staying hungry : mango tilapia with watermelon feta salad

Let’s cut to the chase here:

You can probably skip the mango tilapia. It’s just parchment-paper baked tilapia with a dollop of mango butter, some parsley and scallions, and a few spices. Good in theory, not terribly exciting in reality.

What is terribly exciting, though, is the salad that accompanies it.

Oh my word. I honestly don’t want to eat anything else for the rest of the summer except for this salad.

I take that back. It’s almost nectarine season. And, hello, we’re right smack dab in the peak of ice cream season.

So, basically, I’ll be eating nectarines and ice cream and watermelon feta salad until the leaves start to change.

Amen.

The journey to this salad began with this pin, which I found in, like, January.

Tabbouleh with Watermelon: Watermelon replaces the traditional tomato in this Middle Eastern salad, giving it bursts of sweetness. Goat cheese, another new add-in, provides creamy contrast, Wholeliving.com #healthylunches

pinned here via here

Having to wait a whole 6 months for it to be seasonably appropriate to make was cruel and unusual punishment.

I made a mental note to make it as soon as the temperature rose above freezing (so, yesterday), and had intended to make it sometime in the next few weeks, but luckily Annie of Annie Eats was kind enough to take this salad to a new level of supremacy. When she posted a recipe last week using quinoa instead of barley I had no choice but to make it immediately if not sooner.

I made it as a side to the fish…but it totally stole the show. So much so that I made a big batch it all by itself for dinner one night this week.

People: make this. Immediately if not sooner.

Quinoa Salad with Watermelon and Feta

slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

Serves 4 (hypothetically…)

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa

For the dressing:
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. freshly lemon juice
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the salad:
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 cup watermelon, diced
3-4 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
3-4 tbsp. sliced scallions
Lemon zest, to taste

Directions:

Rinse and boil the quinoa (add about 1 and 1/2 cups water to quinoa and simmer for about 15 minutes, letting sit, covered, for 5 additional minutes to soak up remaining water). Whisk together the dressing and chop salad ingredients while the quinoa is boiling. I like to fluff the quinoa with a fork, add the dressing to the quinoa (once cooled slightly), and then add the salad ingredients to the quinoa. It’s best when served chilled.

Rating: 4.5/5. A small deduction for the fact that it’s only a summer dish and I’ll spend 9 months pining for it once September comes. Other than that, this one’s a home run!

staying compassionate : the birthday project

Have you guys heard of The Birthday Project? It’s an inspiring initiative started by Robyn Bomar, who set out to do 38 random acts of kindness on her 38th birthday. She explains a bit further in her blog post:

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago my birthday wish was to complete one Random Act of Kindness for every year of my life thus far, as well as asking friends, readers, Facebook fans and fellow Twitter-ers to each perform one Random Act of Kindness and to let me know about it throughout the day.

I planned out 38 things ahead of time just in case, but really was praying for opportunities to present themselves throughout the day. It was absolutely freezing and windy but we were not to be deterred!  My husband, three daughters and my husband’s parents joined me in the most favorite birthday of my life!

The things that she did weren’t elaborate or time consuming – and most of them were 100% free! I loved these:

11.  Gave a dozen hot doughnuts to a very cold crew working on the power lines.

16.  Tucked happy notes in car doors in parking lot wishing people a good day full of God’s blessings.

21.  Handed out water bottles to very appreciative nurses (who knew they were so thirsty?).

22.  Taped change to vending machines (I actually saw passersby stop and take pictures of the machines without taking the money).

26.  Phone card to young woman in need. (I asked the owner of a store I frequent if he knew of any customers who might need it and he got a big smile on his face.  He looked at the girl working there and told me she had just confided in him yesterday that she couldn’t afford her minutes on her cell phone to call her family back home.  It was a suuuper cool moment.)

29.  Gave coffee to a toll booth worker on our way home.  (He seemed the least affected or appreciative of the day.  I feel like he might have needed it the most of everyone.)

Aren’t those great ideas? And so easy!

The post definitely seems to have taken on a life of it’s own – so much so that a whole movement has developed! It’s called The Birthday Project, and their mission is to, “create a shift in the way people from all walks of life think about and celebrate their birthday (and other milestones).”

