The Republic Grille

Jon Boy had a date night a while back [thanks to my fab sister-in-law!], and I have to say, it was hands-down one of the BEST restaurants we've ever been to! It's called The Republic Grille. They have two locations in the Woodlands, so we went to the one on the west side because it's closer to our house. The atmosphere was super low-key, but folks of all kinds were eating there. Some were in jeans, some in slacks, and I was in this little get-up: 

You can't go wrong with an off-the-shoulder maxi these days. This one is a new fave. My sister-in-law (same one who gave us the date night babysitter ticket) gave me these awesome earrings for Mother's Day! They're the lightest, cutest things I've ever graced my ears with. I love my necklace most of all because it's from our honeymoon. I can't believe we're coming up on five years already.

I can't resist a dirty martini with blue cheese olives. This one was spectacular. The waitress also suggested a fantastic red, but for the life of me, I can't remember which one. She was spot-on though, so these folks know their stuff!

We started with the lobster crab cakes. That's right. Lobster + crab + a creamy, tangy remoulade. I ain't mad about it.

They had a special that night that just had to be on my plate: the stuffed, smothered pork chop. I had it with the creamed corn and homemade corn bread. Yes, I'll be in the gym for 8 years working it off. Yes, I'd do it again. Tomorrow.

Jon Boy got the smothered red fish (smothered in crawfish, son), plus the southern green beans and smoky mac 'n' cheese. Again, the gym, I know. But soooo worth it! 

Salt to Sea

Talk about a page turner... woah. If you love historical fiction [particularly the WWII and Holocaust era], then this one is for you. There's a little romance thrown in there, too, but this book is mostly about the compassionate people who find each other in the worst circumstances imaginable. It's a story of courage, kindness, and finding one's self in the midst of utterly horrid conditions. 

The author, Ruta Sepetys, writes in such a fluid way that you lose yourself in the plot, characters, and undertone of the story. I literally finished the book in one day (on our way back from Mexico). It's that good. 

The story is based on the actual worst maritime disaster in modern history: the sinking of the refugee ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff (read a little more here). The ship lost 9,343 souls (5,000 of which were children). The Germans tried to cover up this catastrophic loss because of their pride [even though they were losing the war at this point].

[image cred here]

The sinking of the ship is a huge part of the story, but it's the way Sepetys writes the characters that makes you see a different side of the war that's rarely written about: the side of the German people. They suffered greatly, though in different ways in comparison to those in concentration camps.

I'd highly recommend this book if you're looking for a compelling read that leaves you with a deeper understanding of humanity during times of war. Sepetys has written other novels (Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy), and I can't wait to read both!

A Trip to Mexico + Life Lately

Whew! It's been a crazy [but super fun] past couple of weeks. I haven't posted in a while, so apologies for this being such a long one. 

My mom, her best friend, my brother's two best friends, and I all went to Puerto Vallarta last week! My mom actually won the trip in a silent auction [her weakness], so we got quite a deal on an absolutely gorgeous home. There was a couple who lived there with their two kiddos [probably the two sweetest people I've ever met]. They took great care of us. 

She was an excellent cook and he made a hell of a margarita! I'm never going back - tamariñdo all the way! 

His family also had an unbelievable recipe for salsa verde that I literally could have swam in. It's so delicious. I'm actually trying to recreate it as I type this post. More to come if that works out... 

Best. Guac. Ever.

This was our dinner the night we arrived. Absolutely amazing crusted Durango (it's a type of fish - never had it before but I am a major fan), Mexican rice, a super fresh salad, homemade guac + salsa verde, plus fresh limes, crema, etc. Everything here was the epitome of fresh. We ate like royalty, but I never felt completely gross and stuffed like I sometimes do at Tex-Mex places (but that hasn't stopped me going back now, has it?).

The house was in a gated area that led all the way up the mountains. It was built (like all the houses there) into the side of the cliff, so this was our view from the infiniti pool [trust me, the pictures do not do it justice]. We'd just sit outside, sip coffee [or margaritas], and talk and read and lounge and sing. 

¡Viva Mexico!

Not the worst sunset I have to say... We could actually see all the way to the Baja strip from our balconies (yes that's right... plural... there were three levels)!

