to join the collective “we.”  Our profession and families offer us a sense of good pride, while our service of others can offer an even deeper sense of community pride.  This creates a  greater place attachment to our town.

This quote from Warnick states it perfectly: “The cycle goes something like this: You volunteer, so your town becomes better, which makes it easier to love, which makes you more attached to your town.  As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.'”

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Local cleanup after storm

Now, it has been proven that those people who stay in a town are much more likely to invest through volunteering (as opposed to those who move a lot).  Cities can be highly transient places, and yet, they often have the greatest needs.  A military wife once said to me that she had moved so many times and this one particular move was only going to be a one year term.  She hated the location of her new home and had no desire to connect.  But, when she did connect with a couple people in that community, she made lasting friendships that she deeply needed at the time.  Sometimes our shortest stays can have the greatest impact (on us and the community we serve).

So where do you serve?

Do you love someone who has been affected by cancer?  Do you love gardening and want to support the public gardens?  Are you a huge music fan and would enjoy supporting the symphony?  Maybe consider a Giving Circle.  Find a group of people that would all like to pool money together (so you can offer a larger donation) and then collectively choose what organization to support.  You can choose a different organization each year.  Whatever you choose, think about your passions and let that lead the way.  Not only will you enjoy the work, it will serve others and in turn make your home a better place to live.

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  1.  Start with whatever brings you great joy or breaks your heart.  Is it homelessness in your area?  Check out shelters or soup kitchens.  Kids without good role models?  Consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Children in the foster care system?  Contact local agencies to see where you can help.  Even if you aren’t a church goer, consider contacting one in your area.  They often have a great list of what the specific needs are in your area.
  2. as well as the United Way has a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
  3. If nothing is seeming to fit, look at your town’s website.  They might need some volunteers.  Added bonus, you not only have a greater appreciation for the people who work in your town, you also get to see where your tax dollars are going.
  4. has tons of ideas for quick little volunteer options.  These can often be fun for getting little kids involved too.
  5. If you’d like your donation to have possibly a bigger impact, check out to see how to get started.

*All quotes and facts come from Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

Have you ever volunteered anywhere?  What kind of service has been deeply rewarding for you?

Chunky Chicken Chowder

Isn’t it so funny that at the end of summer when the temps dip just below 70 degrees for 10 minutes everyone pulls out sweaters and pumpkin everything?  And then in the Spring when the weather warms up just barely over 65 degrees everyone pulls out shorts and tank tops??  Well, we had one of those *barely* chilly days this week.  And I wanted soup.  Specifically, Chunky Chicken Chowder (say that ten times fast!).

(Do you remember this past Spring when I wanted summer and it just wouldn’t come?  This was the soup I made then.)

So this soup comes together really quickly and has lots of good, chunky bites to keep you full much longer than your typical broth-style soup.  My favorite part is that there are two different types of meat: chicken breast and chicken sausage.  The fun part is that there are many different flavors of chicken sausage so you can slightly change the flavor each time you make this!  For this recipe I used this all natural brand:

First, take a large soup pot and add olive oil to the bottom of the pan.  Start warming the oil while you chop the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks.  Season with salt and pepper before tossing into olive oil.  While these brown, cut up the chicken sausage into similar-sized chunks.  When the chicken breast has cooked on both sides, add chicken sausage to warm through.

Next, chop red (or yellow) pepper, onion and red potatoes.  Also, finely mince garlic.  Add these to the pot and stir with chicken and sausage.  Let the vegetables soften (about 5 minutes) and then add kidney beans.

Finally, add fire roasted tomatoes, red pepper flakes and chicken stock.

Bring all this to a boil and lower heat to a simmer (about 10-12 minutes) for potatoes to soften.  Serve with shredded cheese, a dollup of sour cream and tortilla chips on the side.

Chunky Chicken Chowder
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 oz. chicken sausage, chopped, flavor of your choice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 6 small red potatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 t. hot sauce OR red pepper flakes
  • 15 oz. fire roasted chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Qt. chicken stock or broth
  • Garnish
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips


  1. Preheat soup pot to medium high. Add olive oil.
  2. Chop chicken into bite-size pieces and season with salt and pepper. Saute chicken until cooked through.
  3. Dice chicken sausage and add to the pot. Next add garlic and let cook 2 minutes.
  4. Add peppers, onion and potatoes. Cook 5 minutes, then add red pepper flakes and fire roasted tomatoes.
  5. Finally, add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes until potatoes are tender.
  6. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips and fresh cilantro if desired.

What do you reach for first when the season turns?  What do you crave when it starts to get cold?

White Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Admittedly, I come out of Labor Day weekend every year whining and moaning a bit.  I LOVE summer and am so SAD that it is over.  Here in Chicagoland, the Fall chill has already started.  This picture was taken this morning:

I have a love/hate relationship with this tree.  Twice a day I pass this tree to take my daughter to school and pick her up.  It is the same tree every year that starts to turn so early.  Just a couple of leaves on the top taunt me saying, “Say goodbye to summer, fall is already on its way!!”

But.  When I finally concede that summer is over, I really do love Fall.  I do!  The leaves changing in our area are truly beautiful and I enjoy cooler temperatures, wearing sweaters and scarves and sitting by the fireplace.  Living in south Florida for two years had me answering the common question “How can you handle living in that COLD?” to which I always replied “the same way you handle living in the oppressive heat of summer–inside!”

What I actually like about the cold, however, is that it gives you a good reason to slow down.  It gives you an excuse to snuggle up to a great movie or bundle under blankets and read a great book.  When I lived in Florida I felt like I didn’t have enough down time because my Midwest mentality says if the sun is shining, you better be outside taking advantage!

Fall means pumpkin spice for a lot of people.   I don’t really jump on board with pumpkin spice in my coffee.  But!  I will take a delicious slice of White Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread with my coffee, thank you very much!  What a tasty way to ring in the new season!

If you would like the see the recipe and how to make it, hop over to Hannah’s blog!  Full details on how to make it (along with the recipe!) are at A Life Transformed today.


Create Community: Enjoy Nature

Welcome to Fall and welcome back to our Create Community series.  This week we are talking about Enjoying Nature where you live.  If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

Do Something Fun

Let’s be honest, it is so easy to love where you live if it looks like this:

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Or maybe this:

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I have had the opportunity to live a lot of places and with varying climates.  Climate seems to be a BIG deal for me.  Living most of my life in the Midwest, I am very accustomed to the four seasons.  I did, however, live 2 years in Honduras as well as 2 years in south Florida where there are really only about 2 seasons: HOT and a-little-bit-cooler-than-hot.  There are reasons we take vacations in places that have weather very different from where we live.  It is refreshing and new and feels so good to get out of our norm.

When I grew up in Indiana, everyone complained about the grey winters (and they are pretty grey).  Living in Chicago, everyone complained about the bitter cold winters (again, pretty bitter cold, but much sunnier than east of Lake Michigan).  Hondurans and Floridians complained about their rain and heat.  All of these things are true.  A good family friend once said, “If everyone would stop complaining about the cold in Michigan, get the right coat and hat, you would actually LOVE living here!  There is just SO MUCH to do here, all year long!”

His enthusiasm caught my attention and he is completely right: Even south Floridians would enjoy the cold of winter if they had the proper gear.  Skiing and snow boarding, tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, maybe even just hiking.  There is something almost sacred about the quiet that comes in the first blanketing snow of the winter season.  Conversely, Midwesterners could learn to appreciate the Florida summer heat once their blood thins a bit and then they have access to water almost everywhere.

Now keep in mind this is coming from someone who isn’t truly considered the outdoorsy type.  However, I grew up skiing and the exhilaration of standing at the top of a mountain is pretty incredible.  As an adult I’ve come to realize how the simple gift of fresh air can bring a new perspective on a particularly stressful or frustrating day.

“Studies have shown that spending time in green space improves immune function, lowers blood glucose levels in diabetics, boosts cognitive functioning and concentration, lengthens attention span and strengthens impulse control.  On the flip side, Dutch researchers have found that people who spend less time in nature have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, back pain, migraines, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and more symptoms of ADD/ADHD.  Pulse rates and blood pressure soar along with their stress and anxiety.  They’re more likely to be clinically depressed.”

Warnick in her book found that in addition, green space builds social cohesion, the companion to place attachment.  It is what helps create the environment needed to live in the neighborhoods we hope to live in: friendly, inviting, welcoming.  There seem to be a better sense of community among people who are surrounded by green spaces and nature.

Another component which I haven’t mentioned yet is our access to water.  I was fortunate enough to grow up very near Lake Michigan (Indiana, Michigan and now Chicago).  My apartment in downtown Chicago actually had a view of the lake (if I craned my neck and smashed my face against the window).  But, when I got outside it was just a short two blocks walk to feel and smell the lake.  Standing at this exact spot at Fullerton and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and I vividly remember thinking, “Is it possible to fall in love with a place?”

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What I really loved was the hustle and bustle of the city AND the proximity to Lake Michigan.  If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know my affection for Lake Michigan.  But I think I really realized how much I need to be near water when I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  It is the capital city in the center of the country, hours from the oceans that touch each side.  Not only that, it is a city in the valley between mountains, so much so that you have to get special certification to land an airplane in the Tegucigalpa airport.  After living there a while (my whole stay was two years), I realized how much I was missing water.  We did make it to the coasts in Honduras and other central American countries which brought much peace for me but I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have easy access.

Where you grow up often determines where you will settle.  Of people who grew up on the coast, 73% later settle in a coastal area; 63% who grew up among forests settled in a similar landscape.  The nostalgia of where we grew up seems to draw us again when we settle.  It might not be the same town but might have the same landscape.  Enjoying nature where we live can give us that familiar echo of home.

Try looking at your town in a new light.  What about the green space do you notice?  Are the local parks beautifully landscaped?  Do you have walking/biking trails?  How is nature highlighted where you live?  Be sure to take some photos and share them using #createmycommunity.

Action Steps

  1. If you have kids, make it a goal to visit all the parks in your town.  It is a fun way to explore hidden pockets you wouldn’t otherwise know about.  If you don’t have kids (or dogs), grab a book or your coffee and just go sit at a bench and enjoy being outside.  Leave your phone behind!
  2. Check to see if your town has a local nature center.  They can give you information about trees, plants and flowers that grow in your area as well as wildlife.  Ours has hands-on activities for kids,  a preschool, rooftop garden, outdoor amphitheater, walking trails and they even sell local honey!
  3. This should be obvious, but take care of where you live.  Pick up trash and be diligent about not leaving behind garbage when visiting a local park.  Every outdoor space is only as good as the people who take care of it.

Create Community: Do Something Fun

We return to our Create Community series this week with the topic of Doing Something FUN!!  If you missed our previous posts, check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

The concept of doing something fun seems so easy but when you are new to an area (or have been doing the same thing for a decade) in your town, it might feel a little harder.  And of course, the concept of fun is certainly subjective.  The writer Emily St. John Mendel noted, “Edmund Wilson once wrote that no two people ever read the same book and I’ve come to believe that no two people ever live in the same city.”

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Think about how cities have branded themselves (usually with the strategies of companies to highlight the best of what the town has to offer).  You know a few of them: Pure Michigan has become the alluring slogan for all the lakefront views all over Michigan.  And you know the one from Vegas: “What happens here stays here.”  If you live in one of these, you might not agree or even like these slogans, but they have certainly drawn people to both of these examples.

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Warnick discovered in her research that a town is what you think it is.  Even if it isn’t as glamorous as the bigger/better town next door, you can rebrand your town even if only in your own mind.  She found a study done in 2008 by Gallup and the nonprofit Knight foundation called “Soul of the Community.”  They talked to adults in 26 cities to determine how emotionally attached they were to their communities and why they felt that way.  Polling was done in cities of varying sizes from one million down to less than 20,000.

What their study found was very interesting.  It wasn’t the good schools, affordable housing and safety (what most realtors use to sell you a new home) that created the strong sense of place attachment.  The three qualities that created the strongest sense of place attachment and place satisfaction?  Social offerings, aesthetics and openness.  When citizens feel like there are lots of things to do, it is beautiful to look at and welcomes all kinds of people, they are deeply attached to it.  Secondly, the more attached they were to their cities, the better the city did economically.

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So, if you have things in your town you enjoy doing (maybe even on a regular basis), it creates a sense of attachment to where you live.  If you don’t love where you live, consider investigating some new things in your town that you haven’t experienced before.  Maybe use Google to help you identify what are your town’s strengths.  Not every town is good at everything, but your town is certainly good at something.  Make it your mission to find out what they are.

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Warnick admittedly is not a sports fan.  At all.  But someone suggested to her she attend the local university football game.  I loved her thoughts on this, “In all these ways–intense loyalty, the group identity, the sense of ownership–sports fandom is oddly reminiscent of place attachment…This experiment helped me see the very real link between rooting for your hometown sports team and rooting for your hometown…They do it because they love their city and the team’s victory is the city’s victory.”

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Lastly, if you are still struggling to find things to do, create your own.  Find a local park and find a new routine there.  Pack a lunch.  Read a book.  Enjoy a hike.  Try one new local restaurant this month.  Maybe even consider attending the local football game.  Ultimately, your place attachment has everything to do with the positive memories you have in your town.  So do something fun!


  1. Try to make a list of 10 local sites, historic landmarks, tourist attractions, parks, museums, statues and events.  Use Google or even Facebook to help you find some in your area if you need help.
  2. Inquire about any local festivals as they offer a great sense of community pride.  When you are shopping local, ask the shop owners if they are aware of special events.  Often they have a better awareness of the goings-on in your area.
  3. Even if you are still struggling, do what you love where you live.  Runner?  Find a local half-marathon.  Home chef?  See if any of the local shops offer cooking classes.  Book worm?  See if the book store offers book club and author events.

Should you decide to try a few new things, please use #createmycommunity so we can see what new activities you are enjoying!


Creature Comforts: September 2017

Happy September everyone!  Hope you had a great Labor Day with your family.  We had all kinds of fun at a local amusement park, a day in the city and family time.  It was a great way to end the summer.  If you follow me on Instagram, you know I even tried to sneak in a little reading too.

Our Creature Comforts series continues and I wanted to share a little about some fun things that I tried or enjoyed this month.  For our previous post in the series, click here.

Garlic Shrimp in Coconut Milk, Tomatoes and Cilantro is a quick stew cooked in a light, tomato coconut broth with a hint of lime and cilantro. Simple enough to make for a weekday dinner yet sophisticated enough to serve to company. Serve with a little brown basmati rice to soak up the delicious broth.

ONE// SkinnyTaste Garlic Shrimp in Coconut Milk, Tomatoes and Cilantro

My love for trying new things is great when I want my kids to have the ability to eat foods other than PB&J and macaroni.  But, sometimes trying new dinners on a weeknight can be disastrous when it takes 30% longer because you are just learning how the meal is supposed to come together.  YOU GUYS.  This meal took about 15 minutes to put together, the hardest part was cooking the rice.  If you have a rice cooker this meal is so quick.  Healthy, easy and so tasty it is PERFECT for a weeknight meal.  Quick tip: Make sure you choose shrimp that have already been peeled and deveined for quicker assembly.

If you are wondering, you cannot taste the coconut milk at all, it just gives it a creaminess without using cream.  We loved it because it is warming (perfect for Fall and Winter) but also light (so great for Spring and Summer as well!).  If you need nutrition values, click the link above, SkinnyTaste always provides them as well as WeightWatcher Points if that’s your thing.  (This is also gluten free, paleo and Whole30 approved!!!)


TWO//  Book Darts

I do believe this puts me firmly in the book nerd category #sorrynotsorry.  These are tiny brass “arrows” that point to the exact quote or paragraph you want to remember or refer back to in your next discussion.  I think I’ve sold my whole book club on how great they are!  They are super slim and don’t mark your pages at all.  Using them for only a couple of months,  I feel as if I might need to purchase a ton of them to highlight all my favorite books!  In this set you get 50 darts for $12.

Revlon Matte Balm, Sultrysource

THREE//  Revlon Matte Balm

This is one of those things that I grabbed on a whim and have been so glad to have it in my bag.  It has great pink color and I really like the matte finish.  The color sultry is my favorite color, but there are lots of choices.  And, at this price point, you can choose all different styles.  It feels so moisturizing and even comes in a variety of finishes (matte, glossy, etc).


FOUR//  The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

This book was given and recommended by a friend and have really been enjoying it!  It is the story of a young Irish gypsy boy in the 1950’s.  When his grandfather dies, his universe shifts a bit.  He likes the mobile life he lives with his family, but his father puts him in school to finish his holy communion.  Only about 100 pages in, I’m enthralled by this boy and the life his family leads.  If you love historical fiction, check it out.  Expect to see a review soon!


FIVE//  Who What Wear brand at Target

Have you heard that Target is phasing out the Merona and Mossimo brands??  A sales associate tell me so I don’t have official confirmation from the company, however, they seem to be making up for it by launching new lines and this newest one has me very intrigued.  Found this summer when wandering with a friend, I was impressed by the cute styles and really good prices.  This particular dress above is less than $35!  The cute blouses and skirts are what originally caught my eye but they also seem to have some more casual pieces as well.

Nike Kids' Revolution 3 Running Shoe Toddler Shoesource

SIX//  Famous Footwear

Back to School shopping is always fun for me.  The former teacher in me loves all of it.  But, when I was traipsing all over town to find my kids new shoes I was NOT a happy camper.  I wanted them measured so I could make sure they were wearing the right size and frankly I wanted them to be happy with the look and feel of the shoes before I purchased.  Our outdoor mall had ONE store  that sold kids shoes and their selection wasn’t big enough to cover all of our needs.  (Not Macys?  Not DSW??  Nope.  They don’t sell kids shoes.  What???)

