White bean chile chicken verde soup in the slow cooker

Soup

Though I hear rumblings about spring being “just around the corner,” it’s still mighty cold in our corner of the universe . . . making soup pretty much a staple around here.

I’ve extolled the virtues of my slow cooker often (too often?) lately, but it really is one of my favorite things. I love knowing dinner is already taken care of when I leave for work at 8 a.m. Makes me feel like a rock star wife/cook/human. And I have a hunch my love affair with the slow cooker will only intensify after Baby J’s arrival.

While browsing for good slow cooker recipes, I’ve been struck by how many require cooking for just 4-6 hours. Given my husband and I get home about nine hours after leaving, I need a meal that will stand the test of time . . . literally.

This slow cooker white bean chile chicken verde soup cooks for eight hours and features meat so tender, it practically crumbles when you take it out of the slow cooker. The cumin gives it a nice punch, and the heat from the jalapeños and chiles is warm without burning you up. I like spicy, but not too spicy. And this isn’t too spicy.

It has everything I look for in a good weeknight meal, basically: tasty, filling, relatively healthy, makes a lot. Because what’s a soup recipe without leftovers? Disappointing, that’s what.

A great dish simply must be enjoyed again the next day. Pretty sure it’s in the Constitution.


Soup


Slow cooker white bean chile chicken verde soup

Ingredients:
2 pounds chicken breast, fat removed
1 small onion, chopped
2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cans green chiles
1 cup salsa verde
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 32 oz. container of chicken stock
2 tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt, garlic salt or salt-based Cajun seasoning
Red pepper flakes, to taste


Place chopped onion, diced and seeded jalapeno peppers and minced garlic in the bottom of your slow cooker. Top with chicken breast and spices.

Add undrained cans of green chiles and salsa verde, followed by the cans of drained and rinsed white beans and chicken stock.

Let mixture simmer on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours. Before serving, remove the chicken breast and shred, then add the shredded chicken back to the slow cooker.

Squeeze lime juice into soup and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Add red pepper flakes, if desired. Stir and let simmer an additional 20-30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe adapted very slightly from Maebells


Fresh (maternity) duds

I’ve never been trendy or fashionable or fashion-forward, per say, but I’m trying not to look a frightful mess during this pregnancy.

That’s been somewhat challenging given how little maternity clothing I own . . . and how little I want to invest in it. After losing almost 40 lbs. in 2013-14, I had to replace nearly everything in my wardrobe — which hurt in the pocketbook and the psyche.

It might sound ridiculous, but imagine if all of your favorite pants, tops and dresses no longer fit. Or like everything vanished overnight. Even though I wanted to get healthier, of course, I never considered the fact that my favorite Levi’s — a pair I’ve lovingly worn since college — would no longer be wearable, and I’d have to drop $40 a pop trying to find a replacement in my new size. (And I still haven’t. The angst.)

I’ve been fighting with my wardrobe for years. Before Weight Watchers, I struggled to find clothing that made me feel confident. I hated the way everything hugged and spent most of my time pulling at my clothing. Post-Weight Watchers, I felt great getting dressed . . . when I actually had something to get dressed in. I started searching for cute, affordable clothing to replace nearly everything I owned. And I was making good progress!

Then I got pregnant.

Maternity wear is an entirely different animal. In the beginning, I purchased basic short-sleeved tops and camisoles to wear under open-front, non-maternity sweaters. I bought stretchy black slacks for work from Old Navy and have two pairs of maternity jeans I like from Sears. Christmas brought some new tops from my parents, sister and husband, but until this weekend? Well, I basically rotated the same half-dozen tops for work and have been wearing one of two sweaters after-hours.

The thing is, I’m trying to be frugal. Though I want to feel good, of course, it’s hard to justify dropping hundreds of dollars on clothing I won’t be wearing come summer. My pregnancy has been a back-and-forth between wanting to invest in nice duds that will make me feel confident and trying to save money in general . . . so. I’ve sought basics I can pair all kinds of ways and tried getting creative with my wardrobe — but there’s only so much you can do without shelling out more dough.

