Friday, June 28, 2013

Introduction to the Maggie Cats Bookclub: How Novel!

I'm introducing a new regular feature here on my blog, mostly because I think it would be fun, but also because it will make for an interesting reading and writing project.

The Maggie Cats Bookclub: How Novel! 

I'll be reading my way through selections from the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List (both the Board's selections and the reader picks), and writing up posts with my thoughts. It will probably break down to approximately three to four posts per book, but obviously that depends on the length of the selection.

Let's just clear this up right now: epic tomes like Ulysses or Anna Karenina ain't happening. I so don't have the time for that.

But there are a bunch of other books on the lists that I have always wanted to read and some that I am eager to revisit. Looking over the list I was honestly surprised by how many I have already read--looks like a public school education is good for something after all. But with more than 20 years having gone by, it will be fun to reread some of the books.

This will also present an opportunity for you all to read along with me! I'll announce what book is the subject of a post and how far I will be reading before the next write-up. If there is sufficient interest, maybe we can even organize an online chat to discuss aspects of the book with one another and I can put a copy of the transcript up here on the blog.

But even without an outside participation, I think this is going to be an interesting (and challenging) experiment. Will the celebrated novels live up to their reputation? How different will my adult perspective be on the books I read when I was a teenager? And can I honestly stick with the consistent blogging? Only time will tell!

The first book selection is.....(drum roll please).....1984 by George Orwell.

I've never read this one, but am eager to see what kind of totalitarian dystopian future Orwell predicted in his landmark novel. Can it rival The Hunger Games? Let's all keep our fingers crossed for a good love triangle in there somewhere.

If you want to read along, I'll be reading Part One of the book and planning to write up a discussion around the middle of next week. If you are interested in chatting about it, let me know!

Until then....happy reading!

Hungry Girl Fettuccini Chick-Fredo

Remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about how I loved all things delicious and creamy? Chicken fettuccine alfredo was pretty much my go-to Italian restaurant choice....that is until I discovered I was lactose intolerant and started dieting. No more alfredo for me.

But I'm not the type of person that gives up easily. So I was determined to find a version of the recipe that would fit in my with low calorie diet AND not contain a ton of cheese that would bother my tummy. A small amount is ok, especially with a Lactaid chaser.

A few months ago, I discovered Hungry Girl. She takes classic recipes (and your favorite comfort foods) and makes lower calorie version using a few key substitutions. Two things that she constantly recommends and uses in her recipes are:

1) House Foods Tofu Shirataki noodles; and,

2) Laughing Cow light spreadable cheese wedges.

The cheese wedges I was familiar with and have enjoyed in the past. At only 35 calories they make a perfect snack accompaniment. Now the noodles? Never heard of them. But Hungry Girl raves about them--apparently they taste like real full carb pasta, but the entire package has only 20 calories.

No, I didn't forget a zero in the above sentence. 20 calories. For the entire package.

But would it really taste like pasta? And can an alfredo substitute that is made with only 1 teaspoon fat-free sour cream, 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan, and a Laughing Cow cheese wedge, really hit the spot??

Well, yes. Yes it can.

Now, let me give you the whole truth here. This is not as creamy or cheesy as a big steaming plate of fettuccine alfredo from a restaurant. Of course it's not, it's diet foot. But does it hit the spot? Absolutely. The noodles are a little more slippery and springy than regular pasta, but honestly? It was delicious, and hello, only 20 calories. I would use this as a pasta substitute every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Literally. I would eat it twice on Sunday no problem.

And the best part? The serving size is listed by Hungry Girl as the "entire recipe." That's right, you get the full package of noodles, 5 ounces of chicken, and a cheese sauce that will fill up your entire plate. There's not going to be sauce dripping off your noodles or anything (it's more like an overall creaminess for the noodles), but it gets the job done and is honestly delicious. If you really can't do without more of a cream feeling, consider adding an extra cheese wedge, which will only add an extra 35 calories to the recipe.

As pictured: 260 calories. Yes, you read that right. This whole big plate of creamy noodles and chicken is only 260 calories. And trust me, that is a big dinner plate. 

Final note, I was a bit worried about locating the noodles since they seem like a specialty item. I was able to find them in the vegan/vegetarian refrigerator case in Wegman's and according to the company website, you can also find them at Wholefoods, or at lots of online food shops.

Bottom line: if you are a pasta fan who is counting calories, FIND THE TOFU NOODLES. Seriously, they will change your life. And the whole recipe is definitely a winner.

Hungry Girl Fettuccine Chick-Fredo (follow the link for a microwave version of the recipe, I cooked it using the stove)


1 package House Foods Tofu Shirataki noodles, Fettuccine Shape
1 wedge The Laughing Cow cheese, Light Original Swiss
2 tsp. fat-free sour cream
2 tsp. reduced fat grated Parmesan cheese
5 oz. skinless chicken breast; grilled with nonstick spray only (I used two chicken tenders)
Optional: salt, pepper, and paprika


Drain and rinse noodles well. Dry noodles thoroughly (use paper towels to soak up as much moisture as possible) and use a knife or scissors to slice them up a bit. They can be really long, so make sure you cut them!

