35-for-35 Books: The Jinx by Jennifer Sturman

The next book in Jennifer Sturman’s Rachel Benjamin saga is another quick read with enough mystery and plot twists to keep things interesting. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s still fun.

Rachel doesn’t seem to see how she’s quickly becoming Angela Fletcher (and since there are two more books, I can guess this only gets worse). This time she’s at Harvard and Boston (and she’s quite clear to make sure we know those are VERY different places) for recruiting the next generation of high finance professionals (I still have no idea what Rachel really does for a living) and her dishy boyfriend, Peter, is going to join her (he’s got a conference). Rachel always thinks that she “jinxes” relationships by worrying too much (or whatever), but this time everything is perfect. Well, except for the fact that her boyfriend happened to hire a woman to co-run his business and she’s….attractive! Oh and someone’s trying to kill one of her clients.

While Rachel’s sleuthing makes more sense this time, she’s still pretty quick to judgment (wrongly) a few too many times for my comfort. Her friends play a much lesser role this time and that’s a plus in my book. However, it would have been nice to see a little bit of how Emma’s mother being locked up for killing her fiance made her feel in light of the new investigation, but I guess she’s totally adjusted to that now.

The storyline with Rachel’s boyfriend, Peter, really annoyed me however. Rachel makes a point of saying, more than once, about what a feminist she is. She gets offended when people call her ma’am. But she starts spiraling because her boyfriend’s colleague is pretty and he has to spend time with her to close a big deal. Then after a week of not really seeing each other (spoiler alert!), he’s all ready to propose and she starts yelling at him. He explains that Abigail is gay, so of course, they aren’t having an affair. And he proposes to her anyway! Like, if Abigail was straight, then they totally WOULD be having an affair? And Rachel has no idea that Peter’s thinking of marriage? I know this book is like 10 years old, but I’m so sick of the “boyfriend starts acting weird, so girlfriend thinks he’s going to break up with her, but he’s actually proposing” trope. Ugh.

35-for-35 Recipes: Creamy Italian Chicken

I’m using my flight to catch up on all my 35-for-35 posts. It’s so easy to get behind – I guess one of my resolutions should have been to write more!

I got this recipe from one of the crock pot cook books that my mom gave me for Christmas last year. (I’ll upload a .pdf when I get back home). It’s pretty simple with only about 4 ingredients. I’d done a simple one with chicken broth instead of cream of chicken soup and this really makes all the difference. The addition of the cream of chicken soup keeps the flavor in the finished product that the broth just didn’t have.

I do hate that cream of chicken soup, even the healthy version, has so much sodium! I’m sure I could probably make my own, but c’mon, I’m not gonna do that.

This is a nice, easy recipe that’s more hit than miss, so I’ll add it to the rotation for dinner.

Creamy Italian Chicken

35-in-35: The Pact by Jennifer Sturman

This was such a quick, fun read! I’m not usually one for mysteries (note to Mom: you’d love this series if you haven’t read it already), but this had just enough chick lit elements to keep me interested and for once, I didn’t figure out whodunit in the second act.

Rachel Benjamin is part of a group of girls who went to Harvard (yeah, there’s A LOT of Harvard talk in here) who are attending their friend Emma’s wedding to odious man. No one seems to know why she’s marrying him and when he turns up dead on the day of the wedding, no one is too torn up about it. But when Rachel finds out he was murdered, she starts trying to figure out which one of the dozen people who stayed at the house the night before could have done it. No one wants to think their friend is a murderer, but there’s a dead guy in the pool and he didn’t get that way by accident.

The red herrings are earned and not annoying and beyond the discussions of ridiculous privilege of everyone (seriously, EVERYONE is a Richie Rich), the characters are fun to read about. I’ve already ordered the next one in the series from the library and I can’t wait to dig in.

35-for-35 Progress Report

It’s now been two months since my birthday (seriously – what the hell?!), so I thought I’d check in with where I am, what I’ve done and what’s left to go.

The Books challenge is going the best at the moment. With two weeks off at the holidays and less stress at work, it’s been easier to stay ahead on this challenge. I figured this part would be the easiest for me to accomplish, which is why it’s here. I want to feel like I’m making some progress in this ridiculous challenge!

