Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

  Let me just begin this post by saying that this may in fact be one of THE BEST new recipes I have ever
tried!!  I do love food, and I am semi-experimental with new food combinations, but in all seriousness.... this recipe far exceeded my expectations and was the highlight of my short 15 minute teacher lunch break this past week!!  The magnificent burst of flavor in every single bite and aesthetic appeal of this colorful dish happily drowned out (if only for a moment....) the all too familiar sound of, " and so is putting his green beans in his chocolate milk" and "Can you open my ketchup packet?"  :)

   So, probably like many of you, I have been seeing "quinoa," pronounced KEEN-WAH, (which I so called KIN-OH-UH for like...ever!!) in stores for quite some time. I've heard about it on Dr. Oz, and I even tried some at my sister's church in Atlanta one Sunday when a friend of hers brought it to a church potluck lunch, but for some reason I have been skeptical to try actually making it myself.  I guess maybe because it just looks complicated....almost fancy.  But let me just tell you now...this may have been one of the easiest dishes I have ever whipped up! No, seriously....  I mean, can you boil a pot of water? CHECK!  Can you put the quinoa in the pot?  CHECK! Can you chop up some veggies with a knife? CHECK! Then you can make this amazing Mediterranean inspired dish.

   So, before sharing this recipe, let me just tell you why you may want to run to the store right now and buy all the ingredients to try this mouth-watering dish.  First, quinoa is a several thousand year old food and is often called a grain, though it really is a member of the spinach, beet, and tumbleweed family. It originates in the Andean region of South America and is high in protein, yet gluten free, therefore it is a perfect food for those who have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive. It contains all 9 essential amino acids, and it is also a great source of dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, and calcium! It is truly a super food!

    Okay, you foodies, on to the recipe:

        - 1 cup dry organic quinoa
        - 2 1/2 cups water
        - 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
        - 3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
        - 3/4 cup block feta cheese (always seems to turn out better for me than the already crumbled kind)
        - 1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
        - 1/2 lemon, juiced
        - 1 tsp oregano
        - 1 tsp salt
        - 1/2 tsp black pepper

    Put the water and quinoa into a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Stir the quinoa and set it aside to cool.


    While the quinoa is cooking, slice the grape/cherry tomatoes into quarters.  Slice the olives as well.  Crumble the feta cheese. 

Add the tomatoes, olives, and feta into a medium sized bowl.  Add the quinoa, spices, olive oil,  and lemon juice, and toss until completely blended.  Store in an air tight container in the fridge. 

    And....voila!!! There you have it....Mediterranean quinoa salad.  I took this to school for lunch Monday - Friday of this past week, and I still had enough to sneak a forkful or two when I came home as a little snack before working out.  I tried to get my husband to try it (I even told him I'd pick out the tomatoes), but he was NOT having it! He's a little turned off by a fear of the unknown when it comes to food. But he promised that if I make it again (which I totally will!!), he'd try it.  So I will update later with whether or not this dish is picky husband approved! Haha.  Happy Saturday friends!!!

  - Beth

Saturday, January 11, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

   So, way back in the day when I was in high school, after I would get home from school I would always
watch Oprah.  I know that probably wasn't very highschoolish, but I just liked Oprah for some reason. She always had interesting stuff and interesting people on her show. And one of my favorite shows they would do every year around the holidays was "Oprah's Favorite Things."  It was such a great show, because Oprah would keep this ongoing list of neat products and random stuff that she loved throughout the year, and then on the Favorite Things show, she would give away one of everything to her audience members.  It was just fun!  I thought about it the other day for some reason, and it made me think about what my own favorite things are, so I decided it would be a fun topic to write a blog post on!  Now, you could interpret the word "favorite things" in all manner of ways - things that are beautiful, things that make your life easier, things that have sentimental value, etc.  And I don't feel like separating the different categories, so these are going to be a smorgasbord of all of the above!  Some of these are individual items, some are sets of items, and just FYI, they are not in order of most favorite to least favorite. Here goes....

 1) My Camera - Canon PowerShot Elph 330
       I could have seriously made a 2nd career as the paparazzi.  I take pictures of everything!  But I'm old school...I don't do smartphone pictures.  I mean, I do..... but not as a replacement of a camera. They're just not as good.  I have a good smartphone - Samsung Galaxy 3, which I love (I'm anti everything Apple), but there is just something so much better about a real camera.  They have better zoom, a better lens, tons of different photo taking settings, less blurring, etc.  I keep my camera in my purse at all times. It never leaves my side. And I have been able to take some awesome photos with this little guy. Here are some I've taken this past year...

