Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Summer Night

Usually our weekends consist of dining out for a couple of meals and in turn, we cook at home throughout the week. It's kind of our "cheat time" and my attempt at eating clean/healthy 80% of the time and cheating 20% of the time. It's a balance that seems to work well for us because we like leading a healthy lifestyle. But I will be the first to admit, we are very much "foodies." I mean, living in Colorado Springs where there are lots of unique local restaurants, begs us to cheat 20% of the time! Ha! No shame.

But no, seriously, we love to try and cook as clean, organic and healthy as possible. We have become much more aware on how to do it on a budget since I am currently unemployed. Let me tell you, it is possible and so worth it. You just feel better! This is the point where all military spouses rejoice, forget about the commissary annoyances and feel thankful to grocery shop for great fresh food at a slight discount and tax free... or at least that is how it is at our commissary at the USAFA. 

So! What about our adventures this weekend? We had a wonderful Korean meal at Happy Time Dine In in CO Springs (definitely a must go if you are in the area) on Friday night! The food was all extremely fresh with the right amount of spice and plethora of different sides. Their kimchi is really to die for. Ok, I'll stop salivating and move on. After we stuffed our faces there, we were invited into the home of some our new friends! What a blessing! Saturday, we found ourselves out to lunch while the pups got a much needed bath after the dog park and again today after church, we were out to lunch again at a hole-in-the-wall mexican joint that wasn't too bad. Tonight, it was time to make something simple, fresh and filling at home. 

After reviewing my meal plan for the next week, I knew what I wanted to make. I recently pinned a few recipes through a great page, "Bless this Mess" that I found here. I chose to do the simple oven baked potatoes and a strawberry cucumber spinach salad with a greek yogurt dressing. Can I say I have a healthy obsession with greek yogurt? So, this was perfect! 

I started with the base recipe for these perfect oven baked potatoes! I have never baked potatoes without foil but I was really pleased with the result. It left the skin of the potato perfect and delicious and I usually don't got for the skins. So, that says a lot. I embellished this recipe with some healthier topping options! Let's get started! 

What you'll need: 
Desired amount of medium-smaller sized potatoes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could do some coconut oil, I may try this next time)
Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper
Unsalted Butter (I chose organic)
Fat-Free Plain Greek Yogurt
Fat-Free Crumbled Feta Cheese
Green Onions (thinly sliced green/white portions)

First, I will suggest moving your oven shelving towards the bottom. I placed a baking sheet on the lowermost rack to catch anything that may fall from the potatoes. Why may you ask? Well, you are placing your potatoes straight on the rack above the baking sheet. I had never done this but trust the base recipe! Now, Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. 

I grabbed 4 russet potatoes. I picked two medium sized potatoes and then to smaller because I knew they would be the perfect size for lunch. After giving them a good scrub down, per the recipe, I stabbed the potatoes a few times with a fork to allow steam to escape while cooking. I then used my hands to slather a light coating of olive oil on the potatoes and followed that with salting both sides.

When your oven is hot and ready, set those potatoes on the rack above the baking sheet and let them cook for an hour. I originally set my timer to 45 minutes but I found my medium sized potatoes weren't quite done yet. An hour seemed to be the magic number. 

Look at those golden beauties!

After the potatoes are done (they will have a slight give when you squeeze the sides), remove your baking sheet and then your potatoes (I set them on the baking sheet). Carefully, I made a thin cut down the middle of each potato and gaven them a good squeeze to reveal the moist potatoey goodness ready for toppings! 

I put a small pad of the organic unsalted butter inside the potato, a scoop of nonfat plain greek yogurt (my go-to alternative to sour cream), a palm full of crumbled fat free feta cheese and followed with a sprinkling of the green onion slices. 

Let's backtrack a little now and we will join the yummy potatoes later! While my potatoes were cooking away on the oven rack, I began to execute the original recipe for the Strawberry Cucumber Spinach Salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing. I kept it pretty true to the recipe but I made used some ingredients in larger quantities. 

Here's what I used for the salad:
8 oz of Fresh Spinach (washed and dried)
8 oz of Fresh Sliced Strawberries
1/2 of a Large Cucumber Sliced into Half Moons
2-3 Green Onions sliced thinly (white and green)
1/2 cup of Raw Almonds
For the dressing: 
4 TBSP Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
3 TBSP Lemon Juice (I used organic)
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBSP Fresh Basil finely chopped (from my garden, SCORE!)
2 TBSP Honey, to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
A dash of pure vanilla (I added this)

I constructed my salad first! I am very methodical in my salad building, always. I like nice even layers of ingredients. So, I laid down a base layer of spinach and topped it with 1/4 of the strawberries, cucumbers, almonds and green onion slices. I repeated that four times to fill my bowl. You may use a different ratio depending on the size of your bowl! Now get to slicing your cucumbers, strawberries and green onions!

Away from the recipe, I did chose to not toss my salad in my dressing because I knew I wanted some left overs and no one likes really soggy spinach leaves a day after. So, I made my dressing in a bowl with a whisk. I combined my ingredients in the following manner: First I added my greek yogurt and lemon juice and whisked until it was a smooth consistency (left picture). Then I added my 2 TBSP of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (right picture) and whisked until it was smooth.
Nothing like whisking like you're mad. haha

As I was whisking my life away, I felt like I was being watched. By who? 
Max & Lucy, chefs in training or opportunists? 