The Recipes challenge isn’t going as well as I thought it might. Turns out, when I get home at night (or when it’s time to cook on the weekend), I’d much rather make something that I know I like rather than experimenting with something that might not turn out well and then having to eat it for a week. And since I’m not much of a cook, a lot of even the “simple” recipes call for ingredients that I just don’t keep in the house, making this a bit more expensive than I had anticipated. But I’m hoping I can branch out into some new and different recipes (mug cakes or other microwave-related things), instead of just concentrating on dinner things.

The Places challenge, well, it really hasn’t started yet. Due to family things, I wasn’t able to travel during the holidays and it now seems like I probably won’t be going to Oregon for Spring Break like I had originally planned. So I’m going to have to get more creative during the weekends (which are already filled with errands, chores and other local stuff) to take day trips within California. I still hope to go on my summer vacation, but that will only knock off a couple of new cities, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. I need to visit 3.5 new places a month from now on to stay on track. Yikes!

35-for-35: Copycat Chik-Fil-A Nuggets

I had very high hopes for this recipe, since I can no longer eat at Chik-Fil-A (for moral reasons), but miss their nuggets VERY much. I was intrigued by the recipe‘s call for pickle juice in the marinade and my mom was game enough to buy a jar of dill pickles just for the juice.

The recipe recommends marinating the chicken in the mixture for 2 – 4 hours, but trying to complete two recipes in one evening, we didn’t have time to leave it for 4 hours. Coating the chicken with the breading mixture was my favorite part because it’s just fun to shake stuff in a ziploc bag!

I’ve never fried anything before (have I mentioned that I’m generally afraid of my kitchen?), so I was a bit apprehensive about throwing these bites on my mom’s skillet and letting them sizzle in oil. It was also RIDICULOUS trying to flip each little chicken over to fry on the other side. But I managed to accomplish this without burning myself or the chicken, so I’m counting it as a win.

The final result was tastier than the pretzel chicken bites, but I didn’t really think they tasted like Chik-Fil-A. Perhaps marinating it longer would help and we used vegetable oil instead of peanut oil, which may also have contributed to the difference in taste. I’d definitely eat this recipe again, but only if someone else wants to do the frying!

Copy Cat Chik-Fil-A

35-for-35: Pretzel Crusted Chicken Bites

Pretzel Crusted Chicken Bites ready for the ovenLast month, I realized I probably should have made this challenge to try 35 new restaurants, given my fear of my own kitchen appliances and my basic lack of patience and counter space. But when I realized I was going to be at my parents’ house for two weeks over Christmas, I figured I’d spend some time cooking to catch up on the first month of this part of the challenge. Well, God laughs when you make plans, so it wasn’t until the last night of my break that I finally made it into the kitchen.

Though I have a very diverse and delicious-looking Pinterest board, I asked my mom to help me narrow down what would actually be possible for me to complete without burning the house down. I settled on Pretzel Crusted Chicken Bites to start. Mom helped me cut up the chicken pieces, while I got all the bowls of ingredients ready for dipping. This was WAY messier than the blog post makes it out to be, and I could only dip about three pieces before I needed to rinse the flour/egg/pretzel gunk off my fingers. It was also WAY harder to crush the pretzels than I expected.

The dish turned out fine, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. It tasted best with barbecue sauce, though ranch dressing was also good. Using regular pretzels instead of the pretzel thins the recipes recommends probably contributed to the difficulty I had with getting the pretzels to actually stick to the chicken (my mom reports that by the second day, all the pretzels fell off). Additionally, plain chicken breast and plain pretzels are pretty bland, so using a flavored pretzel would probably kick this up a notch.

Final product - Preztel Crusted Chicken Bites

All in all, it wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t a revelation either. Thanks to my parents for being my guinea pigs as I started this adventure!

35-for-35: The Sweetest Thing by Cathy Woodman

Since I was waiting for the next set of books to come from Link+, I thought I’d go ahead and tackle the next book in the Talyton St. George saga that I picked up at Waterstones when I was last in London. This book features a totally different protagonist and love interest from the previous two. Maz and Alex both show up very briefly when they interact with Jennie’s new pets, but we don’t really get any update into their lives.