This is the view from the top balcony where the master suite is. Absolutely gorgeous.

We pretty much lived in the pool the entire time. With a view like that, why wouldn't you?

This was the ceiling on the third level near the master bedroom. The detailing of the tile was just breathtaking. I couldn't imagine waking up every day, walking out of my bedroom, and seeing this. Just gorgeous.

I'm not going to lie, there was a definite presence missing on our trip. My brother would have had so much fun. It was very healing to get to spend time with his buddies sharing stories and laughing and crying over my crazy brother. This bird you see here below kept swooping in and hanging out with us from time-to-time. We had to really be patient in order to get a picture because he was a sneaky little bugger. I have to say [and I've said it before] that birds remind me so much of those who've gone before us. I feel like they're God's way of showing us comfort and strength in times of bittersweet sadness. That's what this little fella did for me. 

We took a walk down to the beach one day and along the way I snapped a few pics of the neighborhood. 

At the beach, we went to a little cantina and had some snacks + bevs. I went with a trusty ole Corona + lime. It was a fun experience, but I have to say it was a little scary. I don't want to get into anything negative, but it will be a while before I go back to Mexico. I really pray the drug wars end and the government can gain control of everything again. The people are truly wonderful and are just trying to earn a living and raise their kids. It's tough to do in the kind of surroundings they have currently. 

There were dogs everywhere (which I of course loved), and I even found Penny's doppelganger. 

I'd love if we could get plants like this to grow in Texas! Just beautiful. They were literally everywhere - on stairs, in windows, in small pots on the side of the road. 

On our last night there, we went to an amazing restaurant called Le Kliff [and yes, it was on a cliff]. I finally got to wear a new dress I got from Old Navy! It's perfect for summer, even in a place as steamy as Mexico. 

Our view at dinner:

Herbal Martini = Happy Lilly
(this place is actually known for their martinis - they had an entire page in the menu for them - they're ridiculously delicious)

My brother's friend had the lobster. Get. Out. Of. Here. Yummo!

I had the pecan crusted snapper that came with a passion fruit sauce + asparagus. Holy Fish Heaven. 

I was so happy to get back to squeezing deeze cheekies! We played in our little inflatable pool in the backyard the day after I got back. Homeboy wasn't having it at first. 

But then Daddy decided to jump in, and little man was all about it! Look at these two hunks.

We spent Father's Day at my in-laws house and had a great time laughing, swimming, and eating! I'm a lucky, lucky lady to have this man as my baby daddy. He's kind of amazing, y'all.

Corey's also discovered that he LOVES Play-Doh! Score for this mama!

Cheers to the weekend! We're off to Port Aransas with the family tomorrow! Praying that it doesn't rain the whole time. 

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Ohhhhhh boy oh boy oh boy. If you love a good mystery/thriller, then this is a DEFINITE read for you. It's been on my reading wish list for a couple of years now, and I finally got a chance to read it. I have to admit that I read it in less than THREE DAYS! It's a definite page turner. 

I ironically related very well to the main character. She's got a lot of baggage and finds herself loving her small apartment and running out her stress on the pavement. The novel's basic plot is that she gets invited to a "hen party" [bachelorette] for a friend she hasn't spoken to or seen in ten years. She's confused about the invite, but goes anyway. 

As you might guess, the party takes place deep in the woods. The characters she meets at the party are like something from the Clue game. They've each got something mysteriously "off" about them. The twisted plot finally ends in a way that you really can't see coming. You're not going to be able to put this one down until you find out who the "bad guy" is! Trust me! It's a perfect book for the beach or a summer trip. 

German Potatoes + A Great Week with the Big Guy

Now that everyone is healthy, we've been spending as much time as possible outdoors before things get too hot and steamy in Houston. He was born to be outside, I'm convinced. I've found some great things at Dollar Tree and Target for him to play with that are durable [and cheap]. I'll post about those later on. For now... #demcheekies.

We took a trip to the car wash [and actually braved getting him out of the car]. It was great! He loved watching the cars and trucks get their "bath" as he says. 