Which is why I nearly burst with happiness on Sunday. My brother-in-law’s cousin kindly told my sister about baby gear she is ready to offload now that her youngest is two, and — as an aside — mentioned she had some maternity wear she’d be happy to pass along.

Friends, she came through big time. I’m talking 25 tops in various styles and colors for work and weekends, most from Old Navy or Motherhood Maternity — the two stores I’ve been visiting regularly. I honestly could have wept.

I’m wearing one of the new (red!) tops today and honestly feel like a million bucks. I didn’t realize how drab my clothing had gotten, too: all grays and blacks. Very monochromatic. I love those tones, but as we inch closer to spring? I want to branch out a little. Maybe bring in some purple and mint green, you know? Something uplifting.

I think the lesson here is to put things out into the universe, be patient and be gracious. When you least expect it, someone might show up with a trash bag full of fresh duds and expect nothing in return.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to inspect my haul. I just like petting them.


If you’re like me and on the hunt for maternity wear, I’ve had good luck with the tops from Kohl’s (the Oh Baby by Motherhood line) and Motherhood Maternity. Sears is the only department store that actually carries maternity wear in-store, and I love the maternity jeans my husband found there!

I browse Zulily’s maternity section pretty faithfully, but I haven’t always loved what I’ve ordered . . . mostly because it’s too short. If you keep in mind that their “tunics” can’t actually be worn with just leggings, making them tops, they have cute items! And they’re not all solid colors. Why are maternity tops all in solid colors?! Is there something offensive about a pregnant lady in a print?


Book Blogger Love-a-Thon: Howdy!

BANNER - 2015 LOVEATHON

Time for the Book Blogger Love-a-Thon! This two-day event is a way to bring together folks from all over the bookish Internet, spreading love for books and the bloggers who chat about them in the process. We’re meeting new folks, leaving comments, connecting on Twitter (#LoveAThon) and generally offering virtual smooches. See the list of participants and more at Alexa Loves Books.


Hi there! I’m Meg, a 29-year-old writer from Maryland, and I’ve been blogging steadily — about books, food, life — since 2008. write meg! began about a year after my college graduation as I languished a bit in the “real world,” missing the connections I found in the English classrooms I’d haunted for four years as an English lit major. I was a Borders bookseller as well as a newspaper editor, and was constantly seeking an avenue to discuss stories and writing. Starting a blog was a natural fit.

I stumbled upon the bookish Internet when a coworker introduced me to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, then quickly discovered The Book Lady’s Blog, run by Rebecca (now of Book Riot). Though I’d been posting about this and that for a few months, I lacked purpose — and hadn’t yet connected with other bloggers. My site averaged 10 hits a day. It was just kind of a thing I did . . . a thing without a goal.

But finding others posting reviews, creating book-inspired playlists, making recommendations and generally indulging their love of a story, an author, a series? Well, a light bulb went off. My aimless wanderings suddenly veered onto a path, and I wrote my first review — of Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes — that September.


me_waves_reading


I love literary fiction, contemporary fiction, chick lit, historical romance, young adult . . . and in the past few years, I’ve gotten into memoirs and humorous non-fiction, too. I’ve reviewed nearly 450 books here at write meg! with no plans to quit — even with a little one on the way. Most of my reviews are for contemporary and women’s fiction. These are my favorites.

When it comes to my best blogging experience, attending and speaking at the Book Blogger Convention in 2011 definitely ranks up there. Meeting so many friends in New York — in the flesh — was very exciting, and moderating a panel at the event pushed me way outside my comfort zone . . . in a good way. Though I don’t think public speaking will ever not force me into a cold sweat, it was an awesome way to connect with bloggers away from our computer screens. And just generally a great time.

So, given this is a Book Blogger Love-a-Thon, I feel the need to, er, come clean about the fact that I don’t blog only on books. I can sometimes go weeks without posting a review, actually, though I’m always in the middle of one novel or another. Reading is a vital part of my life (and I even had a bookish wedding!), but I often write about whatever is on my mind: weight gain (and loss), twenty-something conversation topics, becoming a parent. Variety is the spice of life, eh?

