Dinner Under 30: Roasted Shrimp and Broccoli

Quick, Easy Dinner Recipe

Quick and easy meal – Roasted Shrimp & Broccoli

Delicious, quick and easy, this meal screams flavor and has become one of my favorites to make and eat. Just a few ingredients and 30 minutes in the kitchen and you can be eating a healthy dinner in a flash. I originally pinned this recipe from Adam Roberts at the Amateur Gourmet. When I went to make it the first time, I played around a bit with the ingredients because I wasn’t sure my kids would like the spice combination. Taking tips from his Best Broccoli of Your Life post for the broccoli, I decided to keep it simple and adjust the ingredient amounts to fit my family’s needs.

Broccoli - quick and easy

Beautiful Broccoli Ready for Roasting

Roasting the broccoli brings out an earthy, sweet flavor that you don’t get if you steam it or sautee it.  Personally, I like my roasted broccoli a little charred around the edges, but if you want all the flavor without it looking haggard, just leave it in until it’s golden brown. My kids even love the broccoli this way. Add a little grated parmesan over the top once it’s out of the oven, and you’ve got a whole new flavor profile.

The shrimp cooks up so fast and tastes so great that the kids put this recipe into the “make again” category right away. I like to remove the shells and tails because it makes it easier for my kids to eat without wrestling with the tail shell. But if you like to leave your tails on, go right ahead. The touch of lemon is fresh on your tongue and oh so satisfying when combined with the smoky flavor of the broccoli.

Cook up a big pot of rice, dish it up, and you’ve got yourself a complete meal on the table quick enough for even the busiest days.

Here’s how to make it …


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Universal Orlando for the Motion Sickness Prone

Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resort/Photo Credit: Lee on Flickr

This Spring Break, my family and I decided to visit the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks. While I love theme parks and the ability to lose myself in a world of fun and adventure, I want to be able to enjoy the escape from reality as much as possible and NOT have my trip ruined by the nauseating feelings that come with motion sickness. But alas, I am one of those unfortunate creatures who suffers from this condition. Boats turn me green, planes require thoughtful Zen meditation, and cars can even turn me queasy depending on who’s driving and what the conditions are like.

Of all the websites I visited while researching Universal Orlando, I found very few that addressed the motion sickness potential of the rides, so I decided to err on the side of caution and start each day with some motion sickness medicine to try to pre-empt any nausea that may arrive, uninvited, to the party. For the most part, this worked, but I thought I would write about my experiences for others out there who are prone to the dizzying, tummy-turning, head-spinning hell that is motion sickness. (For another good guide to Universal Orlando with some motion sickness advice and other great tips, see Theme Park Insider.)

What to Know About the Rides

As expected from a film production company, the rides at the Universal Orlando theme parks feature stunning film action that creates a “live” effect for guests. In other words, the films will surround you and you will feel like you’re in the middle of the action. The effect is amazing when combined with the motion of the rides themselves. But it can feel a bit unsteady, especially when the film scenes flash by quickly and have you falling or swinging or tumbling or swooping. In most cases, closing your eyes can help dispel the discomfort. You’ll miss part of the action, but your brain will be able to “recover” for a few seconds.

If you know where I’m coming from, you’ll understand why you won’t see the more extreme rides on here – the giant roller coasters that turn you upside down and drop you from ridiculous heights. I couldn’t look at them without feeling mildly ill, but I’ll do my best to describe those I did experience, either from riding them myself or sending my brave family members (usually my husband and our fearless 7-year-old daredevil). So, without further ado, here is my guide to rides at Universal Orlando’s two theme parks – Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure.

Universal Studios

Enter Universal Orlando’s Universal Studios park, and you’ll be immediately enchanted by the animated favorites every kid loves. Head straight into the park and get in line!

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Universal Orlando Minion Mayhem

About to go on a Minion Adventure

This is a motion-based ride, but in an auditorium-style setting. Your row of seats will move as you go through simulated minion training. The 3-D effects and surrounding film action will make you feel like you’re actually running, jumping & tumbling with the adorable minions. It’s quick and mildly jerky, but it won’t turn your stomach. If you DO start to feel a little woozy, just look at the other rows of seats, you’ll see the other people moving and won’t feel like you’re in the film action so much. This ride encompasses all the charm of the minions and is super fun!