Anyway, while in Famous Footwear the sales associate told me their deal (Buy One Get One 50% off is good in store and online…and even a combo if needed!!)  That deal even includes sales and clearance!  They had tennis shoes for my kids but not dress shoes in store for my daughter and she said they would honor the deal part online and part in store!  And, if you buy online, you get an additional 15% off and free shipping on orders over $75!  If that weren’t already a great deal, you can ship free to your local store (if you don’t have a $75 order) and return all orders in store if they don’t work out.

This was totally a good deal for me.  We measured them in store, then ordered multiple choices online.  We got all the shoes we needed, returned the ones we didn’t and everyone is set for school.  You might be surprised all the brands they offer so be sure to check them out!

What have you been loving lately?  I would love to hear if you have tried any of these products!


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Create Community: Be a good neighbor

The concept of a neighborhood has come to have an almost romantic feel for me.  My husband and I grew up in neighborhoods that ran into each other and both of us had what I would consider an ideal situation: lots of kids, friendly people and a lot of opportunities for pleasant social interaction.  In my neighborhood alone, we had a welcoming committee, Christmas cookie exchanges, a Memorial Day parade where we decorated our bikes and followed a fire truck up to the neighborhood pool and then celebrated the holiday with a carnival in the parking lot.  Oh, and we walked to school with all the kids on our street.  It felt almost…like Leave it to Beaver.

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When we bought our first home, I had so many dreams of what I hoped for in a house.  We were expecting our first child and I couldn’t wait to see what friendships our kids were going to make just a few doors down.  But a few months later, I still had yet to meet a single neighbor.  Thankfully, one evening this very kind woman walking her baby in a stroller crossed the street and introduced herself to me.  I was so grateful for her taking the initiative.  Less than a week later her husband walked over with a baby gift for our new little one.

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Neighbors used to be the first people you would befriend.  In the 1950s, 44 percent of neighbors socialized at least once a week.  Think parties, picnics, poker games and potlucks.  By 1971, it had dwindled to 24 percent and that number continues to plummet.  The internet certainly continues to claim to connect us and yet we are more disconnected than ever.  As a result, most Americans barely know a few neighbors by name and 28 percent know no one at all.

Those of us with children or pets have a built-in conversation starter.  But, if you don’t have those or truly get hives from initiating conversation, you might have a hard time meeting your neighbors.  Can you imagine, though, the benefit of wonderful neighbors??  Now, that lovely woman who introduced herself to me ultimately became a wonderful friend.  Our kids enjoy playing together and I am so thankful for her introducing herself to me.  We have since met some others who are more than just kind.  They let us borrow weed trimmers and ladders and even offer to help us plant our new bushes.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together and consider them close friends.

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If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know I was captivated by the book The Turquoise Table.  (Read my review here.)  Kristen Schell was tired of not knowing her neighbors so she decided to DO something about it.  She set up a picnic table in her front yard and just started to do life out there: reading, homework, dinner, snack time, puzzles and book club.  People started to notice and she created an entire movement out of it.

Then I heard about Neighbor’s Table (clearly I have a thing with the table…) and it literally took my breath away.  Sarah was new to Dallas, didn’t know a soul and wasn’t exactly sure how to meet people.  She knew she loved entertaining so she set up a table in her backyard and set a goal to invite 500 people to her table in one year.  FIVE HUNDRED.  She invited people she knew and people she didn’t.  To date, her website states she has hosted over 2500 people.

Community is made up of people who know and care about each other.  When studying civic engagement, Warnick learned that choosing between adding 10 percent more cops on the streets or 10 percent more citizens knowing their neighbors’ first names, you should always choose the latter, it is better for crime prevention.  Think about it: you will call someone if their garage is open and you have a relationship with them.  When people care about those around them, we have a better shot at keeping crime down and place attachment high.

Do we live in a perfect neighborhood?  Definitely not.  But I’m hoping it’s a work in progress.  I am to blame too for just pulling in the garage and not engaging outside of my home.  We love our home, but more importantly, we love that we share it with the people around us.  Consider challenging yourself with a couple of actions steps below to get to know your neighbors better.

To catch up on the rest of my Create Community series, click here.

Action steps
  1. Be bold.  Wave to a neighbor you don’t know.  Say, “Can you please remind me of your name?” if they have told you before.  Make a note in your phone so you don’t forget.  Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new neighbors before the end of next month.  Even if you have lived in your home for over a decade (or more!), there is probably someone you still don’t know.
  2. Celebrate national Good Neighbor Day on September 28.   Bake cookies or banana bread or invite people over for coffee.  My husband and I try to celebrate with our neighbors every year on the anniversary of the day we moved in to our home.  Nothing fancy, usually just a cookout.  It gives us a chance to tell our neighbors how much we appreciate them.
  3. If you see someone moving in, introduce yourself.  It is so nice to have a friendly face and a name to help you feel grounded in new territory.  Bring them a few takeout menus (you know you have a million).  And lend them your ladder when they need to borrow it.
  4. Need to get to know more and want a bigger bang for your buck?  A potluck is a great way.  Divide up everyone by last name and ask people to bring a dish to share.  Our park district will even provide road blocks, a climbing wall and kids train if you are throwing a block party.  My sister moved to a new neighborhood last year and hosted a neighborhood-wide Easter Egg hunt.  She also hosted a back-to-school party and will probably throw an end-of-school bash.  Too much?  Maybe just have a cocoa and cookies night and do an open house.  Like football or sports?  Host a tailgate (outside so there is little cleanup!).  If you are willing to host, so many more people are willing to jump in and participate or even help.  Someone just has to take the first step.  Let it be you.
  5. Finally, BE a good neighbor.  If you get someone else’s mail, take it as an opportunity to go meet that person.  Maybe bring their trash cans up to their house for them while you do yours.  Offer to help rake leaves or shovel the snow off driveways.  No one says you have to be best friends with your neighbors but everyone likes living next to a good neighbor.

If you decide to take any of these action steps, be sure to use #createmycommunity so we can celebrate with you!  Or, please share your ideas in the comments!

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken

Do you ever do this?  Make a bunch of grilled chicken but feel at a loss for what to actually do with it?  Well, this very quickly assembled dinner is delicious!  Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken is a healthy, quick dinner that won’t leave you weighed down when you are finished.

One of the things that always helps is to quickly season the chicken before it goes on the grill.  Just a couple of spices and you can completely change the flavor of your entire meal.  You could also marinate your meat but sometimes I just want to sprinkle something and go.

My husband is in charge of the grill so while he does that I do the chopping.  Within just a few minutes I have all of dinner ready.  Though some of my kids are a little resistant to salad for a meal, they will eat nearly all of this separated onto their plates which makes it a win for me.

The other great part about this is that the marinade is also the dressing.  It simplifies everything and leaves you with fewer dishes to do.  To get started, preheat your grill.  Next, to a large bowl add olive oil, lemon, water, red wine vinegar, parsley, basil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.  Whisk these ingredients well and add half to the chicken in a zip top bag.  Reserve the remaining dressing for the salad.

Next, start to warm the grill as you just do a bit of chopping: chop up some Romaine lettuce, halve some cherry tomatoes, dice up an English cucumber (the long and skinny kind), slice a whole avocado, quarter a lemon and pull out a pint of feta cheese.

Place marinated chicken on the grill and discard marinade.  Grill until juices run clear and have good grill marks.  Be sure to let chicken rest for 5 minutes before cutting into it so juices can redistribute.  Slice chicken and add to salad.  Dress the salad and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken

If you would like, add 1/3 c. chopped and pitted Kalamata olives.

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  • For the dressing/marinade
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 t. dried basil
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. dried oregano
  • 1 t. salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • For the salad
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 c. Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 large English cucumber, diced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • lemon wedges


  1. Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl and whisk well. Pour half into a zip top back with chicken breasts. Let marinate while the grill warms. Reserve remaining dressing for later.
  2. Chop Romaine lettuce and cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado and put on the salad.
  3. When chicken comes off the grill, let the meat rest for 5 minutes. Finally slice the meat and add to the salad. Pour remaining dressing over the top.

What is your go-to quick healthy dinner?  Do you have a favorite marinade or herb mix for chicken on the grill?

Sixty-Four Restaurant and Wine Bar: A Review

When your town gets a new restaurant, everyone gets pretty excited.  My actual address sits in a pretty small suburb of Chicago, (we have less than 75,000 and next door just about doubles that number) so we like to take advantage of all of its benefits.

Recently the downtown area has been adding quite a bit of new storefront, restaurants and more walkways along the water.  Downtown Naperville is already known for good shopping, restaurants and a beautiful Riverwalk with brick-lined paths along the water.  One of our favorite family activities is grabbing an ice cream cone and people-watching as it seems the entire town comes out on a beautiful night.

Basement goals

So, when we heard that there was a new wine bar in town we were excited to try it out.  Sixty Four Wine Bar is appropriately named because they offer 64 wines by the glass every day.  There are free-standing kiosks in the center of the restaurant and dispense a bit like soft drinks (though in a bit more glamorous machines).  You have the option of three pour sizes (and prices), a taste, a half glass and a full glass.  The variety of wines and price points was varied which was appreciated.  They do change their wines fairly frequently so you feel anxious to come back and try others.

We decided to start with an appetizer, Crispy Calamari with Spicy Thai Basil and Sweet Peppers.  I tend to think of calamari as greasy and not very flavorful but these were excellent.  I think the Thai flavors paired excellently and the calamari was perfectly cooked.

Next we ordered the cheese plate served with green apples, mango jam, blue cheese marshmallow and crackers.  We chose the Drunken Goat (Spain) and the Barber’s Reserve Cheddar (England).  Though everything tasted good, I wished the cheese had come out in much thicker slices or cubes so I could better taste the cheese.  Because it was so thin, I felt like it was hard to actually taste it.

Finally, we ordered the Angus Burger with Red Onion Chutney and Smoked Maple Cheddar Cheese.  (I’m so bummed I forgot a photo of this!)  This burger was excellent, perfectly cooked.  We split everything so we could try lots of different things.

Overall I really enjoyed the food and the wine was fun and interactive though I wasn’t overly excited by anything I tasted.  Because rose is so popular, there were a lot of choices for that and limited choices for other varietals.  I think this would be a fun place for Girls Night Out or Bridal Showers or Couples.  When searching for a great bottle of wine as a gift, I certainly will return for the selection alone.

To check out their menu and wine varieties visit their website here.

To see other restaurant reviews click here.


Create Community: Buy Local

Continuing our Create Community series, this week we will look at Buying Local.  If you missed our previous posts in the series, check them out here.

Image result for quaint downtown

Campaigns for buying local are fairly familiar to me, and I could easily see how buying local would invest money back into the place where I live.  However, I had never considered that it would further connect me to where I lived.

Related image

Think for a moment about the last time you moved (even if that was just into the dorm in college).  Where did you go to get your towels and laundry detergent?  Did you run to Target or Walmart?  There certainly is the benefit of the comfort level with these stores.  Since many are laid out in the same way, you know exactly where to find the shower curtains and brooms.  Not to mention, when you go this route, it would probably be cheaper than a locally owned store.

Image result for quaint downtown

BUT, did you know that for every job at a “bottom price” chain (like Target and Walmart), it eliminates 1.4 jobs locally potentially closing those locally owned stores.  What initially seems like a potential job boom for a town slowly degrades the community’s wages and therefore its overall business success.

Image result for quaint downtown

(For example, Warnick cited a study that showed big-box retailers returning 14% of its earnings back to the local economy while the rest was shipped back to the faraway corporate offices.  In contrast, independent businesses can circulate 52% of the revenue locally.  In simpler terms, if you spend $25 at a local boutique, $14 of it will stay where you live.  At a big chain, only $3.50.)

Image result for downtown naperville

Warnick stated, “Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities, and it’s easier to become attached to our city when we know exactly who and what it is.”  Just think about it: what is the allure of that quaint coffee shop in the little resort town?  You like it because it is different than Starbucks.  Why do you love the children’s boutique in the neighborly part of the city?  You love it because the gift you are buying your friend is special and unique and not something she’ll throw in her cart when she’s picking up a prescription.  What is it about the clothing store that you like better than Macy’s?  It brings you back because it is often better quality and the people who sell it to you care whether or not you buy something from them.

Image result for downtown holland michigan

Notice those words I mentioned: different, unique, quality, care, special.  You will pay a bit more for those things, but don’t you want those extras when you make purchases?  I don’t know many people who don’t like to get a great deal when they have the option.  There are reality shows about buying things for free with coupons!  But at what cost?  If we want to keep the quaint, quality stores around, we have to be willing to spend some money there.

Being honest, I am always hunting for the best deal.  I love a good sale and even still use online coupons.  But learning about this has challenged my thinking a bit.  So, I took an afternoon and went to buy a book.  In a bookstore that wasn’t a big chain.  I had to take a bit more time to learn the layout because it was new (and not familiar like another uniformed layout bookstore in town).  They didn’t even have both books I needed.  They found one, ordered the second and happily helped me look for my daughter’s lost shoe.  Though that last bit isn’t in their job description, I appreciated that they were willing to help out a complete stranger and new customer.

If where I buy can have an impact on how I feel about where I live, maybe I should consider my purchases a bit more.  Our culture is saturated with the idea of being efficient and pinching pennies.  However, I don’t want those decisions to ultimately hurt where I have chosen to raise my family.  So, family members, consider yourselves warned: you’ll probably all be getting books for Christmas.

Action Steps

  1.  Find one item you can buy locally and stick to it.  (Need some ideas?  How about books, kids birthday party gifts, housewarming gifts, baby/wedding gifts, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day?  Maybe find one or two stores in your area and try to do all your holiday shopping there.  Bonus: Sometimes they gift wrap for free!)
  2. Visit two local businesses and ask if they have any events (wine and cheese night at the boutique that sells home decor or birthday parties at the local toy shop).  Not only will you meet other locals, you’ll get to know the staff who could help you pick up your next gift.  When they know you better, they’ll help you buy a better gift.  Maybe even something for yourself.
  3. When you visit your next local business, look around and notice the difference between it and its chain counterpart.  If you’re feeling bold, tell the staff what you like or appreciate about their store.  Consider what you would miss if it wasn’t there anymore because it didn’t make enough money to stay.  Would you miss it?  If so, then you should be a patron there!Name three independent stores or restaurants in which you have fond memories.  What is it about these places that you love?  If you worked in or owned a locally owned business, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!


Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin

Hey!  I hope you had a great weekend.  We are back at school full time around here and it has been an adjustment, to say the least.  I think we all forgot what our days looked like when my oldest was in school all day.  Our little buddy was pretty bummed out to lose his playmate.  As with all things back to school, though, we are back to the grind of planning menus and schedules.  Balsamic and Herb Tenderloin is such a great and simple choice when you need to make something quick!

Pork tenderloin is the best kind of pork.  Well, except maybe bacon and that may just be a tie because bacon is from heaven.  I’m certain of it.  But, pork tenderloin is delicious and simple yet nice enough to serve to guests and easy to prepare.  This comes together so quickly that the hardest part is deciding what to have with it!

To prepare, add the following ingredients to a zip top bag: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.  Squish around the bag to make certain all ingredients are well mixed.  Add the pork tenderloin and marinate for about 30 minutes.

Next, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove meat from the marinade and discard marinade.  Season with salt and pepper and then heat a pan on the stove.  Sear pork on all sides (about 2 minutes).  Remove from pan and place in oven safe dish and finish in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  {I choose to move the pork to a new pan because the bottom of the pork gets too dark for my taste if I leave it in the pan from the stove.}

If you have a meat thermometer like this one, use it!  They are fairly inexpensive and you won’t regret having one at your next Thanksgiving dinner (for that reason alone it is worth the purchase!).  Perfect pork comes in at 140 degrees at the thickest part of the meat.  If you don’t like any pink, I would try no higher than 155 degrees.  After that, your meat will dry out and not taste as delicious as it could.

Yes, this meat did come all the way up to 140 degrees.

Let the meat rest for a good 5 minutes before slicing and serving.  We served this with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!  Also, worthy to note, my kids love this too!  Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin is a great meal to add to your regular rotation.

Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin
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  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 t. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 1 T. fresh rosemary
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin


  1. Add all ingredients to a zip top bag. Let the pork marinate for about 30-60 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Remove from bag and discard marinade. Season with salt and pepper and sear pork (about 2 minutes each side). Remove from pan and add to oven safe dish.
  4. Finish cooking pork in oven for 15-20 minutes until meat thermometer reads 140 degrees internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat.
  5. Let pork rest 5 minutes before slicing.

If you are looking for some other recipes, check here.

All Over But the Shoutin’

All Over But the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg


Genre: Memoir

Summary:  Rick Bragg is a celebrated author and former journalist for the New York Times.  He is even a Pulitzer Prize winner.  But Bragg didn’t always live a glamorous life.  In fact, he came from a very poor area of Alabama, was a son of an alcoholic father and was raised by a hard-working mother that would often go without so he and his two brothers would have enough to eat.  This book was written to honor his mother.  “Maybe, if I tell it right, she will live again in these pages, that all the things she could have shared about who we are, who I am, will not be so badly missed.  I like to believe that.”

Bragg’s account is such a great example of why I love memoir.  His sparse language takes out all of the over-dramatization of his tough upbringing and yet gives it enough weight to feel the oppression of his poverty.  Bragg is unapologetic about his successes, but equally as resistant to self-glorification.  One of our book club member said he seemed so humble about his success, he was almost self-righteous about it.

In his words, “This is not an important book.  It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons who lived hemmed in by thin cotton and ragged history in northeastern Alabama.  Anyone could tell it, anyone with a daddy who let his finer nature slip away from him during an icebound war in Korea, who allowed the devil inside him to come grinnin’ out every time a sip of whiskey trickled in, who finally just abandoned his young wife and sons to the pity of their kin and to the well-meaning neighbors who came bearing boxes of throwaway clothes.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was his exploration of the relationship with his father.  Though Bragg was angry to have lost his father to alcoholism, he seemed to never hold the man himself in much contempt. His analysis of what traits of his father were passed on to the three boys was also interesting.  I think it was Bragg’s very honest and transparent analysis of his own qualities that made him all the more endearing to me.

