Magic Behind the Menu

Stepping up, Uncategorized

For the last few months, I’ve set aside my “wing it” ways and have started following a menu. First off, feeding four teenagers (3 of them boys) is like feeding an army. That ain’t cheap people! Second, I hate HATE coming home from a long day of work only to scramble about like an ant who’s lost its hill trying to produce something edible. Third, I love food. Like absolutely love it! I want to eat something yummy, not hamburger helper because it was quick and there! Fourth, we are busy peeps. Some nights have to be quick. But other nights I have an hour to grill salmon and whip up a vinaigrette. Fifth, I’m SICK of the question “What’s for dinner?” Hate it! Because, let’s do the math here, if all four kids ask me only once each day, that’s four times I’m asked the same question. But who are we kidding? They never ask only once! So double that- 8 times for the same question. Plus I happen to teach first graders in French. Do you have any idea how many questions I get asked in a day? They’re 7, so it’s cool. But adding on the dinner question from teenagers breaks this proverbial camel’s back.

There you have it. My 5 point monologue as to why I do a menu.

“But how can I do one?” you ask, scratching your head in bewilderment.

It’s easy! Sure, it takes time and planning, but once that’s down you’re golden for the next two weeks! All you have to do is take into consideration your schedule, your budget, and what you feel like trying out. Sprinkle in some staples like Taco Night, Spaghetti Night, and factor in leftovers. Et voila!

“I still don’t get it. I’m no chef.”

You don’t have to be! The internet and TV is ripe with recipes, ideas, and inspiration you can glean from. But this post isn’t about culinary skills. Let me break down how I make a menu before I even hit the grocery store.

First off, I do it for every two weeks, which means 14 dinners.

1. Taco Night

2. Mac n cheese Night

3. Spaghetti and Meatballs Night

4. Asian stir fry Night

5. Croissant Pizza night

6. Leftovers

7. Leftovers

8. Leftovers

Boom! Over halfway there in staples/leftovers alone! That’s only 7 more meals. This is where I like to get creative, so I will show you some of my examples. Don’t let the “fancy terms” scare you. It’s all culinary speak for simple techniques.

9. Cherry/apple smoked chicken salad with apples & bacon, Italian bread with dipping oils (seriously, just olive oil and some spices, whatever I fancy that night) and a side of sliced apples

10. Dill encrusted grilled salmon, roasted red potatoes, garden salad with blackberry-ginger balsamic vinaigrette (do not waste your money on store bought dressings. Blend olive oil, whatever vinegar you like, some honey to cut the vinegar, and season to taste. Trust me, way better in quality, cost, and zero preservatives).

11. Chargrilled steak with a Gorgonzola cream sauce, bourbon-honey glazed carrots, and garlic roasted sweet potatoes

12. Slow roasted pear/honey infused pork (aka crock pot, pear white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, & drizzle of honey) over Jasmine rice with sautéed green beans

13. Ok, so by now I have a fish, beef, chicken, and pork. It’s important to vary the meats. Don’t you get tired of chicken everyday? I know I do. Two nights left. What’s on sale? What do you prefer to eat more of? I like fish, and chicken is cheaper than steaks.

Roasted chicken and pasta salad with a red wine vinaigrette. Boom!

14. Roasted tilapia sprinkled with feta, cucumber salad, and angel hair pasta tossed with a champagne vinaigrette

Done! Just vary the proteins, veggies, and starches according to your budget/liking/timetable. Count up the busy nights and relaxed nights so you have an idea of what’s going to be quick or not. Don’t let this menu intimidate you. I have a very busy two weeks coming up so there are only two fancy evenings on my recent menu. It just all depends, but it forces you to stay out of a food rut. Because food is delicious!!

“But my kids are picky eaters!”

What happened to the gold old days of having to finish your food before dessert? Or at all? Kids will develop a mature palate over time, but we have to help them! Look at the French. Their kids eat all kinds of haut-cuisine without batting an eye. Why? It’s a part of their culture. Why not make food a part of ours? Then maybe, just maybe, our kids would grow up with a healthy outlook on food, and problems such as obesity, anorexia, etc wouldn’t be such an issue. Food for thought…


The Hidden EVIL of Flashbacks


Kristen Lamb's Blog

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So you want to be a writer. Okay. I’ll be blunt because that’s my superpower. Check your conscience at the door keyboard. Writers are not civilized humans. In fact, we are the opposite. We are the reptilian brain to the power of a million. We probe and prod and poke the weak places. Great storytellers are nothing short of sadists. We take a perfectly empathetic/likable person, toss their life in a Vita-Mix and blend, churning that mixture from Level 1-1000.