2) Children's Books
      I know we live in an age of everything digital and e-readers are the norm, but there is just something alluring about a real live book. I love taking a book off the shelf, turning the pages, and even the smell of books.  I'm actually not a huge reader when it comes to adult novels (and by adult novels, I mean any novels written for adult readers, not trashy romance novels...just to clarify. Haha), but I have a true love for children's literature.  While there are some wonderful new children's books that have been written in the last 10-15 years, there is a lot of trash for kids out there too now with sarcastic one-liners with no true lesson to be learned and no real literary value.  I still love the old classics -  Goodnight Moon, The Giving Tree, Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Seuss, and all books by Jan Brett, Patricia Polacco, Cynthia Rylant, etc.  I have such sweet memories of my mom reading to me when I was little, even up to 8, 9, and 10 years old.  Parents don't read to their children nearly enough these days.  I love reading books to my kids at school, and I can't wait to be able to read stories to my own babies one day.
3)  Mary Kay and other awesome health and beauty products!
        I enjoy discovering new products that work well when it comes to health and beauty. I've pretty much tried it all, and I've found that the most expensive products aren't always the best.  While I love the moderately pricey Timewise Mary Kay line as well as Mary Kay's fabulous foundation primer (helps your foundation to go on flawlessly and keeps it matte) and eyeshadow/mascara, I can't stand their foundation.  I have been faithful to Revlon Color Stay foundation since high school, and I still haven't found anything I love more.  It's only $10 per bottle, and there's always coupons!  Same with Cover Girl powder... 

      Call me crazy, but THE BEST makeup remover I've ever found is Dawn Dish detergent....and it's like practically free.  You can get it for 99 cents a bottle or less on sale.  I know any skin care professional would probably shoot me for doing that, but it works great!!  I also have become a lover of natural moisturizers like coconut oil and sweet almond oil. They are amazing!  Sweet almond oil soaks right into your skin and doesn't leave an oily film.  Coconut oil is good for tons of stuff! It's a great moisturizer, a great alternative to cooking oil like vegetable and canola, and it's purely natural. Reading about all the synthetic chemicals that are additives in lotions like parabens, phathalates, etc. in articles like this one and how they are related to cancer, infertility, and birth defects, you'll only want to use natural stuff.  Your skin is your largest organ and you have to take care of it!! :)
      Comparatively speaking, I'm pretty low maintenance with hair care.  I don't have any upkeep with color or highlights. It's just way too expensive, and I'm too busy to have hair appointments every 4-6 weeks. I don't even get my hair cut but like every 5 or 6's just too much to keep up with.  But I do love my Helen of Troy hot rollers. I may look like an old lady when I'm pinned up in curlers, but soft billowing curls and added volume is priceless.  I hot roll my hair almost every day.

4) Pandora Internet Radio
      My husband and I are borderline obsessed with Pandora.  We listen to it every night when we go to bed.  Our alarm clock has a connector where you can plug in your smartphone and the Pandora app will play through the speakers of the alarm clock while charging your phone at the same time.  I have it on pretty much all day in my classroom too (calms my kiddos), and it often plays through our home sound system through the Blue-ray.  There is something so calming and joyful about music playing in the background - it's so much better than having the TV on.
      I feel like most people are familiar with Pandora, but I still meet people who have never heard of it.  So for you newbies, it's pretty much like all your favorite songs being played at the click of a button....for FREE!  Pandora has some pretty fascinating technology, courtesy of the Music Genome Project that allows it to code different songs using an extremely detailed list of attributes.  When you log into Pandora and set up a free account, it asks you which music artists you like.  Once you've typed in an artist, Pandora creates a radio station just for you, playing only music by that artist and other similar artists. If a song comes up that you like, you can give it a "thumbs up," which tells Pandora that you like that song and you want more songs played that are similar to it.  If you give a song a "thumbs down," it will never play that song again and gives Pandora more information about what songs not to play in the future.  So after a while, you have a radio station perfectly tailored to your own personal musical preferences.  I have about 20 different Pandora stations that I have created so far, and each are vastly different.  I love the mellow sound of the Coldplay station, the calming serenity of the more new-age Enya station, the jazzy vintage feel of the Frank Sinatra station, and every now and again when I'm in the mood for some old school gangsta rap, Notorious BIG is good too!  Other favorites: Mumford and Sons, Jim Brickman, Nat King Cole-The Christmas Song, and the list goes on......