Bragg said of his brother Sam: “Sometimes I wonder what will happen if Sam and I are called to stand before Saint Peter on the same day, and my sins include everything from trifling with loose women to sleeping in church, and Sam just says, ‘Well, Pete, once I did fish on a Sunday.'”

Finally, Bragg’s use of language was fresh and almost sizzling.  His use of words and descriptions were among some of the best I have read.  Some of the people he encountered when on the job were fascinating.  I have said before (though maybe not here just yet), that a book’s rating will be decided by simply how it makes me feel.  This book was funny in the descriptions of southern life.  It was heart-wrenching as Bragg told of poverty, the loss of his father and trying to use his craft to get out of town.  He covered heart-breaking stories.  But above all these, the whole book was written to honor his “Momma,” as she was adoringly called.  His conversational style and highest regard for Momma made me fall for this beautiful, southern story.

To read other book reviews, click here.

What is your favorite memoir?  Does it matter to you how a book makes you feel?  Which book has drawn the strongest reaction from you?


Create Community: Walk More

Welcome back, friends, to our Create Community series.  The last two weeks (here and here), we discussed the challenge of creating community for yourself when you become an adult.  When we were kids, our parents chose our community for us: the neighborhood we lived in, the school we went to, sports teams, fine arts events, play groups.  Secondly, we talked about place attachment, the term author Melody Warnick used in this book to describe people’s sense of connection to their community.

In Warnick’s research, she discovered that there were ten common actions that we could actually do to help us create a deeper sense of place attachment where we live.  Each week we will dive deeper into each of them.

1.  Walk more
2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10.  Stay loyal through hard times
Let’s dive right in!

Walk More

Do you ever just take a walk around your neighborhood?  Do you ever bike to run errands?  If you have a dog you need to take out, I’m certain you have a better sense of your neighborhood than most of its residents.  Warnick learned that you have a much better sense of place when you actually put on your shoes and walk around where you live.  This might even mean walk to the nearest shop, gas station or market.

When exploring a new town, most people try to learn the area in their car.  This certainly is the most time-efficient way, yet research shows that our mental maps are significantly more accurate when we walk or bike.  Years ago when I lived in downtown Chicago, I was always amazed by the people who seemed to be born on the city streets because they knew them so well.  I’m not completely directionally hopeless, but it seemed to come so much easier to them.  Thinking about it now, they biked to work.  Walking (or bussing) the four blocks to my job made me an expert at the few blocks surrounding home and work, but downtown?  I was pretty lost.

Of course, the more you walk over periods of time, the better your mental framework of your own local map.  Not only do you know street names and chain restaurants, you have memories attached.  “This park is where my toddler took her first steps!  That field is where I took my dog to play catch the first time!  That office is where we signed the papers to own our home!”  I loved this quote by Warnick: “Each jolt of memory becomes a geolocation marker that we press into our mental map of where we live.  Little by little, we pin ourselves into place.”

Warnick interviewed a Raleigh, North Carolina resident who was shocked at how few people walked in his area so he started “Walk Raleigh”.  His semester abroad in Copenhagen inspired a new way of thinking and he set out to bring this new way of life to Raleigh.  He created signs sharing all sorts of landmarks and how long it would take to walk there.  When asked if walking matters, he responded, “Absolutely.  I think that it helps people discover the character of where they live and why they like it.  Otherwise it’s a faceless kind of experience.  You don’t come in contact with anybody.  Even having the comfort of being social and being around other people is so healthy.  It’s fun to walk down the street and say hi to people.”

Action Steps
  Sit down with a piece of paper and draw from memory your neighborhood.  Be as detailed as possible.  If you’re struggling, go for a slow walk with eyes wide open and try again.
2. Consider trying to run one of your errands by walking or biking.  Even better, permanently make this change a part of your routine.
3.  Does your town have a local walking tour?  (Mine doesn’t, it is a bit too small.  The neighboring suburb does, however.)  Consider trying it out and if not, check out some of the landmarks within the park district and see if you could create your own.
4.  If you are moving or planning to move, consider the Walk Score for your town. uses Google Maps to give a score for its walkability.  If you are walking distance to a bank, coffee shop, grocery store, you earn points.  The higher the score, the more likely you will be able to bike/walk to live in your community.  (Note: Parts of New York City and San Francisco are as high as 99 out of 100, where I live, a 33.)

Wow, if you have stuck with me to the end you are either my mom (hi, Mom) or dedicated to loving where you live!  Be sure to take pictures of some of your favorite things about where you live (on a walk of course!) and share with #createmycommunity.  I can’t wait to see what you share!


Greek Turkey Burgers

Turkey Burgers are not something I would ever choose on a menu.  I find them to be dry.  Bland.  But Greek Turkey Burgers, that is another thing entirely.

I’m not sure I had even tasted a turkey burger before marrying my husband.  But he convinced me that when you are craving a burger, sometimes a turkey burger can satisfy the craving for a lot less calories.  Adding the spinach didn’t get me all that excited at first but I also discovered later it adds some moisture to the meat.  And the burger has feta cheese.  Everything tastes better with feta cheese.  The lemon yogurt sauce on top makes this burger perfection.  To me, it just tastes like summer.

First, take your refrigerated ground turkey meat (I find room temperature makes it fall apart a little more) and frozen spinach, feta cheese, and dried oregano, dill, cumin, salt and pepper to a bowl.  Gently mix ingredients together until just combined.  Divide into four equal patties.  {Note: Sometimes I double this recipe and freeze the other half for next time.}

Lightly oil grill before placing burgers over medium heat.  Grill burgers 4-5 minutes per side until juices start to run clear.  Be sure to grill your buns so they are golden and crispy!

While the burgers cook, mix up the lemon yogurt sauce.  In small bowl, mix plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper.  Keep in refrigerator until serving.

Finally, when the burgers are ready, start to assemble.  Place burger on grilled buns and top with lettuce, tomato, red onion and even cucumber!  Slather top bun with Lemon Yogurt sauce.  Greek Turkey Burgers with Lemon Yogurt sauce are a light and refreshing meal that is healthy, satisfying and a perfect meal to enjoy during the summer!

If you are looking for something to make as an easy side dish, consider making this!


Greek Turkey Burgers
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 lb. ground turkey, cold not room temperature
  • 1/2 c. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3/4 t. dried dill
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • Lemon Yogurt Sauce
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t. lemon zest
  • 1 t. dried dill
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • lettuce
  • tomato
  • red onion
  • cucumber


  1. In a large bowl, mix ground turkey, spinach, feta cheese, oregano, dill, cumin, salt and pepper gently until just combined. Separate into four patties
  2. Lightly oil grill and add burgers, grilling 4-5 minutes per side until juices run clear. Be sure to grill buns at the end.
  3. While burgers cook, mix up greek yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.
  4. Add burgers to grilled buns, top with lettuce, tomato, red onion and cucumber and slather Lemon Yogurt sauce on top.

Please share your photos and comments when you try this Greek Turkey Burger recipe!

Rhinestone Jesus

Rhinestone Jesus
Saying Yes to God when sparkly, safe faith is no longer enough
by Kristen Welch


Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living

Summary: Kristen Welch, a native Texan and blogger at We Are THAT Family, agreed to take a trip to Kenya with Compassion International to highlight the work the organization is doing there.  It was on that trip, sitting in the slums, surrounded by raw sewage, starving children and families that Kristen’s heart shattered.  She asked God why He would allow this to happen to his people and God responded with the same question to her, “Why would you allow this, Kristen?”  In that moment she decided she must do something but had no idea what that would look like.

This book is Kristen’s story of how she, along with her family (as well as many Kenyan natives) started Mercy House, a place for pregnant girls to live, learn a trade, finish school and have a fighting chance at not only surviving but thriving in their community.  It is Kristen’s story of her struggle with learning business, starting a non-profit here and overseas, and battling her own feelings of insufficiency and lack of training.

Sharing her fears, dreams, stumbling blocks and frustrations along the way, Kristen challenged her readers to remember that many women tell her they could never do what she does because they are “just a mom”.  She used this book to show that she feels exactly the same way, it was completely God who led her and He is the One making all of the success happen.  Kristen often encouraged readers to continue to dream big because when we come to the point that we know we can’t, that is the place that God can and then He will get all the glory.

Finally, I loved the story of Kristen sharing how she is living a true deep relationship with Christ now.  She credits it to what she calls “living scared.”  It has allowed her family to trust Christ more, take more risks, live more generously, have better perspective and therefore get to see more miracles.  “Whenever I’m down in the dumps and whining about the obstacles, I’m almost always reminded that if it were easy, I wouldn’t need God.  This work wouldn’t be miraculous and dependent on God if I had all the answers.  If I made it happen nice and neatly, I would get the glory, not Him.”

Kristen’s challenges were thought-provoking and inspiring for me.  In times when women (her intended audience) are feeling like what they do everyday (doing dishes, folding laundry) isn’t enough, she reaffirms their ministry of serving their family.  “Since the family is God’s means of telling His story, our goal is to build a strong family.”  And when we are feeling afraid of dreaming because of the hurdles that make it impossible, she encourages to dream even bigger.  For God’s glory alone.

“Why are God-sized dreams so compelling?  Because we powerfully experience God’s presence in our lives through them.  It’s not about destination.  It’s not what we will get if we complete the dream.  It’s about a relationship…The pursuit of any God-sized dream is ultimately about the pursuit of the One who placed it within you.  It’s like a homing beacon for your heart.”  –Holley Gerth

Have you ever done anything out of obedience or love of God that terrified you?    When did you feel the most dependent on God?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

To see other book reviews, click here.


Create Community: Place Attachment

In my very first blog post, I told you all about a place that I consider my Comfort Table.  I explained a bit about why I chose this place over my childhood home, though it is somewhat amusing that I feel more rooted to this place than where I grew up.

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”               –Joan Didion

Certain memories are deeply embedded that solidify my Comfort Table as Michigan and not Indiana.  I have my opinions about why, but when I started to read this book, certain puzzle pieces came together.


Author Melody Warnick was known for picking up and leaving any place that lost its allure after the typical honeymoon stage.  She moved several times post-college, always drawn to the ideal of a clean slate.  Years later when she had packed up her husband and kids for yet another job (or clean slate), she suddenly realized she wasn’t really going to be all that different in each place.

Even though they had just moved to a small college town in Virginia from Austin, Texas, she had somehow already written this new home off as “not her forever home.”  Why was she always doing this?  Was it possible to love where she lived now?  “What started as This is the place! would be edged out over time by geographic FOMO, or fear of missing out, a vague dread that someplace better existed in the world and I didn’t live there.”

So Warnick started to do some research (she is a journalist after all) as to why people love where they live.  She uncovered a term that she used often in her book called place attachment which suggests the “affectionate,  almost familial connection that can form between us and where we live.”  She discovered that place attachment is a combination of emotion and belief with action and behavior.  If that was the case, it was possible to learn how to love her town by things she could do.

Vice President of the Knight Foundation Carol Coletta says, “The hundreds of actions taken every day by thousands of people living in a city or a community help determine the future of that community.  When I walk out my door and there’s a piece of trash, do I pick it up?  Do I plant flowers?  Do I say hello to people?  Do I walk?  Do I sit on my porch?  It sounds so small, but those are the things that have a lot to do with the quality of life in a city, and once you can get people doing those things and realizing the impact that collectively they have, that’s where the magic is.”

Hearing that, I evaluated my own experience.  I didn’t really consider myself part of a community until I bought my home.  Though, until then, I had only lived two years in one location.  I’m not sure I had taken the time to consider how I was a part of a community.  When I lived in downtown Chicago, I considered it home.  But cities are full of transient people.  Even if you stay, so many others are moving on: to the suburbs, another city or somewhere else.

Now living in the Chicago suburbs, I do love where I live.  But I would like to put myself to the challenge to connect myself to my community even more.  Please join me in this series as we challenge ourselves to learn more about our own individual communities.  If you are looking to move or settle for the first time, consider some these qualities and action steps in your future community.  If you are already settled, challenge yourself to learn new things about your community.  Next week we’ll learn the first few challenges (out of 10) to loving where you live.

What do you love about your community?  Is your place attachment strong or weak to your area?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings

If I consider myself a dessert connoisseur (which I do), then my husband considers himself a connoisseur of chicken wings (which he does).  He has tried them every which way: grilled, fried, boneless, bone-in, dipped, seasoned, dry, sauced and broiled.  All of them.  Personally, I never knew there were so many ways to cook such a tiny piece of meat.  But, when you get married you learn all kinds of things.  Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings is one of the things he has perfected.

Asking my husband when he really likes to eat these wings his answer grows in excitement as he continues: “Oh, man I really love them right off the grill in the summer when it’s hot and gearing up for a Cubs game.  Oooh, but is there anything better than listening to the pregame for a Bears/Packers standoff and it’s getting chilly outside…trailing off…Agh!  But what about New Years Day!  All those college games all day and it is so fun pulling out the grill when it is freezing and…”  You see my point.  There simply is not a bad time to make these!

David’s choice: always grilled, never fried, bone-in, unsauced but seasoned with ranch on the side.  Let me share with you how he does it.

To make the marinade add fresh lime juice, water and beer to a plastic zip top bag.  Then add salt and pepper, Goya all-purpose seasoning and paprika.  Mix well.  Split the chicken wings and add to the marinade.  Keep in marinade for as long as possible, even a couple of hours.

Grill until wings are crispy and juicy, about 10 minutes each side.  Skin should be golden brown and juices run clear.

You could easily add these wings with this appetizer and have a pretty great menu going.  Add a cooler of drinks and you officially have a party on your hands!

And yes, this is also delicious with chicken legs as well.

Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 3 lb. wings, separated
  • 1/4 c. fresh lime juice (could also use lemon)
  • 1/4 c. water or olive oil
  • 12 oz. bottle of beer (David's choice: always Miller Lite)
  • 1/2 T. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 dashes of Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce (optional)


  1. Cut all wings in half.
  2. In gallon Ziploc bag, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Add wings to marinade and leave as long as possible, up to 4 hours.
  3. Grill for about 10 minutes each side until wings are golden and crispy. Serve with blue cheese or ranch dressing.

How do you like your wings?  Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of something?  What one food could you eat year round and enjoy equally?

Creature Comforts: August 4, 2017

Happy Friday Friends!

Creature Comforts is a new series that will be coming out occasionally to share a few things that I am loving these days.  It could be products, articles or anything that I find that I think you might enjoy.

Cuisinart BFP-650 1 HP Blender/Food Processor, Silver
ONE/Cuisinart Blender/Food Processor
This was a gift that just keeps on giving.  I thought I would use this mostly for shakes and making crumbs for pies, but I have used this for so. many. things.  First, I used it to make baby food for all three of my kids.  Simpler (and bigger) than any other baby food processor.  Second, I use it weekly to make my Favorite Fresh Salsa.  (I told you I don’t buy store-bought anymore!)  Finally, I love the extra to-go cups for protein shakes or smoothies.  You can never go wrong with Cuisinart!


TWO/ Contigo Autoseal Travel Mug
Recently my favorite travel mug died.  And then our other one started to fall apart as well.  Because I use these multiple times a week, they get a lot of use.  I did not want a quick cheap travel mug.  Contigo gives a 100% leak-proof and spill-proof guarantee because you press to sip, release to seal.  Completely genuis and simple.

Homepage Tile Image

THREE/ The Turquoise Table collection
Did you know that this book is becoming a movement?  Author Kristin Schell invited people to start using #FrontYardPeople and reengage the people in their community.  Oh, and one more really fun thing?  You can buy some of her products at Tuesday Morning!  If you missed my review on this book, check it out here.  Be sure to also purchase your own copy!

FOUR/ NEW Halo Top Flavors!
Halo Top will be releasing 7 new flavors this month.  If you didn’t see my review of this low calorie, high-protein ice cream, you need to check it out here!  You know I am a dedicated researcher and certainly plan to do some thorough investigative reporting when this hits the shelves.

Eco Rolling Backpack

FIVE/ Garnet Hill backpacks
Being in the season of back to school shopping, I wanted to share a favorite around our house.  Our first Garnet Hill backpack purchase lasted through three full school years (as did the matching lunchbox).  That is worth the little extra cash if they last for three years!  The best part is that they come with a free matching lunchbox.  They have multiple sizes and styles and a wide variety of designs to make any kid happy.  They also have a snack bags and lunch containers to help keep you organized.

Hope you all enjoyed our first Creature Comforts post!  Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these things.  I’d love to hear what you think!


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Cafe Navarre

Brunch is, hands down, my favorite meal of the day.  Sleeping in, throwing on something comfy and meandering over to the local cafe for endless cups of coffee, reliving memories of the weekend and fantastic food.  Add in your best friend that you don’t get to see very often and sitting on the patio in the summer?  You have the picture of my perfect day.

Traveler tip: If you happen to know people in the town you are visiting, throw out a request for their new favorite places to eat and drink.  The locals are the ones who know the best places.  Don’t know anyone in town?  Ask your barista when you stop for coffee or even someone next to you pumping gas.

When we heard about Cafe Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, we stopped in to peruse the menu for dinner but were told they actually serve brunch as well.  While I was checking out the menu, my friend (a designer) loved checking out their interior design and overall ambiance as she has redesigned a couple of restaurants in her area.  We both loved the high windows, bright natural light and fresh decor.  The brunch menu looked so good, we decided to return for brunch the next day.

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

We started with mimosas and the build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.  They had homemade pickled green beans, maple roasted thick cut bacon and all types of pickled veggies, meats and cheeses to add to your drink.  The toppings alone made this worth the trip.

Traveler Tip: If your travel partner is willing, order different items on the menu and share so that you can try multiple items from the menu.

We did decide to split, so I chose the carrot cake pancakes.  On a brunch day, you always need something sweet.  These were remarkably light, with a light cream cheese mixture in between each pancake.  They were served with warm maple syrup and toasted pecans.  Even though they were decadent, they were much lighter than I anticipated.  The sweetness, however, might have kept me from eating a full order so I was thankful to share.

