Slowing Down

For educators and students, alike, Spring Break is a welcome reprieve from textbooks, lesson plans, and tedious schedules. It’s a week to sleep in, relax with a good book, travel, or find fun adventures to discover around your neighborhood.

While Sean and Liam jetted off for a snowboard adventure in Colorado, I opted for a more low key break sprinkled with equal parts of quality time with my mom and Atticus, lazy afternoons of endless reading, and low key evenings watching chick flicks. There were also intermittent dashes of spring cleaning and shopping excursions serving up the perfect recipe for an absolutely wonderful break.

Now granted, slowing down is not typically one of my strong suits, but the takeaway from a week devoid of over-scheduled, hectic workdays is simple: sometimes all a girl really needs is a little downtime to recharge and appreciate the beauty in the little things.

Quality Time

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Quality time can come in many different forms. Before Liam and Sean headed north to the mountains and snow, we enjoyed a lazy Sunday sipping coffee at Land of Thousand Hills, spending quality time with the boys engaged in creative play in an imaginative world of superheroes and castles, and enjoying the beautiful weather watching Liam attempt to roller skate around the neighborhood with his little brother hot on his heels on his tricycle. In the hustle and bustle of our busy work schedules, it was so nice to slow things down and just allow the day to unfold as it did.

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For this avid reader, nothing is more enjoyable than sharing my love of reading with my boys. Something as simple as pausing in the middle of a Target run on Monday morning to peruse the literature section for a great read is a perfect example of quality time.

Liam caught up on a new Captain Underpants novel while Atticus found himself lost in a Coco book. As they quietly enjoyed their reading time on the tiled floor, I perused the self-help section for some great new reads: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, 52 Lists for Happiness by Moorea Seal, and The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. These books quickly became page turners for me on the quiet afternoons Atticus spent napping over the break!

Fuss-free Food 

Most weekends, I carve out a portion of my time meal planning and grocery shopping for all of the weekly essentials. Spring Break offered a unique opportunity to stray from the usual and enjoy fuss-free meals with ingredients on hand or take-out leftovers spread out over multiple days. I still kept it healthy with dinners of sautéed kale with sliced almonds and dried cherries, but I also channeled my inner child with whole grain Mickey Mouse nuggets enjoyed with an adorable dinner companion sitting in his high chair cheering about macaroni and cheese and orange slices. Scrapping the more elaborate dinners for low key options offered me more quality time with Atticus and less time in the kitchen cooking or doing the dishes!

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Simple Self-Care

Every girl loves a little pampering. Simple forms of self-care provided the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind. Nothing says, “ahhhhhh!” quite like a calming paper face mask, an afternoon pedicure with a hot soak in lavender bath salts, or an hour long massage. These three separate escapes could not have been more perfect for this usually too busy to slow down, Mama Bear!

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Sleeping In & Afternoon Siestas

Daylight savings could not have come at a more ideal time. The break allowed us to ease into springing forward by sleeping in and indulging in extra-long afternoons naps. Most mornings, my alarm rouses me from my sleep by 5:45. Sleeping in until 7:00 or 7:30 was such a blessing. Every afternoon, I tiptoed into Atticus’s room to sneak a peek at him sleeping soundly. So much sweetness cuddled up into a cozy ball!

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Reflecting on my break this evening, brings me great joy. I genuinely feel recharged and reinvigorated to push through the next few months until summer break offers me endless opportunities to slow down.

Looking down at my boys this evening as they playfully enjoyed bath time served yet again as a simple reminder that life is too short not to savor the little things. After all, my little things won’t be little forever. Soon enough they will be bigger and taller than me!

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Through the Eyes of a Child

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I often say life would be more pure if we looked at the world through the eyes of a child. Their innocence, heart, enthusiasm, and curiosity set the stage for a worldview that vastly differs from our vantage point as adults. Perhaps though, if we allowed ourselves to be more childlike, our perspective about life would follow suit.

In order to consider this new frame of reference, perhaps we need to recognize what the world of a child truly has to offer. What better way to gain invaluable knowledge and insight than through some of my personal favorite children’s books. Take a walk with me through the colorful and imaginative world of children’s fiction, and see where it might take you!