As the book blogging community continues to grow and change, I’m happy to still be here — and have formed many dear friendships these last seven years. Several have translated to “real life,” though even our Twitter chats are “real” to me. Checking in with you guys daily is just a part of my routine. We’ve been through countless life transitions, major moments, holidays and more together, and I look forward to sharing the arrival of Baby J — and many bookish stories — in the years to come.

Beyond write meg!, catch me on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.


Want to join the fun? Check out Alexa Love Books for more information and to visit other participants — there is so much going on this weekend. Giveaways, fun posts, Twitter chats . . . see you there!


Five things on Friday

24 weeks

1. I’m officially in maternity wear 24/7, which probably should have happened a while ago . . . but I was milking the last little bit out of stretchy cardigans and generously-cut tops. But NO MORE. At 25 weeks along (today!), this baby is majorly gaining on me. I have an anterior placenta (eek, sorry to talk about placentas . . .), basically a “mattress” cushioning me from his blows, so movements have been subtle. But in the last week or so, Baby J has apparently gotten big enough for me to feel his frequent cartwheels — and my husband has even felt a jab or two. Very exciting!

2. The cold here in Maryland has gotten ridiculous. I know it’s so cliche to complain about the weather, but seriously. It was 5 degrees this morning, and I think I felt every sting of that. My 11-year-old car has been hating every second of it, and I’ve had frequent, panicky PLEASESTARTPLEASESTART moments with my engine. Also, our driveway still has long icy patches, and ice and clumsy pregnancies don’t mix.

3. I’m back to doing the random-book-shuffle. I start a book; I put it down. I reach for another one; I put it down. I get about 30 pages in before I snuffle and abandon it for something else, hoping the new read will better capture my attention. And . . . then it doesn’t. In the past few days, I’ve started What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; and Opposites Attack by Jo Maeder. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; my mood is just weird, apparently? I don’t know. I am, however, still enjoying the audio of The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It’s intriguing, but definitely makes me glad I’m not a farmer (or a farmer’s wife).

4. Early plans for my baby shower are underway, and I’m getting quite excited about it! We’re actually having it at my house because, logistically, it makes the most sense — but my mom and sister are spearheading the effort. Because I’m obsessed with all things paper, I just designed and ordered the invitations. My new fixation revolves around finding the “right” thank-you cards, so I’ve been stalking Etsy and Amazon for options. I love these, these and these.


pink room

Shelf from Zulily5. And speaking of plans, we’re slowly getting the house decorated. The advice to “finish everything now!” before the baby comes has gotten into our heads, so we’re working on polishing up the office, downstairs bathroom and guest room before Baby J’s arrival. And that’s to say nothing of everything we need to do in the nursery, which is . . . yeah. Pepto Bismol pink. I stalk Zulily (affiliate link) for inspiration daily and finally made a purchase: this cool shelf! I don’t know; it spoke to me. Spencer painted the bathroom a beautiful green, so I’m going with a woodland theme? I’m whacky. And buying weird tchotchkes to put on it is part of the fun.

Happy weekend, friends!


Book chat: ‘Hugo & Rose’ by Bridget Foley

Hugo & RoseThis book was . . . not quite what I was expecting.

That’s not inherently a bad thing, you know; surprises are exciting. Interesting. Compelling.

But sometimes they’re jarring. And with Bridget Foley’s Hugo & Rose? Well, I felt jarred. I’m still jarred, in fact.

To start, the cover is just so pretty and whimsical, you know? And reading the description — about a stay-at-home mom who has dreamed of the same man and their adventures every night since childhood — made me think of the imaginary friends who once accompanied me at recess, lending an ear to all my troubles and taking my side in sister fights.