Amidst my admirers, I used probably one of my most favorite kitchen tools in the world to finely chop my fresh basil from the garden, herb scissors. Seriously, if you don't have a pair, get them! They make your life so much easier. I found mine at Sur la Table

Add in your basil (love the smell) and whisk until the basil is uniform into the greek yogurt mix. Next, add in your honey, salt and pepper to taste. This is where I decided that I needed a little something extra into the mix, so I grabbed my pure vanilla and gave a small dash. As soon as I did it, I thought I may regret it but it took the very fresh, lemony dressing to a little bit richer place! 

The salad and dressing are just waiting on you and those potatoes cooking away. They are beautiful components to a simple but great meal!

Now, we will go back and remember those delicious potatoes that we constructed and reveal the final product!

My husband kept raving about the salad! He LOVED it and he's not too much of a salad eater! Also, he was surprised and could barely tell the difference when I told him that the "sour cream" on the potato was actually plain fat-free greek yogurt! So I consider this meal a win-win!

Maybe you'll make this fresh meal very soon? I guarantee you'll choose this as a go-to quick summer meal that makes about an hour and 5 minutes from total prep to table! Enjoy!

Live. Laugh. Love. Cook!


Sunday, July 13, 2014


Home. I am sitting with a sleepy dog in my lap, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the news today and just soaking in being back at home. There is something so nice about sitting and relaxing in YOUR home. But today, I sit here and I am missing home. Follow me for a few minutes.

Any person who has moved away from home will understand me when I say this: your home will always be different and separate from your home. I have our home here in Colorado. Jon and I love it here, our babies love it and we constantly talk about when our life in the military is no more and we finally settle down, that Colorado is at the top of our list to call "home." Then, Jon and I have two separate homes. This is the home that houses our families and some of our very closest friends. They are places that require quite a haul to visit but the distance becomes a vague memory the moment you step foot in the door. Through the door lies memories, love and comfort... all the things you crave when you're away. There is something romantic about going home because all the sounds, smells, tastes and feelings rush back to you as though you had never left. It's a relationship that you fall right back into. It's just special.

I took a 16 day trip back home to Arkansas and it was my first true "visit" since moving last November. It was a trip in which I had a couple different purposes for being there but no one large obligation to draw me in. I gained a new appreciation for my home after being gone for the past few months and coming back. You realize how precious your time is and stay careful in the ways that you utilize it. You become grossly aware of the people and things that are worth keeping in your life and those that are not. That may seem harsh, but it's true. In this trip, I was there for my sweet nephew's 2nd birthday, I had some great quality time with my 89 year old grandmother, I had one-on-one time with both of my parents (together and separately), I worked with my favorite co-workers, I got to go back to my hometown and see my very best friends and even snuggle on two brand new baby girls of two of my dearest friends. The only way to describe it was just... good. It was good for my soul. God only knew, I really needed it.

While I know that my home will always be where the military takes Jon and me, I will always have a longing for the familiar. I feel blessed that God entrusted Jon with a heart for the military, the want to make a difference and help others. I feel thankful that God gave me the heart to support and to love this lifestyle we are thrown into. My home formed me into that person. But, it is always the hardest for me to admit that I do have my days where I cry, I miss home, I miss having a girlfriend that I can call and you can bet we'll be meeting for lunch and dinner that night or I long to just drive to my parents house and just be. I was talking to one of my best friends about the struggles of military life and moving to a new place and a new base and having to uproot your life. All of these new transitions are riddled with a numerous amount of pros and unfortunately some cons. I described a military move as truly the worst aspects of the dating game or speed dating. You try to find the best things about a place only to realize no place is truly perfect. There will be things you don't like about any place, but on the flip side, you can always find some things you will love. You "church shop" until you find the right fit and hear God's calling to serve and join in that family of faith. You try to meet new friends but just when you think that "hey, I might have found one," you see that maybe that person wasn't even on the same page. Granted you have a constant friend in your spouse, but let's be honest... girls, you need at least one good girl friend! It's hard to find yourself in that place of loneliness and praying for the right friend to be brought into your life. But as sure as you are lonely, God will always provide those whom he sees fit for your life. Military wives, do you know what I mean? Do you find it hard to trust and know sometimes even when you think that you will forever sit at home with no friends? Some of my sweetest friends tho, God and the military led me to. I know they will be there no matter the PCS moves and the miles. I know God will be faithful and in due time provide those sweet friends with each move. All these things though that I just rambled off, bring you back to a place of being thankful for home where those wants and needs to love and feel accepted in a place far from home are grown.

A lot of people have told me that you will begin to look at home in a different light and pick up on different things each time you go back. This is so true. There were several things over the past couple of weeks that have touched me and queued some thoughts that I plan on sharing over the next couple of blogs. But today, I just simply wanted to write about home and how very special it is.

Live. Laugh. Love. & HOME. 


The Sleeping Babe