Beautiful OOPS! by Barney Saltzberg

Let’s start with a Beautiful Oops! A book that resoundingly encourages you to embrace the beautiful mistakes you make in life. What a truly lovely sentiment! If only we could all adopt such a positive approach to human errors. This book undoubtedly appeals to the preschool age child with its unique approach to smudges of paint, torn paper, unexpected spills, and other messy mistakes. However, the theme of this book not only encourages one to adopt a growth mindset but also to have fun growing and learning from the mistakes you make along the way.

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Pete the Cat Go, Pete, Go! by James Dean

What better way to learn about taking life in stride and enjoying the experiences as they come your way then from the perspective of a overly optimistic cat named Pete. Rarely does he let stress or pressure steer him from his pursuits in life. Pete embodies kindness, authenticity, friendship, and a glass half full attitude. We could all take a few notes on his idealistic approach to life. It is refreshingly simple and a way of living so many of us could benefit from.

“The roses are just so beautiful… He has to stop to smell them.”

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The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This classic favorite encourages us to open ourselves up to love even though you might end up hurt or let down at some point by the ones we love. If only we could allow ourselves to love without condition, selflessly giving every part of ourselves to improve someone else’s life.

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

This lovely story transports us into a fantastical world of books. The main character spends his time doctoring old books, befriending forgotten novels, and bringing light to neighbors and friends who need a good story to lift up their spirits. Most importantly though, this story highlights the importance of our own life story. The story we write through our words and actions!

“Everyone’s story matters,” said Morris.

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Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Floyd’s story starts when his bright red kite gets stuck in a tree. This comical story demonstrates how problem solving does not always come in a neat, linear package. While his approach could appear flawed, his relentless pursuit to retrieve his kite from the tree allows us to smile and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of a child’s approach to life.

Floyd’s unconventionality and sheer determination illuminate how we, as adults, should also approach difficulties in life. We must continue to persevere, refuse to back down, and ultimately find a solution that works for us.

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss 

This book is one of the most gifted graduation presents for a very good reason. It opens our eyes to the endless possibilities that lie ahead for us. This book serves as a metaphor for life and illustrates the tight rope we walk balancing life’s responsibilities. It encourages us to take life as it comes, to expect hardship, but to also trust in our abilities to overcome.

Life is not just about the journey. It is about the destinations we end up at whether by chance or by choice. It is about how we embrace the beautiful moments, accept and learn from the difficult parts, and ultimately become the best version of ourselves because of the experiences that mold and shape us!

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett

Life is an adventure, and Sam and Dave illuminate this perfectly. Armed with shovels and a backpack with animal crackers and chocolate milk, these two boys set out to discover what lies beneath.

Throughout the book, you wonder how they would feel if they realized how close they are at every turn to uncovering buried treasure. And yet, despite their rigorous efforts, they never actually happen upon any treasure. This viewpoint clearly takes on the persona of an adult because for the boys they find something spectacular because they never started this journey with any expectation other than to have fun.

What a refreshing approach to life Sam and Dave embrace! If only, our adult selves could look at life through the same lens. Life would be “pretty spectacular.”

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In my Heart A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek

The main character of this book describes the big and little feelings she encounters every day. She encourages her readers to consider their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions on her creative journey embracing and accepting these feelings. She unravels a story so similar to what each and every one of us encounters on a daily basis: anger, hope, happiness, fear, humor, shyness, courage, peace, and hurt. Her simplistic approach to very real and oftentimes deep feelings spotlights the realness and importance these emotions play in our own lives. If we allowed ourselves to consider our emotions through the eyes of a child, perhaps we could also give ourselves permission to acknowledge these feelings and how they shape and propel us through life.

“My heart is full of feelings.”

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The Girl who Ran by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee

Literature should inspire us and motivate us to aspire for more. This book checks all the boxes for a truly inspirational read based on a very real heroine, Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. This book is a must read for all women no matter how young or old because it masterfully and powerfully encourages us to refuse to settle for anything less than our best. No glass ceiling, no male authority figure, no obstacle at all can stand in the way of the dreams we have for ourselves as women. Never settle!

“She ran with a strength only hope can inspire, just her and the sound of the wind in the fire.”

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What the Dinosaurs did Last Night by Refe & Susan Tuma

Everyone needs humor in their lives. The more the better. Bring on the laugh lines, the belly laughs, and the absurdities of a fantastical, fictional story that will take you on a wild and messy adventure. But beware, the toy dinosaurs living in your children’s storage bins are waiting to wreak havoc on your home.