Shrek 4-D

Another auditorium-style experience, this ride starts with a story then takes you on a journey with Shrek. The seats move and you’ll feel effects like wind, sprinkles of water and other fun 4-D elements. This one is super mild as far a motion goes. The story is delightful, as you would expect from Shrek and Donkey. You’ll be laughing and smiling throughout. Everyone should be able to enjoy this ride with no problem.

Transformers: The Ride 3-D

Transformers at Universal Orlando

Optimus Prime Outside the Transformers Ride

Definitely an immersive film-ride experience, this simulated adventure ride is loud, full of action and complete with cool special effects. In a ride car, you’ll be conveyed into the experience on a track, then be engulfed by sets and combined film-motion sequences and feel like you’re on an adventure with the Transformers. It can be jerky and fast with a few pitching and spinning elements. This one is a little more intense but totally manageable. Remember, close your eyes if you need to.

Men in Black™ Alien Attack™

No loose articles are allowed on this ride, so that tells you that it’s fast enough that they don’t want random things flying out of your car. If you’ve been to Disney and ridden the Buzz Lightyear ride, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Men in Black. You travel through the city shooting aliens. All the while, your car is moving and spinning, and if the car on the opposite side of the track shoots at you, you spin faster. If you don’t like spinning, this might not be for you. But I didn’t find it uncomfortable because I could see everything around me and it didn’t feel claustrophobic. It also combines the spinning with forward action and lots of stationary elements to focus your attention on.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this ride is a must for the complete Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience (stay tuned for another post exclusively on the Wizarding World that resides in both of the Universal Orlando parks). You will be transported into the depths of Gringotts bank in a ride car with full motion and 3-D film effects. There is one roller-coaster-style drop at the beginning, but it’s not too steep and most motion sensitive folks should be able to handle it well. The film elements and sets are absolutely amazing but they flash by quickly as your car moves through the vaults under the bank. The car will pitch, spin and take some shallow dives, so take care if these motions bother you. I handled it well, partly because I was so immersed in the story, which you won’t find in any of the Harry Potter books, partly because it was surprising and fun enough that the motion didn’t bother me.

Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

Ready to Board the Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts™ Express

Make sure you have a park-to-park ticket to ride this attraction, then enter the Hogwarts Express through King’s Cross Station outside of Diagon Alley. You’ll immediately feel like you’re in the London tube station. Take in your surroundings, and don’t forget to notice the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ where you’ll see your fellow passengers passing through the barrier. The train ride, itself, is totally mild, and you’ll feel like you’re riding through the English landscape on your way to Hogwarts Castle. The ride is pleasant enough for even the most sensitive.


Universal’s Islands of Adventure

If you ride the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios, you end up in Hogsmeade Village – the other side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – in Islands of Adventure. Once you enjoy all that this park has to offer, be sure to ride the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley – it’s a totally different experience and well worth the return trip.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™

Hogwarts at Universal Orlando

Enter Hogwarts to Experience the Forbidden Journey

Another must-do for Harry Potter fans, this attraction takes you through Hogwarts Castle as you wait for the ride to begin. Be sure to take in all the fantastic details they put into making the castle truly magical (and look for my other post, coming soon, for more on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter). On the ride, itself, you’ll be transported on an adventure with Harry and friends that will involve soaring on a broomstick over the Quidditch pitch and escaping a fire-breathing dragon. Once again, the film effects in combination with the ride motion make you feel like you’re really flying. But, for me, the motion elements of flipping upside down and back again, being tossed back and forth and zigzagging in and out of the castle were a little too much for my motion-challenged self. While I loved the new and exciting story, and I wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world, I did find myself wishing the ride would end. When it finally did, I stumbled out of the castle to find a cool drink and a place to sit down. While I didn’t lose my lunch – which I do NOT recommend eating right before this ride – I did feel quite unsteady for a while after the ride was over. Would I do this one again? Yes, because the effects were amazing and I’m a crazy HP fan, but I would definitely take another preventative Bonine before doing it. If you don’t want to risk it, you also have the option of just touring the castle through the line for the ride, then hop out of the line before everyone boards the ride cars and exit the castle.

