Vacation Eats and Spicy Shrimp + Rice (Recipe)

Scroll down for the recipe. It’s not that far.

My sister-in-law whipped up a delicious dinner for us while we were on vacation: Garlic Honey Lime Shrimp by Bee | Rasa Malaysia. (Her recipe is on her blog.)

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With her (oldest) little helper.

Of course, I wanted to share my vacation experience with my husband, so I tried to cook it at home. My attempt didn’t turn out as delicious as hers…

…until my husband got involved.

He’s the cook in the household — and he’s damn good. I fiddle around with one-pot, one-pan, Instant Pot kind of dinners (and bagged salads).

We sat down to my version of Garlic Honey Lime Shrimp — to which I added lime zest, fancy — and a side of roast asparagus with lemon, zest and fresh-grated Parmesan cheese.

The kind with the stamped rind.

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See how the shrimp are kinda… naked. (Perfectly cooked, though.)

The shrimp were missing something. Not enough butter? Not enough lime? No. The flavor was right, but the texture was all wrong.

My husband sautéed the sauce in the pan for maybe five more minutes and came back to the table with liquid gold.

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Teamwork, y’all.

It’s the other way around when we cook my favorite shrimp recipe (here it is) — something like a Kung Pao Shrimp. He does all the shrimp-cooking, and I do all the sauce-making.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Spicy Shrimp + Rice

SAUCE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce or coconut aminos
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. garlic chile sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil

OTHER INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup of cornstarch
  • Enough oil to cover the bottom of your skillet (I think we used canola. Maybe olive oil once. Pick one. Vegetable oil works, too. Ghee. Butter not so much.)
  • 1 lb. peeled, deveined shrimp (raw or cooked, which will affect how long you cook)
  • Rice

DIRECTIONS

Rinse and dry the shrimp. Room temperature shrimp cook best. (I don’t know if that’s health code appropriate, so… don’t sue me.)

While the shrimp dry, whisk the sauce ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Add more honey, garlic chile or soy sauce to suit your taste buds. I use a ton of chile garlic sauce because I like spicy food — and heartburn, apparently.

Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet on medium high heat. Cover the bottom of the skillet with oil. Make sure the pan is hot before you put the oil in — I put this in here because I get in trouble for this a lot when I’m cooking 😉

Dredge dry shrimp lightly in the cornstarch. Shake ’em off because you don’t want lumps.

Cook raw shrimp in batches until they turn opaque. If you used cooked shrimp, don’t overcook them. I can’t help you here. Either way, you want the cornstarch to be slightly golden and crisp.

Toss cooked shrimp in the sauce.

Make rice at some point during this. Small pot on the stove. Bake it in the oven. Instant Pot that ish. I don’t care how you make your rice. Or, do like I do, microwave some. From the microwavable rice section of your grocery store.

Serve with rice.

Garnish with some fancy cut green onions or julienned carrots. Obvs I don’t have that kind of time.

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Spicy Shrimp and… the rice was somewhere.

 

Mistakes I Make While Cooking Shrimp

  • I undercook them.
  • I overcook them
  • I cook them when they’re still cold, so they basically boil from the inside out.
  • I cook them when they’re still a little wet, so they basically boil from the inside out AND oil splatters attack me at will.
  • I use too much salt.
  • I use no salt.
  • I don’t use high enough heat.
  • I burn them.

Practice makes perfect 😀

Picky Eater: On the Road Edition

My toddler, in-laws and I recently drove to South Haven, Michigan, for family vacation. (Yes, the one without my husband.)

While the trip was amazing, and I had prepared well with copious snackage, the trial of feeding a picky eater on the road was a painful one to argue.

And he defended well.

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SNACKS.

We split the drive into two days, so we had lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch to eat external to my house, grandma’s house or daycare where acceptable food is a plenty.

My husband and I stuffed him full of breakfast the morning we left. He shockingly ate all of two eggs, some of my cereal and a yogurt before leaving the house. (I promise we fed him dinner the night before. I can’t promise he ate it.)

We made it to Emporia before we had to stop for a diaper change and all-around bathroom break. He’d already eaten through two applesauce pouches and two cracker packages and was bored with two of my painstakingly prepared road trip toys.