But this was . . . darker. Textured. Nuanced. I liked that, but it startled me. In a good way, perhaps? But I’m still not sure. It’s not too often that I’m left with such mixed feelings on a story. Have I been ambivalent about a novel in the past? Absolutely. But I’m not suffering from a lack of opinion on Hugo & Rose — just a lack of clarity.

So Rose — our dear, troubled Rose — is in a bit of a rut. She deeply loves Josh, her doctor husband, and their three children — but Josh’s hours are long and his attention short, and the boys can be a bit much to handle. Now in her mid-thirties, Rose struggles to believe she’s an aimless woman with a baby on her hip. It’s in her dreams that she finds relief, escape, fulfillment: her dreams with Hugo.

After a bike accident knocks her unconscious as a child, Rose finds herself on Hugo’s island locked in eternal struggle to get to a glistening city on the horizon. Like “Lost” without the other castaways, Rose and Hugo help each other fight off enemies and battle evil forces — both seen and unseen. While they start their time there as kids, they grow together into adulthood. No matter how they may look in reality, their island selves are strong, lean, tan. More beautiful. Powerful.

Following a kids’ soccer match in a nearby Colorado town, Rose succumbs to temptation and takes her bawling boys for fast food on their drive home. It’s there that she first sees Hugo perched in a take-out window, hunched and weary at work. He’s thicker in the middle, balding, less enigmatic — but definitely Hugo.

Hugo in real life.

Shocked and inexplicably drawn to this strange not-stranger, Rose tumbles down an obsessive path. Foley excelled at showing Rose’s deepening preoccupation with this man, eventually demonstrating what can happen when reality and fantasy collide. There is a touch of magical realism to Hugo & Rose — a little suspension of disbelief. But Foley is a talented writer, and I felt the transitions between the island and reality were well done.

While I didn’t always like Rose, I did appreciate her challenges and nuanced personality. Who hasn’t longed to feel like a better, stronger version of themselves? I could sense her physical and mental exhaustion in Foley’s descriptions, feeling a very suburban desperation in it all. That’s why sleep is so welcome for Rose . . . well, until it isn’t.

The story becomes increasingly sinister — almost frightening. While I didn’t always enjoy it, I was invested in the characters’ fates and racing to finish. At times I wanted to slap some sense into Rose, desperately not wanting her to ruin everything good and whole in her life, but our heroine has spent so much time feeling powerful on an island and powerless in reality; it’s easy to see why escapism appeals to her.

The twists and turns were not ones I saw coming. Though I wondered how the island would be explained, of course, I wasn’t preoccupied with knowing all the hows and whys. It’s fiction, not science. Hugo’s back story is a fascinating, tragic one, but I was glad that Foley never took the easy route to cast him entirely as a villain. No one here is a saint, and no one just a sinner.

I wasn’t always in love with the story, but Foley made me care about her characters. There’s no denying Hugo & Rose makes — and leaves — an impression.


3 out of 5

Pub: May 5, 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor on Twitter
Digital review copy provided by publisher for coverage consideration


A home office, a baby, a life

window

Who knew a room could launch you into adulthood?

I spend a strange amount of time not feeling “old enough.” Not old enough to have a house, a car, credit cards, a checkbook. Not being old enough to have a husband and a baby on the way; not old enough to argue with cable companies and insurance representatives, to be grocery shopping independently and gathering tax documents.

Though I don’t obsess about it, I often feel like I’m glancing over my shoulder — waiting for someone else to swoop in and take care of things. Fix the insurance snafus; adjust the thermostat. Be the adult in the room.

It’s scary to realize you’re the adult present. The one throwing the party, taking the phone calls, signing up for health care. It’s all you.

We have a home office. One with built-in cabinetry, outlets for computers, actual computers, a mug with pens and Sharpies. And pencils? I guess you need those sometimes.

It was the first thing we noticed in the real estate listing discovered around this time last year: a beautiful space with counters and drawers and ridiculous organizational possibilities. Coming from a relatively small apartment, all I could think about was cramming our stuff in those nooks and crannies. There were so many of them! Something out of a dream. As soon as we stepped inside and looked left, taking in this gorgeous room, we were sold. I mean, the rest of the house is great . . . but that office.