My friend, to balance the sweetness, ordered Crab Benedict.  Our server said of everything on the menu, this was her absolute favorite.  {Of note, I very much appreciate how knowledgeable our server was of the menu.  She knew the menu but wasn’t pushy.}  Because this isn’t a chain, it helps to have the servers know the menu well.  In my head I expected a crab cake benedict, but instead got eggs Benedict with large chunks of lump crab meat.  It was so light and flavorful and even fresh tasting.

This brunch was so wonderful I can’t wait to go back for dinner.  Next time I hope to try the gnocchi, Navarre salad and salmon.  Their lunch menu also sounded fantastic: autumn turkey sandwich, green goddess salad (I almost took this one to go after brunch!!) and shrimp and grits.  I was so impressed that each menu, brunch, lunch and dinner, were all different and you could tell were carefully crafted.  Be sure to check out Cafe Navarre in your next visit to South Bend, Indiana!

For other reviews like this, click here.

What is your favorite meal of the day?  Where is your favorite place to have brunch?  What do you like to order when you are enjoying a lazy morning?

Isla Coco

Hello, everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend!  We were thankful to celebrate new babies and long-time far away friends.  We even were able to slip in some good family time making s’mores in the backyard in our outdoor fireplace.  Hope you all have been checking of those last few items on your bucket list!

One of my bucket list items is to enjoy a HOT summer.  Seems silly since I have no control over the weather, but summers are meant to be hot.  Thankfully, this summer has been a hot one and I have enjoyed every minute.  We have had a couple of summers in the past that barely break 75 degrees and it makes me so crabby!  When that happens, I don’t even want to put on the grill.  (Which is such a bummer because then we won’t have this!)  This is my favorite spot in the summer: hot sun, napping children, quiet, my book and a delicious, refreshing drink like this Isla Coco.

This drink is so refreshing and different from your average cold drink.  I love lemonade in the summer and that is nice and all.  But this, this is something different.  We actually had this drink on our honeymoon and I loved it instantly.  Often I describe it as the lighter version of a pina colada.  This non-alcoholic version only has two ingredients!

First, pour some of this cream of coconut into the bottom of a glass.

Add some ice, and then pour lemonade over top.  Stir well.

That’s it!  I do find that the cream of coconut does tend to settle when making this in a pitcher.  So, make a pitcher of lemonade and then just add the coconut for each glass.  If you are having a party, just put the coconut in a bunch of glasses ahead of time to prepare and then add ice and pour lemonade over the top.  Be sure to check out these Isla Cocos.  It wouldn’t be summer without them!  Hope you enjoy!

Serves One serving

Isla Coco

5 minPrep Time

5 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 2 T. cream of coconut (per glass)
  • 8 oz. prepared lemonade
  • ice


  1. Pour cream of coconut in the bottom of a glass.
  2. Add ice, then pour lemonade over the top.
  3. Stir well and serve with a wedge of lemon for garnish.


Cream of coconut can be found with the other mix-ins in the same area as the hard alcohol. If you would like to serve this as an alcoholic beverage, it was originally served with gin, though you certainly could also use vodka. Finally, the cream of coconut does tend to settle so be sure to mix well and prepare each glass individually instead of in a pitcher.


Do you have a favorite summer drink?  What is something that you must have or make for it to be “officially” summer?  Share your favorites in the comments.


Creating community for yourself

When you are a kid, community is your way of life.  You don’t know any different.   It is made up of your family and extended family, neighborhood kids, kids from school, athletic teams and maybe even church or religious organizations.  You don’t need to create community for yourself because your parents do it for you.

Between the ages of 18 and 30, I moved 14 times.  Sometimes within the same town, but when you’re moving all that stuff, (and my Dad will tell you, I have a lot of stuff,) it doesn’t really matter.  A move is a move.  Not only is a move exhausting, but so is everything else: finding a new doctor/dentist/optometrist, the nearest bank location/pharmacy/hardware store, a favorite sports bar/pizza joint/brunch place and heaven forbid if we can’t find Target.  {If I’m house hunting and can’t find a Target within 15 minutes, I’m not moving there.  Period.}

Image result for we have all known the long loneliness and we have found that the answer is community

All of those things are annoying in the beginning, but they don’t take too long to figure out.  The hardest part?  Community.  How do you find that?  How do you know where your kind of people are going to hang out?  Do you just start wandering up to strangers in the grocery store and ask if they have all 10 seasons of Friends too?  Tap the shoulder of the patron next to you at the new sushi place and ask if they want to be friends?  Hold up a sign at Target like a limo driver that says “friend needed”?  Ok, so these things are ridiculous.  But it is so much harder in real life to make these connections.

There are places that create community in themselves: work, church, your neighborhood.  But, if you are an introvert, those scenarios cause more anxiety than comfort when hoping to build a life with people.  You long for your friendships from childhood or college and can’t seem to get past the reminiscing stage.  The good ‘ole days.  And then, you might become a mom a realize how isolated you feel.

Well, truthfully, I am an extrovert and I got tired of it too.  My husband and I had just bought our (probably) forever home and I had yet to meet one neighbor three months in.  A new baby, a new home and a new life demanded a new community.

When I began to think about it, what I really longed for was easily found.  It would certainly take time to develop, but drawing it to myself wasn’t going to be too difficult.  I didn’t need anything new or to be different than I was.  I just needed to utilize three key things to help me find it: my home, my kitchen and me.

Image result for home quote, maya angelou

“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs, a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to know that our own stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’ righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.” (Sally Clarkson in The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming)

Lucky as I was to travel all over and have friends and family in every corner of the country (and globe for that matter), I didn’t seem to live near them.  Yes, when I was single and still teaching, I did travel to visit them.  But now that I was committed to staying put, I needed to recreate that group of people in my neck of the woods.  I desperately wanted to feel like I belonged to this community and belong to the people who were in it.

When I came across this book, I was (and am) completely content living where we do.  We have lived here for over six years and for the first time since my childhood home, I feel rooted.  And yet, I still feel there is work to do.  So I’m using this book as a challenge to myself to deepen my sense of community in our area.

This will be the beginning of my Create Community Series.  Maybe you are a newlywed or transplant to a new town because of your job.  Maybe you have lived in the same town for years but still don’t know some of your neighbors.  Either way, the relationships that you have with the people you live among directly affect your happiness in that location.  Join me as we explore ways to create community right where you are.

Have you moved a lot or have you stayed in the same area for years?  What are your favorite things to tell people about your community?  Can you name a couple of things about your town that makes you proud?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!





Zucchini Tomato Bake

I hope you all had a great weekend!  I’m still trying to catch up on sleep from my Girls Weekend (which was perfect) and now I’m ready to jump back in with sharing some of my favorite recipes!  Enter: Zucchini Tomato Bake.  (If you would like to check out some of my other favorite summer recipes, stop over here.)

When I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago, I had the chance to go to the local farmer’s market in Holland, Michigan which is one of my favorite things to do in the summer.  It has grown to where college kids come play instruments and sing while locals wander the farm stands purchasing fresh fruits and veggies.  Also, the corner coffee shop posts up so you can grab a latte while wandering.  If you happen to linger too long, there are even food trucks selling food!  It is one of the highlights of summer for me.

While I was there, I was able to pick up some zucchini and summer squash.  This recipe has been a family favorite for a very long time.  This season is perfect for it because zucchini plants are exploding and offering lots of produce!  I know “zoodles” are the hot new thing, but check out this recipe.  You don’t need any special tools and it can be ready in under an hour!

First, slice zucchini and yellow squash into coins and layer into greased 9 x 13 glass pan.  Try to have similar size pieces so they all cook evenly.  I like the color of both, but if you only have zucchini, that is fine too.

Next, slice tomatoes and lay on top of the zucchini.  I believe these were Roma tomatoes, but beefsteak tomatoes would also be excellent.

Then sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over the top.  In a separate bowl mix together milk, eggs, Bisquick, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Whisk until thoroughly mixed together and then pour over all in glass pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is golden on the edges and it is bubbling.

Zucchini Tomato Bake is light and delicious and a great way to serve veggies and use up the abundance from your garden.  We love to have this as a side at a cookout, but I have also served it as lighter option at brunch.  Be sure to give this dish a try,  I know you will love it!

Zucchini Tomato Bake

10 minPrep Time

45 minCook Time

55 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 3 cups zucchini (or combination of zucchini/yellow squash), cut into coins
  • 3 cups tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. Bisquick
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 1/8 t. pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice zucchini into coins and layer into greased glass 9 x 13 pan. Top with tomatoes. Finish with cheddar cheese.
  3. In separate bowl, add remaining ingredients and briskly whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour over veggies and cheese.
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbling.
  5. Let cool slightly before serving.


Please don't leave out the cayenne pepper! I promise it isn't spicy at all, it just gives a slight peppery flavor.


How do you like to use up zucchini from your garden?  What other vegetables or fruit do you grow in abundance?

Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette

Happy Friday Friends!  I hope you have enjoyed your week and have fun plans for the weekend.  I get to meet up with my longest friend and have some good catch-up time which I’m so excited about!  But before I duck out for shopping and good food, I wanted to share this Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette.  I wanted to save this recipe for later, but it is just too good to wait!

So, I have made a discovery about myself: in the summer, I want bright, colorful food.  I love to walk through a farmer’s market and see all the fresh produce.  They say you eat with your eyes first, right?  All the colors together makes it look so delicious!  (For example, this.)

In my humble opinion, no salad is really all that great without dressing.  This one, is lick-your-fingers good!  Fresh lime juice and honey are shaken with red wine vinegar and ground chipotle powder for a little kick.  A few more spices and it is ready to go!  It is fresh, a little sweet, a little heat and it completely makes the salad.  Trust me on this one, you have to make your own dressing (this one takes just a minute or two I promise!).

First, let’s just do a little chopping: orange (or red) pepper, 2 mangos, cilantro, grape tomatoes and 2 ears of corn (uncooked, kernels removed).  Add all of these to a large bowl with rinsed and drained black beans.

Next, let’s make the dressing.  To a jar or bowl, add the honey, fresh lime juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, chipotle powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Finally, mince one small shallot and add to the dressing.  Because I didn’t want the shallot to have a strong flavor, adding it to the dressing mellows the flavor even more.  Shake well and let sit.  If you used a bowl, whisk well and let set for a few minutes while the flavors come together.

Lastly, let’s roast the shrimp.  Very lightly toss raw shrimp in 2 tablespoons of the dressing.  Lay on baking sheet covered in foil and roast for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.  They are done when they are curled, pink and opaque.  Remove from pan immediately and add to bowl with veggies.  Let cool and add remaining juices as well.  (My apologies for not getting a photo of this step!)

You can either serve this when the shrimp comes to room temperature or put in refrigerator for three hours.  Just before serving, toss all together with dressing and diced avocado.

As I sit here writing this I’m drooling just thinking about how perfect all these flavors are together.  My second (or maybe third) helping was today for lunch and I’m really wishing I’d just finished it.  You must run and make this as soon as possible!  Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette is the perfect way to get the flavors of summer on your table.

Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 orange (or red) bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ears of corn (uncooked), kernels removed
  • 1/2 c. chopped cilantro
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 avocado, chopped*
  • 16 oz. raw shrimp (peeled and deveined), 20-30 ct.
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2-3/4 t. chipotle powder (1/2 is mild, 3/4 if you like a kick)
  • 3/4 t. ground cumin
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 t. pepper


  1. Start by chopping the pepper, tomatoes, mangoes, removing kernels from the corn and chopping the cilantro and adding to a large bowl. Drain and rinse the black beans and add to the chopped vegetables.
  2. Next, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add all the dressing ingredients to a mason jar or separate bowl. Shake jar or whisk briskly and set aside.
  3. Line baking sheet with foil and gently toss shrimp with 2 T. of vinaigrette. Separate shrimp into single layer and roast in the oven from 8-10 minutes until shrimp are pink, curled and opaque. Remove from oven and add shrimp to bowl with vegetables. Pour juices in as well.
  4. When shrimp cool slightly, toss all with prepared dressing and a chopped avocado. Serve immediately.
  5. If preferred, chill in refrigerator for 3 hours.
  6. *Add dressing and avocado just before serving.


This was delicious on its own, but would be equally as good if you substituted the shrimp out with grilled chicken. I would use a bit of the dressing to marinate the chicken to give it the same flavor. Also, because of the citrus and acid in the dressing the avocado was still good the second day and dare I say even more delicious than the first. Hope you enjoy!


What are your favorite flavors of summer?  What is your favorite way to celebrate the season?  Be sure to share your thoughts below!





The Turquoise Table

The Turquoise Table:
Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard
by Kristin Schell

Product Detailssource

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: Kristin Schell agreed to host a dinner party at the last minute for a friend (the host of the party) who had an unexpected conflict.  In a moment of panic, she ordered two picnic tables for additional seating and when the delivery truck arrived, they set the tables down in the front yard.  In that moment, she had a glimpse of what those simple tables could be.
After the party, she decided to leave the table in her front yard, paint it a festive color (Nifty Turquoise to be precise) and “just show up.”  This looked a little different everyday but included coffee after getting the kids on the bus, book clubs, craft projects, homework and even meals.  She used it as a tool to get to know her neighbors and now she is starting a revolution.  She is hoping people will join her by creating their own Turquoise Table.

My wonderful friend recommended this book to me after hearing the premise.  First, it is a beautiful book just for the cover alone, but also it is beautiful for its mission.  Schell was craving community with her neighbors but felt overwhelmed with her own schedule as well as her four children and family responsibilities.  She felt encouraged to be the one to start the community but had no idea how.

You see, Schell had experienced one of those uniquely French dinners.   Imagine a rustic table, festive atmosphere, guests that weren’t rushed to get anywhere and delicious yet very simple food to keep people at the table.  Oh, and she described boisterous discussions and LOTS of laughter.

Does that sound like dinner at your house on a Tuesday??  It certainly doesn’t look dinners at my house!  You might start to say this is Thanksgiving or Christmas at your house but do you worry about breaking someone’s china or cracking the crystal?  Schell felt lured to the simple.  To the festive.  To the people.  “I was a stranger in a foreign land, yet being at the table in France fed a basic need–a need every human shares–to belong.  The experience at the table was more than a meal; it was nourishment for my soul.”

In many little ways Schell just “showed up.”  She would bring her morning coffee outside instead of drinking inside.  If she saw anyone (dog walkers, runners, moms with strollers) she would offer a hello or offer for them to join her if the mood seemed right.  Often, the brightly hued table was enough of a conversation starter.  Once a friend called her asking if she could bring someone over to the table because her friend was new in town and wanting to meet people in the area.

Schell gave up early on the idea that she needed Pinterest, Southern Living or Martha Stewart to do this.  She knew she couldn’t keep up with that.  In the end it was the people that brought her to the table everyday.  Avoiding Instagram feeds that put the best of hosts to shame, she brings back the simplicity needed to welcome everyone in the true spirit of hospitality.

This book isn’t really a how-to or step-by-step of creating your own Front Yard Group, though there are little tidbits throughout that can help you do that.  It is more of Schell’s stories that resulted in simply showing up and sharing her table.  I really loved this book and though some ideas weren’t necessarily revolutionary, we needed to be reminded of them because of our hasty culture.  The Turquoise Table is a beautiful book celebrating the art of true hospitality.  I cannot wait to add this to my own personal collection and I think this would be particularly lovely as a gift.

“Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even dare to be silent with you.”   –Henri Nouwen

Who is the most hospitable person you know?  What about them makes them especially hospitable?  What is one thing you try to do to make your guests feel welcome?  Please share your thoughts below!


Spicy Asian Green Beans

When I am meal planning, getting ready to cook dinner or am considering what to bring to a potluck, I rarely think about sides.  Sometimes I think about a salad (pasta or green or maybe this one) but honestly not much beyond that.  Spicy Asian Green Beans changed all of that for me.

To keep it simple, I will focus on the side dish and do a “basic” main dish (like lightly seasoned grilled chicken or pork tenderloin).  That way I can spend my time focusing on our side dish.  Though these green beans are so simple, you should be able to just add it to your regular rotation!

I grew up on green beans and wax beans (the yellow ones), for special occasions (Thanksgiving or Christmas) but also in the summer.  My mom and grandmother would sit with a big bag and cut the ends off for what seemed like a long time.  When I started cooking for myself, I found the work to be not worth the effort for a small portion.  With this glaze, that work is worth it and now I’ve found a quick tip that takes out all of the prep!

First, you can now find trimmed and cleaned green beans in your produce section!  Usually you can find it in the same spot that you’d find prechopped veggies and colslaw mix.  Honestly, I don’t want to spend my time trimming beans for dinner.  So this find made this dish so much easier!  I can find this brand at my local grocery store, but I have also purchased some at Costco.   This brand even lets you steam in the bag! Hericot Verts is another name (in French) for thinner green beans and those are what I used in this recipe.

Pero Family Farms Snipped Green Beans Bag 12 oz

Simply add soy sauce, white vinegar, oil, garlic, brown sugar and red pepper flakes to a fry pan.  Bring to a boil and let it slightly thicken.  Pour over steamed green (and/or wax) beans.  With just a couple basic ingredients, you can turn a very simple side dish like Spicy Asian Green Beans into the star of your plate!

Spicy Asian Green Beans

These beans were also excellent the next day. I added them to a salad with grilled chicken, fresh tomato and light drizzle of olive oil and soy sauce. Also, you can find trimmed green beans in the produce section and I have even found them at Costco. They can also be called haricot verts which is French. Serve these when you have someone you need to impress 🙂

5 minPrep Time

5 minCook Time

10 minTotal Time

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  • 2 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. white vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. green beans, trimmed
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish


  1. Add all ingredients to a fry pan and bring to a boil. Let thicken slightly. Pour over steamed green beans and serve with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

Do you ever focus on sides?  What are your favorite side dishes?  What is your favorite way to eat green beans?