Well, I knew it was going to be a long drive.

For lunch, we stopped at Panera. We tried to feed the toddler mac ‘n cheese — Panera mac ‘n cheese, which is delicious — and he refused it. A couple more applesauce pouches down. More crackers.

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I have the pickiest eater.

I guess he did eat the bread bones (crusts) of my sandwich. He loves bread bones.

At the hotel, we ordered pizza for dinner. Really good pizza. Grandpa even got the toddler some breadsticks knowing how he likes carbohydrates and food without color or nutrients. Very little dinner was consumed. Instead, applesauce.

The hotel’s continental breakfast was impressive. Eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, Chobani yogurt and a make-your-own waffle bar.

We tried some of each, and he nibbled on half a tiny waffle before we gave up feeding him a food group other than… you guessed it.

Applesauce.

He did eat some of a Starbucks blueberry muffin before he started playing with it. Still. It was a muffin.

We stopped at Subway for lunch, and I had given TF up at this point. I tried to feed him some actual Cheetos thinking it’d be similar enough to baby cheese poofs to pass the test. Again, no. Applesauce.

By the time we reached our VRBO, my toddler was hungry, tired and no one had the solution.

So I put him to bed, and he slept for 16 hours.

In the morning, he ate all of one egg, some sausage, most of a banana and tiny chocolate chip muffin.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. He must have been famished from refusing to eat anything but applesauce for two friggin’ days, but jeez kid. Maybe it’s just road trips, but next time I’ll be prepared. Doesn’t want to eat? Neat. Here’s some applesauce.

Maybe I’ll also sneak in some prunes because the resulting constipation of the next day was horrible.

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Oh, and he ate a donut. 

What To Pack for a Long Drive with a Toddler

I have experience now.

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These sunglasses lasted longer than most toys for entertainment, but only if he could break them a million times.

My friend and I drove to Texas to visit a girlfriend when my son was 6 months old. A seven-hour drive, and he slept nearly the whole time.

The whole family piled into my in-laws car in 2017, when my son was 11 months old, for a 10-hour drive we split into two days. He didn’t do as well as the Texas trip. But he still did pretty well.

I was still breastfeeding during both of those trips. Any fuss could be nipped (ha) in the bud quickly by a quick pit stop, snack and the ensuing nap.

This trip? Not. So.

Not only am I not breastfeeding, I knew milk wasn’t going to cut it. Plus, it would have been too hard to keep cold.

The toddler has recently been showing off how much of a toddler he can be with the independence and the tantrums and the sass, so I knew I needed more than a few toys and his favorite drink to keep him entertained and satiated — and the rest of us sane — on a two-day, 13-hour PLUS STOPS road trip from Wichita to South Haven.

So I Googled it.

“What to pack for a long drive with a toddler.”

Woof.

Pause Blog for TL;DR

Pack:

  • SNACKS.
  • More snacks.
  • You don’t have enough snacks.
  • Pack more snacks.
  • Favorite stuffed animals, blankies and lovies. Maybe a pillow. (I forgot a pillow.)
  • Coloring books and crayons or a doodle board — or both.
  • Storybooks. (So you can get car sick while trying to entertain him.)
  • Toddler-sized driving steering wheel and dashboard toy.
  • A couple to 100 more snacks.

Back to the Blog

One tip rose above the rest in my research: overpack snacks. Pack ALL the snacks. You think you have enough snacks? Pack more snacks.

Genius.

I dumped a case of applesauce on-the-go pouches in three flavors into the biggest diaper bag I own as well as a box of mixed bagged treats of graham crackers, cheese crackers and “Cheddar Bunnies” — that my son wouldn’t touch, but I sure enjoyed — alongside his go-to favorite strawberry-banana snack bars.

I mean, look at this thing.

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It’s full of snacks.

A water cup, 25-ounce water bottle for refills and spare milk cup for when we stopped for lunch rounded out this bursting bag.

Of course, I also packed road clothes for potential accidents or diaper leaks of which we only had one — solved in the driveway to the house we were staying in because of an epic tantrum in a grocery store and parking lot during which I gave TF up.