Flight of the Hippogriff™

This kid-friendly roller coaster zooms around Hagrid’s cabin just outside of Hogwarts Castle and, while fast, is relatively mild for the motion sensitive. It is a traditional roller coaster, so you can expect a couple of drops and quick tilting, curving stretches. If you don’t do well on a regular roller coaster, you may want to sit this one out, but your kids will want to ride it, and it’s a short ride, so most should be able to manage it well. I really enjoyed this one.

Jurassic Park River Adventure®

Ready to get wet? This ride will take you into the world of Jurassic Park, right through the front gates and into the dinosaur habitats from the movie. It’s a mild river raft tour right up to the very end, where your raft will drop you down the waterfall. The drop will make your stomach travel a little further up your torso, but not quite all the way up to your throat. My family did this one twice. The first time everyone stayed relatively dry with only a few splashes to cool everyone down. The second time was significantly wetter. We were pretty soggy from shoulder to knee, but a little afternoon sun took care of that quite comfortably. The journey back into the prehistoric was worth it, and the single drop was just a small blip on the motion sickness meter.

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®

Bring a change of clothes for this one because you will get soaked. I changed my son into his swimsuit for the water rides, and after this one, I was very glad I did. This log ride moves pretty quickly with water sloshing in and out of the log boat throughout. The twists and turns through the ride come with a few ups and downs, but nothing to be too concerned about until the climactic drop at the end. The logs get launched down a water chute at high speed, and while that’s the worst of it, and it comes at the very end, it will make you gasp as your stomach leaps into your throat. Beware if that sensation makes you queasy. If you can handle the single, dramatic drop along with a quick pace – and aren’t afraid of a good drenching – go ahead and try this one.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®

Like the Transformers ride in Universal Studios, this ride puts you in the middle of the action as Spider-Man tracks down villains and saves the city. Your car will move along a track as you travel through amazing sets amid the 3-D film adventure. The cars spin, dive and soar as if you’re part of the battle between good and evil. It’s a fast-paced ride with breathtaking effects – literally, some of the moves will take your breath away. Close your eyes if you need to, but you won’t want to miss this one, especially if you have any Spidey fans among you. The spinning and jerking will mess with your head a little, but not enough to bring on full-on motion sickness. We did this one twice with no problems.

Storm Force Accelatron®

Similar to the teacups at Disney, you control how fast your pod spins as it circles around the track. My husband and two youngest kids did this one twice and had a blast. I knew the pure spinning action of this one would definitely make me dizzy, so I sat this one out, but if you can handle the round-and-round, it’s a fun one.

Rides I Didn’t Get to But Definitely Will Next Time

Inevitably, there were a few things we didn’t get to do since we chose to go to Universal Orlando over Spring Break when the crowds are crazy. Our Express Passes (totally worth it) got us past many of the long lines, but there were some things that we just didn’t make it on. Here’s the rundown of our must-do’s for next time we’re in Orlando.

Pteranodon Flyers®

I hope my little one is still little enough to ride this the next time we make it to Universal Orlando. For this ride, a child who is between 36 and 56 inches tall must accompany all adults taller than 56 inches. It soars quietly above the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure and looks like a peaceful yet exciting flying experience.

The Simpsons Ride™

Universal Studios has a whole Simpson’s world, and this ride is supposed to be fantastic. Again, with the combination of film and full motion, this carnival adventure with one of America’s favorite animated families gets great reviews and appears to be as motion-friendly as Spider-Man and Transformers.

Universal Orlando – Well Worth the Trip

So, there you have it! My incomplete, but hopefully helpful, guide to the rides at the Universal Orlando theme parks for the motion impaired visitor. As you can see, I rode a lot, didn’t get sick and enjoyed my trip immensely. There’s nothing worse than feeling ill to ruin a vacation, especially one where there’s so much to do and see and so little time. I hope this guide will help make your planning a little easier so you can enjoy a trip to this fabulous family destination as well.

If you use this guide, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear if these tips hit the mark for you. And if you’ve been to Universal Orlando, I’d love your thoughts on this, too!



