Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Christmas in July + Gift List Printable

Can I tell you guys something? Promise not to judge me????
I already have my first Christmas gift wrapped. Yes... I am totally aware that it is July (even if it's the last day of July). I have never before done such a thing, but when I ran into a sale at the hardware store, I couldn't pass up a few small things that would be perfect as Christmas gifts for Dad. I knew that if I just packed away the bag, it would surely get lost or forgotten... or discovered by Dad, himself. The best option was to wrap it and stash it in our guest bedroom.

After seeing that present there, all ready to be gifted, I felt a sense of weird calmness. It got me thinking... I could really start looking for Christmas presents now and not have to worry about it and be stressed out in December. I could actually spend the month of December baking cookies, decorating, doing festive things, and spending serious quality time with my family.
And that's when this printable was born. It's designed so that I can write down my gift recipients, what I think I might get for them, and a place for me to check-off that the gift has been purchased and wrapped. There's also a spot for the homemade gifts, which are great when budgets are tight or when you want to give something from the heart. I don't blame you at all if you want to stash this away until November or December. I totally get that it's near 100 degrees outside and the only thing that normal people want to do is come inside from the heat, sit in front of the AC vent, and eat super cold ice cream (or is that just me?). However, I've already got most of my sheet filled out and though most of the presents are not bought and have not even been identified, it makes the process so much easier. When I hear family or friends say that they really like something or that they've been wanting to get a such-and-such, I just jot it down. That way, if I'm out shopping and I see that very item on sale, I know to get it (and it doesn't get forgotten about by the time Christmas approaches).
So, without further ado, here's the handy printable.

P.S. I have a burpee challenge planned for the entire month of August. The details will be posted tomorrow morning at 6:30 EST. I can't wait for you to join in and conquer the challenge with me!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Life Snippets

Hello, hello...
I just wanted to pop in and share a few photos of what I've been up to.
Hope you're having a great day.
Grilled dinners

My favorite mocha at my favorite coffee shop- The Dancing Turtle

Congratulation flowers from Mary Beth and her daughters

Grass cuttin'

An evening kayak excursion

A storm coming in over the Bonner Bridge

Summer salad- strawberries, candied pecans, goat cheese, grilled chicken, and raspberry vinaigrette (minus red onion)

Health[ier] Philly Cheesesteak (Made with Ground Turkey)

Say what???? Healthy Philly Cheesesteak? Made with ground turkey? What?!?
Trust me on this one- it's pretty great and I think I prefer this version to the real thing.

1 lb. 93% lean ground turkey (or another equally lean meat)
1 large green bell pepper (I used a medium and two small ones from the garden), chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 package sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup steak sauce (I used A1)
Sliced provolone cheese
Buns or rolls
Start by cooking the ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper.
When the turkey is no longer pink, add the vegetables and steak sauce and cook until the vegetables are tender.
Place a slice of provolone on each roll and broil for just a few minutes, until the cheese melts. Watch the rolls carefully so that they don't burn. (You can also choose to put the Philly cheesesteak mixture to the rolls, place the cheese on top of the mixture, and then broil it, but it's all up to you!)
Add the Philly cheesesteak mixture to the rolls and enjoy!