But that’s another blog post.

I did not neglect the need for toys. Food can only be so entertaining… when you crush it up into crumbs to wipe on the adjacent car door or person (me).

I packed one of his collapsable storage cubes to the brim with crayons, coloring books, storybooks, comfort stuffed animals, lovies, blankies and a magnetic doodle board.

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ALL the stuffed animals.

I also had a perfectly timed Drive With Me Kiwi&Co. Crate delivery with a cardboard steering wheel and dash. It arrived just three days before we left.

It’s like they knew.

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His favorite part was the temperature control.

I packed his sound machine in the cube to help him sleep in a strange place. As I unplugged it and took it off his dresser, it dawned on me that he’s never touched it. It’s always been on his dresser. He played with it in the car several times. It’s shaped like an owl and has a fascinating amount of buttons.

Rotating snacks, toys and people in the back seat with the toddler kept him mostly entertained and fuss-free.

Mostly.

It’s genius, not toddler-proof.

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Nearly home, he lost all sense. His leg was in a Teddy Grahams box. He chewed on his toes. He flailed absent of thought. It was just torment.

Any tips? I’ve got another one of these things planned.

BABR on Vacation

I used to travel often for work. I learned how best to pack light and travel lean to reduce costs and crap for which to be responsible. The less you have, the less you lose.

With a toddler, my packing skills are pretty much moot.

One suitcase, one overstuffed diaper bag full of snacks, one laptop bag, one collapsable storage cube full of toys, a booster seat, a sleeve of diapers and a doodle board that didn’t fit in the toy cube filled my in-laws car to nearly full alongside their luggage.

Kids need so much crap.

I did successfully pack all of my clothes and the toddler’s clothes into the smallest suitcase we own. A minor victory.

Loaded into my in-laws car, we left at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 26, and set off on a two-day road trip to South Haven, Michigan, for family vacation.

We, as in the toddler and me. Not we, as in the toddler, my husband and me.

Daddy stayed home for work during this family vacation. Poor man. It’s a sacrifice I appreciate him making.

The first leg of the trip was only a seven-hour drive. We turned it into a longer leg thanks to the need to stop for diaper changes, food and general toddler tantrums.

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My next blog will feature what to pack for long drives with toddlers. Now that I have experience.
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I have the pickiest eater who refused to eat Panera Mac ‘n Cheese, which is like the best Mac ‘n Cheese.

Our first stop was in Emporia, Kansas. My son already needed a diaper change, and I had had several cups of coffee before leaving the house.

There’s a historical marker at the rest stop. My husband’s parents used to stop at every historical marker on road trips with him and his sister. Largely because it drove them crazy. I fully intend on continuing this tradition.

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My father-in-law said the toddler seemed more interested in it that his dad ever was.

Throughout the drive, my son refused to take a car nap. (I know, right?!) When he finally did fall asleep, we enjoyed a blessed 47 minutes of silence.

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Poor thing.

The second leg of the trip was much shorter. Only five hours, which of course took much longer due to driving with a toddler monster — and Chicago.

We arrived in South Haven just a half an hour too early to check in, so we went to Meijer (Super Target on steroids, according to my sister-in-law, and she’s not wrong), and my son promptly threw a huge fit. When we finally got to the house, the toddler was salty, I was salty — and we were both done.

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Feeling salty in my Salty Gnome shirt.

I put him to bed at 4:30 p.m. He didn’t wake until the next morning at 8 a.m. I might have a toddler monster, but I have a good sleeper. (Knock on wood.)

We stayed in an adorable converted school house, which — what luck! — has a historical marker.

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He was much less interested in this particular historical marker.

The rooms were themed! We slept in the Music Room. Grandma and grandpa were in the Principal’s Office, and the four cousins and their parents enjoyed bunk beds and a spare bedroom in Detention.

Friggin’ adorable.

 

 

The bathroom was very cute, too. My child wanted to spend an unnecessary amount of time in its shower. And I had to go with him, for some unknown reason.