Halo Top: A Review

Happy Friday Friends!  Can you believe summer is half way over already??  It truly just makes me want to cry!  I love summer so much and so I’m trying to soak up as much as I can before it slips away.  Before things too emotional, let me cheer you up with a little known fact…this Sunday is National Ice Cream day.  No really!

One of the best parts of summer really is ice cream for me.  Oooh man I love ice cream.  But there is not much you can claim in the health department.  Dairy?  Fruit??  Ok, that might be pushing it, but I have a really, really nice alternative for you: Halo Top.  It is a low-calorie, high protein and low sugar ice cream.  Also, the ingredients are all natural!  But all of those things are not as exciting as that large number on the front of the pint: the calorie count for the entire pint!!!

Now, before you discredit this, let me say first:  I don’t like frozen yogurt.  I don’t like “light” ice cream.  It just isn’t creamy enough (frankly I feel like most of it tastes like its been sitting in the back of the freezer for months).  This was totally different.  They do recommend you let it warm up on the counter just a bit before eating to make it a bit creamier (which I would agree with).

I did try all six of the flavors above (17 flavors in all).
Well, you know, for research.

Other flavors include: Vanilla bean, Chocolate, Lemon Cake, Strawberry, Mint Chip, Chocolate Mocha Chip, Chocolate Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Cup, S’mores, Black Cherry and Red Velvet.

My favorites?  Probably Oatmeal Cookie, Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Almond Crunch in that order.   When I go out for ice cream I always order something with lots of flavors together (peanut butter/chocolate, toffee/mocha, toasted coconut/chocolate).  So, I didn’t try any of their “classic” (vanilla bean/chocolate) flavors, but I look forward to trying them next time.

Overall, I thought this ice cream was creamy, flavorful and delicious.  I also found myself feeling satisfied before typical ice cream would.  There was one time when I finished the pint in one sitting….but it was only 280 calories!  My suggestion, the next time you are hosting some adult friends, buy a handful of these and add some toppings.  You’ll have a great sundae bar!  Now go get some ice cream!



Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun: A Novel
by Paula McClain


Genre: Historical fiction

Plot summary:  A fictionalized story of the real Beryl Markham, celebrated horse trainer (one of the first women recognized in Africa) as well as record-setting aviator.  Pursuing a new job opportunity, Beryl’s father brings the whole family from England to Kenya.  Not long after, her mother decides she cannot fathom staying in Kenya and returns to England with Beryl’s brother.  Though she is content in Kenya and staying with her father, she is baffled and deeply hurt over her mother’s departure.  Seeking out the motherly relationship she lacks, she finds it among the tribes that surround her father’s land.  She also finds great satisfaction in training horses with her father.
Battling loneliness and depression, her insecurities spin her into a long line of bad relationships.  Her nature seems to mirror the wildness of her surrounding Kenyan landscape.  Beryl’s refusal to be tamed makes her tough and perfect for the work and environment, but miserable in her relationships.

{If you would like to check out other book reviews or other book club selections, please look here!}

Beryl Markham was unknown to me before reading Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McClain.  (You might be familiar with Beryl’s friend, Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Denisen.  Out of Africa then became an award-winning film starring Robert Redford and Kathryn Hepburn.).  McClain’s descriptions of the beautiful, exotic Kenya were breathtaking.  She certainly can offer a wonderful sense of place.  Because it is so different than where (and when) we live, it is needed to guide the reader in understanding the nature of Beryl’s home and life.

Though much more rustic than England, it is unfathomable to me that Beryl’s mother would leave behind her child regardless of her own discomfort.  This happens in the beginning of the book (as well as the beginning of Beryl’s life, she wasn’t even 5) and from that moment, Beryl became wild and opinionated and stubborn.  It felt like she was fighting to prove she didn’t need anyone while at the same time silently begging people to notice and care for her.

Beryl was fiercely independent but also struggled to manage her fear.  Her complex relationship with Karen Blixen revealed opposition (because of a love interest) but also a confidant.  She said to Beryl: “We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all–are you?  The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.”

Frustrations mounted for me throughout the book.  Clara, Beryl’s mother was among the worst.  Expecting sympathy from her daughter after being abandoned without much of an after-thought.  “She didn’t seem embarrassed to be speaking of the past with me.  She didn’t seem to remember I was a part of her past in the colony, in fact.  Though maybe that was best, when I thought about it–if we could treat each other more impartially, as if there were nothing to apologize or make amends for.  As if nothing had been lost.”  

My greatest enjoyment was the setting.  Seeing the rich landscape through Beryl’s admiring eyes, made me appreciate it so much more.  Reading a tough, independent, hard-working narrator is great though I was easily frustrated by her very poor relationship decisions.  And she never got better at it!  She knew, from the beginning, that Kenya was truly her first love.  It brought her the most joy, the most freedom and her deepest sense of peace.  Also, the native Kenyans seemed more “her people” than the transplants she befriended, married and with whom she socialized.

One final note, the jacket describes this book to be about Beryl the aviator.  If you read the book for that purpose you will be sorely disappointed.  While it is true she set records with feats in this realm, it is only discussed in the last chapter of the book (Imagine if I said Unbroken was a book about an Olympic runner.).  This book is much more about Beryl’s early years with her father and her life as an accomplished horse trainer.

What were your thoughts about Circling the Sun?  What did you learn about the real Beryl Markham?  Can you relate to her independence?

Spice Bars

Hello, friends!  Have you all been having a good week?  We are getting back into the swing of things after the holiday, finally!  I hope you all had a great celebration with fireworks, fun and family!

Unintentionally, I might have misled you a bit.  I shared this deliciously grilled salad, fresh salsa,  and this perfect sheet pan dinner.  This is how I cook, but I have neglected the other side a bit…my love for baking.  My mom, sister and I love to be in the kitchen together.  Mom was always on the hunt for a fun new recipe to try, my sister was the adventurous cook always making her own spin on it, and I loved to bake.  My mother-in-law told me it was like watching a finely tuned machine as the three of us cooked together in my mother’s kitchen.  That always makes me smile to think of that memory.

This recipe is probably one of the very first recipes I remember baking with my mom.  She made them all. the. time.  They are fantastic so I never minded!  Sometimes when the to-do list seems to grow exponentially, I will suddenly have a strong craving for something sweet.  Spice Bars are the way to satisfy that craving!  (Or maybe that is me stress eating but we aren’t talking about that right now….)



Spice bars are so wonderful for so many reasons.  They have a wonderful golden color and warming flavor (from the cinnamon).  Chewy and so simple to make, they are even more perfect for the sole reason that you literally have everything in your pantry RIGHT NOW.  I’ll wait while you go get the ingredients….

Eight simple ingredients: vegetable oil, sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, honey and one egg.  That’s all!  Ok, let’s get started.

First, grab a mixing bowl.  Add oil, honey and sugar and mix well.  Finally, (I told you this was QUICK!) add flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and egg and mix until it just comes together.  It should look like this:

Press into cookie sheet with clean hands.  You will think that there is no way you have enough batter but you do, just keep pressing lightly until the bottom of the cookie sheet is completely covered.

Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until light golden color (like honey).  Do not overbake as the cookies can get a bit tough if left in too long.  Let cool and cut into squares.  So delicious and would be perfect for a school party, dessert when you have friends for dinner or just a rainy day.  When you’re stressed…


A big thanks to my mom for this recipe and all the memories that go with it!  (I’m sure my brother and sister have a few memories too.)

Yields 24 small square cookies

Spice Bars

10 minPrep Time

15 minCook Time

25 minTotal Time

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  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten well


  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the oil, honey and sugar well.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix until it just comes together.
  3. Press dough into cookie sheet in thin layer, covering the bottom completely.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes, until lightly golden (about the color of honey).
  5. Cut into squares.
Cuisine: Dessert |


If you can, try to use really good cinnamon. Since there are so few ingredients, make each one a quality ingredient!


Let me know if you try these spice bars!  I would love to know the occasion (maybe a Tuesday??) you decided to try them.  Happy snacking!

Whole30: Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned

If you missed my first three installments of this series on Whole30, start here, followed by this one and then read this.  In this post I wanted to offer my final thoughts and lessons learned from my Whole30 experience.

Image result for healthy fit

Here are my major takeaways:
#1: Veggies play a much smaller role in my diet than I originally thought.  If I actually counted out my vegetable intake, it would probably be ONE serving at dinner and maybe a few random ones at lunch (i.e. baby carrots or lettuce/tomato on a sandwich).  This was a pretty embarrassing realization.

#2: Our dinners were usually pretty healthy (whew!) but it was breakfast and lunch that did me in.  Serving three kids under 5 quick-fix meals (pasta, PBJ, cheese quesadillas), it was just easier to eat what they were eating.  It is quicker, cheaper and easier.  And also a LOT less healthy.  Oh, and it made me feel super guilty that I feed my kids so many carbs!!!

#3: Feeling self-conscious over being a high-maintenance guest for dinner or even at a restaurant was stressful for me.  As far as I’m concerned, if someone else cooked it, it is delicious (especially if it is a friend).  Even though we planned not to have many outings during this time, we unexpectedly had to and it was stressful (more on this in a bit).

#4: All the “experts” say to eat protein for breakfast because it will sustain you through to lunch.  I could never figure out why that never worked for me until Whole30.  By about day 12, I could agree that my daily eggs were sustaining me through.  I just hadn’t tried long enough to see the effects.

#5: I slept SO HARD during this whole process.  Truthfully, it was something my husband didn’t like about it because he felt so sluggish in the morning.  Once we were both up and moving we felt good but getting out of bed was tough.  But, we also slept better than we ever have.

#6: It IS possible to eat nothing but healthy foods for thirty days straight.  It felt great knowing that I was putting only the best fuel into my body.  The feelings of empowerment, self-discipline and control felt great.

Some confessions though…

Sadly, my desire for sugar has not changed.  It isn’t something that just tastes amazing to me, it is something I enjoy.  Loving to bake and making fun sweets for my kids and parties will not go away and I hate to miss out on that enjoyment.  I just need to learn when to say no (way more than I am now…) and when to choose to indulge.

Secondly, I have three children.  Under the age of five.  Not surprisingly, they weren’t elated when I served roasted brussell sprouts and butternut squash.  But I served it to them anyway.  We have one child who will try almost anything and she would attempt a few bites of our “weird” dinner.  But, to make our dinners successful, I would give them what they know alongside our dinner.  (For example, when I made roasted spaghetti squash with meat sauce, I would just make some pasta with the same meat sauce for the kids so it at least felt like we were eating the same things.)
Understanding it is a process, I will continue to offer new things regularly regardless of whether they like it or not.  Sometimes, though, out of necessity I would make a completely separate meal for my kids.  This was kind of annoying, but when I knew it wouldn’t go well I would prep a couple sandwiches for them while we ate.

Also, during this time, a dear friend lost his mom and we decided to drive out of state to attend the funeral.  This was obviously not something we could have anticipated but we tried (oh, we tried) to keep up the plan.  Salads eaten standing up in a parking lot while we waited for my dad to pick up our kids had dressing that I’m certain had a little sugar in it.  After the service, we ordered steaks, potatoes and veggies of which I’m certain all had butter.
Whole30 purists would tell us that in that moment we cancelled out the previous days of work and would have to start over.  I refused to do that.  We just kept going.  Even though we planned ahead, sometimes it doesn’t matter and life happens.  We decided to roll with it, do our best and just keep going.  Our friend is way more important to me than proving a point.

Finally, I’m not following Whole30 now.  And the creators don’t expect it to be a 100% of the time change.  Sometimes I will choose almond butter and banana as a snack instead of graham crackers with the kids because I know they are better for me.  And sometimes I don’t.  I lost 8 pounds in 30 days and my husband lost 6 pounds.  My friend absolutely killed it and lost 14!!  It can be very successful but I appreciated the lessons I learned almost as much as the weight loss.
Now, if we stop off for ice cream as a family, I understand what needs to happen to counterbalance the treat.  If I’m feeling groggy after a breakfast and lunch of carbs, I know why.  It also leaves very little whining room if I continue to make bad choices.

I hope this series in Whole30 has given you some good reasons to try it, some strategies for success, tools to help you through and understanding to know that no one is perfect and no one gets it right all the time.  I heard a well known television anchor say that she sets *little* goals for herself (a couple weeks at a time).  She will eat very healthy until that date (maybe a wedding or dinner party) and then splurge on anything she wants.  When it’s over, she gets right back on and plans out her next treat.  The goal setting helps her stay focused in the middle while also helping her enjoy the indulgence even more.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Whole30.  How has life derailed healthy eating even when you were focused and determined to do well?  What lessons have you learned about yourself in the process?

Bien Trucha: A Review

Bien Trucha has been on my radar for years.  When you move from the city and leave the lively food scene of downtown Chicago behind for the suburbs, it can be so disappointing.  But, people had described Bien Trucha with remarks similar to places we talked about when living downtown.  When told it was Mexican food, I was even more intrigued.    Marrying into a Mexican family, we eat Mexican food a lot.  Is it possible to make Mexican food new!  exciting!  fresh!?  {Does being with someone for 10 years make you an almost-expert?  (To prove my point, I make my own salsa exclusively now.)}

Up to this point, I have reviewed places while on trips, vacations or visits with friends.  Bien Trucha is in my neck of the woods.  I love the idea of finding new places that I can visit over and over.  To celebrate an anniversary and a birthday, I called just over two weeks out.  Saturday was going to work best for us and the only available reservation slots were 5pm and 9:15pm.  Checking the next weekend the time slots were the same.  This told me two things: I would probably be paying a babysitter a lot of money because our meal would take a while and dinner was going to be gooood.

Geneva has a charming downtown comprised of State Street and a handful of side streets.  You can find lots of restaurants and fun shops.  There was even an art gallery and adorable boutiques. We were hoping to walk around but unfortunately it was late and rainy.  Bien Trucha lures summer patrons in with a fantastic patio between its two structures.  We decided to arrive early and sit at the bar while we waited for our reservation.  The atmosphere is charming and welcoming (a large patio between an old home and additional dining area) and inside it is modern and has a city vibe to it.

Fresh made margarita are fantastically light.  Not overly tart or syrupy, each is made by hand.  They serve each table with hot chips and a smoky take on refried beans.  These were not your average beans on the side of a burrito.  They had a depth of flavor I had never tasted in beans before.  We also ordered the guacamole tradicional which was the best guacamole I have ever eaten (and know that I have tasted my share of guacamole!).  Cotija cheese offered a tangy salty bite on top.  They also have a guacamole of the day, which mixes in the fruit of the day (pineapple in our case, though I heard it can be other unique choices like blueberry, mango or watermelon).

The heart of their menu is the tacos, though they also have tortas (lunch only), soup, salad, a variety of sides and fresh made salsa and ceviche.  We were told plates were intended to share family style.  My husband ordered the arrachera tacos (skirt steak with caramelized onions, avocado and roasted serrano salsa).  Tacos are small, about the size of your palm so they don’t feel quite as heavy as your average taco.  Four tacos come in a serving.

My choice was tacos de pastor (ancho-guajillo marinated pork, cilantro, onion, fresh pineapple and their morita salsa).  You know I love the salty and sweet together!  As I said, the tacos are small but they pack a big flavor punch!

We arrived early, and before our appetizer even arrived, we were seated at our table.  The service was excellent and though I expected a longer wait time, everything was served very quickly.  Not wanting our date night to end, I ordered dessert (because, dessert).  I chose a small cornbread cake sitting in a rum glaze and dusted with powder sugar.  This was dense but warm and fantastic with the rum glaze cut the sweetness of the cake.

Bien Trucha was perfect for a date night.  Great food, energetic atmosphere and nothing was over $15.  If you would like to try it out for yourself, check out Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL at 410 W. State Street.  They accept reservations and call ahead to add your name to the wait list.  If Geneva isn’t convenient for you, the company also has A Toda Madre in Glen Elyn, IL (499 N. Main Street) and newly opened Quiubo in downtown Naperville, IL (120 Water Street).

Have you tried Bien Trucha or one of its sister companies?  Be sure to weigh in in the comments!

Whole30: My favorite foods and tools

Today I would love to share some of my favorite products and even a couple of very simple recipes.  When cutting out things that have been a part of your routine for a very long time, it is good to go simple.  These products cut out a few steps so that meals came together a bit quicker.  Who doesn’t love shortcuts in the kitchen!  These are my top 10 tips and tools to use during the Whole30.  {If you missed Whole30: Why I Chose to Tackle Whole30 and Why You Should Too and Whole 30: Where Do I Start? go check it out!}

Many of these items are specifically found at your local grocery store.  You’ll see here choices from my local Meijer, Target, Trader Joe’s as well as Costco.  I will specify what certain elements to look for with each item.  BUT, that doesn’t get you off the hook!  Be sure to look at every single label before you purchase (even the ones I tell you because products and their ingredients can change!).  Train yourself to start to notice the additives and extras that are in your convenience items.

ONE:  Kirkland Organic Marinara Sauce–You could use other marinara sauce, just make sure it doesn’t have any type of sugar in the ingredient list.  I often added this to Costco’s organic ground beef for meat sauce.

TWO:  Kirkland Signature Organic Ground Beef (Costco) was delicious with marinara over roasted spaghetti squash.  Cut spaghetti squash in half length-wise, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast face down for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.  Very satisfying!
Ground beef was also great for making taco salad or tacos using Romaine leaves instead of tortillas.

THREE:  Low-sodium bacon is great with a breakfast hash, eggs or added onto salads for a salty, smoky bite.  Did you know that regular bacon has added sugar??  I didn’t.  Look for the low-sodium kind and you should have a winner.

FOUR:  Aidells Chicken and Apple Chicken Sausage was great with roasted sweet potatoes and a fried egg in the morning.  Equally fantastic for dinner with some eggs, veggies and potatoes for dinner.