It was time for our shaggy dog to get groomed, so we dropped her off at Petco and walked around a bit. We saw so many *cough* fun things *cough* like snakes, hamsters, lizards, and ferrets. Corey had fun checking out all the critters. Then we came upon the fish. And my inner six year old went crazy. My parents must have bought us 8 of these guys growing up (apologies to each of those unlucky fish). I thought it would be a fun thing for Corey (okay, mostly me) to get to see one each day, so I bought the kit, the fish, and a fun little deco for the tank!

Meet Bernard the Butterfly Betta!
[check out that Spongebob shout out]

Had to get the Texans shirt for this Houstonian doggie.

These two. I find them like this all the time. Melts my heart.

I started a new book this week, and I'm in love! It's called Fish in a Tree, and it's already speaking to my heart. The foreword alone got me:

We also had Corey's 18 month doctor appointment this week, and he's growing like a weed to say the least. At least he's on charts this time [yupp... he was literally off the charts a few check ups]. He's already cutting his two year molars, and I'm dying. Poor guy is in pain. I hope they come through quickly! I did a little googling and thought I'd share the charts I found for tooth development:

click here for source

click here for source

My dad made this side dish more times than I can count when we were growing up, so for the life of me, I have no idea why I haven't ever made it for Jon. These potatoes are easy, soooo scrumptious, and really not that bad for you when you consider how much flavor they pack. This recipe makes about 4 good sized servings at around 250 calories per serving. I crave these potatoes in a way that's really kinda crazy. Just think: crispy potato + savory bacon + zippy flavor. YUM!

I do have to say that after we finished eating, I felt like crying. It's amazing how food memories can take you back to some good childhood moments. 

Cheers to the Weekend!

German Potatoes

3 tbs. EVOO
2 lbs. yellow potatoes (peel on or off - your choice), cut into just over bite-sized pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tbs. bacon bits (can sub 2 strips real bacon, diced*)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I use a lot!)
Splash red wine vinegar

In a large Dutch oven or skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and onions. Sauté until onions are tender and potatoes have begun to crisp, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan (about 10 minutes). Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the bacon bits, parsley, salt, and pepper; stir to combine. Be sure to continue to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the yummy brown bits. Cook an additional 15-20 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally. Add the splash of red vinegar towards the end when the potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Cook an additional minute. Garnish with parsley. 

*If you use real bacon, subtract about half the olive oil and toss the bacon in with the onions and potatoes. 

Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers

You've gotta love the incredibly versatile little bell pepper. He sure is a handy guy in the kitchen. You can stuff him with just about any kind of flavor and he just compliments it so well. 

My sister-in-law gave me this recipe a while back, and we've both tweaked it in our own ways since then. She leaves out the rice and adds more bell diced bell pepper and beans to hers. I added the oregano, diced tomatoes, and cheese to mine. I like having the rice because it expands this into enough for 6 good sized servings [that freeze well, too if I might add]. That's the great thing about this recipe though - you can add or subtract whatever your little heart desires.

Each pepper is about 215 calories each according to this recipe, so it fits well with any good healthy meal. We served ours with some simply-seasoned black beans for a yummy and filling weeknight meal. I made three peppers for myself and Jon (one was for lunch the next day for muah). I froze the remaining 3 servings [labeled it, too, otherwise I forget what they hey it is]. 

Another great win about this recipe is that you could make the filling [brown meat + add goodies] earlier in the day or even the day before. Just refrigerate until ready to stuff the peppers.

Turkey Stuffed Peppers

1 tbs. EVOO
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 lb. ground turkey
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground oregano
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbled
Large bell peppers, tops, membranes, and seeds removed (save & chop the bits you can from the top)

Preheat oven to 400. 

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until translucent, stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, turkey, cumin, oregano, any diced bell pepper from the tops, and S&P to taste. Stir to crumble and combine. Cook until turkey is browned and cook through, stirring occasionally (about 8 minutes). Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Stir and cook an additional 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat. Add rice, cilantro, and Cotija. Stir well to combine then spoon mixture into bell peppers, stuffing as full as you can without them overflowing. Place in a glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes or until peppers are tender. 

Garnish with cilantro. 

This recipe makes enough for about 6 stuffed bell peppers. Freeze the remaining filling if you have any leftover. Just thaw in the fridge the night before serving, spoon into bell peppers, and bake as above.