Spray frying pain with nonstick spray. Salt and pepper chicken, add to pan over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes. Flip chicken and cook an additional 4 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and slice into strips.

Respray pan, reduce heat to medium, and add sourcream, parmesan, and cheese wedge. Top with noodles and mix until cheese has melted. Add chicken, mix further, and put on your plate. Enjoy!

Serving Size: Entire recipe
Calories: 259
Fat: 5.75g
Sodium: 472mg
Carbs: 11g
Fiber: 4g
Sugars: 1g
Protein: 39g

 *5 Points!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Helo at Hilo

After our first Maui adventure, the Celebrity Solstice headed for the Big Island, i.e. Hawai'i. I was SUPER excited about this stop on our cruise since I was planning to scratch an item off my bucket list.

Flying in a helicopter over a volcano.

I would say this is item three or so on the list (after seeing the Aurora Borealis and Paul McCartney in concert), so getting the chance to take it off the list is kind of a big deal. Turns out Hilo is a mecca for helicopter tours and it has a small airport that most of the companies operate out of.

But first! Interesting facts!

Hawai'i is the largest and the southeastern-most of the Hawaiian islands. It is known as the "Big Island" to reduce confusion between island and the state. Hawaiʻi was the home island of Paiʻea Kamehameha, later known as Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha united most of the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1795, after several years of war, and gave the kingdom and the island chain the name of his native island.

The Island of Hawaiʻi is built from five separate shield volcanoes that erupted somewhat sequentially, one overlapping the other. Two of them are currently active, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.  Kilauea is the volcano that we flew across, it has been erupting continuously since 1983 and is part of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

After the ship docked, we were just a quick cab ride away from Hilo Airport and then it was just a matter of finding the right company's tour desk. We had arranged to fly in a four seater helicopter (well, five with the pilot) and the company had to weigh us to determine the best distribution of our weight in the copter. After that bit of humiliation (thankfully they didn't announce our weight or anything like that), we were sent back to a little waiting room to watch a safety video and wait for the helicopter to return from the earlier morning tour.

We then walked over to the airfield, suited up with a floatation packet that wrapped around our waist and a headphone/microphone combination, and watched the helicopters fly back in. I have to admit at this point that I was starting to get a little nervous. Not terrified or anything, and more excited than scared, but still. My stomach was definitely doing a little tango.

But then it was time to climb into the helicopter, take our places and prepare for take-off. We were lucky in several ways: it wasn't actively raining right where we were (the side of Hilo with the airport is one of the wettest places in the US), and we were able to see real, red flowing lava! According to the pilot, that's actually pretty rare.

The view was not what I expected. Instead of your cliche cone-shaped volcano with lava pouring down the sides....

....Kīlauea is more like a huge gradually inclining lava field. I think the lava bubbles up from cracks in the earth itself (instead of the flowing out of the tip of a mountain), and gradually makes its way down to the ocean. It releases huge steam clouds when it hits the water, and results in Hawaii being the only state that is actually getting bigger every year! When the lava cools...presto, more land.

Lava steaming as it hits the ocean!


After spending a lot of time flying over the lava and the spot where it hits the ocean, we turned back towards the city of Hilo and flew over some beautiful waterfalls. The pilot was very chatty, as were we, and according to him we were one of the most fun groups he has ever had. I am sure he says that to all the girls, but he made a point of telling us that the group immediately before us rode in almost total silence...which is pretty boring for him. I think he appreciated all our bad jokes. And Monique's squeals of terror whenever he would quickly turn the copter. As for me, as soon as we got into the air, all my fear immediately evaporated and I just enjoyed the hell out of the ride.

We were totally the most fun group.

But it turns out our adventure wasn't over. When we got back to the ground we figured it would be a piece of cake to grab a cab to take us back to the port area. It was an airport, there are always cabs at an airport, right?


After waiting 15 minutes and seeing zero cabs, I started calling around to local taxi companies. It was a Sunday and the first one I called didn't operate on Sundays (....ok) and the second one the woman was downright rude to me. Apparently she has driven out to the airport to pick up people before and they have gotten other cabs before she got there and just left. My assurances that we would wait for her were not sufficient for her to "waste the gas to get out there." So she hung up on me. Now that's customer service!

At this point we were approaching the 45 minute mark of waiting. Kent and Monique went off to see if any of the rental car shuttles would be willing to take us (no dice), but then they noticed a car dropping off a guy at the curbside for a flight. In typical Kent fashion, he walked right up to the driver and told him we would pay $20 if they would give us a ride back to the port.

And that's how we ended up essentially hitchhiking with a very nice young stereotypically hippie stoner twenty-something couple. They did not rob, attack, or otherwise harm us, and were instead super fun and lovely to talk to. They were basically the poster children for stoner beach bums though. We had a laugh over that, believe me. No doubt what they were going to spend the $20 on. And it makes for a nice story, right? Don't tell me Mom though.