It’s been almost a year since we first toured the place that would become our family home. I had “that sense” as soon as we walked in, you know? That feeling of peace, tranquility, overwhelming rightness. We’d already visited half a dozen houses with my dad, a Realtor, and found positive qualities in each . . . but this one? This was it. It had everything. Never a doubt in our minds.

I freaked out a few times, of course — mostly about money. Houses require lots of it. We got into a bidding war right before the bank formally accepted our offer on the foreclosure, so there was a time when I thought we might have lost it. That thought brought on a potent mix of overwhelming disappointment . . . and relief. I was panicky thinking of another move so quickly after our wedding and my initial transition from my parents’ house. Putting our life back into boxes — ones I felt I’d just unpacked — was overwhelming.

But it was worth it, of course. We got the house; we moved all of our worldly possessions; we’ve made this place ours. We’re home now. I won’t pretend like there aren’t still piles of stuff in the basement waiting to be organized, placed and hung . . . but no one goes down there anyway, right? Spence has learned to ignore them. For now.

With a snowstorm blowing through the Washington area on Monday night, I was able to take a laptop home and work from our office on Tuesday — for the first time ever. And it was magical. “Working from home” is a mystical concept I’ve heard others experience, but I’ve never been able to attempt such a feat.

Given I’m six months pregnant and unsteady on my feet on a good day, my boss kindly suggested I hook up with our IT expert and figure out a way to make it happen. I was ridiculously grateful. By 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I was hunkered down in said home office with two laptops fired up, listening to Coldplay and sipping a contraband Coke while typing away.

Outside, my husband — off for an actual snow day — set to work clearing our driveway of the 8 inches of fluffy stuff that came down overnight. Our neighbor drove his tractor up and down his property, making hasty U-turns at the street. Around lunchtime, a plow finally pushed its way through our neighborhood. Salt coated the street. The sun broke through the windows.

And I felt happy.

Like really, really happy. Suddenly, inexplicably, buoyantly happy. I’m emotional in a normal (non-pregnancy) state, but something about this scene — cozy but productive at home, our home — just felt . . . really good. Adult-like. Answering work emails, researching articles, laying out pages, being part of a team . . . well, I felt like a grown-up. Never mind that I’ve been in the working world — and at my job — for nearly eight years. This? This was it.

Do you ever have a “This is my life” moment? Tiny, sparkly shards of realization that you are, in fact, this or here or something in between?

For me, they’re usually sparks of recognition that I’m married, starting a family, turning 30 this summer . . . that somehow — by the grace of God, perhaps — we have a home to call our own and people we love who love us back. And more than anything, Spence and I have each other.

There are times I wake up and feel like I’m 10 or 12 or 25 again. Sometimes I expect to open my eyes and be back in my childhood canopy bed, Dad downstairs popping Eggo Waffles into the toaster while my sister and I scramble to get ready for school. Sometimes these scenes feel so familiar, so real, that I forget. Forget I’m here. Forget it’s now.

Feeling a baby kick and tumble in my belly produces some of these existential wanderings, sure, but I’ve always been a philosophical mess. Questioning everything, adding weight to every moment. I was a weird kid. Once, at Disney World, I remember crying because my mom gave me a piece of gum — and I threw away its paper wrapper. Someday, I thought, I’ll remember her handing me this wrapper — something she held. Someday, I’ll want it back.

See? Weird.

I’m not worried about becoming a mother. I don’t worry about being bad at it — though I’m sure I’ll screw up and ask forgiveness and wish I’d done things differently. I’m not a perfect person, and I won’t be a perfect parent. But I already love our son with a fierce fire I didn’t think was possible, and I know I’ll do my best. I’ll do more than that.

Sometimes I think about what it means to bring a child into this world. Like everyone, I think of the scary things — illness, violence, heartbreak — and worry about how I’ll make myself a human shield, absorbing his blows and soothing his cries. Knowing I won’t be able to fix everything — or, someday, anything — is already a gnawing ache.