5) Frozen Yogurt
     When I was in high school and college, ice cream was the craze.  Between Marble Slab, Cold Stone, and Bruster's, the freshman 15 was not too hard to gain.  But in the last 5 years, frozen yogurt establishments have been popping up EVERYWHERE!  Six or seven years ago the only frozen yogurt place around was TCBY, and now I'm wondering if they are even going to make it with all the other competing business.  But, I pretty much love this new trend, because yogurt is healthy for you!!  I mean, yes, it has sugar...but it has tons of pro-biotics, live and active cultures, and is either fat free or very low in that equals way less guilt!  I have become a connoisseur of all things frozen yogurt, and I like to try out all the new yogurt hot spots.  Thankfully my in-laws are always up for fro-yo after our family dinner dates....yay. :)  So far, here is my list of visited yogurt establishments:   TCBY, Yogen Fruz, Tutti Frutti, Yummilicious, YogHut, YoTopia, Yophoria, Sweet Frog, Blueberry Frog, Menchie's, and there is probably more, I just can't remember them all.  I have to say, I think my two favorites are Menchie's (Lexington, SC) and YoTopia (Augusta, GA).  Menchie's has the best red velvet, cake batter, and vanilla, and I just love YoTopia's dutch chocolate.  Those two brands seem to me to be the most creamy and ice-cream like.  Fro-yo, you're awesome....

6) IKEA Shelves

    Anyone who knows me knows that I pretty much love IKEA.  It is ridiculously awesome in every way....super chic and inexpensive furniture, all the organizational supplies you could ever want (can we say Type A heaven??!), and....... Swedish meatballs.  What more could you ask for? A trip to IKEA is an all day a good way.  It seriously takes you like at least 2-3 hours to navigate through the entire place, which is probably at least 10 million square feet.  Actually, I don't really know how big it is, but I'm pretty sure my whole neighborhood could fit inside the building with room to spare.  It's been a life saver for classroom needs!!  I made the huge mistake of buying super cheap bookshelves for my classroom from Wal-mart and Target my first couple of years teaching, and those lasted a grand total of 9 months before they warped and/or broke.  I should have known then that IKEA was the only way to go.  But since then, I have learned my lesson.  To date, I have purchased 5 sets of IKEA shelving units for my classroom. They are sturdy, inexpensive, and 1st grader proof....nuff said. 

Here is a view of one side of my classroom with some of my IKEA shelves.  I just love them!!

    So there is my 1st list of "favorite things."  I have many more, but they will have to wait for Favorite Things Blog Post Volume 2  The vacuum cleaner and washing machine are calling my name....ugh.  :)  Happy Saturday! 

  What are some of your favorite things??  I'd love to hear about them!