After getting back to the port, I decided to spend some time on the nearly-empty ship relaxing and taking advantage of the empty chairs in the solarium. that's a vacation. Later that night, around 10:30, the ship ended up sailing past the part of the island where the lava hits the ocean; the same part we had flown over earlier that day. We got some stunning photos of the lava at night. At least I did. The old ladies who were standing next to me and didn't know how to operate their digital cameras...not so much. But I did them a solid and took pictures with their cameras for all of them. Even the one who was standing on a chair behind me and figured it was ok to put her hand on my head to help her keep her balance. It's called personal space, lady.

Ooooooh, cool!

 Moe and I are ready for the helicopter!

 Kent and I held down the backseats of the copter.

 Looking out over the lava field.

 Pretty waterfalls!

 Hey, that's our ride!

Macademia nut fields near Hilo.

Coming up next time, snorkeling adventure and dolphins on the other side of Hawai'i!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Evening with Neil Gaiman

On Friday night, Politics & Prose bookstore hosted Neil Gaiman at GW's Lisner Auditorium as part of his book tour for the newly released novel, Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Neil Gaiman is hands down my favorite author. If you aren't familiar with his work, then clearly something is wrong with you. Just kidding, but seriously, he is a genius and a true storyteller. I've scoured the internet to try to find a description of his style and genre that can express what reading his books feels like...and the closest I have found is a snippet from a review of the new novel from The Times in London. "His prose is simple but poetic, his world strange but utterly believable - if he was South American we would call this magic realism rather than fantasy."

Magic realism--I like that. It's typically used to describe South American authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but wikipedia defines the term as "magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment."  This is Neil Gaiman to a tee. He is a master at setting atmosphere, of the creepy, of the extraordinary, of the funny, and making you feel. With a few monsters thrown in for good measure.

I was lucky enough to see him last year in September, and when I heard he would be returning to DC on his current tour, I snapped up a bunch of tickets for me and my friends as soon as I could. We gathered in the Lisner Auditorium on the GW campus along with 1,000 other fans to hear Neil read from the new book and answer audience questions. He was his typical rumpled, brilliant, quietly hilarious self. He began by telling us that he would sign books after his talk for as long as it took to get to everyone....but asked us to allow those who are disabled or pregnant to come to the front of the line so they wouldn't have to stand for hours. How can someone be that talented AND so nice? Not fair, man.

Apparently, his adding pregnant women to the list of those who could jump the line stems from an appearance he made in 2003 in the Philippines. Over 3,000 people came to hear him speak and have their books signed. After autographing books for 6 hours, there were still over 1,000 people waiting in line. He spotted two pregnant ladies waiting, and asked the event organizers to bring them to the head of the line. When another woman who had been waiting her time finally reached the signing table, he asked her why she hadn't come up with the other pregnant women. "No, I'm just fat" she told him. He told us "I never wanted to die as much as I did at that moment."

Before beginning to read from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil told us a bit about the process of writing the novel. It was more or less accidentally written--it began when he missed his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, when she was living in Australia and working on recording a new album. He started to write a short story that he thought she would like--since she doesn't really like fantasy. He then quipped, "I don't know why she married me." Amanda likes stories with honesty and feelings, and he doesn't normally do honesty and feelings, mostly because he is male and English.

He decided to write about a character who was the seven year old version of himself who lives in the world Neil remembered growing up in. But then there was a small problem. He just didn't stop writing. The short story became a novelette, which became a novella, which became a very long novella, and the end result was the new book. Neil sent a surprised email to his editor and exclaimed, "I appear to have written a novel."

Don't you hate it when that happens?

Neil then read from the fourth chapter of the new book (which was a nice surprise since I had heard him read the first chapter when I saw him speak last September). To provide some background of the story, Neil told us that in the beginning of the book, a lodger living with our narrator and his family drives to the end of the lane and kills himself. The narrator is a seven year old boy who meets the strange and witchy Hempstock family (all ladies). Just prior to chapter 4, the narrator has received a mysterious silver shilling in a most uncomfortable manner (it appeared suddenly in the back of his throat), and he and the youngest Hempstock strike out in the woods behind the Hempstock farm to seek some answers.

If you have not heard Neil Gaiman read in person, you are still in luck as he reads many of his own audiobooks. He has a flare for it, and he reads the audiobook for The Ocean at the End of the Lane (link goes to I would also recommend the audiobook for his novel, Neverwhere, which is my favorite.

And now! Answers to audience questions!

--"As a writer, what is one mistake you are glad you made?"
"Writing a letter to a friend, Caroline, and transposing the "a" and the "o." (this is a reference to his very successful children's story, Coraline, which is also a super creepy animated movie.)