This book truly does bring a smile to your face as you consider the outrageous adventures a house full of toy dinosaurs can bring under one roof. Children, perhaps because they are unencumbered by the stresses of life, laugh often and with great gusto. Our lives, as adults, would be greatly changed for the better, if we also adopted this ability to laugh out loud more often and worry less about the little things.

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Normal Norman by Tara Lazar

This final book brings everything full circle with regards to approaching life as our children do. So often we outgrow the innocence and naivety that is an innate part of life as children. We allow our perceptions of what others will think to dictate how we live out our lives as adults. We worry too much about their opinions and their thoughts that we somehow lose sight of true selves.

Normal Norman illustrates just how easy it is for others to try and put us in a neat and tidy box. But we cannot and should not allow anyone else to make us feel like we need to be a different version of ourselves. Authenticity is far more valuable than any opinion someone else will ever have of us.

” ‘Normal’ is impossible to define.”

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While the intricacies of life do not always allow us to embrace life in a childlike manner, we should at least consider donning this hat when we can. After all, a life filled with laughter, vivid colors, and fantastical characters would make for a far more intriguing plot line then some of the real world drudgery that we often have to rub elbows with.

If life were a children’s book, it would be a much more pleasurable read than the realities of our non-fiction lives. With that being said, it’s never too late to rewrite our story!

If Life was a Black & White Photo…

Black and white photos tend to evoke a feeling of nostalgia. In the absence of color, our eyes hone in on an image that often tells a very distinct story. Imagine what it might be like if we looked at every life moment through this same lens.

If life were a black and white photo, a smile communicates happiness in its simplest and purest form. Upon closer inspection, the authenticity of their smiles are enhanced by the light in their eyes. In focusing on these two facial attributes, the observer easily finds themselves drawn into this circle of radiant joy.

Allow your eyes to consider the following images and see if you too find yourself encapsulated in happiness!

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If life were a black and white photo, an embrace or a hug epitomizes the sincerity and authenticity of loving thy neighbor. It is amazing how a single image can communicate love so simply and beautifully. Consider how much happier we would be if we allowed ourselves to relish in the company we keep; the unbreakable bonds that tie us together.

We need to allow ourselves time in our hectic schedules to pause enough to appreciate these tender moments with the ones we love. These sweet moments of embrace settle into the deepest parts of our hearts; allowing us to feel truly and deeply connected to the special people around us.

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love

If life were a black and white photo, it almost feels as though it could and would be simpler. Forging friendships as you walk hand in hand, sharing stories that spark imagination, and building an unbreakable bond as brothers. These are just a few of the the simplicities of life encapsulated in a black and white photo.

While it is easy to argue that life is far too complex and complicated to look at with such a simplistic eye, perhaps the real truth lies in how we truly allow ourselves to choose to see the world. True to the adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, we each have the power to determine how we look at the world we live in!

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Summer on the Horizon

With just one week left until my work obligations cease and desist, at least until August, the excitement of summer is definitely on the horizon. If the little moments of happiness sprinkled in on the weekends and after school can predict the future, then the boys and I have a great summer in store for us. Today marks Liam’s last day of kindergarten. I still cannot believe how much he’s grown academically, socially, and not to mention physically. But today instead of looking backwards, I am looking forwards to the simplicities that come with the summer.

ADIOS ALARMS…

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One of the simple pleasures of summer is bidding adieu to setting an alarm clock. Granted my children are both set with internal alarms that often have them rising before the sunrise most days however I look forward to letting their internal clocks set the tone for our days rather than a blaring alarm.

SNOW CONES! YES, PLEASE.

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Houston summers are hot and humid no matter how early in the morning you rise to avoid the heat. Hydration and sunscreen are both key to a safe summer of fun in the sun. What better way to cool off than with an ice cold, refreshing treat like a snow cone. Our favorite local spot is Bahama Bucks. They have a great rewards program to help you earn free snow cones and the boys absolutely love this indulgence. This Mama Bear is pretty keen on them too, especially their Birthday Cake flavor with sprinkles.