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Dinner Under 30 – Smoked Sausage Alfredo

30 minute Alfredo with sausage

Smoked Sausage Alfredo – Delicious!

Another weeknight means another crazy dinnertime at my house. It’s a good thing that there are some meals that are quick and easy to prepare, and that everyone will eat.

The original recipe comes from Danelle at Let’s Dish, and she makes it a spicy version with some cayenne and red pepper flakes added in. Although my husband and I would love that, our kids don’t do spicy, so I leave those out. The first time I made it, I followed her instructions fully and put it in the oven, casserole style. But my family prefers it unbaked, so I just serve it right out of the pot. This saves me a little time but doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor.

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that my garden is abundant with lettuce, so it made sense for us to have a nice salad with this meal. But we’re all busy, so just do what’s easiest for you.  In my house, sometimes that means throwing some sliced apples on a plate for everyone to share, just so I can say I served a fruit or vegetable with dinner.

This dinner also works for my vegetarian son. He’s not a strict vegetarian, so the chicken broth doesn’t pose a problem for us, but feel free to substitute vegetable broth if you need to. I just dish out some of the cheesy pasta for him before stirring in the sausage at the end. So not only is this recipe fantastic and yummy, it’s flexible, too. This also reheats beautifully, so leftovers are no problem.

When all is said and done, this dish can’t be beat for a fabulous weeknight meal that you can make in 30 minutes or less.

Here’s how to make my version …



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Hippity Hoppity Easter’s on Its Way

Easter bunnies

Easter bunnies to brighten up your Spring

Nothing says spring like a cute little bunny tucked into a child’s Easter basket. Since Easter is about 2 weeks away, I thought I would share this fabulous pattern for some sweet crochet bunnies.

These little guys will bring a smile to the face of any child thanks to this pattern by Stephanie at All About Ami – that’s “ami” as in amigurumi, the Japanese art of knit or crochet stuffed lovies. I didn’t include the carrot or the adorable flowers that are on Stephanie’s pattern because I was short on time. But these worked up really quickly, especially since I used some left over microfleece I had from another project and some simple matching ribbon. The beauty of the fleece is that it doesn’t unravel, so I didn’t have to worry about folding the edge before sewing on the ear and feet patches.

If you’ve never done amigurumi before, but you have some basic crochet skills, this pattern will be easy to follow. The instructions are super-detailed, and Stephanie provides wonderful pictures so you can follow along step-by-step.

Small Easter bunny

Closeup of the little bunny

I used the following materials:

  • 1 ball (5 oz.) Bernat Softee Baby in Antique White – it’s a lovely cream color and super soft
  • size E (3.5 mm) hook since I couldn’t find a smaller one.
  • Yarn needle for attaching the parts and hiding loose ends
  • Polyfill stuffing
  • Scrap microfleece – mine was actually patterned, but I cut out solid colored sections out of the pattern.  You really don’t need much, so if you have any scrap fabric, it will probably work just fine.
  • Needle & thread to sew on the fabric
  • 12 mm safety eyes – available at any craft store
  • Brown embroidery floss for the nose
  • Ribbon for the bow

Although I didn’t have the exact materials Stephanie used, these worked out great for me, and one ball of yarn was enough for two full bunnies with plenty left over for another one once I have the time. I made one a little smaller than the other since they were for kids of different ages.

My two bunnies went to a friend’s two little ones. They were visiting from out of town last year, and at ages 6 and 2, I wanted them to have a little something from us to take home. My friend was thrilled, and I hope these made their Easter extra special.

I hope you’ll try this adorable pattern. Or if you’re not a crocheter, pass it on to someone who is – maybe they’ll make you one to brighten your spring!


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What Will You Do Today? Write a Will

legal will

Photo credit: Brian Turner on Flickr

March is Write-a-Will month, so although most people don’t like talking about it, now is a great time to think about planning for the inevitable.

As much as we hate to think about it, someday we’re all going to die. And for all the hard work we put into living our lives, I’d hate to think that all that would go to waste if something were to happen to me or my spouse. That’s where an estate plan comes in.