Image result for trader joe's butternut squash
FIVE:  Pre-chopped and peeled organic butternut squash (Trader Joes) was nice because it eliminated those extra steps and was a nice alternative to sweet potatoes.  Great also with roasted brussell sprouts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar!

SIX:  GoodFoods or Wholly Guacamole were a necessity for me!  I used this on my bunless burgers, with my eggs in the morning and as a dip with veggie sticks as a snack.  I could NOT have done it without it!

SEVEN:  Creamy Almond Butter is delicious with a banana or apple for a snack or quick breakfast.

EIGHT:  Pre-mixed salads (use your own Whole30 approved dressing).  Sometimes it takes too long to make your own salad.  These were nice when I was starving and didn’t feel like all the chopping.  Be sure everything in the salad is approved.  I don’t believe the cranberries in this particular salad would be Whole30 approved.  It was also great to use broccoli slaw or cauliflower crumbles for quick stir-frys.

NINE:  Variety of nuts were always kept in small baggies in my car and purse.  Perfect for when you are caught out and can’t get home during mealtime hours.  Whole30 guidelines suggest choosing raw nuts to avoid being cooked in oil.  They are delicious just toasted in a fry pan over the burner for 1-2 minutes (be sure to watch them, they burn quickly!   Ask me how I know…).  When you can start to smell the nuttiness, they are done.

TEN:  My favorite fresh salsa was so delicious on tacos, scrambled eggs and steak.

These items helped make my experience a success.  If you consider doing the Whole30, try some of these items, I’m certain they will come in handy for you!  Be sure to check out my final Whole30 post where I make a few confessions and my overall opinions of the program.

Have you tried any of these food items?  What were some of your must-haves during the Whole30?

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Our June book club selection was Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis.  (If you missed last month, check it out here!)  The jacket described this as Lewis’ story of conversion to Christianity and though I see that now, it didn’t feel that way in the midst of it.  You don’t actually hear of his conversion until the last 5 pages.  So as I was reading it, I felt like it was more of a story of his childhood and the hurdles he had to overcome to find the Joy he spoke of from the beginning.

Summary: C. S. Lewis is probably best known for his children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.  In this nonfiction book, he writes about his young life.  How the loss of his mother at a very young age had such an impact on him.  His strained relationship with his father and unique bond with his brother deeply shaped who he became.  He also explored how reading and his education led him to some of the greatest realizations of his life.

This book was quite a departure for our group.  Though a shorter book than we usually pick up, the dialogue felt headier than others.  Surprised by Joy starts with Lewis explaining a couple of instances where he experienced a moment of capital-J Joy.  He said it came quickly, left very shortly after, always leaving him wanting more.   Describing it as something completely different from Pleasure or Happiness he said, “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

Lewis was an intellectual and struggled to fit in.  He didn’t have his mother and a self-described “awkward” relationship with his father.  However, he adored his brother and cultivated his vivid and wild imagination by dreaming up imaginary lands with him.  He was not athletic at all, though he pretended just to participate in social activities with classmates.  Struggling to find friends, the ones he did find seemed to be teachers or superiors.  His greatest solace was found among books.

Some of his greatest hangups seemed to be the “intrusion” of religion on his life.  “I was also, as you may remember, one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission…It was also perhaps not unimportant that the externals of Christianity made no appeal to my sense of beauty.  Christianity was mainly associated for me with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry.  But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness.  No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word interference.  But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer.”

The most fascinating part of the whole book for me was the last two chapters.   The focus on how his life was being interrupted by the great Interferer, was truly beautiful.  His studies in philosophy made it hard for Lewis to let go of previously held beliefs.  “Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side?  My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing.  Hamlet could initiate nothing.”

For those who struggle with God or Christianity, I loved what Lewis said at the very end: “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  The best part of all of his story was that it was HIS story.  He didn’t say how it should be for other people or what the conversion experience should look like.  He simply shared his experience.  I believe he wanted to share the many hindrances that he had to overcome to find his true Joy.  I also believe he would be thrilled to hear if it helped others to find theirs.

What is your favorite CS Lewis work?  What hindrances have you had to overcome in your faith journey?  What books, music, art has changed how you look at your faith?  Please leave your comments below!

Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip

My memory of the first time I tasted this dip is nearly perfect: I was on the deck at my parent’s house, a beautiful summer night and we had all been at the beach that day.  All of the grandkids (7 total including my kids, my niece and nephews) were running around with pink cheeks from a day building sandcastles and playing in the water.  The parents and grandparents were settled with glasses of white wine in comfy chairs when my sister walked up with Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Well, first I hesitated.  Bacon, with raspberry?  And chipotle?  That sounds odd.  {Based on this sandwich, you are learning I don’t shy away from odd.}  But I do love salty and sweet together.  So I gave it a shot.  Well, that shot nearly turned into me walking off with the whole platter and the bottle of wine to finish myself.

So, the best part?  It is EASY and quick!  First, line a cookie sheet with foil.  Then lay as many strips of bacon you can in a single layer on the foil  (this is just shy of one pound for me).  Put bacon in a COLD oven and set oven to bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  I like my bacon crispy so I lean more toward 30 minutes but be sure to check it near the end so it doesn’t burn.  It can happen so fast!  Drain on paper towels when done.

While bacon cooks, grab two 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese.  You can use lower fat if you like.  It helps a lot if they are room temperature.  Spread them out to cover a whole platter using the back of a spoon or spatula.  Pour a 15oz. bottle of Bronco Bob’s Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over the cream cheese.  This may be a bit tricky to find but I found mine at World Market for around $4.  I’ve also heard you can pick it up at WalMart.  [Also, I love that I can identify every one of the ingredients in this: raspberry, sugar, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, salt, chipotle peppers, garlic powder, natural mesquite smoke flavor and pectin.]

Once your bacon has cooled, chop it up and then sprinkle all over.  Finally, chop up some green onions (green, light green and white parts, use ’em all!).  It adds great fresh color and cuts the richness of the bacon and the sweetness from the raspberry.  Spread onto crackers and serve to people you want to turn into your best friends.

Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip

10 minPrep Time

25 minCook Time

35 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 2 pkg. (8oz each) cream cheese, room temperature (can use low fat)
  • 1 jar (15 oz) Bronco Bob's Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce
  • 1 lb. bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1/2 c. green onions, chopped


  1. Line cookie sheet with foil and lay slices of bacon in a single layer on the pan. Put into COLD oven and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Watch carefully at the end so bacon doesn't burn. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels.
  2. Using the back of a spoon, spread softened cream cheese in an even layer on a serving platter.
  3. Pour raspberry chipotle sauce over cream cheese.
  4. Chop bacon and sprinkle over the top.
  5. Finally, sprinkle chopped green onions. Serve on crackers.


Bronco Bob's Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce can be found at World Market or WalMart.


Pinky’s: A Review

When you are traveling, it is so easy to check out the nearest Panera or Chipotle or something else that sounds familiar.  But the next time you find yourself out of town, I challenge you to find a great restaurant that is only local.  I’ll be transparent, I was at the end of my trip and my mind was already heading home.  But my friend made the effort to seek out a funky place and Pinky’s is where we landed.  Man, am I glad we ended up there!!

Image result for pinky's restaurant charlotte north carolina

This is a highly recognized restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In fact, it was highlighted on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!  The best thing about these types of restaurants is that they are very reasonably priced, great fresh menu and relaxed atmosphere.  We were looking for casual fare and this fit the bill.

Highlights of the menu:
[Appetizers]–veggie chili, Pimp’n Fries (fries with pimento cheese), Hush puppies and Crab puppies, Greg’s pickles (fried)
[Salads]–Tahini salad with falafel, Ginger Tuna salad
[Tacos]–Buffalo Shrimp tacos, Korean Pork BBQ tacos
[Burgers}–single, double and triple patties made to order (including toppings)
[Hot Dogs]–Reuben dog, Pinky dog (pimento cheese and chili), even vegetarian dog!
[Sandwiches]–Green Chili Pork sandwich (pineapple, swiss and arugula), Falafel, Tuna Melt

Corn Dog Shrimp Basket

This sounded like it would be so heavy but the batter was so light, they were delicious!  This was the item featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Oh, and that coleslaw on the side?  HOMEMADE and delicious.

Kick’n Chicken Tacos

Garlic Lime marinated grilled chicken topped with queso fresco, pico de gallo and garlic-parsley dressing.  These were so fresh tasting and delicious!  The black beans on the side weren’t just your average beans either.  You could tell they made everything from scratch.

Ding Dong Chicken

Thai-inspired grilled chicken breast served with honey-cilantro slaw, sriracha and chunky peanut butter.  I know it may sound odd, but this has the same flavors as the chicken satay with peanut dip that you might have enjoyed before.  And it was FANTASTIC.

Remarkably, there isn’t a single item on their menu over $10.  The quirky atmosphere keeps things light and festive and the fabulous food tricks you into thinking you are spending way more than you are.  Only 10 minutes from the Charlotte airport, be sure to check out Pinky’s if you ever get the chance!!

Have you ever stumbled across a hidden gem in your travels?  Where were you?  What favorite local restaurant would you consider the perfect diner or dive for visitors in your town?

Favorite Fresh Salsa

Summer has certainly packed a punch around here (mid-90s already!) and when those temps start to soar, my family likes to throw on the grill (as seen here!), pour something cold to beat the heat and relax on the deck.  But, since we often start grilling later, we start getting hungry before the food is ready.  Quick, easy, fresh and authentic, this Favorite Fresh Salsa is a MUST try while you wait for dinner.

Before trying this recipe, I was one of those people who would playfully bop around the salsa section at the grocery store and try all kinds of new things: peach, black bean and corn, medium, mild, hot, name brand, generic, you name it, I’d try it.  Eating salsa out was the best but never really considered making it at home.  Then I devoured  politely tasted this at my in-laws house, I knew I had to try.  BUT do you jump in after the first taste when this is not your comfort zone?   My mother-in-law could make this in her sleep while doing taxes and speaking in a third language.  Sometimes you need to leave this up to the professionals!!  This recipe, however, is easy even for those of you who don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen.

I should be clear, this recipe is not mine, it belongs to my mother-in-law.  Oh my goodness the amount of salsa she has made just since I have been in her family is startling.  Even more terrifying, how much I have EATEN since joining her family.  But, since it is made with 6 simple ingredients (including salt!) I will tell myself that it is healthy.  And it is!!  I’m just working on getting tortilla chips to somehow fit into the veggie category.  Can anyone help me with this???

Even though this recipe is exceptionally simple, I have found a few strategies to make it work every time.  Try to think veggies: jalapeno, onion, tomato and then seasonings: fresh lime juice, cilantro, salt.  Even though the ingredients are few and simple, it is important to note certain details about each one.

Tomatoes: I almost always use Roma tomatoes because they have a lower water content.  Tomatoes on the vine were cheaper once at the grocery store and they were also delicious.  One more thing, never refrigerate your tomatoes.  They will lose their flavor.
Onions:  Onions are SO IMPORTANT.  (I just heard my husband shudder in the next room.  He HATES onions.)  However, this ingredient is not optional because it gives the needed bite to counter the sweetness of the tomato.  Couple of tips, I use one medium shallot instead of a regular onion.  Though red onion gives great color, my husband just can’t stomach them.  The shallot is more mild and the perfect amount for one batch.
Jalapeno:  Did you know that jalapenos that have ribbing are spicier??  Who knew?  Also, I DO freeze these and use as needed.  Take note, however, that they get more of a kick when you freeze them so start with small amounts and add more as needed.   Cut the tops off and I leave the seeds because I’m dangerous like that.

Image result for jalapeno

Next up, seasonings.
Limes: Make sure your they have a very *slight* give when you push on them.  Their skin should be firm but not hard.  If they are too firm, they are getting old or won’t have enough juice.  ALWAYS use fresh, never bottled.  Also, like tomatoes, keep limes out on the counter.
Cilantro:  Ok, ok there are people out there who have strong aversions to cilantro.  {Did you know if you hate it, it might be part of your genetic makeup?  Check this out!}  I think it is best with cilantro, but parsley is equally as delicious.
Salt:  Also another mandatory ingredient.  If you feel it tastes a little flat, add more salt.  Salt almost always fixes the problem.  In my case I use kosher salt, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

My husband’s family will probably laugh that this recipe made the blog because it is such a part of their family life and celebrations that it doesn’t feel all that “special”.  However, it is special to me and now I love that it is a part of our family traditions with my kids.  Hope you enjoy a great kickoff to summer!  Salut!

Yields About 8 oz.

Best Fresh Salsa

10 minPrep Time

10 minTotal Time

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  • 4 Roma tomatoes, rough chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 jalapeno with seeds, use more as desired
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 c. cilantro
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt


  1. In a food processor, add rough chopped tomatoes, shallot and jalapeno.
  2. Then add lime juice, cilantro and salt.
  3. Pulse until desired texture.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips.


You could do this in a food processor, blender or Bullet. I love the texture of the food processor the best, just pulsing until you receive the texture you like best.


Have you tried making your own fresh salsa recipe?  Write your review of your try at this recipe in the comments!

Grilled Vegetable Salad

I do believe my friends, it is officially GRILL SEASON!  My husband and I have decided to set the goal of grilling every single weekend and hopefully entertaining friends as well.  Even though hamburgers and hot dogs are the norm, I’m challenging you to eat your vegetables!  Enter, perfect Grilled Vegetable Salad!

As much as lettuce salads are great and refreshing, sometimes I just need something…different.  The idea of color in this salad feels perfect for summer. Wandering the produce section or farmers market is great to get inspiration until you get every color of the rainbow.  The grill adds such fantastic flavor and the variety of textures keeps it so delicious.

First, clean and chop veggies to easily lay on the grill.  Leaving peppers in big chunks and skewering (is that a word??) smaller vegetables makes the process pretty painless.  If you are worried about losing pieces through the grates, you could use aluminum foil, but I love the flavor of straight on the grill.

The opportunities to alter this salad to fit your wants are endless!  This is a fantastic healthy side for BBQs, a great lunch if you add potatoes or protein, or a fun build-your-own kabob bar!  This would also be delicious as a side to this meal!  Adding chunky feta cheese takes this side dish over the top because, well, cheese makes everything better.   (Goat cheese would also be fantastic!)

Here are some other choices for veggies to include:
Red–peppers, tomatoes, baby red potatoes (these will take longer)
Yellow–peppers, yellow squash, corn (perfect for summer!)
Green–zucchini, asparagus, peppers, brussel sprouts
Purple–red onion, eggplant, radicchio
Other–mushrooms, cauliflower

Quick assembly, quick cooking and delicious chilled, room-temperature or fresh off the grill!  Bring Grilled Vegetable Salad to your next summer cookout and you’ll be a hit.

Yields 6 hearty servings

Grilled Vegetable Salad

A fresh, healthy and delicious, Grilled Vegetable Salad is a perfect side dish at your next barbeque!

10 minPrep Time

10 minCook Time

20 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 red, yellow, and orange pepper, seeds and stem removed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 small zucchini, cut in one inch rounds
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 6 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 oz. feta cheese
  • 3-4 T. balsamic vinegar


  1. First soak wooden skewers in water in preparation for the grill.
  2. Heat up the grill to medium heat.
  3. Begin by washing and seeding peppers. Cut onion in half and that half into thirds and separate layers. Chop zucchini into one inch rounds. Remove stems from mushrooms. Skewer all of these chopped veggies.
  4. Cut bottom 2 inches off of asparagus.
  5. Make two whole skewers with whole grape tomatoes. With remaining tomatoes, cut in half and put in serving bowl.
  6. Drizzle all vegetables with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  7. Place all veggies on the grill. Make sure all of them have good grill marks and they are tender, particularly peppers and onions.
  8. While the vegetables grill, chop feta cheese into cubes. Chop peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and asparagus into large chunks.
  9. Add feta cheese cubes while veggies are still warm to soften slightly.
  10. Add balsamic vinegar and toss lightly. Serve warm, cold or room temperature.


I chose to grill about 2/3 of my grape tomatoes and leave the last 1/3 fresh and cut in half. I liked the idea of fresh and grilled together. You certainly could grill all of them or leave all fresh. If you don't have any balsamic (or don't care for it), consider a vinaigrette-type salad dressing and use that instead.


Small Great Things: A Review

Small Great Things: A Novel by Jodi Picoult

Product Details

Plot summary: Ruth Jefferson is a veteran labor and delivery nurse performing a routine exam on a newborn when the husband of her patient suddenly asks to see her supervisor.  Baffled, Ruth returns with her supervisor and discovers the parents are white supremacists and are requesting a new nurse.  Ruth is reassigned.
But, the next day when staff is needed in the OR, Ruth is left alone with this new baby and goes into cardiac distress.  Does Ruth ignore orders and help the baby and risk losing her job or does she abide by the parent’s wishes and not touch the child?  Her decision in that moment will have a much greater impact on her life than she ever dreams.
Told from three different perspectives, this book will challenge you to think about what you would do in that situation, but also if you ever dared to consider yourself as guilty as you really might be.

So, I have a confession.

This is the first Jodi Picoult book I have ever read.


I know!  I haven’t even seen the movie “My Sister’s Keeper.”  Of course, I knew her name and saw her books all over the place.  Though I had never opened one of her books, I put her in the same category as Mitch Albom.  You know the type: perfect beach read, emotionally draining, tough topics but easy read.

A rainy, gloomy Saturday morning gave me the opportunity to fly through the first 150 pages.  In one sitting.  From that moment the story would not stop penetrating my thoughts throughout the day.  Picoult writes in a way that is fresh and engaging.  I hesitate to say too much about the plot because it truly is something that you need to wrestle with on your own.  I’ve even heard this title recommended with the suggestion that you don’t even read the summary and jump straight in.

Book clubs will have lots to discuss about Small Great Things.  Characters decisions, upbringing, career paths and even choice of spouses offer a plethora of great discussion material.  Whether you agree with the arguments made on all three sides of this story, there is much to consider.