I seriously love this idea – and not just for birthdays! For every day! Aren’t they all worth celebrating? I love the idea of starting every day praying for opportunities to present themselves. It’s the kind of mindset that can set the course for an entire day of selfless, loving service.

Fellow New Yorkers, might I suggest that we start slow and simple? How about we just look at each other and smile when we pass on the street? Instead of intentionally avoiding any and all eye contact? We don’t have to go all Southern and do it with enthusiasm…but really, just a glance of acknowledgement would be a good start. We can do it!!!

Thank you, Robyn, for setting such a great example! I’m so excited to follow your lead!

wedding wednesdays : 6.27.12

This week, let’s get started with two gorgeous posts from the wonderful world of Southern Weddings:

I just can’t get over the flowers in this wedding. They are stunning! (And the glitter wrapped boutonniere?! Oh my word!!!)

photo credit : christina carroll

post credit : southern weddings

And don’t you just wish you had been at this next wedding? I love all of the bright colors and all of the warmth and all of the FUN! Great job capturing this beautiful day, Nancy Ray!

image credit : nancy ray photography

post credit : southern weddings

Why haven’t people been doing this forever?! What a great wedding idea: trail mix favors!

Trail mix in mason jars as a farm wedding favor

Trail mix in mason jars as a farm wedding favor

Trail mix in mason jars as a farm wedding favor

post credit : i love farm weddings

And to close: this beautiful video. Wow.

video credit : the cana family

staying real : not sitting on the cactus

Yesterday and I didn’t get along. For a variety of reasons, both legitimate and laughably illegitimate. When 6pm struck I was ready to call the day a wash and hope for better luck tomorrow.

But I still had a whole night ahead of me…a whole night! A night with a roof over my head and food in my stomach and clothes on my back. In the grand scheme of things: a really good night. And I couldn’t come to terms with going through it grumpy.

So I made an effort.

I started by laying on the living room floor and crying praying. These verses were brought to mind and were especially comforting.

And then I did these things:

1. I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Really, is there anything more effective than sunshine and sidewalks to snap you out of a bad mood? I really don’t think there is.

2. I made my new favorite salad for dinner: Quinoa with Watermelon, Feta, and Parsley. (Recipe coming Friday!)

3. I listened to the daily podcast from Chip Ingram. It’s become something that I look forward to every day. If you are looking for encouragement, insight, and wise biblical teaching, I can’t recommend Living on the Edge strongly enough!

4. I watched Friends. Because laughter really is the best medicine.

(And then I watched the Bachelorette. Because watching Sean run through the streets of Prague shouting “Emily! Emily!” is pretty good medicine, too.)

I went to bed a happy woman. And this morning, I woke up to this:

A fitting reminder that there are real frustrations in life, but we don’t have to focus on them.

Amen? Amen!

Hope you all are having days free of cacti cushions and full of real joy!

making things happen monday : the final lesson

Here is the crux of Making Things Happen, at least for me:

You have to be willing to let go of what you want to make happen.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment, working furiously on blogging and emailing and job searching and to-do listing. I had a pile of projects to get done before the night was over and I was bound and determined to finish them. Friday Night Lights was on in the background and I was perfectly content to productively wile the evening away.

I looked up from my laptop and noticed that the sunset was casting gorgeous colors on the bathroom shower tile. I had an internal debate about whether or not to Instagram the scene (“It’s so pretty!” “Really, no one wants to see your shower.” “But the colors!” “But seriously…it’s a shower.”) and decided in the end to snap a quick picture and post it:

Done! Pretty! Back to the to-do list!

But I couldn’t help but look outside at the sunset…wondering what it really looked like…not just what it looked like reflecting off of bathroom tile. I’d look out the window and then get back to work. And then repeat. And then repeat. There was this nagging feeling that I should do what’s most important: value the real beauty, not the productivity.

I knew I wanted to go see the sunset. But I did not want to go see the sunset, for a laundry list of reasons. Namely:

  • I did not want to leave my apartment (hello, have you seen Tim Riggins?!)
  • I did not want to leave my parking space and have to find a new one
  • I did not want to stop progress
  • I did not want to take pictures and have to edit them after
  • I did not want to make the effort

In the end…the sunset won. At the last possible moment I ran out of my apartment, out to the car, and drove up to Cobb’s Hill to see this:

A gorgeous sunset over a city I love and a memory I’ll have forever.

