The YA Buccaneers started our Summer Reading Challenge on Monday. I'm joining in, and you should too! The goal is to cross off as many of the 15 prompts as you can (see image below) by the end of August. It's a great way to encourage yourself to read this summer and to push yourself out of your reading comfort zone.

You can check in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your blog, or not at all. If you do check in online, then use the #YABSummerReads hashtag when you share it. (That helps us find your posts!) Those who check in on Fridays on the YA Buccaneers blog will be entered into the monthly giveaway, and each month one reader will win a $10 Amazon gift card. Awesome, right?

Learn more here.

Now let's get to the books!

  1. Banned Book

  2. Set During the Summer [TRUST THE FOCUS by Megan Erickson]

  3. Historical Novel

  4. Book with a Diverse Main Character

  5. Adapted into a Movie

  6. Published Your Grad Year

  7. Book By Your Fave Author

  8. Freebie! Book of Your Choice

  9. Graphic Novel

  10. Road Trip Book

  11. Translated From Another Language

  12. Rory Gilmore Book

  13. Book You Own But Haven't Read

  14. Set On a Different Continent

  15. Non-Fiction/Writing/Craft

I started the challenge with TRUST THE FOCUS by Megan Erickson (which you can get for 99¢ right now!).

I loved this book. It's about two best friends, Justin and Landry, who go on a road trip the summer after they graduate from college to spread Justin's dad's ashes. Along the way, their relationship changes into something different, and they have to figure out if it means the end, or a new beginning.

I cried, I swooned, I learned a few things, and I just really, truly enjoyed Justin and Landry's story. It was the first M/M romance I've read (it's adult, not YA), and I couldn't be more impressed. I now have the urge to read everything Megan has written. Ever.

Now it's your turn: Will you be joining Summer Reading Challenge? I hope so!

P.S. Need some book recommendations? Last month I shared a few of my recent favorite reads.

How to chop salad greens FAST

Posted on May 29 2015 in kitchen tips

Have you ever felt too tired (okay, too lazy) to throw together a salad? It happens to me all the time, but I know I feel so much better if I have a couple of salads a day. Anything I can do to make the process easier makes a HUGE difference, which is why I love this tip so much!

Are you ready?

Here's the tip:

Use kitchen shears to chop salad greens.

I used to chop my greens on a cutting board, but then I saw a chef chop them in the salad bowl with kitchen shears. Not only is it super fast, but it also saves cleaning a cutting board. Brilliant!

Here's how to do it: put your cleaned greens in your salad bowl, grab your kitchen shears - I like to hold them with two hands - and chop! It will get your greens into bite-sized pieces in a minute or less. How awesome is that?! (And here I'm realizing I might be the only person in the world who gets this excited about salad prep made easier/faster.) ;)

Do you have a favorite kitchen tip to share? I'd love to hear it!

P.S. See all of my kitchen tips!

How to keep your greens fresh

Posted on May 22 2015 in kitchen tips

Sometimes (okay, all the time), I forget to clean and prep my salad greens right away. If you've done this before, then you know what comes next: Wilty, limp greens. Or, worse, slimy greens. Ick.

Here's my tip to help you avoid wilty, slimy greens:

Store fresh greens in water.

It sounds simple (and it is), but it can make a huge difference. Storing your greens this way will help them last longer, which will give you more time to use them, help you reduce food waste, and it will keep your greens tasting fresh and delicious (if you're trying to eat more greens, that's so important!).

For greens that come in bunches (kale, chard), trim about an inch from the ends. Fill a wide-mouthed cup or glass with 1-2 inches of cold water, and place the bunch of greens into the glass (very similar to a bouquet of flowers). Store in the refrigerator, or - if it's room temperature - on your counter top. Refresh the water once a day, and use within 2-3 days. (Note: This also works for celery and romaine lettuce, just don't trim the bottom - you want the heart to stay intact.)

For greens with short stems (baby kale, arugula, hearty spinach) storing them in water can also work, although I tend to store short-stemmed greens in my salad spinner. As soon as I get home, I rinse them, then spin off the excess water. I put a paper towel over the top of the greens, cover them, and store them in the refrigerator. The paper towel helps soak up excess moisture, and will help your greens last longer.