“It was so much easier to hate them than it was to hate myself.”

Small Great Things was a fast-paced read and very engaging.  Characters were believable and though the different perspective angle is getting overdone in fiction, I found it to be particularly interesting in this book.  It made you sympathize  with characters that you normally wouldn’t sympathize with.  The tough and controversial topic kept it from being cheesy and I was surprised on more than one occasion about the turn of events in the story.  Thus, not very predictable which is a good thing!  A great read, perfect for your beach bag and for lots of great discussion.

What have been your favorite books to read about controversial topics?  Do you enjoy the heated discussion that follows or do you avoid it?  Weigh in on your thoughts about Small Great Things in the comments!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Review

April book club selection
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

Product Details

Plot summary: In a small village of the English countryside, widowed and retired Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life.  Until one day when he receives the call that his younger brother has passed away.  This moment of grief suddenly brings about an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the local Pakistani shopkeeper in town.  They find companionship in their love of literature and commiserating over challenging family members.  As their relationship develops, the neighbors can’t seem to accept the long-standing member of their community befriending the “foreigner.”

This was what I like to call a quiet book.  It has beautiful descriptions of the English countryside (certainly making me check out flights to London ASAP!) and lilting prose.

“The dense hedges of privet, hawthorn, and beech swelled together as fat and complacent as medieval burghers.  The air was scented with their spicy dry fragrance overlaid with the tang of animals in the fields behind their cottages.  Garden gates and driveways gave glimpses of well-stocked gardens and thick lawns studded with clover clumps and dandelions.  He liked the clover, evidence of the country always pressing in close, quietly sabotaging anyone who tried to manicure nature into suburban submission.” (p. 36)

The plot sort of bobs along quietly.  I adore reading exchanges between people who have deep respect for each other and the conversations between Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew were charming.  There are also some very funny moments.  For example, this exchange between Major Pettigrew and his only, self-absorbed and work-obsessed son Roger:

“You sound as if you’re calling from a submarine, Roger,” he said chuckling.  “I expect the squirrels have been chewing on the lines again.”
“Actually, it may also be that I have you on speaker,” said Roger.  “My chiropractor doesn’t want me holding the phone under my chin anymore, but my barber says a headset encourages oily buildup and miniaturization of my follicles.” (p. 101)

After reading a few other curmudgeon-type books recently (A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), I find what I enjoy most is reading about people’s thoughts and reflections as they look over the span of their lives.  What do they miss the most?  Isn’t it always the little things?  They miss the way their children looked at the breakfast table in their nightgown and socks.  Or the way their wives looked they day they met them.  I feel like those memories are what make a person.  The things that brought them such joy and sometimes regret.

“He was sorry now for the many times he had rebuked Roger and his friends-he had underrated the joy in their rowdiness.” (p. 200)

The last 75 pages did move along at a quicker pace than the first 275 pages, though I was never bored.  It was a charming, sweet and delightful read.  I found the relationship between Mrs. Ali and the Major very interesting simply because of the native/foreigner relationship as well as the cultural and spiritual differences between them.  Ms. Simonson is an exquisite writer and I look forward to seeing what else she has in store.  The way she crafts a sentence and describes people is quite enjoyable to read.  Highly recommended.

“Life does often get in the way of one’s reading,” agreed the Major. (p. 200)

Have you read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?  What do you feel about people’s reflections at the end of their lives?  What does it say about them?

Yesterday’s: A Restaurant Review

Every once in a while you come across something too good to keep a secret.  The crazy part about it is that this restaurant has been around for decades in the South Bend, Indiana area!  Need a great place to eat before or after a Notre Dame game?  Yesterday’s is it.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

I’ll be honest, I live in one of the best food scenes in the country.  We have world renowned restaurants and chefs and some pretty awesome places and cuisines.  But I recently went back to South Bend, Indiana for a family wedding that happened to fall on the same weekend as Mother’s Day.  My mom was generous enough to drive from Michigan to come watch my munchkins for the wedding and I wanted to take her out to thank her for that and celebrate the day with her.  It is very rare that I get to celebrate this holiday with her.

Some of the typical and expected places for Mother’s Day brunch that I tried were booked already.  And then I remembered Yesterday’s.  We didn’t come here much growing up, but the few times we came, we always left stuffed and happy.  Thankfully, they were open and even had a special menu for the day.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

The setting is a charming old home converted into a fantastic restaurant.  Because of this, you feel as if you are welcomed into a cozy home of a friend instead of a sanitized place where people eat.  The floors creak with age and the walls are filled with quirky photos and art.  The decor and place settings have a tropical feel but it is anything but cheesy.  It simply just lightens the mood.  Because of the quality of the food, people may expect linen tablecloths and a wait staff in tuxedos.  However, you feel like you’re being ushered into a vibrant and friendly home.

Now, the food.  Let me just tell you, the staff pay attention to details you completely forget about.  Your entree comes with a soup or salad and my salad was so good it could have been my meal.  Homemade (read: AMAZING) croutons and a from-scratch dressing (I had parmesan peppercorn) won me over immediately.  Put that on top of lettuce with onion, grape tomatoes and cucumber and you have a pretty fantastic salad!  Since my mother was watching, I refrained from licking the plate.  It was Mother’s Day after all and I wanted her to know that she did raise a child with manners.

It should also be noted that our waiter was incredibly friendly and attentive.  At one point I somewhat panicked that he seemed to be taking so much time with us.  But, when I remembered we didn’t have toddlers with us I sat back and enjoyed his company.  He was so personable I nearly asked he join us at the table.  Some of their staff has been there nearly 25 years!

When the entrees arrived, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this food was.  The presentation was spectacular and colorful!  This was my mom’s meal: Walk the Plank, Matie.  Great Lakes whitefish served almondine on a cedar plank.  Isn’t it so pretty?!  The real orchid on each plate shows the attention to detail at Yesterday’s.

My meal: Captiva Crab Cakes.  Served with a curry mayo on the side with steamed broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes.  Often when a vegetable is served on the side of something it is very much an afterthought.  This was the. best. broccoli. I have ever had.  Period.  The crab cakes were about 85% real crab meat with corn, peppers and special seasonings and very carefully browned in a skillet.  It was so nice that the crab was the predominant flavor and ingredient.  And again, so pretty!

You are too full, you say?  Oh, no.  You MUST get their fantastic made-in-house desserts.  Portion sizes are very large so it is completely acceptable to share.  Though I can’t find the exact name of this cake, it was something like triple chocolate cake with two types of chocolate ganache on top.  Yes, that is real whipped cream too, not from a can.

What a pleasant surprise to be reintroduced to such a fantastic place.  My mom and I had a such a lovely lunch with fantastic food and even better service.  Great for special occasions like dates, birthdays, anniversaries.  Other local “go-tos” for Mother’s Day brunch would have run about $40 per person not including drinks for a brunch buffet.  Pricing was pretty comparable here, but it was a special menu and we got to order what we wanted.  In my eyes, a much better choice for the money.

Best part?  We both went home with half our entrees for the next day and even some dessert, though we split that too.  If seafood isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of steaks as well as chicken and the #1 rated burger within 100 miles.  If you need a delicious, fun meal the next time you are in South Bend, Indiana, be sure to check out Yesterday’s!

Do you have a hidden gem in your hometown that you love?   Where would you love to take your mom for Mother’s Day?

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes

Maple Glazed Salmon with Sweet Potatoes is a perfectly light and fresh dinner for summer!  If you know that eating fish is good for you but don’t know where to start, try this.  It is easy to assemble, ready in a flash and absolutely delicious.

As you may recall, my husband and I have finished our first Whole30.  But, now that it is over, I want to continue to make healthy choices.  Salmon is such a delicious fish and has lots of health benefits.  For example, it is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, high in B vitamins and a good source of potassium.  Add to these benefits the vitamins (A, C and B6) from the sweet potatoes and you have a great meal!

To start, slice peeled sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.  Toss potatoes with melted butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon.  Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast potatoes for about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes roast, you can start the glaze.  Add the real maple syrup (not pancake syrup) and Worcestershire to a small saucepan.  This makes the flavor of the salmon and sweet potatoes really sing.  While this glaze comes together, check the salmon to make sure there are no bones.  Finally, after the potatoes have baked for 20 minutes, lay the salmon on top.  Brush half of the glaze over the salmon and roast for 10 minutes.  After salmon roasts for 10 minutes, baste one more time with the glaze and roast for a final 5 minutes.

This is also delicious with quick grilled asparagus.  Toss asparagus spears in olive oil, salt and pepper and then grill in a grill pan.  (Here is mine and I love it!)  Cook until crisp tender and enjoy with your salmon.

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes is a light and delicious meal that is simple enough for a weeknight dinner but elegant enough for company.  Not only that, it is a wonderfully healthy meal, a wonderful way to kick off summer!

Yields 3-4 servings

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes

10 minPrep Time

35 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 T. butter, melted
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 2 T. Worcestershire
  • 1.5-2 lb. salmon filet, checked for bones


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss sliced potatoes with butter, salt, pepper and cinnamon.
  3. Arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast potatoes for 20 minutes.
  4. In a small saucepan, stir maple syrup and Worcestershire.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened and reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
  6. Check salmon filet for bones, discarding any you find. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Carefully turn over the sweet potatoes and then lay salmon on top.
  8. Brush half of the glaze over the salmon. Roast for 10 minutes.
  9. Baste with remaining glaze and roast 5 minutes more.
  10. Salmon is done when it is opaque and easily flakes with a fork.


Be sure to use REAL maple syrup, not pancake syrup.


Whole30: Where do I start?

So you’ve decided to start your first Whole30!  I’m so impressed!  If you missed my post explaining why I decided to try tackling Whole30, be sure to check that out here.  You might be nervous, excited and fired up all at the same time.  Do you have “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat??  Well today I have three tips to get you started on the right track!

Image result for healthy fit

Whole30 is intense but it is supposed to be.  Over the next 30 days you are choosing to fuel your body with only the healthiest food it can get.  Do you wonder what it will feel like?  There are times when you will feel hungry, tired and crabby because you are craving a caramel latte and you aren’t going to cave!  But there are other times when you will feel amazingly healthy and strong.  When the crabbiness is fighting hard, fight back with the knowledge that you are offering your body the best kind of nourishment.

When considering your first Whole30, do three things first:

ONE:  Order (or check out at your library) the New York Times Bestseller It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.  I needed to know the why behind all of those foods I was being asked to eliminate.  Honestly,  the book is a huge reason I finished.  Understanding how food is supposed to work with my body and not against it gave me the tools to overcome cravings.  Food is supposed to be fuel for your body to function.  What you put in determines what you get out.

Possibly even consider writing in a journal while you do this.  I documented my beginning weight (though you are only supposed to check your weight at the very end, not during the 30 days), what I hoped to get out of the plan and quotes from the book that helped hammer home certain concepts.  Also, guess at some of the triggers that will tempt you over the next couple of weeks.  For me, I knew that sugar was going to be a big one.  Then you might be surprised what you add to that list and how new triggers surfaced throughout your month.

TWO: Grab your calendar.
Do not start today.  Yes, you actually read that right.  Whole30 actually takes planning and strategy.  Consider your schedule: do you have a birthday/anniversary/wedding coming up?  Are you willing to eat according to the plan during those times?  These events are not a good enough reason to cheat.  Out of 365 days in a year, you can find 30 in a row to dedicate yourself to clean eating.  I wouldn’t recommend it around major holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, especially if you dream about the food you’ll enjoy during those times.

To be honest, my husband and I discovered how much we celebrate with food and drinks.  We chose to do ours around the month of April ending just after Memorial Day weekend.  It nearly killed both of us to be on a holiday weekend with family celebrating and not enjoying all the holiday “treats”.  And that was the end of our Whole30!  So be choosy when deciding when to tackle it.

THREE: Meal plan.

Image result for whole30 shopping list

First of all, take one week at a time.  Plan ahead and be ready for any unexpected thing that can happen.  Consider having the same breakfast everyday for the first couple of days so you don’t have to think about that meal.   Second, buy 4-5 types of vegetables and 4-5 proteins.  In It Starts with Food, the authors state that fruits are good but not necessary.  However, I felt apples and bananas (along with baggies of nuts) were the perfect food to keep in my bag for those unexpected delays that keep you away from your kitchen.

Particularly for the first week, keep it simple.
Breakfast: eggs, sauteed veggies (peppers/onions/tomatoes), avocado
Lunch: salad, chopped veggies, protein of choice
Snack: piece of fruit, small handful of nuts or almond butter
Dinner: protein, veggie, potato
Don’t start with Pinterest or Instagram because you might get overwhelmed.  A few days in to your first week go to Instagram,, or my personal favorite, Pinterest for meal ideas.

Day before you start, grill up at least a couple chicken breasts, make a handful of hard boiled eggs and chop up lots of veggies.  You will appreciate the ability to throw together a salad, stir fry or breakfast “hash”.  Buy more meat and veggies than you think you’ll need because you will go through them faster than you think.  Also, grab a couple larger bags of raw almonds or other nuts that you enjoy.  These are great to keep around for snacks.

You will certainly be the most successful if you:
Know your purpose (understanding the why)
Plan ahead (strategically choosing the when) and
Choose what to eat (being deliberate of the what).

Next time I will discuss a few confessions, a few meals and products that I could not have lived with out, and final thoughts.

Have you read It Starts with Food?  What do you anticipate will be your greatest challenge?  What do you look forward to in completing your Whole30 experience?

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Oh, ho ho how tough it is to be tempted by Spring one weekend and turn around to have a Midwest winter come back to bite you!!!  We have been tempted a couple of times with delightful weather (read: children are going OUTSIDE).  Then,  THEN we get rain and freezing cold temps.  Not ideal, my friends, not ideal.

When the temps dip too low for the windows to be open, I want one thing:  I want soup.  And if I get to choose, it will almost always be  roasted tomato soup.  It is chunky so it feels hearty and it has TONS of flavor.  Added bonus: your house will smell amazing while you roast these very simple veggies.  Let’s get started!

Take 1 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes and 2 lbs. of Roma tomatoes cut in half and lay out on a baking sheet.  Roughly chop 3/4 of an onion and 4-5 carrots.   Smash 7 garlic cloves and add to the pan.  Pour 1/3 c. olive oil over the top and toss.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for one hour at 375 degrees.

[Note: This would be the perfect time to invite people over so they can smell the amazing food you are cooking for dinner.  As these veggies roast, they create an absolutely DIVINE aroma.  You will be the rockstar neighbor who makes her own soup.  From scratch.}

Look at that delicious char on those onions and tomatoes!  Two different types of tomatoes give better depth of flavor.  Lots of garlic cuts the sweetness of the carrots and tomatoes and mellows as you roast it.

Once the vegetables have cooled slightly, use an immersion blender (like this one) OR pour carefully into a blender and blend until you reach desired texture.   If it isn’t blending well, add some of the vegetable broth (or chicken broth) to help it along.  Pour soup into soup pot and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken slightly.  Finally, add remaining broth,  2 T. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 t. red pepper flakes and 3-4 T. basil pesto.  Let this simmer a couple of minutes to let all the flavors come together.

While you wait, you can get to work on your grilled cheese.  Keep it simple, but make sure you use real butter to help make that golden crust.  Lastly, cut grilled cheese into cubes for a fun garnish.  Oh, who are we kidding, this is half the reason you made the soup!  (No judgement here).

This is also a wonderful recipe for those in your life who are vegetarians or if you would like to try a Meatless Monday meals.  Or it could also be a great meal to bring a new mom or someone who has just returned from the hospital.  It is warm, comforting, and also very easy to freeze.  Just cool, pour into freezer bags and lay flat.  Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons is the perfect meal to warm you up on a cold day. Enjoy!

Yields 6 hearty servings

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

10 minPrep Time

1 hr, 15 Cook Time

1 hr, 25 Total Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 lb. Roma tomatoes, cut in half
  • 3/4 onion, rough chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4-5 large carrots, rough chopped
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 c. (32 oz.) vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 T. basil pesto
  • Grilled Cheese croutons
  • 6 slices soft bread, any kind
  • 6 slices mild cheddar cheese
  • 3 slices mozzarella cheese
  • butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay tomatoes, chopped carrots and onion and smashed garlic on a sheet pan.
  3. Pour olive oil over vegetables and toss.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for one hour, gently tossing if needed half way through.
  6. When finished, let cool slightly.
  7. Using immersion blender or standard blender, puree vegetables until smooth.
  8. If needed, use some of the broth to loosen the vegetables.
  9. Once smooth, pour pureed soup into soup pot and add balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes and basil pesto.
  10. Let simmer for a few minutes while you make the grilled cheese.
  11. Smooth butter on one side of the bread, top with two slices of cheddar cheese and one slice of mozzarella cheese.
  12. Finish with one more slice of buttered bread.
  13. Toast until bread is golden and crispy.
  14. Cut off crusts and then cube the sandwich.
  15. Garnish each bowl of soup with a handful of croutons.


Whole30: Why I chose to tackle Whole30 and why you should too

I started Whole30 for the completely self-serving purpose of losing weight.  That is the truth.  There were some other things I was hoping to accomplish along the way, but honestly, I just wanted to lose some pounds and prove that I could actually cut. out. the. carbs.  (Why do we love carbs so much?!!?!?!) 

Honestly, I have done Weight Watchers (which among other programs, I see this as being one of the better ones), Medifast (I started losing my HAIR because of this one!  Whaaaat?), My Fitness Pal and various forms of “eat-nothing-you-like-and-you’ll-lose-weight” plans.  Clearly, if I have done that many, nothing has really stuck.  Reading different reviews of Whole30 intrigued me.