I was so glad I made the effort.

So to review, what I wanted for myself was this:

What God wanted for me was this:

Clearly, we have a winner.

When I get stuck inside of my own plans, I get left with only what I can do for myself. What’s easy, what’s comfortable, what’s right in front of me. That night, all I wanted was to check things off of my to-do list. I was content with a shower stall sunset.

But when I respond to what’s tugging at my heart, to the things that God gently guides me to, I get so much more. SO much more! Things I never could have dreamed on my own. I’ve always loved the verse from Ephesians that reminds us that God is capable of doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” It’s so true.

It’s important to do the hard work to make things happen – to have a plan, to take action steps, to look fear in the face, to have big dreams. But I think it’s most important to allow plenty of room for God to make things happen for us – immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

inspired : 6.24.12

first, two videos that I’m so in love with:

this is such a fun shop! just look at this 4th of july party!

I love good dads

seriously, every idea you’ve ever needed for summer

LOVE this fabulous kitchen remodel! great work, emily!

my new slogan : TGIW

oh my goodness…these mini s’mores cheesecakes look AMAZING

instagram sunglasses. can you even begin to imagine?!

scroll down to the bottom to see the inside of these gooey cinnamon muffins. oh my word.

pin of the week:

pinned here via here

staying creative : desperate fridge dinner winner

This week’s picture comes with a recipe! It’s a 2 for 1 deal!

So last night. Dinner. Go out? No. Smoothie bowl? Been there, done that, more times than I remember…this week. Something healthy? And easy? And using up old groceries? YES.

I had frozen salmon in the freezer and quinoa in the pantry. The spinach and arugula expired a few days ago but what’s in a stamped date? Everything else was added on the fly.

Winner, winner, desperate fridge dinner!

Ingredients:

Spinach and Arugula salad base

For the quinoa:

  • 1/4 cup quinoa dry, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • sliced scallions (about 2 Tbsp)
  • fresh parsley (about 2 Tbsp)
  • fresh ground garlic salt to taste

For the salmon:

  • 4 oz. salmon filet
  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Directions:

Boil the quinoa until water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. When just a little water remains, turn the heat off and let sit, covered, for another 5 minutes or so. Fluff with fork and add remaining ingredients.

While the quinoa is boiling, whisk together the maple syrup, mustard, and vinegar for the salmon glaze. Coat a grill pan with non-stick spray and heat to medium-high before adding the salmon. Cook each side for 4-6 minutes, adding glaze as you flip.

Make a bed with the salad, add the quinoa, and top with the salmon.

Healthy old groceries dinner in under 30 minutes.

As Nike would say, BOOM.

staying hungry : leftover pulled pork wraps

Yes, I’m serious.

Sometimes, dinner is a challenge. Some other times, lunch is also a challenge. These are the weeks when you find yourself eating yogurt and granola bars for lunch three days in a row because you failed to plan a vegetable situation. These are also the weeks when you find yourself taking leftover pork out of a takeout container, sticking it in a wrap, and calling it a recipe.

These weeks are this week.

That’s grammatically painful but realistically true.

This isn’t so much a Dinner Challenge meal as it is a Public Service Announcement, a plea to take your leftovers home after going out to eat even if you don’t think you’ll have enough for a meal. People, please. You can always make a meal out of leftovers!

Case in point: the above.

My general rule of thumb when I go out to eat for a substantial meal is to split everything on my plate in half with the plan to eat half then and take half home. It’s good for the waistline and for the budget.

So at Sticky Lips on Sunday I ate half of my sandwich and took the other half home. My mom also donated her leftover sandwich half because they were traveling for a few hours home and nothing says long car ride like eau de pulled pork.

I also ate half of the corn and fries. I didn’t heed my own advice to take them home because I thought they wouldn’t reheat well. Um, duh. They would have made a killer breakfast scramble.

Lesson of the day: always take home your leftovers.

Always.