I made Zuppa Toscana for dinner Sunday night — without the appropriate ingredients or cookware. You see, I forgot to pack several things, including the Instant Pot in which I usually cook Zuppa Toscana.

It was still pretty good.

Our first morning in South Haven was a bit of a blur. My son ate like a starving man — famished from refusing to eat anything but applesauce and cheese crackers for two days in the car. He had toddler tantrums, and we had to go “relax” in bed until he calmed down. Often. We climbed and played on the most epic playground equipment ever (just down the street from the house) for the better part of an hour.

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Take this angle and multiply by 10. That’s how many towers and slides and stairs and bridges there are. I climbed all of them.

There’s nothing between the playground and Lake Michigan, which made for beautiful views. My son said, “Wow,” in his precious toddler way when we walked to hill overlooking the lake. He’s never seen a body of water bigger than a friend’s pool.

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Wow, indeed.

My father-in-law’s brother and his wife joined us for dinner — Honey Garlic Shrimp and Roast Vegetables from my sister-in-law.

I will be getting that recipe.

My son immediately fell in love with his great uncle. I think most of the littles have.

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Lake Michigan, 2019. (My kid.)
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Washington State, 2013. (One of my sister-in-law’s kids. I think #1?)

Tuesday was beach day, and not a moment of it was blurry. I waded the toddler into the chilly water of Lake Michigan and let the waves crash on his feet.

He. Loved. It.

 

 

My fearless son dragged me through the water, trying to go farther and farther in, and pitched a hot fit when I carried him back up the shore to start all over again. He clung to me. He tried to escape from me. He jumped into the waves with eyes closed tight, teeth showing in a wide smile and arms open to welcome the force of the water. He giggled and squealed and just loved it.

 

That night, he slept early and well. Too tired for dinner of burgers, brats, corn on the cob and salad under the pergola.

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Seating for 1 million.

I woke up late Wednesday to the sounds of my toddler jabbering at nothing about everything. Neither of us were really ready to get up, so I pulled him into bed with me to cuddle. We get so few moments of happy cuddles that I couldn’t waste the opportunity.

We went to lunch and shop along South Haven’s main drag.

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My son wouldn’t even eat my bread bones and fussed his way through lunch.

South Haven has a Farm Market to rival any I’ve seen. Blocks and stalls of berries. Blueberries, blackberries, cherries and raspberries. Wichita’s has garlic, greens, onions and root vegetables more than anything else. Not bad, but I’ve never seen so many fresh, plump blueberries in my life. I wish I had brought a shopping bag with me and cash to buy pounds of what were probably the best blueberries ever.

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Oh, and a Pronto Pup.

Missing his normal nap time again, the toddler lost energy and patience quickly. He rode grandpa’s shoulders nearly the entire time and fell asleep just as soon as we got to the house.

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He also stole my hat.

We celebrated grandpa’s birthday that evening with chorizo black bean quesadillas (I will be getting this recipe, too) whipped up by the littles’ great aunt and uncle, pineapple salad (and this one) and chocolate cake.

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Cooking on this stove was a bit of a pain for everyone.

I got my father-in-law coffee for his birthday — our go-to gift for him. Bought it right in front of him at the Farm Market because I don’t prepare well. We both love coffee and were the only drinkers in the house. Lucky us, we had a 12-cup drip coffee brewer to share.

And we drank all of every cup.

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We did a taste test Thursday morning. I’m not sure if the coffee was super smooth or I made it too weak, but it wasn’t bad!

After the toddler went to sleep Wednesday night, I walked back downtown in search for a brewery where I could get some cans to take home to my hubby and Gnomies at my favorite Wichita brewery, Hopping Gnome. (Have you noticed my #AGnomeADay attire? I entered the #TaketheLongWayGnome social media competition by accident.)

I missed my first choice, Harbor Light Brewery, by 27 minutes. Walking downtown, it looked like the entire city shut down at 9 p.m. Luckily, South Haven Brew Pub was still open and serving up mix-and-match six-packs to go.

 

I greeted another late morning with my son on Thursday. He spent the majority of the night in bed with me, snorting and coughing himself awake. We Gnome-a-stayed in that day — this is my Gnomaste shirt — so he could rest and recover enough energy to make the drive home Friday with as little discomfort as possible.