Here are the reasons I wrote down in my journal for starting (and finishing) Whole30:

Kick sugar addiction
Enjoy “treat” foods in moderation
Understand what food can do for my body
Understand my cravings and habits and use the knowledge to make better choices on a regular basis
Possibly eliminate headaches?
Gain more energy to spend with my kids
Regulate blood sugar issues

Couple of things you need to know:  Whole30 is an elimination eating plan (not a diet) to allow you assess how your body reacts to certain types of foods (i.e. dairy, grains/gluten, legumes, sugar, alcohol, MSG, sulfites and carrageennan).   It is called Whole30 because it wants you to be reintroduced to whole foods.  {Have you met squash before?  Yes?  Oh, a long time ago.  Let me reintroduce you!!}  I felt like I needed to relearn what REAL food looked and tasted like.

This program focuses on choosing to eliminate processed and other gut-busting foods for 30 days and then sloooowly reintroduce them to see how your body reacts.  It is NOT intended to be Whole365.  However, its creators, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, would hope that over the 30 days you would identify some of your own triggers, what aggravates your gut and use that knowledge to move forward into a new healthy lifestyle.

My husband graciously agreed to do this with me, though he needed me to do all the meal planning and prep.  Normally I do most of this for him already, but Whole30 does require a good amount of planning, shopping (you will be buying all fresh produce and meats so you need to replenish often) and chopping.  As Americans, we use carbs as fillers ALL. THE. TIME.  Making tacos?  Let’s have rice!  Chicken parmesan?  A side of pasta!  How about a steak?  Mashed potatoes!!  Don’t have time to wait for chicken to defrost?  How about a sad excuse for protein slapped between two pieces of bread!!

“But hey!!  I added lettuce!  That’s a veggie!”
Ummmm.  No.  One wafer thin leaf of iceberg lettuce does not mean you ate your vegetable–singular!–today.
You see what I’m getting at.  I needed to know I could actually do it.

My mom loves to tease me about how my generation is solely focused on healthy eating and lifestyles.  I get it, and yes I believe we are.  BUT, I think that is a GOOD thing.  My parents played kickball and baseball outside until they were called in.  Our generation is inside playing on the iPad.  Yes, our kids might be better at computers but we have such an epidemic of childhood obesity it scares me for my own kids.  I want them to see that, yes, you can have cake at a birthday party, and something delicious at a carnival but you must also know your way around a rainbow of vegetables.  You don’t have to like all of them, I certainly don’t, but you need to find some that you do.  And how will they know which ones they like if they only know baby carrots and corn on the cob?

Ultimately, I wanted to answer some questions for myself and then hopefully pass on some of this new knowledge to my kids.   My kids need to see me saying no to unhealthy things and yes to things that fuel my body.  They need to know what “moderation” actually looks like.  In the next part of this series, I will talk about getting ready to do your own Whole30 and how to plan to successfully start (and finish!) your own Whole30.

Have you ever considered doing Whole30?  What is holding you back?  What would be your reasons for tackling it?  What would you hope to accomplish if you tried it?

10 Places I find my Comfort Table

I have told you what a Comfort Table is, but some of you might still be unsure of what that looks like for you.  So, in a effort to clarify and help you get to know a bit more about me, I’m sharing my top 10 places I find my Comfort Table.

           Image result for lake michigan photos

  1. Being near the water and the beach.  I grew up going to Lake Michigan as a child,  moved to Chicago after college (right off the lake) and have traveled to many, many beaches.  As cliche as it sounds, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the sound of the waves, I love it all.  Back when I was teaching high school in Chicago, I would escape to western Michigan before the school year started to get some much needed “beach-therapy”.
  2. Displaying IMG_7371.jpeg
    Drinking coffee with my favorite people in my favorite city.

    A good cup of coffee.
    After seeing my whole bean coffee, grinder and sheer amount of coffee in my home, people often call me a coffee snob…and I completely agree with them!  There will always be a release in my shoulders, a deep sigh and great comfort in smelling and sipping on a great cup of coffee.  I love how cozy it makes you feel.  If I have had the pleasure of sharing coffee with you, consider yourself family.  To me, it feels the same as sharing a wonderful meal together.

  3. Making the ultimate comfort food for those you love.  I love to cook and bake for my family and friends.  When I know a guest in my home hasn’t eaten in a while, I become very anxious and annoy them mercilessly until they allow me to feed them.  I love to share food that people haven’t tried before and I get deep satisfaction when my guests and family really enjoy the food I make.  It is good for my soul to feed them and I hope they consider it good when they have been fed.
  4. Reading a great book.  It is funny what reading has done for my mental space lately.  When I read in the afternoons I find that the circus that is happening in my brain from being a mom of three young kids quiets considerably and I am able to focus so much better on the rest of my day.  Since 2014, I have read over 90 books and each year I’m pushing to read more.  I love it, find myself learning something new everyday and enjoy it even more when a book reminds me of why I love great story.  I look forward to sharing some of my recommendations soon!
  5. Attending a great bible study.  I love to dive deep into the Word and study it with great richness.  It is also rewarding to get to know the community of people that I study alongside.  I have been so blessed by my home church in the many opportunities they offer: the moms groups, bible studies and teaching are fresh and inspiring.  I have seen great growth in our whole family since attending and I look forward to many more years to come!  If you are looking for a church in the western suburbs of Chicago, check it out!
  6. A long chat with a great friend (especially catching up with one who lives far away!).   Some of my dearest friends live SO FAR.  I’m in Chicago and I have Minnesota, Texas, Tennessee, south Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina.  See what I mean??  Great news:  Great places to visit!!!  Bad news: I never get to see these people.  My soul feels like it is parched when I don’t get to talk to these people.  And motherhood and marriage and work and life just make it hard to connect.  These days I feel like I can barely finish a sentence with my neighbor about trash pickup much less have a full on conversation with someone who means something to me (no offense to my neighbors!).  So when I do, it does my soul good.
  7. Giving someone the perfect gift.  Have you heard about The Five Love Languages?  Well, one of the ways I love to show love to people is through gifts.  I am ridiculous about gifts.  I spend so much time trying to think of and find the perfect gift.  My husband is the opposite.  Gift cards, all day, everyday.  And generic ones too!  I LOVE getting gift cards but I HATE giving them.  I like personal gifts, particularly ones that show I know that person well enough to buy something they would love or appreciate.
  8. Travel.  I love learning about new places and cultures, particularly through the food.  I have been to Russia, the Bahamas, Spain, France, Belgium and Amsterdam and many states across the US.  I’ve even had the opportunity to visit each Central American country when I lived in Honduras for two years with my first teaching job.
  9. Music that evokes emotions.  I think I crushed my Dad a bit the day I told him I would no longer pursue medicine but instead wanted to study music in college (sorry, Dad).  He often told me, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,”  and at that time I loved singing.  So I got my degree in vocal music education.  That degree gave me the opportunity to travel (see #8), have a career and to sing.  I was able to see each one of the countries above simply because of my music degree.  I am always amazed at how music can deeply affect the human soul and the emotions that can return when hearing a song.
  10. Home.  My childhood home was in Indiana, but when I was in college my parents moved.  I suddenly realized that my home could no longer be a place or a house.  After that, I moved 13 times in 12 years.  How do you make a home when you keep moving???  You begin to realize it is the people, the rituals, the memories that make a house a home.  It is the people you welcome and the refuge you offer.  It is celebrations and heartbreaks and recovery and getting back up again.  Home is where you are the most you and allows you and your loved ones to live life together.

What would you consider to be the places of your Comfort Table?  


The love of stories has been deeply rooted for as long as I can remember.  I received books as gifts for birthdays and Christmases and I remember seeing them swallow up the small space of the nightstand next to my father’s side of the bed.  My mother often read to us, but one particularly strong memory is of her reading The Secret Garden to us when we were young in preparation for a wonderful treat: seeing the stage production as a family with my beloved grandmother.  Later when we were older, we didn’t have television in the summer so I had to find something to pass the time on rainy summer days, and books were a great way to do that.Image result for photos of booksI don’t remember reading much for fun during high school and college (as many people don’t). When traveling I would pick up a random book here or there and read on the beach or some airport.  Reading was a hobby, but sporadic and completely random.  I didn’t keep track of what I read and I certainly had no direction or purpose for it.  But my love of reading was truly reignited when I moved to a new town not knowing a soul.  A few weeks after moving, my husband and I had our first child.  Now it makes no sense that I would start reading again within months of becoming a mother for the first time (you mothers can understand my thoughts here), but another discovery was quick to come: for those of us extroverts, motherhood for me could be exceptionally lonely.  

Oh, please do not misunderstand me.  I’ve known my whole life I wanted to be a mother.  I love to hold them, cuddle them, snuggle and play with them.  I loved teaching them new things (yes, I became a teacher because of it).  During high school and college I taught dance classes to all ages at three different dance studios and babysat for any family that would hire me.  When my husband and I got married, I couldn’t wait to stay at home with my kids.  But, as I mentioned before, we moved to a new place and motherhood is wonderful and amazing and fun.  And exhausting and worrisome and nerve-wracking.  I am in charge of this little soul who is truly now mine.  I was elated!  I am doing what I was born to do!!  But I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

I am thankful that I found a moms group that supported women in just our situation: veteran moms teaming up with new moms to help navigate the joys, trials and concerns of motherhood. From that group, I began to hear that other women we’re missing some of their old hobbies, one of which was reading. So, I decided to stick my neck out and ask if anyone would like to join a short-term book club.  I was so thankful there were quite a few interested and I decided to launch our group.  Be sure to check back, I’ll be telling you how I started my group!

There are many different ways to create your own Comfort Table, but I have found that one of the best ways is for you to start it yourself.  I know, I know, some of you are already getting anxious and nervous and sweaty because you aren’t like me and you hate being the initiator.  I get that.  I can hear a particular friend of mine yelling at me right now, ” That is SO not something I could do!  I hate initiating that kind of thing!”  BUT, consider what you might gain.  It might just be the thing you have been desiring for a very long time.  It might just become one of the best parts of your story.

Have you ever created a group of people that you enjoy being around?  If you haven’t yet, what would you like to be the focus of your group (i.e. books, dinner club, jewelry making, writing, etc.)?

Butterscotch Apple Crisp

There is a great picture book list that comes from Sarah Mackenzie that I’m loving right now.  I have mentioned her here before, but she runs an organization called Read Aloud Revival, encouraging parents to build their family culture around books.  She sends you a list each month of her favorite themed books.  So this month it has been apples.  Who knew there would be so many books about apples? Well, we have been reading them.

So, when we were invited to a cookout with friends for small group, my mind instantly jumped to apples.  Now, I’ll be honest, I usually don’t think of apple desserts as my favorite, but the first time I tried this?  It was fantastic.  Butterscotch Apple Crisp is not only perfect Fall treat to get you in the mood of the season, it has that *little something* different that makes it special.

The great thing about crisps?  They are quick and easy to assemble and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top!  Let me show you how quickly this comes together!

First, grab this handy contraption: the apple peeler-slicer-corer.

These are fairly inexpensive and are great for potatoes as well.  I have also made my own applesauce before and these make everything quicker.  Once you have your green apples peeled, sliced and cored, lay them into a baking dish.

Next, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Combine butterscotch chips, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in small bowl.  Sprinkle over the apple layer and bake for 20 minutes.

While this bakes, mix the topping.  Combine flour and brown sugar in a mixing bowl.  Cut in cold butter with flour and sugar mixture.  I use this tool to cut in the butter.  If you don’t have one, just use a couple of forks and mash the butter into the flour/sugar mixture until butter is the size of small peas.

Finally, stir in chopped pecans and rolled oats.  For a cleaner counter, I used this chopper to quickly chop all the pecans.  I love this tool to chop celery for chicken salad or onions because my husband really hates the smell of onion and this seems to contain it a bit.  Also great for herbs, or in my case, nuts.  {This recipe seems a bit fussy with all the gadgets, but I do think they make the recipe quicker.  I do have all these tools and do actually use them so I felt it was worth mentioning.}

After 20 minutes, sprinkle the oat/nut mixture over the apples and butterscotch chips.  Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned.  Cool slightly and serve warm with ice cream.  I hope you enjoy this delicious, warm Butterscotch Apple Crisp!

Butterscotch Apple Crisp
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 2 1/2 lb. tart apples, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 11 oz. pkg. butterscotch chips
  • 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • Topping
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick cold butter
  • 1 c. chopped pecans
  • 3/4 c. rolled oats


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice and thinly slice apples and lay in 9 x 13 baking dish.
  3. Combine butterscotch chips, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle over the apples.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Mix flour and brown sugar for topping. Cut in cold butter until butter is the size of peas. Stir in nuts and oats and pour over apples.
  6. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned.
  7. Cool slightly and serve warm with ice cream.






Liebster Award: Nomination

The Comfort Table has been nominated for the Liebster Award by Teacups and Hiccups!  Terri writes at Teacups and Hiccups covering fashion, lifestyle and fun DIY projects.  Be sure to check her out!  She also just got married so for those of you about to get hitched, check out her wedding series.  Oh, and if you were wondering, her wedding was STUNNING.

What is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award 2017 is an award that exists only on the internet, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. ‘Liebster’ in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

Official Rules of the Liebster Award 2017

Why did you start blogging?

There are two things I always love to talk about: books and food.  I run my book club (just started our 4th year!) and I LOVE to cook and bake.  Meal planning for special events…who am I kidding…or random Tuesdays is just FUN for me.  People are often asking for recipes and book recommendations and so I decided to combine the two and put it out on a blog.

What does the name of your blog mean?

The Comfort Table describes the beauty that comes through bringing people together in community.  There is almost nothing that draws people in from every walk of life like the table.  Just as you are.  Always welcome.  You are home.  The deepest sense of comfort.  The Comfort Table.

What is your biggest struggle in blogging?

Ha!  Probably what many people will say, the tech-y, behind the scenes stuff.  Computers are not my passion, my gift or my love language.  When I hit a roadblock (which I do often) I get frustrated because I have no idea how to fix it or who to ask.  Good heavens, if Google can’t solve it, who can?!?!

What is your go-to snack?

Right now I am trying to stick with either a banana or apple with almond butter.  And usually the last of my long-since cold coffee from the morning.

What brings you genuine joy?

Being a voice major makes me love music a lot, but hearing my kids singing around the house is making me so happy right now.  Also, when my husband sneaks me off for a date night.  Sitting with him over a nice meal and not having to cut up a little person’s dinner is completely delightful.

What is your favorite quote to live by?

Found this during a bible study a couple of years ago and reworded it slightly (simply changed the pronouns) to make it personal:
“I pray that my love will overflow more and more and that I will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want to understand what really matters so that I may live a pure and blameless life until the day of Christ’s return.  May I always be filled with the fruit of my salvation–the righteous character produced in my life by Jesus Christ–to bring great glory and praise to God.”  paraphrase of Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT)

What is your favorite movie and why?

Oh man I don’t like picking favorites…Thriller?  Sleeping with the Enemy.  Drama?  Shawshank Redemption.  Love Story?  The Notebook.  Musical?  Either Moulin Rouge or Sound of Music.  Comedy?  Crazy Stupid Love.  See??  I can’t pick just one!

Are you a cook or a baker?

We have always said my sister was the adventurous cook and I was the baker.  My in-laws certainly know me as the baker since my mother-in-law doesn’t love baking.  But!  I would like to consider myself both if I’m allowed.  I really enjoy both but cook way more than bake these days because I can’t say no to baked goods sitting on my counter!

Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall?

Summer.  SUMMER.  Always and forever summer.

Chipotle or Qdoba?

Oh, definitely Chipotle but that’s mostly because of proximity.  Burrito bowl, extra lettuce, black beans with corn salsa and pico.  SO GOOD.

Your favorite blog

Oh, man that’s tough too.  I have followed a few for years pretty consistently.  Iowa Girl Eats has great food, all gluten-free (though I’m not).  The Small Things Blog has lots of beauty and hair tutorials.  Modern Mrs. Darcy is my go-to for book recommendations.  Oh, and I love her podcast too.  Beware: your to-be-read list will explode!  Hi Sugarplum! is a favorite for fashion and style.  Finally, We are THAT Family is blogger turned ministry entrepreneur for Mercy House in Kenya, providing a home for pregnant girls in Kenya, offering education, medical care and learning a trade to survive and thrive in their home.

10 Random Facts about You

1.  I danced for 15 years, mostly ballet and musical theater.
2.  I played the Baroness in the Sound of Music in high school.
3.  Before graduating high school, I changed my major from pre-med to music.
4.  In college I traveled with our university choir to Russia, the Bahamas and was supposed to go to Greece my senior year but the US declared war just before we left.  So we went to Minnesota instead.
5.  After college, my first job was the secondary music teacher at the American School in Honduras.
6.  A former co-worker made fun of me because I have a lot of best friends.  And she was totally right, I do.
7.  Per #6, I meet up with my 5 college girlfriends once a year.  At one point, we lived in Oregon, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota and Chicago.  We often dream of living in a commune for obvious reasons.
8. One of the coolest experiences of my life was singing in the Moody Sanctuary choir and being in Paris on Bastille Day (their Independence Day) and watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower while eating a baguette.
9.  By nature I am an organized person and when people have really messy cars it stresses me out.
10.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when people interrupt while someone is speaking.

My Nominations

Blog by Iris Adrienne

White Hill Designs

The Ephicial Guide

2 Turn the Page

Serena on the Go


The Rules

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you should do the following:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. You can download images for the award here
  3. Write a 150-300 word post about your favorite blog that is not your own. Explain why you like the blog, provide links.
  4. Answer your questions and provide 10 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have less than 200 followers and ask them your own questions.
  6. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here or from this site)
  7. Don’t forget to inform the people/blogs you nominated about it!

Answer these questions!

  • Why did you start blogging?
  • What does the name of you blog mean?
  • What is your biggest struggle about blogging?
  • What is your go to snack?
  • What or who makes you laugh the most?
  • What is your favorite quote to live by?
  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • What is saving your life lately?
  • Name your favorite aspect of each season.
  • What is your favorite guilty pleasure?