Back to what I did take home: Monday dinner arrives and I have a takeout box with two half sandwiches inside my fridge. Good news! But rather than reheat both and call it a meal, I opted to switch things up a little bit. Since I don’t routinely consume restaurant-sized meals at home, I made it a little more my style by adding a generous side salad (spinach & arugula, blueberries, dried cherries, walnuts, goat cheese, balsamic) and applesauce…because it’s been sitting in my fridge for months and because who doesn’t love the combination of apple and pork?

The bun on the pulled pork had seen better days so I swapped it out for my favorite wrap and used some of the balsamic vinegar as extra sauce.

I think I might have enjoyed it even more the second time around!

And, by splitting up the leftovers like this, I got TWO meals instead of one! And if I had just taken home the corn and the fries I could have had three or probably four! (The time to let it go has already passed, but really…it frustrates me.)

Rating: 4/5. Lame? Yes. Delicious? Yes! I’ll deduct a point for level of difficulty and call it a darn good meal.

staying in rochester : sticky lips

Get ready to throw things:

I’ve lived in Rochester for almost 8 years now (OH MY WORD?!) and until last weekend…I had never been to Sticky Lips BBQ.

It’s a true story. It’s a sad story.

But no more! The rents and I visited on Father’s Day. I’m sure it was the first of many visits.

Really sure.

First things first, the atmosphere is perfect. It’s just fun to be inside, packed with retro signs and magazines from floor to ceiling without being overwhelming. And then you get the menu…

where to begin?! It’s HUGE.

We began with fried pickles to see what all the fuss was over. No discredit to Sticky Lips, but we didn’t utter much fuss. Maybe we’re just not a fried pickles family.

But that’s just fine because it allowed extra room for the real star of the show. Original Pulled Pork with Cajun Corn and Sweet Potato Fries:

Um, yes.

The sandwich was awesome. I’m more of a sauce-in-my-meat rather than sauce-on-my-meat kind of girl, but that was easily remedied with the huge selection of bottled sauces available on the table right alongside the ketchup and mustard.

The sides…oh, the sides! Because there was just so much goodness to sample we all decided to get one different side so we could try a bunch. I got the Cajun corn – a solid decision. My mom’s baked beans were top notch. But my dad struck gold with the cheddar grits. These grits were the stuff that dreams are made of. These grits made me want to say y’all and move south just for the opportunity to further bond with all things grits.

I’d go back again just for the grits.

And the sweet potato (three tries to spell potato just now, in case you were wondering) fries? AMAZING! I think they were tossed in a cinnamon sugar mixture, and they liked it. I did too.

The dessert list was tempting, but ultimately we were too full to say yes. Another reason to go back.

If you’re in the Rochester area, don’t wait 8 years to visit Sticky Lips. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night murmuring about cheddar grits and missed opportunities and wondering how early is too early for sweet potato fries.

staying hungry : cake box cookies

Let me show you something that will make you want to hug me:

Let me tell you something that will make you want to rise up and call everything and everyone blessed:

There are 4 ingredients in these cookies…and one of them is boxed cake mix.

AND THEY ARE AMAZING!!!

I’m not even kidding. These rank among the best cookies I’ve ever had. They are perfectly textured – soft yet chewy – rich, and decadent. And they’re definitely the easiest I’ve ever made. I think I’m bringing a version of these to any and every social event I attend from now until eternity. Amen.

Thanks to Cookies and Cups (and Lovin’ from the Oven) for originally posting this recipe!

Cake Box Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box cake mix (I used Pillsbury Dark Chocolate with Pudding)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • Mix-ins (I used the mini Reese’s because on Fridays I don’t have the patience to unwrap 30 bite size Reese’s)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350. Empty the cake mix into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs and the oil (I skipped this step…don’t do that). Stir the wet mixture into the cake mix until just combined (it will be thicker than thick), then add in the Reese’s or add-in of your choice.

I made 12 big cookies and baked them for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan half-way through because my oven hails from earlier times (think covered wagons) and tends to heat unevenly (think Pisa).

IDEAS:

My brain is exploding with other ideas. Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies! Vanilla Candy Bar Cookies! Marble Chocolate Chunk with Rainbow Sprinkle Birthday Cookies!

I think I might have to steal the corner market on cake box cookies because oh my word…I’m in love.

Happy baking! Let me know what you discover!