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He’s equally cute and pathetic when he doesn’t feel good — and the snuggles are just epic.

While he napped, I did what any red-blooded vacationing woman would do. (I’m sure.)

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Chips? Check. Salsa? Check. Little library book? Check. Relaxation in three… two…

Thursday night was a rough night. My son was up and asleep and up over and over again feeling terrible. Toddlers are contagious little boogers. (Of course, I’m a terrible parent and just wiped his binky off every time it fell out of his mouth… and then I gave it back to him.) Fingers crossed none of my sister-in-law’s kiddos caught his cold RIGHT before school starts for them.

Because Thursday night was horrible, Friday morning was difficult. I had to drag myself out of bed late to help load the car for the drive home.

And what a drive it was.

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First, he tried to recreate his bedroom in his carseat. See owl-shaped noise machine/night light and the thing he’s holding is the camera of his baby monitor. Both normally stare at him all night.
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Huddled up in his car seat like the day is never going to end. We had several hours to go at this point.
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Outfit change. Nearly home, he lost all sense. His leg was in a Teddy Grahams box. He chewed on his toes. He flailed absent of thought. It was just torment.

And then we got home. He happily jumped up and down in our driveway. Daddy was a sight for sore eyes — for me, for sure — but it lasted about 20 minutes before the toddler hated everything and everyone.

He slept until 9 a.m. Saturday. (Again, knock on wood, y’all.)

Going places with a toddler is a pain. They’re nearly never satisfied, and you — as a parent — NEVER have the solution to whatever problem has popped up in the last five minutes.

But my 2-year-old gleefully jumped into the waves of Lake Michigan. He wildly explored a strange place, excited about every cranny, nook and turn. He challenged me, and he tested his limits. Pushed boundaries. Found obstacles. Needed me to help. Didn’t need me to help.

Going places with toddlers might be a pain, but I can’t wait to take him on every adventure we have. No matter his age. I loved watching him experience more than I wanted to experience. Such a strange feeling.

We’ll be hunting down historical markers and taking the long way home from now on.

And I will likely be in a Gnome shirt.

Today, I Cleaned

Usually, I treat cleaning like the wretched chore it is. An activity to bare because I dislike clutter, and dust makes me sneeze, and sticky things make me gag. But when my thoughts are scattered, or when I need to work through a problem, or when I’m upset, cleaning is therapy.

Today, I cleaned.

On Friday, June 7, my husband and I said goodbye to our dog Ivan.

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Dysplasia settled into both of his hips at about the same time. We tried giving him joint health supplements, but he hated eating anything if it wasn’t in his food bowl. He ate around what we put in his food bowl. He stopped eating when we crumbled the supplements up in his food.

I just have picky eaters, I guess.

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Last weekend, his right leg swelled twice its normal size. He stopped eating again. He stopped drinking. He didn’t have to go to the bathroom. His fur started falling out in patches and chunks. He couldn’t play. He could barely walk.

We knew it was time.

Not that knowing made it any easier.

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My husband and I process grief differently. Crying, holding hands, sharing memories — those we need together. We also need to be alone to process this grief — him resting in silence or with soft music playing, and me in a cacophony of sound, moving, doing, cleaning.

It took two days to get through the grief to pick up the mess we’d made of our house — the empty pizza boxes, the glasses half-filled with water in every room, the shoes and clothes and clutter. Two days to fix the blockage in the vacuum that had previously felt so overwhelming. Two days to oil the dining room table, do the dishes, sweep the floor, start the laundry. Two days to cry and feel and clean.

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He was our first deep love, our gentle lead. He reached out to us and curled up at my husband’s feet. He loved walks and fetch. He was big, and he was sweet. He pressed his face into the carpet when he slept. He carried the cat around in his mouth. He boofed at the mailman and shadows and squirrels. He loved the snow. He hated the rain. He chased his tail and happy hopped for dinner time. He destroyed every toy we ever gave him. He destroyed his bed and preferred the couch. He loved us, and we loved him.

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Eleven years is not forever, but forever is how long I love you.