But I can’t go there. I know I can’t. So I focus on how we want to raise him — how we want to encourage him, laugh with him, inspire him. I keep thinking of my own happy childhood, wanting Spence and I to give him everything we had: love, support, attention.

I keep picturing him in this home office in a Pack ‘n Play, baby-babbling while I tap out emails and field phone calls — how different our life will look four, six and twelve months from now. So foreign from how it looked when we first cleared snow from our shoes and walked through the front door last March.

But also right, too. Very right. Good.


Make new friends, but keep the old: Kindle vs. paperbacks

When an Amazon Kindle arrived under my Christmas tree in 2012, I was tentatively excited — but still unsure about the whole “e-reading” thing.

A lifelong paperback lover, I worried that reading on a screen would feel too much like work — too close to my 9-to-5 spent in front of a flickering computer monitor, not enough like the relaxation I crave. Though much smaller, I’d already tried reading on my iPhone and hated it.

And part of me felt like a traitor, honestly. At a time when online retailers were contributing to the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores and we began to worry if print was dying, here I was: reading novels on a glowing device, buying e-files and casting aside my hardcovers. With hundreds of physical books in my library, would I no longer be interested in them? Would I get addicted to Kindle convenience and give my paperbacks away?

It sounds silly, maybe: e-reader guilt. But it was there.

The first book I read in digital format — Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin — was . . . well, it was weird. I remember thinking I couldn’t concentrate on the text the way I can when holding a physical book, and I actually wondered if I’d retain any of the plot.

But I was pumped for the Kindle because, you know, it was a cool new gadget, and I was interested in getting review copies digitally. Because space was a premium at home and at the apartment I would later share with Spencer, the appeal of having dozens of books on a device in my hand — instead of stacked around our overflowing living room — couldn’t be denied.

Book I have not readMore than two years into my relationship with my Kindle, I can honestly say that many of those fears — especially the ones about getting rid of my physical books — never came to pass.

As I’ve started recording my books for 2015 on a spreadsheet, I’m tracking not only what I’m reading but how I’m reading it: physical, digital, audio. Where I was once a purist who couldn’t fathom the appeal of audio books, I’ve completely converted — and now spread my reading pretty evenly amongst the three mediums.

Do I still prefer print books? Well, yes and no. Nothing can replace the feel of a real book in your hands, fingers sliding across smooth pages, the sweet heft and look of it. I love real cover art; I like having a physical sense of being halfway through a story, versus “50 percent” through. A real book never needs charging, and it doesn’t have to be stowed before take-off.

But my Kindle has a place, too. I love it when I’m on the go, especially traveling (more room in the suitcase!), and the backlight is awesome. Our living room is pretty dark, and I’ve yet to find a comfortable place to read a physical book without having to squint and angle the book just so. The Kindle takes all that away. Plus, when I want to stay up and my husband wants to go to sleep? I can shut off the lamp, dim the Kindle and make reading in bed comfortable for both of us. Boom!

I miss “real” books when I want to re-read a passage from a previous chapter, or flip back to get a sense of a character I might have originally overlooked. I miss “real” books when a novel has a particularly glorious cover I wish I could gaze at, or when a quote really grabs me — one I wish I could underline and dog-ear. “Highlighting” on a Kindle? Just not the same.

So I switch it up. As we get closer to Baby J’s arrival, I’m trying to get through a backlog of novels I’ve now moved twice: some books I wanted to read as far back as 2008, stories lodged in my library patiently waiting their turn. Though I have no formal “Kindle/print” system, I’m on a sort of every-other-book method.

And it’s working well. I’m still enjoying the books I’ve collected over the years with the convenience of the Kindle for everything else. I mostly use my e-reader for review books these days, and I’m getting the hang of requesting digital copies from the library. Which is free! I love free. Free is good.

Like all major changes, the transition from physical to digital was strange at first — but with time, I’ve come to appreciate the awesomeness of each.

And toting around my Kindle takes “never leave home without a book” — in this case, twenty — to a new level.