--"How did you develop and foster your love of mythology?"
When Neil was six years old, he borrowed a copy of the book Tales of the Norsemen, and loved it. He then saved his pocket money and bought Tales of Ancient Egypt...which promptly ruined his life since he couldn't figure which of the author's three names was the appropriate one to use on his alphabetized bookshelf. He fostered his love of mythology by feeding it.

--"What was it like to work on Doctor Who?" (Neil has written two Doctor Who episodes)
"It was enormously fun."

--"Why are there so many Hempstocks in your books?"
When Neil was 8 years old, there was a farm down the lane that his mother told him was mentioned in the Doomsday Book (written around the time of William the Conqueror). In his head, he imagined that the same people had lived there for 1,000 years and in his teens he began referring to them as the Hempstocks. Women with the name Hempstock are also mentioned in his novels, Stardust and The Graveyard Book.

--"Why o angels keep showing up in your books?"
"I don't know, they're like cockroaches. As soon as I think I am done with them, another one comes scurrying in."

--"Will there be any more stories set in the Neverwhere universe or with those characters?"
Neil mentioned that he had just written a short story called How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, which features characters from Neverwhere and will appear in a new anthology called Rogues edited by George RR Martin.

--"What inspired the character of the TARDIS in the Doctor Who episode, The Doctor's Wife?"
The character was actually an accident; he did not sit down to write an episode about the TARDIS in human form. Instead, he had thought it would be cool if there was something weird and dangerous inside the TARDIS, and in order to get it in there, maybe something had pulled out the TARDIS' soul...and then the soul had to go somewhere. The Doctor always referred to the TARDIS as a girl, so he decided to stick the soul in a nice lady.

--"What's your advice to someone who wants to make a living as an author?"
"Sell some of your writing."

--"Where is your favorite place to write?"
"Somewhere without wireless internet." Neil told us that he prefers to write by hand with a fountain pen....but has written pretty much anywhere. The only really impossible place to write is in the bath.

--"What have you been afraid to write?"
There was one scene in The Oceans at the End of the Lane he knew would be difficult and knew it was coming 1-2 weeks ahead of time. "It was hovering on the horizon like a distant storm cloud" but didn't want to face it. Still, it got done!

--"What happened to the movie based on Anasi Boys?"
There were problems with the studio's interpretation. They straight up told Neil that you couldn't have black actors in a fantasy movie since black people don't go see fantasy movies and white people didn't go see fantasy movies with black characters. The audience at the Lisner scoffed very loudly at this claim, and Neil agreed--and mentioned that was why the movie didn't happen. Though there had been some promising progress on this front lately...

--Do you purposefully choose your audience for a particular story (i.e. adult novel vs. children's book)?
Yes, usually before he begins writing.

After answering the questions, Neil then read another small portion of the new book, this time a very funny snippet set in the Hempstock's kitchen. He told us he would sign books for us "until my hand drops off." Luckily for us, that wasn't a problem. Each ticket was numbered and would determine the order of the book signing--and my group had numbers 41-47. We were in the first signing group and only had to wait about 10 minutes. It was pure luck of the draw on our part, but also a huge relief. I have no doubt people were waiting around for hours to get their books signed.

So that's it! I encourage you all to check out the new novel, it's beautiful, funny, scary, and will grab you from the very beginning. Just another typical journey into Neil Gaiman's world....

 Can you imagine having to sign 1,000 books? I think my hand really would fall off.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Aboard the Solstice and Maui, Day 1

After spending some wonderful days in Honolulu, it was time for the real vacation to begin! Bear in mind, I had almost been on vacation for 5 days at this point, but whatever. Details!

Honolulu is an interesting city in terms of transportation. I guess they want everyone there to feel like they are rich and famous...because not only can you hail a taxi when you need to go somewhere, but can hail a LIMO taxi. And you can also call them to come pick you up and it costs the same (or less) than a regular cab. At least it did with the coupon we pulled out of a flyer we got at the hotel. So of course we took a limousine to the port where our cruise ship was waiting.

Climbing into the limo....

They see me rollin, they hatin.

Getting aboard a cruise ship is always a bit of a pain. There are long lines, lots of waiting, grumpy old people...but when you travel with Chris and Kent (who are frequent cruise club members) you get to forego a lot of the waiting. We hooked up with Monique and were aboard in the ship in only about an hour. But then we got some surprising news.

Turns out on the cruise ship before us, when the ship was around Australia, there was an outbreak of the Norovirus--every cruisers nightmare. For those not in the know Aunt Nora (as we like to call her) is an easily transmittal virus that causes severe gastrointestinal problems. You know, diarrhea, vomiting, all that lovely stuff. It's basically the bane of a cruiser's existence since it's spread by touching something someone who was infected touched (like a banister or door). Seriously people, WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS. Gross. The good news is only a handful of people were affected.

There are strict regulations regarding what happens after a Norovirus outbreak, and in the case of Celebrity it means the entire ship had to be disinfected. Which means even once we got on the ship we weren't allowed in our rooms for several hours since the crew was taking extra precautions with the disinfecting. It also meant that throughout the cruise we were required to use hand sanitizer at the entrance to every restaurant, were not allowed to serve ourselves at the buffet (which is actually really annoying and caused traffic jams), and were not allowed to use menus at the bars.

