Better Bakery Handcrafted Sandwiches (With a Side of Sunshine)

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Better Bakery. While I have been compensated for my work, all thoughts and opinions expressed below are mine.

Clementines with Spiced Syrup Recipe and Better Bakery Handcrafted Artisan Melts

It’s no secret that I don’t have the most adventurous eaters in my family. I wouldn’t classify them as picky (although each individual member has their quirks), but I certainly don’t have free reign in the kitchen to serve whatever I want. At least, not if I want everyone to eat a square meal with minimal complaining. So, let’s not call them picky. Let’s call them challenging.

Clementines with Spiced Syrup Recipe

Most of the time I’m up for the challenge. I enjoy cooking, and I love trying to expand their boundaries little by little. Family dinner is very important to me. I’ve learned over the years how to do this without freaking anyone out (for the most part) by following a few rules:

1. Mix tried and true classics (like my most-requested tacos) with a new dish in the weekly menu plan. If the new recipe is a bomb, tacos (or whatever other beloved meal) is on deck for another day.

2. Always balance new foods with foods I know everyone likes. If it’s a new main dish, I make sure all the sides are pleasers. If it’s a new side, I pair it with a familiar protein, bread and fruit.

3. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it. If you try it and don’t like it, thanks to Rule #2 you’ll still have plenty to eat.

4. There is no backup meal. I’m not a short order cook, so what you see is what you get. Again, thanks to Rule #2 you won’t starve. And thanks to Rule #1, something you like better will make an appearance another night.

5. If at first you don’t succeed (and it’s not a dry-heaving failure like the Brussels Sprout Incident of 2009), try again. And again. And about twenty more times. One day you’ll serve cucumbers for the twenty-first time and they will like them.

Clementines with Spiced Syrup Recipe

Side dishes probably give me more grief than any other cooking I do. It’s so easy to get into a rut, especially when the people you cook for aren’t very adventurous in the fruit and vegetable department. If I’m not careful, we’ll end up eating the same rotation of green beans-corn-carrots-apple slices every week. Reminding myself of Rule #5 has helped expand our side dish repertoire to include many dishes I never thought we’d all happily eat (though not, sadly, Brussels sprouts).

These Spiced Clementines are just one example. For years I only bought canned mandarin oranges. We’d all eat them half-heartedly, but we weren’t excited about them. They just kind of took up space on the table and filled in for our daily fruit requirement. I love buying clementines during the winter, when they’re in season and so reasonably priced. Tossing a clementine in a lunch box is fine, but for sit-down meals I like to serve my sides with a little more flair.

Spiced Clementines have flair alright – they’re like a side of sunshine. Not only are they easy to make ahead of time, they’re pretty to serve and delicious to eat. Taking a food your kids already like and preparing it in a slightly different way shows them that familiar ingredients can be enjoyable in a variety of ways. Playing with new flavorings and spices, such as cloves and star anise, opens them up to trying new flavors. Eventually that can open picky palates up to entire new foods and flavor profiles.

Clementines with Spiced Syrup Recipe and Better Bakery Handcrafted Artisan Melts

I paired these Spiced Clementines with Better Bakery Handcrafted Melts. These tasty hand-rolled sandwiches go from freezer to the table in twenty-two minutes or less. I love the Chicken & Bacon Club, while the rest of my family reaches for the Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza. With a batch of Spiced Clementines in the fridge and a stash of Better Bakery sandwiches in the freezer, we’re never more than a few minutes away from one of those mythical square meals with no complaining!

Clementines with Spiced Syrup Recipe and Better Bakery Handcrafted Artisan Melts

Spiced Clementines

This dish is a great way to use up those last few sad, slightly shriveled clementines you might normally throw away. Even the driest and saddest of clementines will perk up in the spiced syrup and taste fantastic! Bonus: when the clementines are gone the leftover spiced syrup makes an excellent sweetener stirred into coffee or tea. You can substitute tangerines or mandarin oranges for the clementines. Serves 4.


1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cloves (whole)
1 star anise pod
8 clementines, peeled and sliced


Bring water, sugar and spices to a simmer over medium-high heat. Allow to simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Place clementines in a heat-safe bowl and pour hot spiced syrup over them. Let clementines rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Better Bakery Handcrafted Artisan Melts at Walmart

Made by hand in small batches, Better Bakery sandwiches are a tasty, easy and kid-friendly meal option you can feel good about serving. Look for Better Bakery Handcrafted Melts, including Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza and the Chicken & Bacon Club, in the frozen aisle at Walmart, Kroger, Meijer, HEB and Harris Teeter. While checking out all the offerings online, be sure to print out a coupon to save $1.50!