Jennie moves to Uphill House (which she renames Jennie’s Folly) outside Talyton St. George, after she gets divorced from her crap husband (he leaves her after he falls in love with his latest affair). She’s got three kids and a desire to start a cake business in this small town. She promised each kid a pet as a reward for moving to East Devon from London and she follows through, even though she doesn’t know anything about having a pet (especially a pony or a bunch of chickens). Luckily, the neighbor at the farm next door, Guy, is willing to pitch in and help out, even if he doesn’t think a townie like Jennie can make it in the country.

The book was FULL of British slang that I needed to look up, which may be part of the reason why the rest of this series hasn’t made it to the US. Jennie is a bit of a mess and lets her kids run roughshod over her to the point where she’s spending money she doesn’t have to buy a pony for her middle kid, even though she seems to know less about horses than I do. It ends well, but there’s no real triumph to root for. It was a quick read, but I’m not chomping at the bit to catch up on the rest of the series, like I thought I’d be.

35-for-35: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

If Minda Kaling is the girl I want to be best friends with and Tina Fey is the woman I wish I could be, Amy Poehler is my awesome big sister, who will always be cooler than me, but lets me tag along anyway.

I was going to ask for this book for Christmas, but I got this fancy new laptop instead, so last week, I figured I could buy my own damn book and shut up about. This week has been stressful (more than usual where family is concerned) and it has been absolutely lovely to dive into Amy Poehler’s words as a bit of an escape. She’s funny, witty, soulful and a bit more crunchy than I would have expected. There are a lot of things in this book that I don’t get because I’m a not a mother, but it never feels like she’s shoving it down my throat. I especially loved the chapter written by Seth Meyers and her chapter about Parks and Recreation, annotated by Michael Schur.

I expect I’ll be re-reading this book again and again, grasping different little bits of wisdom each time. That’s what big sisters are for anyhow, right?

35-for-35: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

This is one of the better Pink Carnation novels and it makes me sad that there’s only one more book in this series. It also made me want to start reading them again from the beginning to get a better handle on all these ancillary characters. I recognize their names, but can’t remember much more about them.

Anyway, this is Sally Fitzhugh’s story (little sister of Turnip Fitzhugh). She meet-cutes Lucien, presumed vampire of London, in his backyard after being dared by her friends to hop the fence. Oh those 1806 hijinks! Lucien’s back in London after being away for 12 years after discovering his parents’ murdered at their estate in Hullingden. (Oh yeah, Lucien’s a duke.) He’s ready to solve their murder (though conventional wisdom says that his mother killed his father and then herself) and Sally ropes herself into helping. There’s a lovely “we’re going to pretend to be engaged and then fall in love” storyline, which totally works, even though it’s completely predictable. I didn’t realize who the real killer was until it was being revealed, so that was an added bonus.

Eloise and Colin are still together in 2004 (so funny that it seems like so long ago even though it was pretty contemporary when the series started 10 books ago). As per usual, Colin is being weird and Eloise is freaking out about, without talking about it. I used to love their romance, but since they are stuck in the same year for 10 books, I’ve grown a little tired of how slowly everything moves. But it looks like things are going to wrap up nicely with them all the same in the last book, so good for them!

35-for-35: The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

While I enjoyed The American Heiress, I wasn’t as enthralled with this novel. Set in 1875, it’s the story of Captain Bay Middleton meeting the “Lennox Heiress,” Charlotte Baird and then meeting Sisi, Empress of Austria and trying to decide between the two. I mean, there’s a lot more to it (almost 500 pages worth) and all these folks did exist according to the author’s note at the end, but in the end, Captain Middleton is really trying to decide what kind of fortune he wants for himself.

Charlotte seems lovely, if stuck by the societal conventions of the day. The Empress of Austria is no gallant heroine and though I suspect you’re supposed to feel some sympathy for her, married to a man she doesn’t love, she’s royalty and her husband likes her enough to let her go off to England for hunting season, so it can’t be all bad. Given the state of women in 1875, simply being “bored” in Vienna doesn’t really seem like the human rights violation she purports it to be. Our Fortune Hunter is probably a nice guy, but it’s hard to tell most of the time and I’m not sure who to root for the further you get into the book. At one point, after a misplaced note causes a Three’s Company-level confusion for Bay and Charlotte, which leads Bay to just take up with the Empress without much thought or effort on his part to find Charlotte, I kinda gave up on him.

Everything works out in the end, or so it seems you’re supposed to feel it does, but it really feels unearned.