Poor little rich people, right?

We decided to pass the time waiting for them to clean the ship at the martini bar. As you do.

But all of the precautions worked because there was no Aunt Nora on our cruise, hurray! Aside from a few inconveniences (described above) there was no issue with the virus at all. Which meant we could focus on all the fun we were going to at our first port of call, Maui!

We were visiting some of the islands twice during our cruise, and Maui was one of them. Our first day there, Monique and I had booked a tour through the cruiseline that would take us up to the Haleakala crater and then down through some of Maui's rainforests. But first! Some interesting and informative background!

Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands with the third highest population of the islands.
Native Hawaiian tradition gives the origin of the island's name in the legend of Hawaiʻiloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. According to that legend, Hawaiʻiloa named the island of Maui after his son, who in turn was named for the demigod Māui. The earlier name of Maui was ʻIhikapalaumaewa. I think we can all agree that the change was for the best.

And now! Science! From wiki, "Maui's diverse landscapes are the result of a unique combination of geology, topography, and climate. Each volcanic cone in the chain of the Hawaiian Islands is built of dark, iron-rich/quartz-poor rocks, which poured out of thousands of vents as highly fluid lava, over a period of millions of years. Several of the volcanoes were close enough to each other that lava flows on their flanks overlapped one another, merging into a single island. Maui is such a "volcanic doublet," formed from two shield volcanoes that overlapped one another to form an isthmus between them."

I don't know about you, but I think volcanoes and lava are like, the coolest thing ever. It must be from all those science projects of building volcanoes. Or maybe that Tommy Lee Jones about the volcano in LA. Either way, volcanoes are bitchin.

So bright and early, Monique and I loaded up into a bus at the port town of Lahaina and headed out for a volcanic adventure. Per usual, it was a bit of drive--it took about 2 hours to climb the winding Haleakalā Highway which leads to the top of the crater. The highway is a series of switchbacks that travels up almost 10,000 feet to the Haleakalā National Park.

Some background on the volcano: Haleakalā (house of the sun), or the East Maui Volcano, is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The tallest peak of Haleakalā, at 10,023 feet (3,055 m).  From the summit, you look down into a massive depression 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and nearly 2,600 feet deep. The surrounding walls are steep and the interior mostly barren-looking with a scattering of volcanic cones.

Basically, it looks like an alien planet, think Star Trek. It's shocking after seeing so much lush greenery, to encounter such a barren rocky terrain. It's also very cold and windy. But worth it to just stand there and look out from the edge of the world. We were even higher than the clouds and could see them rolling in through the valley of the depression. It's definitely something I won't ever forget.

After wandering around the volcano for a while (and posing for a series of goody pictures......)

Oh, come on. You knew it was going to happen.

....we loaded back onto the bus and headed to an adorable ramshackle little town for lunch at an "Italian" place. I use the parentheses because, honestly, it wasn't too authentic. But we still had some good eats and got to window shop at the little tourist trap shops. And after THAT we got back on the bus (of course) and drove to a botanical garden on the rainforesty side of the island. There were some amazing plants and trees whose names I never learned. But! Beautiful greenery! It was like Jurassic Park up in that place. In fact, the soundtrack might have been running in my brain on a constant loop through my entire trip...might have. Yeah, right. Of course it did!

Thus endeth Maui Day 1.....coming up next time, a helicopter adventure on the Big Island! Also, we kind of sort of accidentally hitchhike with a pair of stoners.

Palm trees!

Eerie and beautiful tree.

Like Jurassic Park, amirite?

Red hibiscus (the yellow version is the Hawaiian state flower)


Clouds rolling in.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cajun Chicken Pasta (on the lighter side)

I love Alfredo sauce. So cheesy. So creamy. It's a perfect companion to pasta dishes, but with my lactose intolerance and dieting, alfredo sauce is a huge giant no-no. But I still miss creamy pasta dishes, so I have been scouring the internet for some alternatives. Sure, I'm never going to be able to recreate the original exactly, but you can't go wrong with a good substitute.

I had such good luck with the blueberry wheat pancakes from SkinnyTaste, I decided to see if she had any creamy pasta sauce recipes. Success! (enter Cajun Chicken Pasta on the Lighter Side, stage left).

This dish has everything delicious: pasta, a creamy sauce, some kick from the cajun seasoning, and protein from the chicken. It's not too difficult (everything cooks in one pan) but I'd rate it as moderate in difficulty since it requires a lot of prep work with the chopping of the veggies, browning of the chicken, and making a slurry (a blended mixture of liquids and solids).