Monday, July 29, 2013

7/29: One Beautiful Thing Monday

Last Tuesday, I saw one particular family out on the beach that caught my attention. I was walking my usual route and I walked past three boys and a father playing Ladder Ball.
In case you don't know, this is ladder ball...
The boys all looked to be a few years apart in age, with the youngest being about five years old. The youngest was so upset that he was losing and was actually shouting while in tears. His brothers didn't seem to pay any attention to him; they were only concerned with continuing the game that they happened to be winning by a landslide. Initially, I thought that the youngest boy was acting a bit bratty and was being a "sore loser." I didn't think much else of it and continued on my walk.
I repeated my walk again on Wednesday and came across the same family once again. However, this time, the older boys were building sandcastles and the youngest boy was practicing his Ladder Ball skills with his dad. The father was very encouraging and seemed to be very patient with his young son. As I made my way back to the pier where I had started my walk, I heard the youngest boy thank his father for helping him. He said that maybe now he can play with his brothers and have a chance of winning the game.
Seeing a family play on the beach may sound like nothing special to most, but it was really beautiful to watch the attitude of the little boy change (from bratty to thankful and hopeful) and to see a father and child bond. In today's busy-busy-busy world, I'm not sure that some parents really take the time to disconnect from whatever it is that is preoccupying them and seriously and deeply connect with their children. Children need to spend quality time with their parents and this father and child were doing just that. It was beautiful.
Did you see something beautiful this week?
If so, I'd like to hear about it :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Easy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Happy Saturday, everyone! I hope you all are enjoying the weekend.
Summertime on the island is as perfect as always.
In my humble opinion, sweet potatoes are definitely a "super food. " I will almost always choose a sweet potato over a regular russet potato and I simply adore sweet potato fries. They're divine.
Sweet potatoes are packed full of nutrients- just look at this chart! Holy Vitamin A!
Well, since I've professed my love for sweet potatoes to you, I thought I'd share a super simple recipe for an easy side dish. These Roasted Sweet Potatoes are just the right amount of sweet and the cinnamon adds so much flavor. They would go great with anything: rotisserie chicken, baked fish, grilled steaks, etc. And while the oven's already on (yes, I know it's summer... I apologize), go ahead and roast some fresh veggies drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Delicious! 
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400*F.
Wash and dry the sweet potatoes.
Cut the sweet potatoes into small bite-size pieces and place them into a baking dish.
Drizzle the honey and cinnamon over the potato pieces and mix well.
Bake for about an hour (depending on the size of your potatoes) or until they have reached your desired tenderness. Throughout cook-time, every 15 minutes or so, stir the potatoes.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Easy Dinners: Hawaiian Burgers

Because it's been so warm out, I haven't wanted to turn on the oven very much. This also means that most of my meals have been made up of assembling food items rather than really cooking. The grill is a life saver! Needless to say, we decided that burgers would make a great quick dinner. My favorite burger always seems to be a Hawaiian burger. When we're visiting Chuck's friends in Virginia, we always seem to go to a particular restaurant that has a buy-one-get-one burger night. This is where the Hawaiian Burger obsession all started.
So, as simple as the recipe is, I want to share my version with you. I wouldn't quite call this real cooking, more like assembling, but it's a great way to switch up a plain ol' burger.
The recipe starts with none other than a burger. I used 93% lean ground beef, but you can use whatever you like: ground turkey, chicken, black bean, or veggie burgers would all be great! Drizzle some teriyaki sauce into the ground meat and add some salt and pepper. Form patties and place them over the grill. Cook until you reach your desired temperature.
 Add some cheese (Hawaiian burgers usually have provolone) and toss some pineapple rings onto the grill.
Finally, assemble the cheesy burger with the pineapple ring onto a bun and add your favorite BBQ sauce. If you'd rather make your own, here's a great recipe.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is extra special because it's my mom's birthday.
She's always been there for me- to give advice, to listen, and to provide comfort.
She's taught me so many things and she inspires me every day.

She works so hard, gives so much, and expects so little in return.

She's my world and I love her so much.
Happy Birthday to my sweet mamma.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cucumber-Lime Infused Water

I constantly crave something cold in the summer. It never fails. And sometimes, plain ol' boring water just doesn't work for me. I love lemonade and flavored water, but I don't necessarily love the added sugar and calories.
This is where fruit infused water comes in... Just chop up some fresh fruit, place it in the bottom of a pitcher, fill it with filtered water, and let it do it's thing! Herbs add great flavor too.
In my water, I used two limes and a large cucumber (the cucumber came straight from our garden) with a gallon of water. Some great flavor ideas are lemon, lime, and orange slices, strawberry and mint, or pineapple and basil. Get creative; the possibilities really are endless.

Tip: Let the fruit, veggies, or herbs "marinate" in the water for at least an hour before enjoying. The longer you wait, the more flavor. Remember, patience is a virtue even on hot summer days :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

7/22: One Beautiful Thing Monday

Did you guys know that yesterday was National Ice Cream Day?
That, by far, was the most beautiful thing this week...
Because honoring the holiday was the right thing to do, I had to take a break from cleaning to indulge in one of these tasty treats- a Nestle Ice Cream Toll House Cookie Sandwich on a beautiful day; what more could you ask for?