That is called conflict.

Stories are about people with problems to be solved. Everything else is a travel brochure.

One of the reasons I LOVE teaching craft is I get to see the work/stories of other writers. Recently, I held my First Five Pages class and could hear the collective groans when I said, “NO FLASHBACKS. EVER.” But I am a benevolent dictator and instructed those submitting pages, that if…

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#PitchSlam revised


I would love critique before I hit send!

Centerra: Awake

YA sci-fi/fantasy

64,000 words

Letters from the Sky by Civil Twilight

35 word pitch: Cancer patient Bixby awakens on Centerra, where giants hunt children for magic. If he fails to deliver his friend Asra, the giants will execute everyone, including the girl he loves.

First 250:

Bixby stares at the world through a fish tank while his body clenches in pain and delirium hazes his senses. An elevator crack shakes the bed. Nausea floods his throat as doctors press his abdomen.

“What’s your pain score?”

Bixby manages a responsive groan. At eighteen, he refuses to forfeit his battle against cancer.

A chill runs through his right forearm. He blinks, watching white bubbles form beneath the skin. He moans, realizing it blew again. A nurse digs a needle in his left wrist, seeking, but not finding, a good vein. Bixby sinks deeper into the aquarium, pain clogging his ears and eyes. His mother kisses his cheek, rubbing her hand on his bare head, tears spilling over his face. The deep sucks him under, evaporating Bixby’s will. He allows the darkness to escort him to freedom.


Bixby’s eyes fluttered open, his brain struggling through the fog of deep sea dreaming. A forest of maroon oaks swathed in purple mist blurred into view. The scent of fresh soil filled his nose. Something tapped his forehead. His clearing vision revealed a small creature with spiky, black hair, torn, dark clothes, and velvet moth wings hovering before his nose. Her fingers poked at his skull.

“Wake up! Giants aren’t far!”

Alarmed, he sat up. A girl with pale skin, slanted eyes, slender nose, and pink lips lay a few feet from him. A jolt rocketed his system as he realized she was naked.

#PitchSlam entry


Ok, I’ve entered this contest called #PitchSlam, where the judges are kind enough to provide feedback before the final round. I’ve received the first round of feedback but not the second (yet) before the finals, and the mind games are endless. So in the meantime, here is my 35 word pitch and first 250 words of novel.

Title: Centerra: Awake

Genre: YA sci-fi/fantasy

Song: Letters from the Sky by Civil Twilight

35 word pitch: Giants hunt children for magic on planet Centerra. When they capture his friends, Bixby discovers a way to rescue them, but if he fails, giants will execute those left behind, including the girl he loves.

First 250:

Bixby stares at the world through a fish tank. His body clenches in pain; his senses haze with delirium. The bed shakes while passing over the crack between elevator and hallway, flooding nausea up his throat. Doctors poke his abdomen, asking for his pain level. Bixby manages a responsive groan. At eighteen, he refuses to forfeit his battle against cancer.

Garbled voices swirl about, the nurse yelling something about IV. His eyes roll down to his right forearm, where white bubbles form beneath the skin. He moans, realizing it blew again. Another nurse pokes a needle in his left wrist, digging to place the new IV. Bixby sinks deeper into the aquarium, water clogging his ears and eyes. Pain fuzzes and mutes his awareness. His mother kisses his cheek, rubbing her hand on his bare head, tears spilling over his face. The deep sucks him under, and Bixby’s will evaporates. He allows the darkness to escort him to freedom.


Bixby’s eyes fluttered open, his brain struggling through the fog of deep sea dreaming. A forest of maroon oaks swathed in purple mist blurred into view. The scent of fresh soil filled his nose. Something began tapping his forehead. His clearing vision revealed a small winged creature hovering before his nose. Her hair was spiky black, clothes dark and torn, with wings of velvet moth. Her fingers poked at his head.

“Wake up!” she said.

She fluttered away, making more tapping sounds, although no fingers beat his skull.

Maybe You’re Too Stressed Out

Crohnically Ill

Ranking up there with “you don’t look sick” is “maybe it’s stress.” I really wish it were that simple. I have a physiological problem that causes debilitating symptoms, has required multiple surgeries, and cause multiple complications that nearly killed me. Stress does not do THAT. I’m not mental. Stress doesn’t help, but it’s not the cause of my flare.