 Clementines with Spiced Syrup: a bright and cheery winter side dish recipe that uses cinnamon, cloves and star anise to spice up the clementine. Makes a delicious kid-friendly fruit side dish for lunch, dinner or snack time.


The 2016 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge: My Picks

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I committed to joining the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge last year. I’d never been one to map out my books for the year. Other than my usual pattern of always having a fiction and non-fiction book going at the same time, my only commitment was to my To Be Read list. A simple list I keep in Evernote, it’s not organized in any way other than the newest books that catch my eye get added to the bottom. Being a rule-follower and classic Obliger, I would rarely read anything out of order on my list! Other than reading my book club’s particular selection (again, Obliger), I’d methodically work my way through the list. Fantastic new read everyone’s raving about? Sorry, it’s 32nd on the list. Must read all other books before it first, even as it tempts you from the library shelf!

Joining the Challenge meant that – gasp! – I’d have to read some books out of order. I might even have to read something NOT ON THE LIST. It made my rule-following heart pound, but I really wanted to try it.

I’m so glad I did! I really enjoyed the process of selecting books for each category. Looking back at the end of 2015, I realized just how much the challenge helped me break out of my reading rut and self-imposed rules. I read double the amount of books I set as a goal last year, and much of it was due to the fun of the challenge. I truly appreciate the service and inspiration Anne provides readers through Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I’m excited to participate in this year’s challenge. Without further ado, here are the 2016 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge categories, along with my personal picks!

Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge

A book published this year: Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson (Available April 19)

This book is on my Netgalley shelf, waiting for me to read it. This particular title jumped out at me for three reasons: I’m dying to go to Italy (so if I can’t go in person I’ll escape in a book!), it comes highly recommended by Ruth Reichl, and food (of course!). Sometimes I get a hunch that a book is going to be big, and that’s how I feel about this title.

A book you can finish in a day: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

At 179 pages, I could theoretically finish it in a day … that doesn’t mean I will! I’ve enjoyed other books by Ephron, but I’ve never read this classic of hers.

A book you’ve been meaning to read: The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner

From the publisher: “Perfect for any woman who is doing everything for everyone—except herself.” (Raises hand.) I’ve gotten better in the last year, but I know there’s room for improvement. I’m hoping Turner’s book will help me manage my time better and lose the last remnants of guilt that linger when I schedule time just for me.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Our local independent children’s bookstore highly recommends this YA novel, and it’s been on my list for awhile as a selection Elena and I might be able to read and discuss together. I went out on a limb and also picked it as my book club selection for March. To my knowledge we’ve never discussed a YA novel before!

A book you should have read in school: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I feel as if I miss so many cultural references as well as an entire genre of television shows and movies I might adore by not having ever read Jane Austen. I narrowed my choices of Austen works down to Pride & Prejudice solely on the basis that Colin Firth once played Mr. Darcy in a TV miniseries based on the book. One can never have too much Colin Firth in their life.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I know, I know! I’m one of the last reasonable people standing that has never read Harry Potter. At the insistence of my entire family, I’m finally going to read the first book this year. Not sure if I can read the entire series in 2016, but I have a feeling once I start I won’t be able to stop.

A book published before you were born: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kirk Vonnegut

Published in 1969, I specifically chose this book because of Vonnegut’s ties to Indiana. I’ve never read anything by Vonnegut and I feel like a terrible Hoosier for admitting that.

A book that was banned at some point: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I have a secret love of graphic novels (one made my list of favorite non-fiction reads last year). I’m horribly uninformed when it comes to matters of the Middle East, and I think this selection will be eye-opening.

A book that you previously abandoned: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

I adore Anne Lamott – she’s one of my favorite authors – and yet this book has been gathering dust on my shelf for years. I feel like I tried to tackle it at the wrong time. I was hoping it would improve my skills as a writer. I started it when Eli was an infant, and quickly realized I couldn’t finish a magazine, let alone write or read a book about writing. Fingers crossed this season of life is more suited to the topic.

A book that you own but have never read: Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen

The publisher sent me this book last year and it got lost in the shuffle. It looks like the perfect pool-side read for the summer days that feel very far off right now!

A book that intimidates you: The Martian by Andy Weir

I really want to see the movie, but I’m a stickler about reading the book before the movie if at all possible. I know people love this book, but between an off-handed comment from a friend and an interview I heard with the author on NPR, I’ve been a little scared to pick it up. The vibe I got from both accounts was that the book was very technical and very science-y. I know, that seems silly coming from a former microbiologist! I was just worried that it would be over my head and boring. We shall see!

A book you’ve already read once: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is on the list of books I want to read aloud to Eli. Kate DiCamillo is magical – if you haven’t read any of her children’s books before you’re missing out. This is one of my favorites, as it is wonderful as a read aloud story.