Just kidding! But ice cream is certainly a beautiful thing. One beautiful thing that I physically saw this week was this gorgeous hibiscus growing on our front porch. This bloom is huge and I hope it stays around for at least a few more days. So pretty.
One beautiful thing that I saw on TV and read about is all of the protests for the recent trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. I don't like to get political and all opinionated on this blog, but I believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty and I feel that it all has to do with a much bigger issue: race.
It was truly beautiful to see celebrities like Jay Z and BeyoncĂ© attend the protests. President Obama even came forward, saying “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." He went on to say, “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me." I feel like Trayvon's death was senseless and unnecessary, but if there can be some silver lining in such a horrific tragedy, maybe the racial injustice in our country can be changed.
Did you see something beautiful this week?
If so, share it in the comment box below.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Week Recap

After leaving my main job and anxiously waiting for the final "yes" to a new job opportunity, I've had much more free time than what I usually have in the summer. You would think that I'd be soaking up as much sun as I could, but I've really spent a lot of time indoors. It's been really hot and after an hour or so outside, my body starts to cry (I know, lame). Instead, I've used this week to get caught up on chores (the bathroom is sparkling and I've washed 6 loads of laundry). I've cut the grass, I got in 5 workouts, and I've had the chance to cook something for dinner most nights (which is my favorite thing about not working evenings). It's been a really low-key week, but here's a quick recap...
We started our weekend (Tuesday) off with a trip to our local Farmer's Market. We love all of the baked goodies from Sweater Box Confections, so this was the first table we stopped at. We shared a blueberry muffin and a chocolate chip cookie. Both were insanely delicious. It's a good thing that the Farmer's Market is only once a week.
(Photo borrowed from the Sweater Box Confections Facebook page.)
We drove north to the other side of the bridge and went mattress shopping. My mattress is ancient and my back was starting to hurt. It was time for an upgrade for sure! We stopped at several places and laid on every bed. Though we knew which one we liked best, we wanted to do some online research to see if we could find a better deal... nope! The next day, I called Manteo Furniture and ordered one from this line:

Mexican and Southwestern food is definitely my favorite and I love it when I get the chance to eat at this place. Ortega'z is one of my favorite restaurants in the area.

We both ordered their Mojo Pork Burrito, which is their declicous pork inside of a flour tortilla, filled with beans, cheese, onions, and a red sauce. The burrito was amazing (the rice a bit boring and plain), but I was a tad disappointed when a man at the table behind us ordered the same thing and his came out much differently. It was garnished with lettuce, sour cream, and pico de gallo. I was totally thinking that my burrito looked a little plain Jane...
My dad has been fishing again (he's a part-time commercial fisherman) and he brought us some fresh flounder. One of the best parts about living on and island means that you can have fresh, local seafood whenever you want. It's a real treat to eat flounder for dinner that was caught that very morning.

I grilled some of the founder for dinner - butter, lemon juice, salt/pepper, and fresh rosemary from the garden. It was delicious!
We finished the week with a drive to the sound. We planned on soaking for a while and watching the sunset, but the wind was much stronger than we thought. We decided to take a walk along the shore instead, but a windy walk isn't so much fun either. Oh well, life on an island!
What did you do last week?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cake Mix Pudding Cookies

Happy Saturday, everyone. I'm going to start the day off right by sharing a super easy cookie recipe with you! I typically love my baked goods made from scratch (despite the semi-homemade desserts I've recently shared on here), but for a batter that takes minutes to make and just a few more minutes to cook, this recipe fits the bill. I definitely prefer cookies made from scratch to these cake/pudding mix, but they are still delicious and they really hit the spot!
1 Duncan Hines 16.5oz cake mix (I used classic white, but use whatever you like)
1 small 3.4oz box of instant pudding (I used vanilla, but use whatever you like)
2 extra large eggs
1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°
In a large bowl stir together the cake and pudding mixes. Add the eggs and butter and mix until a dough is formed. This dough is thick, so you might have to put your fingers to work- don't be shy! Add the mini chocolate chips and mix until well incorporated.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased nonstick cookie sheet.
Bake for 7-8 minutes, but do not over-bake. Remove immediately and place on a cooling rack.