Again, this comment makes me feel as though I’m not taking every measure possible to take cafe of my health. No, with all I go through, my health is my top priority. It is, after all, my disease. I should know.

“I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Ok, maybe that’s my least favorite. Seriously? Seriously?!? A person, who shall remain nameless, had a large intestine issue that was resolved with a resection. Said person spent 3 days in hospital, recovered smoothly, and has gone on their merry way with life. However, said person has repeatedly come to me complaining about how hard life is since the resection. Their diet has had to change and it’s hard to run because, and I quote, “everything feels bruised on the inside.” This is one year post op. Laparoscopic surgery, mind you. Again, no chronic illness, no complications. This person is FINE. Do they have any clue what a slap in a face their comments were? (Actually that might have been the goal).

If you’ve read my hospital stories, or if you are an IBD patient, you know. You get it. This is our LIFE. And anyone who comes whining to me about how hard their life is because of some minor stomach issue really gets under my skin.

For those of you who do come to me with “I know this is nothing like what you have to go through, but…” THANK YOU! Thank you for acknowledging it! I will listen all day and dish out advice. I’m incredibly sympathetic. But for those who act like they “get” what I go through or that their minimal situation is somehow exponentionally worse than mine, I just…ugh!

“Maybe it’s something you ate.”

No. Just, no. I’ve had Crohn’s for 10 years. I know what goes down well on my belly and what doesn’t. I’ve got myself figured out, and maybe better than most people my age. Putting the responsibility of an unpredictable disease on my shoulders is frustrating for me. Don’t you think I would control circumstances if I could?

Ok stepping off my soap box before I turn completely negative and stormy.

Is Crohn’s Mental?


Someone asked this on a Crohn’s page. I get it. It certainly makes you feel mental. But I’m writing this to inform with a resounding “no,” it is not mental!

Before my diagnosis, I had a hard time receiving validation for my symptoms. “You’re exaggerating. Maybe it feels that bad but it isn’t. You’re too young to be sick.” But I couldn’t leave my apartment for fear of an accident. Even if I could, I didn’t want to. I skipped class. I called in sick for work, but most times they wouldn’t let me. Finishing a shift took everything out of me, and I would spend the remainder of my 24 hours in bed, miserable. Meanwhile, mental warfare raged, and I was left wondering what kind of person I was. I was failing school, never went anywhere, and only worked because my bosses made me, and I had to pay rent. Had I seriously lowered my standards for myself this much? Was I just a worthless waste of a human being?

I know that’s some semi dark stuff, but it shows what being ill over long periods of time does to a person. When I got diagnosed, all of that self doubt and disgust was wiped clean. There was a reason for my behavior, and it wasn’t laziness or craziness or anything else. I was sick.

Fast forward to present day. My body has been through a significant amount, I’d say, with hospitals and surgeries and so on, but the last 3 years have been great. But for the past 3 months I’m slipping again, and now I undergo a different kind of mental warfare. What kind of parent am I, that I can’t muster the strength to spend time with my own kids? Work, make dinner, go to bed…over and over and over. Meanwhile I’m well aware of the fact my kids miss me. The real me, not that drained, temperamental, reclusive person. They understand, which I’m thankful for. They are so sweet and kind and forgiving, and it’s overwhelming to experience that from your child. But I don’t want to need forgiveness. I want to be there for them, and I hate that I have something holding me back.

So the answer to the question? Being chronically sick, with varying degrees of severity over time, takes a toll on the body and therefore the mind. I haven’t even dove into what I went through during the hospital. That’s a post all on its own. Everyone will have their own mental struggle. It’s ok to experience these emotions. It’s important to take the time to work through them and come out on the other side a stronger person for it.

Because we are fighters; we are survivors.

Getting To Know Me


Bonjour! Bienvenue to getting to know me, and thanks for stopping by!

1. My first kiss was completely awkward. It was middle school; we both had braces, and my cousin was proudly boasting that she had “made out” for thirty whole seconds with her boyfriend. She wanted to see if we could beat her record. I think, in retrospect, she was appealing to my competitive side to goad me into kissing a boy at all. I was terrified he would try to stick his tongue down my throat, so I kept giggling as he pressed his closed lips against mine. I never made it past 10 seconds and conceded victory. I didn’t want to win at this.

2. My favorite first love song was “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. Perfect definition of preteen cheesy romance.

3. I can’t start writing without my coffee, which is an absolute cliché. I know. But it’s true. Once I take that first sip I can dive right into whatever I’m working on.