Do you have any reading goals for 2016? If you’re participating in a reading challenge, whether it’s this one or a different one, I’d love to hear about it!


The Short List: January

Gas starter wood burning fireplace

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

We’ve lived in our house going on three years this March. Up until November, we’d never used the fireplace. It had gas logs installed, and we hadn’t a clue how to operate them, or if it was even safe to do so. So we ignored them, and the fireplace became a dusty cobweb receptacle. This past year, we got a hankering for fires. I blame our Ohio friend, Mike. Whenever we stay at his house in the winter, he has a fire going. His living room is just about the coziest place imaginable. We had a fireplace and masonry company come out, take out the gas logs and install a wood burning gas starter. It’s all the ease of gas with the pleasure of a crackling, wood burning fire. You just turn the gas on and ignite the burner bar under the logs, wait for the kindling to catch fire, and then turn off the gas. We’ve been using it often, and it’s making this Midwest winter bearable. (Indianapolis readers, if you have any fireplace or masonry needs I highly recommend Chimney and Masonry Outfitters.)

Whether you’re sitting by your own roaring fire, cozied up with candles, or simply basking in the glow of your computer, here’s what I’ve been into this month.


Last week my mom treated my sister and I to dinner and a movie for my birthday. We saw “Brooklyn,” and I can’t stop raving about it to anyone who will listen. It’s nominated for the Best Picture in this year’s Oscars. Saoirse Ronan, who plays the lead role, is nominated for Best Actress. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the characters, and you’ll be so glad you saw it!

Elena and I have watched this about a billion times, and we laugh just as hard every time. “Nice, Ron.”


Later this week I’ll share my picks for the 2016 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I was in a bit of a slump in December, trying to slodge through some books I wasn’t loving. My 2016 reading resolution is to stop reading books I don’t like! Seems obvious, but I have a hard time giving up on a book. The good news is I’m off to a good start this year now that I’m done with those books.

I’m listening to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and absolutely loving it. I’m so close to the end and I’m having a hard time putting it down when listening isn’t an option! It came highly recommended by several trusted sources, and all of them raved about the audio version. It’s narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton, who is perfection for the character of Wade.

I kind of slacked off in requesting and reading advanced reading copies from Netgalley, and it’s something I want to get back into this year. I tend to read a lot of books that have been out a while. In 2016 I want to read a more balanced mix of new and older titles. I’d also love to be able to give you guys a heads up on new books I think you’ll enjoy. I’m about halfway through Liar by Rob Roberge (available February 9). I’ll let you know what I think!

On the non-fiction front I’m reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. I found her earlier book, Daring Greatly, to be both throught-provoking and inspiring. I have high hopes for this title.

Eli and I are reading Daniel Pinkwater’s The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. It’s almost as old as me (1977), but I’ve never read it. Early reports from Eli are good: it’s very silly, and he’s belly-laughed through multiple scenes.


For Christmas Mike and the kids got me a Kindle. For years I didn’t think I wanted one. I’m not a book buyer, and I love the sensation of a book in my hands. Two things happened that made me reconsider. One: all the Netgalley titles are delivered electronically. I’ve been reading them on the Kindle app, which is fine, but I really hate reading on my phone or iPad in bed. The glow messes with me, and I’m too tempted to check Instagram one more time before turning out the light. Two: I discovered that I could borrow ebooks from my library, and many times the most popular titles are available as ebooks more quickly than the hard copies. Nearly a month in and I’m happy to report that I love my Kindle. It’s great for nighttime reading, and it’s so small that it’s easier to toss in my purse than lugging around a book. And because I always have the Kindle or my phone (with the Kindle app) available, I have something available to read no matter where I am.

State of Indiana Beer Cap Map

The other gift I’m loving is my birthday gift from Mike and the kids: an Indiana beer cap map! I’ve been fighting a cold and haven’t done much drinking since the beginning of the year, but I can’t wait to start filling it up with beer caps. Maybe you can help with a beer cap dilemma that’s been on my mind. Do I only fill it with Indiana beers? Or is it cool to add cool caps from beers I love, no matter where they’re brewed?


As President Obama’s final term comes to a close, I can’t help sharing these images of him interacting with kids. No matter your politics, I think they’ll make you smile.

Are your teens on Snapchat? I wouldn’t allow Elena to have an account until very recently. We had a long discussion about why she wanted it and how she would use it, and I came to see it in a different light. Shortly after I gave the app the green light, I read this article on why kids love Snapchat and felt even better about my decision.

Made up words that perfectly describe your everyday life. As a matter of fact, I just woke up from a napcident.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?

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