And I won't tell anyone if you turn two of these cookies into an ice cream sandwich...


Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Drink: Orange Crush

Almost every restaurant has a drink list with something fruity and many of those said drink lists have something called and Orange Crush. And why not? It just sounds like the perfect summertime drink.
If you like oranges, that is. Can I tell you a secret? The thought of drinking orange juice makes me kind of nauseous. I love orange flavored things (soda, cake, candy, etc.), but the real deal just makes me queasy. I think it's the acid. You might be asking why I'm posting about an Orange Crush... I did this for all of you. I couldn't have you guys miss out on all of the summer cocktail fun, so I made one and I even took a few sips. No bad for something that has yucky orange juice mixed in ;)
Here's what you need to make your own at home:
To make it, use equal parts of orange juice (fresh squeezed is best), triple-sec, and vodka (orange vodka makes it more orangey). FYI: 1 oz. portions are more of a "serving size", because this drink isn't exactly low-calorie. And last but not least, add a splash of lemon-lime soda.

Bottoms up! What's your favorite summertime drink?
I'm just loving anything with ice... it's been warm...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Health[ier] Snack/Meal Ideas

For the most part, I try to choose healthy snacks and meals. However, it's sometimes tough because I tend to get bored with eating the same things over and over again. My goal with this post is to give you a glimpse of some of the things I've been eating lately and to show you that sensible eating doesn't have to be boring.
Wholesome Oatmeal bread with nut butter and banana slices
Oatmeal and blueberries

Romaine with strawberries and sliced almonds

Romaine with edamame, cranberries, and feta

My easy Homemade granola with blueberries and raisins
Egg and cheese omelet with grapes
Nonfat Greek vanilla yogurt with blackberries
What are your favorite go-to healthy snacks and meals?

Monday, July 15, 2013

7/14: One Beautiful Thing Monday

I want to slap myself for not having a photo of this week's One Beautiful Thing. Chuck and I went to the sound yesterday evening after dinner and since we planned to get wet, I didn't want to bring my camera. We waded in the water, swam around, and watched one of the prettiest sunsets that I have ever seen. The sky turned to a gorgeous pink color with orange and purple and fish were jumping all around us. It was simply breathtaking. The water felt great- more warm than cool, the way I like it. It reminded me of how beautiful our little island is and it makes me proud to say that I've lived here.
It's too bad that I left my camera at home last night, but I did take it with me when we went to the sound earlier last week. Here's a few shots from Wednesday...

Did you see something beautiful this week?
If so, share it in the comment box below.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Grill Corn on the Cob

Ok, so maybe you don't need a how-to on grilling corn, but there is a technique involved. Otherwise, you will end up with a fiery mess. I've been wanting to grill corn for quite some time, but was afraid that it would go completely wrong and result in a huge mess. Well, I finally decided to give it a try for the 4th of July and it was honestly the best tasting corn I have ever had. It was so tender, juicy, and sweet. I've had it a few more times since then and I don't think I will ever boil or steam it again.

The first step is selecting a good piece of corn. Choose corn on the cob that has a husk that looks fresh, not dry, and both firm and moist. Look for silk that still has a golden color and is soft. 
Next, lay the corn inside of a large Tupperware container or baking dish and fill it with water. The corn should be completely submerged. If the corn wants to float, place a heavy bowl or plate on top to weigh it down. Let the corn soak for several hours; this will keep the corn from burning.
Once the corn has soaked, turn on the grill to medium-high heat. Place the corn directly onto the grill and cook for about 10 minutes, rotating the corn every few minutes.
Carefully peel back the husks and remove the silk, as the corn will be hot.
Photo: Source
If you're wanting to add more flavor to your corn, Mexican style corn is the way to go. Click here for the recipe from McCormick's website.