QUALITY TIME

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During the school year, authentic quality time is often limited to the weekends when free time is readily at our disposal. Summer, on the other hand, offers bountiful opportunities for time well spent together. Unfortunately Sean’s schedule doesn’t ease up in the summer, but we’ll try to weave in some spontaneous moments together when we can.

SPLASH PADS

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In the Texas heat, water, in any form, is your greatest chance of beating the heat. In our neighborhood a wealth of splash pads offer some solace from the heat in a fun and extremely kid friendly way. There will be lots of splash pad play dates this summer. I’ll be one of the many Mama Bears splashing alongside my children as a refuge from the grueling heat wave that sweeps across our Texas summers.

SUMMER SILLINESS

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Summer is the perfect time for silliness in all its forms- silly smiles, sounds, traditions, etc. This morning we kicked off the almost official first day of summer vacation with an impromptu breakfast at Shipley’s Donuts to commemorate National Donut Day. Cake sprinkles, chocolate icing, and free donuts had my little Golden Bear offering up his best silly smile.

For those of you also lucky enough to have a summer break, may your days be filled with sunshine, smiles, and snow cones. Bask in the little moments and enjoy the slower pace of summer with your water babies!

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A Comfort Food Concoction

Most Saturday mornings, the boys and I venture out to our neighborhood H-E-B for my weekly grocery run. Oftentimes, Liam is still in his pajamas and the boys enjoy breakfast in the shopping cart as I peruse the aisles stocking up on the essentials and the more wildcard items that end up on my weekend menu. The two of them indulge in fresh donuts with sprinkles or flaky blueberry muffins sprinkled with sugar. The trip probably takes longer than it should as I pause at almost every aisle to break off a piece of the muffin and hand it to Atticus. There are a lot of, “Oooo’s and mmmmm’s!” Two of Atticus’s most favorite phrases when enjoying good food. The easy exchange and back and forth banter between the three of us, makes the weekly grocery trip something I look forward to. The ease and simplicity of it makes grocery shopping seem like anything but a chore.

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This particular weekend, I was inspired by a sale on sausage at H-E-B. At two for $5, I added a pound of Italian and sage sausage to my cart. As I continued to shop, I happened upon their frozen Central Market demi baguettes. I usually like to keep these on hand for when I need them in a pinch to accompany a fresh pasta dish or pot of soup. This weekend, however, they became the brainchild for dinner. I consulted Pinterest for some ideas and found the perfect recipe for all of the ingredients I had on hand. With the help of yellowblissroad.com, I adapted the homemade Italian sausage meatballs to create a comfort food concoction that proved to be an ideal marriage of savory, spicy, and flavorful in each and every bite.

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So without further ado, I present to you marina meatball subs paired with Italian roasted potatoes. Buon appetito!

MEATBALL SUBS

Ingredients:

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  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan cheese, and onions. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you mix all of the ingredients together. Be mindful that over mixing can lead to tough meatballs.

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Divide the meat mixture into 24 equal sized meatballs and place on the foil lined baking sheet.

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Bake for about 20 minutes. A good indicator that they are ready is when they no longer look pink.

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I made these on a Sunday afternoon and then added them to a pot with jarred tomato and basil to reheat them for dinner. I used demi baguettes as the base for my meatballs subs, but ciabatta bread would also be a great option. Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto your bread and top with grated mozzarella cheese.

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ITALIAN ROASTED POTATOES

Baby potatoes would be better suited for this dish, but I already had fresh Russet potatoes on hand so I opted for those instead. I sliced them all about the same size so that they would could more evenly. If you used baby potatoes, it would be best to cut them in half. This recipe was adapted from rasamalaysia.com. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes, cut evenly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 dashes of paprika depending on your preference for heat
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and rinse the potatoes before cutting.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes begin to get crispy. Continue stirring to allow them to brown. Push the potatoes to one side and sauté the garlic. Then add the Italian seasoning, salt, and paprika. Combine well. Turn off the burner and sprinkle the grated cheese atop the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter cubes to the top of the dish upon removal from the oven and allow the butter to melt into the crevices. Serve immediately for the best flavor outcome!

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A League of Their Own

Last week while we were in Las Vegas, my parents left fresh Brussel sprouts and asparagus in our fridge. After a four day weekend away, this week was perpetually a game of catch up. Every day when I opened the bottom shelf for blueberries for the boys, these fresh veggies looked up at me wondering the fate of their existence. This morning after my weekly run to the grocery store, I knew I needed to do something with these vegetables before they spoiled.