4. Which author inspired me to become a writer? That’s tough, simply because at age 6 it was my first dream that never died. A middle school teacher gave me the courage to believe this dream could become a reality. But I would have to say the two authors (I know I’m cheating) who I’ve learned the most from would be Orson Scott Card and Eiji Yoshikawa. Their work, for me, was life changing.

5. My first chapter had completely changed by my final revision, thanks to my husband. He actually loved the book but hated the beginning. My inner critique agreed, so I added an action packed prologue that also provides critical information without feeling like an info-dump. I also reorganized my first chapter to have a smoother flow.

6. Which came first, characters, plot, or setting? That’s impossible to choose because it was all synonymous for me. As a kid, I made up a game, pretending giants were chasing kids to make them slaves. I wanted to turn this primitive concept into a novel. Also, my brother Bixby passed away as a child, and I wanted to base my MC off what I knew of him, which in turn inspired the entire concept of my first novel. Kids die and go to planet Centerra where they have magic, and giants hunt them for it. So for me, plot, setting, and character jumbled together at once when I got the idea, and I fleshed out details from there.

7. The first word I hope will be used to describe my writing: intrepid.

I look forward to getting to know the rest of you:)

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Grilled Salmon

Stepping up

I’m determined to my woo my family over to salmon. For years I’ve heard it’s too fishy and gross, so I haven’t cooked it. But thanks to my mom, I have a trump card to win this war. Let the games begin!

imageAfter brushing on olive oil, I seasoned with garlic salt, pepper, and dill. Then I sliced into serving portions.

imageTell me that doesn’t look tasty already! I grilled over charcoal, adding hickory wood chips just before setting the filets on the grill.

imageI grilled for 6 minutes on one side, flipped it over and grilled for 5 minutes on the other. It all depends on your heat settings and how close the coals are to the grate. My mom suggested 6 per side but by 5 it was ready to come off.

Meanwhile, I worked on the potato salad. I used just a little too much mayonnaise than originally anticipated, but it was still delicious. I peeled and boiled red potatoes (no skins for this Crohnie). Once they cooled, I tossed them with garlic salt, pepper, mayonnaise, relish, bacon bits, a touch of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice. I stirred and adjusted to taste.

The smoky, charred salmon and creamy, salty, with a hint of citrus potato salad balanced flavorfully on the palate.

The verdict? They LOVE it! I win! I mean salmon wins! Bon appetit:)

Grilled salmon

Fish Tacos

Stepping up



The spring air renders the taste buds to crave light, refreshing, with a hint of citrus flavors. I happened to have a hodge podge of quality ingredients in the fridge, so throwing these fish tacos together for lunch was simple.

I previously grilled cod over a charcoal grill with apple and hickory wood chips to add flavor, so I had a nice, smoky fish as the foundation of my taco. Then I stir-fried corn and a few bacon bits with a champagne-honey vinaigrette I happened to also have sitting around. I placed kalamata olives and goat cheese across the top, drizzling more vinaigrette and some lemon juice to finish off the tacos. I would have preferred to add avocados, but none of mine were ripe yet. Hence the goat cheese, as I felt it would add a nice creamy component to balance the citrus and tie in the smoky flavors. I also wanted to throw some sprigs of mint on there, but my dog has decided my herbs make for a good pee spot. Drat. I still have leftovers so hopefully my avocados will be ready by tomorrow!




Crohnically Ill


I recently participated in the #GetYourBellyOut campaign on twitter, an IBD awareness and fundraiser movement originating in the UK, but has now gone global. IBD patients from all over are posting and tweeting pics of their bellies, whether they are clean, scarred, or bagged (even double bagged); we are showing the world what IBD looks like by getting our bellies out!

In light of the recent #nomakeupselfie campaign done to raise funds for a cancer charity in the UK, Sahara, a Crohnie, chose to post a pic of her belly on the internet (quite a brave, bold, step). Another UK Crohnie, Victoria, followed suit, and the two embarked on the #GetYourBellyOut campaign.

This campaign has gone beyond awareness and fundraising, and has connected many people with IBD globally.  Thanks to this I now have international IBD buddies:) A group was also started on Facebook, where we can post our stories, ask questions, and give or receive advice from each other. It’s overwhelming to see the empathy and compassion from everyone else, and I no longer feel like an island. We are in this together, fighting the good fight and cheering each other on. It may not be a cure, but it’s an emotional bridge never before built. Thank you, ladies, for bringing us together, and giving us the courage to get our bellies out!

If you would like to learn more about this campaign, please see the links below:)