Per usual, I made some changes to the basic recipe. It called for using light cream cheese, but only 3 tablespoons. I couldn't see buying a whole container of the stuff for three measly tablespoons, so I substituted four of the Laughing Cow light spreadable cheese wedges (only 35 calories each!). They're recommended by Hungry Girl and make a really excellent snack along with some low calorie crackers. I also have a pan big enough to cook all the chicken at once, even though the recipe calls for browning it in two batches. Finally, I left out the scallions and mushrooms (yech!), but added some extra tomatoes since I used canned diced tomatoes to save myself some chopping time.

But as you can see, it still turned out awesome!

 I just wanted to stand there and eat it straight out of the pan. 

A few tips if you decide to make it: this is a low calorie sauce, so it's not going to be as thick as a regular alfredo sauce. It will do in a pinch, but don't go in expecting it to be the same. I would recommend leaving it in the pan for about 5 minutes when you are done, it thickens up quickly. Or you could throw in a tablespoon or two of cornstarch and see how that works out. Also, don't be afraid of the cajun seasoning! I think next time, I might even add some hot sauce or chilis to make it even spicier.

I served with my usual spinach salad and Safeway Kitchens cranberry and nut salad topper. You get a pretty large serving with this one (1 1/2 cups) and it makes five servings. Perfect for lunches!

Total calorie count as pictured: 388. Pretty good for a pasta meal!

SkinnyTaste's Cajun Chicken Pasta on the Lighter Side

Servings: 5 • Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups • Old Points: 6 pts • Points+: 8 pts
Calories: 323.8 • Fat: 6.2 g • Protein: 25.9 g • Carb: 44.1 g • Fiber: 6.3 g • Sugar:3.2 g
Sodium: 126.5 mg (without salt)  


8 ounces uncooked linguine
1 pound chicken breast strips
1-2 tsp Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
1 tbsp olive oil 1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow bell pepper
Thinly sliced 8 oz fresh mushrooms
Sliced 1/2 red onion
Sliced 3 cloves garlic
Minced 2 medium tomatoes
Diced 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tbsp flour
3 tbsp light cream cheese
Fresh cracked pepper
2 scallions chopped
Salt to taste
Smart Balance cooking spray


Prep all your vegetables. In a small blender make a slurry by combining milk, flour and cream cheese. Set aside. Season chicken generously with Cajun seasoning, garlic powder and salt.

Prepare pasta in salted water according to package directions.

Heat a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; spray with cooking spray and add half of the chicken. Sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until done, set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken. Set aside. Add olive oil to the skillet and reduce to medium; add bell peppers, onions, and garlic to skillet, sauté 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and tomatoes and sauté 3-4 more minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Season with 1/4 tsp salt, garlic powder and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium-low; add chicken broth and pour in slurry stirring about 2 minutes. Return chicken to skillet; adjust salt and Cajun seasoning to taste, cook another minute or two until hot, then add linguine; toss well to coat. Top with chopped scallions and enjoy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Finally, after a truly horrendous travel day, I woke up to my first Hawaii morning! The boys and I didn't really have anything planned for our first day, so we decided to just wander around Waikiki.

This part of Honolulu gets a bad rap for being really touristy, but this does tend to have some benefits. For one, there are lots of shops around so if you forget to pack something (like enough underwear), you have shopping options (thank you Ross, dress for less). Also, there are great restaurants, easy access to the beach, and lots of crazy people you can watch walk around. 

Oh, and 10 million t-shirt shops. Seriously, do tourists really buy that many t-shirts??

After a lazy day of wandering around and working off our jet lag, the next day we got moving with a tour to Pear Harbor. As I am sure you know, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the US naval fleet on the island of Oahu, with devastating results at Pearl Harbor. It was also the impetus for America entering into the WWII conflict. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge prior to visiting the memorial and museum.

I'm a history buff, but never really got into military history. Having said that, the exhibits and presentation at Pearl Harbor were super interesting and taught me a lot about the Pearl Harbor attacks that I never knew. There was a video (I love a video!) showing the timeline and details of the Japanese plan--which frankly, was bloody brilliant. Luckily for us our aircraft carriers were out at sea or the twentieth century might have gone real differently. I was also fascinated to hear about all the mistakes the US made prior to the attacks; such as underestimating the Japanese capabilities, ignoring radar indications of the attack, and a lack of cooperation between the Army and Navy.

After spending some time learning about the history of where we were visiting, we boarded a ferry that took us across the water from the museum to the USS Arizona memorial. The 184 foot memorial is built over the wreckage of the Arizona, which was never disturbed as a way of respecting the people who perished inside. I found some really interesting information about the memorial on the national park service website, where its architect, Alfred Preis, said of the design, "Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory....The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses...his innermost feelings."

I was surprised by how moving the experience of visiting Pearl Harbor was, though in retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised. There are few places that are so symbolic of American perseverance, and until the September 11 attacks in New York City, it was the bloodiest foreign attack on US soil. The museum and memorials not only represent (but literally are) the final resting place of thousands of American soldiers and is a lesson for all of us of the cost of freedom. On Facebook, I posted that while visiting Pearl Harbor I learned a lot and felt a lot. And it's absolutely true. 