Roasted vegetables have been a go to of mine for quite some time. They can be great with scrambled eggs and cheese tucked into a tortilla for a great soft taco option. They are a wonderful side paired with macaroni and pork chops. Paired or as a stand alone, roasted vegetables rarely disappoint.

Traditionally I use olive oil and sea salt when I roast veggies. With fresh bacon from my grocery run, I decided to shake things up and let the veggies swim in the natural salt and fat of thick cut bacon. The end result was a cacophony of flavors that lingered on the tongue long after the last bite. Rest assured, roasting your vegetables with bacon puts them in a flavor league all of their own!

Let me just say the simplicity of this dish makes it an easy midday meal with minimal effort. It would be delicious with sweet or Russet potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini too. Follow the same method regardless of the vegetables you have on hand. The more the merrier especially when it comes to color and texture. The most important thing is chopping everything to about the same size so that it cooks evenly in the oven.

INGREDIENTS

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  • Brussel sprouts, stems cut & halved
  • carrots, peeled & halved
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled & sliced
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends cut
  • 1 garlic, whole
  • 4 slices of thick cut bacon
  • sea salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place the bacon evenly on the bottom and then layer with chopped vegetables. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Cook for 15 minutes. Then toss the vegetables and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Tossing the vegetables ensures that the veggies cook evenly. Allow the vegetables to brown and crisp slightly before removing them. Oftentimes after 30 minutes in the oven, I simply turn the oven off and leave the vegetables in a little longer to reach the perfect level of browned edges.

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Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!

WEEKLY MEAL PREP

Use the leftover rice and vegetables for quick and fuss free lunches. My leftovers are prepped and stored in Tupperware for the week.

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Souper Bowl Sunday

An important part of healthy eating is meal prep. Having healthy options readily at your disposal to avoid reaching for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s or the bag of nacho cheese Doritos. It requires forward planning and fresh, quality ingredients, but with a little practice it can evolve into a healthy habit.

Since our ten day green smoothie cleanse, I started making a pot of homemade soup every Sunday afternoon. The prep side of things is undoubtedly the most labor intensive part of cooking. Let’s be honest, peeling, chopping, mincing, and dicing takes time. But fresh ingredients are key to any delicious soup. To save time and be more efficient, canned and frozen vegetables can also take some of the work out of meal prep. Today’s soup, however, required a lot of knife handling as all of the vegetable ingredients were fresh.

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The greater Houston area has experienced an unseasonably cold winter, which has created the ideal type of weather for savory soups and crusty breads. Yesterday afternoon a cold front blew in that dropped today’s temperatures into the high 30s; weather conditions perfectly suited to make today a souper bowl Sunday.

So without further ado, I give you one of my all time favorite soups, chicken coconut curry. Enjoy this soup over jasmine rice and top with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. It could very easily be made vegetarian by substituting the chicken for tofu and swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, halved and chopped
  • 3 to 4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cartons of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (I typically use lite)
  • 4 to 5 tbsp of red curry paste (Adjust to your liking)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large soup pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil for ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and sauté the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Next add the carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, chicken broth, and curry paste. Allow to simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the potatoes and carrots are soft.

Because I usually make my soup while Atticus is napping, I turned off the heat and let the soup rest until about 45 minutes before I was ready to serve dinner. I added the chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro and turned the heat back on to low to medium low. It truly depends on your range setting. The goal at this point is to allow all of the ingredients to simmer but never allow the coconut milk to boil. You’ll have to monitor it to determine the best setting on your stove.

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Serve over jasmine rice and enjoy. This soup hits all of the key flavor notes, spicy with the curry, sweet with the coconut milk, and the vegetables all compliment each other perfectly. Cilantro always adds that extra level of flavor too. This soup reheats well making it an ideal option for lunch during the week and at least one leftover meal for dinner during the week. It’s exotic flavors offer a great change of pace to more traditional soups like chicken noodle. Even Liam gave it his seal of approval- a smile and an empty bowl.

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Some of the other highlights of our weekend included Liam wrapping up his first basketball season with his final game on Saturday, Sunday morning shenanigans before breakfast, and catching up with family over ridiculously amazing fried chicken donut sandwiches. All in all, it was a great weekend!

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