When my dad died, almost 8 years ago, my sisters and I had to figure out what to do. We walked through everything with my mom. We had an accountant and a lawyer to help answer questions, but we all still got thoroughly confused, especially since we were dealing with all this in the middle of our grief over losing our dad. But my dad was organized and had a good plan that fell into place whether we understood it or not.

These eight years later, I’m thankful that my parents had the foresight to put a plan into place. My husband and I have also been reviewing our plans and updating our wills to reflect how our wishes have evolved over the past few years. We will review every few years to make sure everything stays up-do-date, especially since circumstances sometimes change.

It’s Too Confusing! Or is it?

Having been through this process recently, I know from experience that these things can seem overwhelming and more than a little confusing, so let me simplify things a bit. Basically, estate planning involves making decisions about how you want your assets (house, bank account, personal property) to be used and distributed now and in the future, and putting those decisions down on paper.

This kind of planning also allows you to specify important things like who can make medical decisions for you if you get sick, who gets guardianship of your kids if they’re under 18, and what kind of funeral you’d like to have.

My good friend, Joe, is an amazing attorney with great skills at breaking down the confusion. I’ve referred several friends to his website to answer some basic questions, and they always feel well-informed when they’re done. Start by checking out his FAQs on estate planning here.

Attend a Workshop

A good next step is to look in your community for a FREE Write-a-Will Workshop like this one in Tucson that is sponsored by Literacy Connects (RSVP to Amber at AMazzei@LiteracyConnects.org if you are in Tucson and want to attend). Check local non-profits, the public library or even your employer to see if they offer something like this.

Will writing workshop

I went to one of these free workshops at work a while back. I learned a ton, and they presented it in a way that was fun and engaging – not at all what I expected! It was the inspiration I needed to start my estate planning.

Look for Online Resources

If you can’t find a will-writing meeting like this in your area, take a look online. The Five Wishes, from Aging With Dignity walks you through end-of-life planning in a simple yet thoughtful way. This document focuses mainly on end-of-life care and many of the medical and spiritual decisions that surround it. The beauty of Five Wishes is that it meets all legal requirements for advanced directives in 42 states and Washington, DC. In the other 8 states, it can be attached to the state’s required forms. It’s a simple workbook that can be done on paper or online, and it only costs $5. It’s also a good tool to get you started with the rest of your estate planning.

Other online tools are available to help you write your will and set up your estate plan. Just be sure to check them out to be sure they’re legitimate and have a good reputation because there are also a lot of resources on the internet that are complete scams or that are not valid in all states or countries.

Ask a Friend

Sometimes our best resources are right in front of us. While most people don’t like to talk about this stuff, it’s likely that some of your friends or family members have already been through this process and can offer assistance or a good referral.

My husband and I both got referrals to great lawyers who have handled everything for us. We have separate estate plans because we married later in life, but we’re consciously coordinating them so that they will work together. Especially since we have kids, we need to make sure our wills say basically the same thing, so our attorneys and their experience and expertise are invaluable.

Of course, the cost to use a lawyer will be higher than if you do something yourself. But if you think about it, the cost will be much higher if you don’t do it or if you do it wrong. The taxes, alone, could take a significant portion of your assets away from your loved ones, so the upfront cost of a good lawyer is well worth the expense.

We’ve also had so many questions throughout this process that I can’t imagine trying to do it myself. The nuances of writing a will so that it reflects exactly what you want is complicated, and a good attorney, with the experience and know-how to guide you, can help you feel comfortable that your wishes will be expressed clearly.

Share Your Plans with Loved Ones

comfort hug

Photo credit: B Wendell Jones on Flickr

Once your planning is done, be sure to share your plans with your loved ones, especially those who will have some role in carrying out your wishes once you’ve passed on. If this makes you uncomfortable, at least let them know that you have a plan and how they can access it if they need to (your attorney’s name, where in the file cabinet it is, etc.). Because NOT telling someone is almost as useless as not having a plan at all.

I know it seems like you have plenty of time to do this kind of planning, so it’s an easy thing to put off until later. But you never know what life has planned. I met my husband after his first wife was killed in a car accident. My 28-year-old niece woke up one morning, and her fiance had died in his sleep. And my friend lost her husband after a hard-fought battle with cancer, leaving her to care for their 3-year-old daughter alone.

You just never know, so do it now.

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