After Pearl Harbor, our tour wound it's way through Honolulu giving us a peek at some of the more interesting sights, including the old royal palace. I confess to also being ignorant of Hawaii's history, both and after it's addition to the US in 1959. I had known it was once ruled by a royal family, but knowing something and seeing tangible evidence of it are not the same thing.

Our last day in Honolulu, Chris and I tackled the famous Diamond Head crater hike. Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone that looms over Honolulu. Parts of it are closed to the public since the US government has several antenna on it (....or SO THEY SAY), but there is a very popular hiking trail that climbs 560 feet and includes several hundred stairs. Yes, stairs. My ancient enemy! The entire trail is only about 1.5 miles roundtrip, and I would only put it at moderate difficulty. There's no rock scrambling or anything like that, but it does get steep in places.

View of Diamond Head from the air (thanks, Wiki!).

Allow me to fill you in on the typical Maggie hiking script:

(at the bottom of the trail)
Me: We have to go up THAT? I don't know about this, I don't know if I can make it. Look how steep it is! I really don't know if I am going to be able to make it up to the top.

(at the top of the trail)

(at the bottom of the trail again)
Me: You know that really wasn't that bad! I am proud of myself for making it, I don't know why I didn't think I would be able to!

(throughout the entire hike, internally)
Chris: Dear God, of course you can do it, now shut up and hike faster.

So that's pretty much how it went. The stairs were a giant pain in the ass though.

After the hike (which took up an entire morning thanks to the bus ride and mile walk to get to the actual base of the trail--they don't tell you that in the guidebooks), I spent the rest of my last day in Honolulu lazing around the hotel and pool. The next day was cruise day!

Coming up next: We get on the Celebrity Solstice and learn about the norovirus. Stay tuned!

 Me, Kent, and Chris on the beach at Waikiki!

 Hula dancers in the outdoor performance area next to our hotel!

 The USS Arizona memorial.

 Inside the remembrance room on the USS Arizona memorial. On the wall are inscribed the names of all who perished in the Pearl Harbor attack. 

 Oil still continues to seep up from the USS Arizona into the ocean.

 Inside the USS Arizona memorial.

 The Hawaiian royal palace in downtown Honolulu.

 The view from the top of Diamond Head!

Looking towards Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Healthy Weeknight Dinner: Skillet Citrus Chicken Tenders

By now, you are probably aware of my continuing quest to discover recipes that meet the Maggie cooking light trifecta:

1) Delicious

2) Low calorie

3) Will actually make me feel full.

And if it's an easy recipe that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, than hallelujah! Life doesn't get much better. Because when I get home from a long day at the office (or walk into the kitchen from a long day working at the dining room table), the last thing I want to do is cook something that takes an hour. Mostly because by dinnertime I am starving and can't wait that long to eat without munching on chips or some other kind of thing that is really bad for me.

Fortunately, I found a new recipe that meets all FOUR criteria! It's from the Cook's Country magazine, issued by America's Test Kitchen (ATK), which you might be familiar with from their PBS cooking show. The great thing about ATK is they constantly experiment to find the best version of a dish and include a full description of the what, why, and how they arrived at the final recipe. They issue a magazine every two months chock full of gems. Unfortunately, most of them don't need the "low calorie" criteria of the cooking light trifecta, but there's always one or two that make the cut.

And tonight's winner was Cook's Country Skillet Citrus Chicken Tenders. It doesn't require too many ingredients, cooks up in about 20 minutes total, and is really yummy. The flavor is similar to a chicken piccata, but way less salty (no capers) and a little less bright since it uses orange and lemon instead of just lemon. It has 370 calories per serving, and here's the best part, a serving is pretty large at 4 tenders.

I served it with green beans and a romaine and spinach salad.

As pictured, the total meal is only 460 calories. That includes the chicken, green beans, and a salad with a tablespoon of light balsamic dressing and a serving of Safeway's nuts and cranberries salad topper (located in the produce section next to the bagged lettuce--it really makes salads more interesting). 

This one is definitely a keeper, and the chicken is also going to reheat really well for lunches.  If you aren't as calorie conscious as me, it would also be excellent over rice. Enjoy!

Skillet Citrus Chicken Tenders

From Cook's Country
April/May 2013

Sautéing the chicken in two batches ensures that it will brown, not steam.
Serves 4

If you can’t find chicken tenderloins, slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts lengthwise into ¾-inch-thick strips.


  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins, trimmed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest plus 1/4 cup juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley


  • 1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook half of chicken until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and tent with aluminum foil. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining chicken.