If they have gone wilty, you can try soaking them in cold water (the results aren't as consistent as they are with the bunched greens). To try it, place your greens in a large bowl or glass tupperware, then cover with cold water. Store in the refrigerator. They should plump up within 2-3 hours. If they haven't, then they might be past the point of no return. (sad face) But that's what composting is for!

Do you have a kitchen tip to share? I'd love to hear it!

P.S. I took this photo while shooting my Simple Spring Salad recipe.

Simple Spring Salad recipe

Posted on May 15 2015 in recipes

I love going to the farmers' market in the spring. The abundance of fresh greens after winter is such a refreshing sight. Local kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, and herbs - those bright green colors always inspire me to eat more salads!

This recipe is the result of a happy surprise at our first farmers' market visit of the year. After we stocked up on salad greens, one of the vendors offered us as many chives as we wanted (for free!). In addition to all our other goodies, we left with a bag full of chives, and I've been adding them to everything - fresh salsa, scrambled eggs, and (as you may have guessed) salads!

I love the bite the chives add to this recipe, and combined with the crisp greens and the crunch of walnuts, this salad tastes like spring. Even better - it comes together in minutes! Feel free to tailor this recipe to your preferences, or to what's in at your local farmers' market.

Simple Spring Salad Recipe

Ingredients
  • 4 handfuls fresh salad greens, washed and chopped (kale, spinach, lettuce - whatever you have on hand!)
  • 2-3 Tbsp chives (or other fresh herbs - dill and parsley would go well here), minced
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • fresh ground pepper
  • pinch of sea salt
Directions

Place prepped greens and chopped herbs into a medium-sized bowl. Toss to mix. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, dried basil, pepper, and salt. Pour over greens and herbs, then toss together. Top with chopped walnuts, and season with fresh ground pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

View as Google Doc

I'd love to know - which seasonal greens are your favorites right now?

P.S. Peruse all of my recipes!

There are days when I sit down to write and ... nada. Nothing. Zilch. It's like a spontaneous word drought, and it can be beyond frustrating.

Sometimes it's because I need to step back, perhaps work on my plot on do some brainstorming. But most of the time it's because I'm not able to get into the zone (that beautiful place where the words flow) because I'm having trouble focusing or I'm not cxonnecting with my story.

On those days, there are a few tricks I use to help me get into the zone. The next time you're struggling to focus, try them out. I'd love to hear what you think.

1. Re-read what you last wrote

Sometimes, reading the last thing I wrote during my most recent writing session is all it takes for me to get into the zone. I'll start with the last chaper I wrote (or revised), and often it's enough for me to pick up where I left off. If I'm drafting, I like to finish each day by making notes for the next scene. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, I can read my notes the next time I sit down to write, and it will be much easier to find my way back into the story.

2. Tidy your workspace

When my desk is a mess, I find it difficult to concentrate. This is especially true when I'm having a hard time focusing on my project. A few minutes of tidying to make sure the surface is clear of clutter can be a huge help.

3. Make a music playlist

Setting your mood with music can do wonders for getting you into the writing zone. I recommend creating a curated playlist (or radio station, if you use an online music service) for each project. For example, my current project is a children's fantasy/adventure, and I listen to film scores from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies. Try to find music that helps inspire you so that when you hear it, you'll immediately think of your story.

4. Create an inspiration board

When I find myself staring at my document without knowing where to start, I'll scroll through the Pinterest board I made for my current project. The images never cease to inspire me and help me visualize the world in my book.

5. Find company

Find people to write with online or in person. I love participating in online writing challenges (like the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp), and Word Sprints are amazing - both for motivation and for meeting writers. If you have real-life writing friends, meet at the library or a café for writing dates. Agree to write for a specific amount of time (you can set a timer), but also set aside time for chatting.

Now it's your turn. How do you do to get into the writing zone? I'd love to hear it!

P.S. Another way to get inspired? Read a book! Ten of my recent favorite reads, plus my review of THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND.

P.P.S. If you want to learn more about maximizing your writing productivity, check out Susan Dennards posts for the productive writer.