  • 2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in now-empty skillet. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, orange juice, and lemon juice and bring to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Off heat, whisk in parsley, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, orange zest, and lemon zest. Stir in browned chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Cooking notes from Maggie: I wasn't able to find a 2 lb. package of chicken tenderloins, so I used a 1.5 lb. package and fudged the recipe using smaller amounts. It still turned out amazing, and it just made three servings instead of four and I didn't have to cook the chicken in two batches. I also saved some time by using bottled minced garlic and dried parsley. I'm a working girl, I don't have time for all those fresh ingredients! Oh, and it also took me about twice as long to cook the chicken as the recipe calls for, about 4 minutes per side. Still from start to finish, the recipe only took about 20 minutes!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

No pictures of grass skirts, I promise.

I'm back! Did you miss me? My extended vacation to Hawaii and Southern California is over, but I had some amazing experiences that are going to last forever. Helicopters, snorkeling, rain forests, new friends, old friends...I have tons of stories to share with you all. So many, in fact, that I'm not even sure where to start.

How about at the beginning? I left bright and early on a Saturday and began my trip with a weekend in Los Angeles visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. I was only there for two days, but we packed so much into my time there, it felt like it's own trip all on it's own. We hit the ground running on Saturday afternoon, heading to the LA Book Festival and the Children's Stage to see James' (and let's be honest, mine too) favorite children's music singer perform, Justin Roberts. I like to think of him as the Jonathan Coulton of kid's music--his songs are catchy, clever, and funny.

James at the Book Festival. He has on a crown and a Star Trek onesie. This kid is definitely related to me.

We also had a bit of a party Saturday night with two of my friends from LA, Patrick and Brian, and one of Bill's friends from work. Delicious Thai food was consumed, movies were watched, it was all very fun. Sunday I got to spend some quality time hanging out with Bill and James, and we went for a walk with James' new tricycle. His feet don't quite touch the pedals yet, but the bike has a handle on the back for Dad-assisted propulsion and steering. What will they think of next??

I had to make Sunday an early night since my flight to Honolulu was scheduled to leave LAX at 6 the next morning. Please note that I said scheduled. Because let's just say that actually getting to Hawaii was a bit of an...issue.

Long story short (too late), I got a call at midnight from my airline telling me that there had been a change to my flight due to the sequester and the lack of air traffic controllers. I was put on a bus at LAX (at 5:30 in the morning) and driven an hour to the airport at Ontatio, California where my flight had been rerouted. We ended up getting into the air about two hours late and I missed my connecting flight in Seattle. I was rebooked on a later flight...but that meant I had 6 hours to spend hanging out at Sea-Tac Airport. Awesome.
By this point I was exhausted and utterly spent, so I used some miles and upgraded myself to first class for my new flight to Honolulu. I deserve it and it was awesome. I finally got to Hawaii there, had some trouble with the car service I had arranged (of course), but finally made it to the hotel where Kent greeted me with a smile and a lei. I fell into bed for some well-deserved rest, and we began our Hawaii adventure the next morning!

Coming up next: Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and hiking up Diamond Head crater. Fun times!

Aunt Maggie will hug you. WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Pancake Breakfast

I love pancakes for breakfast. I mean, they're full of delicious things like flour, eggs, and oil...and are topped with sticky sweet syrup. What's not to like? Well, now that I'm seriously counting calories and trying to eat healthier, pancakes have become a no no. But I don't really like taking no for an answer so I've been scouring the web for diet-friendly pancake recipes.

This morning I found a real winner from the blog, Skinny Taste. In the words of the author, these pancakes are "healthy, low fat, whole wheat pancakes that are light and fluffy." They're a cinch to make, and I had all the ingredients in my kitchen so it didn't require any special trips to the store. And best of all, they have more protein and fiber than your average pancake so left me feeling full. 

Feeling full is like the Holy Grail of dieting. I don't even really care if things taste all that great anymore--I just want to feel full! Luckily, these pancakes had a great rich flavor thanks to the cinnamon, vanilla, and wheat flour. 

As pictured, this entire breakfast was only 337 calories! 3 pancakes, a cup of sliced strawberries, and 1/4 cup of sugar free pancake syrup (I like Maple Grove Farms--available at Safeway). 

Here's the recipe; the author's serving size is 2 pancakes (171 calories), but see above re: feeling full. I just have to have a little more. Thank goodness these pancakes are low calorie enough for me to splurge on an extra pancake

Happy breakfast!

Servings: 7 (14 pancakes total)  Size: 2 pancakes  • Old Points: 3 pts • Points+: 4 pts
Calories: 171.7 • Fat: 2.1 g • Carbs: 31.5 g • Fiber: 4.9 g • Protein: 8.9 g • Sugar:2.5 g
Sodium: 561.4 g 

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups + 2 tbsp fat free milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • cooking spray


Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add wet ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix well with a spoon until there are no more dry spots; don't over-mix.

Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Lightly spray oil to coat and pour 1/4 cup of pancake batter. When the pancake starts to bubble, you may add fruit if you wish. When the bubbles settle and the edges begin to set, flip the pancakes. Repeat with the remainder of the batter. 

Note from Maggie: I cooked the pancakes on each side for about a minute--but I like them brown and crispy. You would be fine with cooking them 45-50 seconds per side.