          - Beth

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Beginnings in 2014

Me and hubby on New Year's Eve
Angela, Kelly, and me hanging out while the dudes shot fireworks on New Years.
  There is just something magical about the start of a new year that renews my faith in the goodness of people and gives me hope for the future.  I love how the New Year begins.... with a midnight toast alongside good friends and family and a kiss from your sweetheart (which I got this year for the first time in a while since my hubby is always working New Year's Eve).  It's just hopeful.....and I feel like the New Year brings about that deep down desire that everyone has to be a better person.  People may not know what "better" may be or what they may need to be "better," but I just think that everyone wants that in some way for themselves.  Many people follow the age old tradition of making New Year's resolutions or goals for themselves to better in some area of their life.  A common resolution is to lose weight or get out of debt, etc. I think I just love New Year's, because it's the one time of year everyone tries really hard to be better....not worse, not just okay, not mediocre...they try to be better.  Now, of course, I'd say a good 3/4 of people probably don't keep their resolutions, but I don't think it's really about that anyway.  Life isn't about checking off a to-do list  or tracking weight loss data from week to week. Those things aren't bad, of course....if list making was an Olympic sport, I would be Michael Phelps. (I'm Type A...what can I say?)  And I've been known to keep track of lbs lost too because it can give you a sense of accomplishment. But you can't measure your worth based on whether or not you kept your New Year's resolution.  I truly believe even people who don't keep their resolutions (including myself) learn something along the journey, and that's what counts.  I most definitely haven't kept all the resolutions I've ever made, but I can safely say that every year I learn new things about myself, about my friends and family, and about life..... and then I get wrapped up in the business of life and I forget some of those lessons, and then I end up rediscovering the same truths and life lessons all over again in new ways. 
  I have noticed that some people are very cynical about making New Year's resolutions.  "I'm just going to break them anyway...what's the point in even trying?" I've heard some people say...or "I like myself just the way I am...I don't need to change anything."  Well, while I think it's okay to like who you currently are as a person, I truly hope that when I look back over my life in 10, 20, or 30 years that I will honestly be able to say that I am wiser and more mature in my faith.  I once heard a sermon where the pastor said, "It's true what they say....that God loves you just the way you are.  However, he loves you entirely too much to let you stay that way."  I thought that was very profound.  I  know that God loves me for who I am, and I am so blessed to be able to call Him my Savior and Lord, but if I know anything about Christianity it's that our purpose in life is to strive to be more like Christ and to live out His perfect will for our lives....and that doesn't mean to just keep doing what we're doing. Life would be pretty boring if we didn't grow, change, and acquired wisdom as we got older with each passing year.  Now, I'm trying my very hardest to freeze my face at age 27 (thanks Mary Kay), but I do hope that my mind, my heart, and my soul change a lot over this next year and every year. 
    For the last several years I have just had a fire light under me starting a few days before New Year's, and I get this instinct to just cleanse my entire home of everything unnecessary.  I go through closets, cabinets, clear off shelves, go through every item of clothing I own, re-organize drawers, file stuff, vacuum the collection of crumbs that have accumulated between the couch cushions, throw away the expired ranch dressing from March 2012, etc.  You get the picture.  It's quite the process and usually doesn't come without some disagreements with the hubby over what is and is not "necessary and useful." Haha.  But it has always been worth our time and effort and helps us to start out the new year fresh.  Hubby sometimes gets perturbed with my instinctual New Year's cleansing routine, but he does appreciate the end result.... a clean and happy home. We usually end up donating bags and bags of stuff to Goodwill that we never end up missing, as well.  My general rule of thumb is that if it hasn't been used in the last year or two, toss it.  Things can be perfectly good and even brand new, but if they are not being used, they don't serve a purpose and clutter up your life.  For instance, I have like 10 overnight type bags on the top shelf of our closet. They are all cute, they are all in good shape, and some are even brand new (free gifts with purchases,etc) but who needs 10 bags that all serve the same purpose??  Who has room to store 10 bags?  Not I....  So last year I got rid of 3 or 4.  I didn't miss them.  This year I got rid of a few more, and I'm pretty sure I won't miss those either.  
    Aside from deep cleaning and purging, I do have some resolutions or goals I want to work on this year:

1) Live simply, be content, and stop living in comparison 
     - It is so easy in the world we live in to convince ourselves that we need a lot of "stuff" to be happy, but we really don't.  From every outlet (tv commercials, internet ads, Facebook, that "Jones" family we always want to keep up with) we are being bombarded with the message that we need more. Some things, of course, are actual needs, and others are not.....and learning to decide which is which is the hard part.  But I want to be more purposeful in being thankful for what I have and being content.  It's so easy to compare your life to others now, but if it wasn't for the Facebook, blogs, and other social media these days, we wouldn't even know what "others" have in the first place. 

2) Be Positive
     - I think that I generally am a positive person, and I try to always see good in people, but just like anyone sometimes my circumstances get the best of me.  I tend to be a very logical and methodical thinker, though, and sometimes that doesn't always elicit itself to positivity.  Positive thinking is not always easy, because we are human and sometimes we start getting all Debbie Downer on the situation at hand.  But being negative never did nobody no good.  Haha.  (That just literally physically pained me to use incorrect grammar...just FYI).  Positive people are way easier to be around.

3) Pray every day
     - I think I probably do this more than I think I do because prayer doesn't always have to be head bowed and eyes closed in a quiet room....prayer can be just talking to God in your mind or literally talking out loud to Him in the car as if He's sitting beside you.  Prayer isn't always formal, and that's okay.  But I want to be more purposeful about it.  I need to be better about praying more specifically too....naming individuals and asking God for what they need....  healing or comfort or guidance, etc.  

4) Cook at least 3 meals per week
    - During the school year I totally stink at this.  I'm so hit or miss...  I'll do well for a week or two and then things will get busy and we'll end up doing Mexican, or cereal, or meeting friends/family for dinner for a week straight so we don't have to cook.  I love meeting people for dinner, but it gets expensive and I feel like it should be more of a treat, not an every week thing. But in order to cook well, you have to plan well, and that means getting my meals planned and grocery shopping done.  Before I was married, meal planning and grocery shopping seemed like no big deal, but it is a lot of work. I thought Pinterest would help me keep my recipes organized, but all it does is distract me and pull me into an endless abyss of craft and home decor ideas from people with perfectly airbrushed and edited blog photos which brings me back to Resolution's a vicious cycle.  Darn you, Pinterest.

   I think I'll stop while I'm ahead.  I actually have a few more, but I don't want to overwhelm myself.  As usual, this blog post is getting super long.  Brevity is not my strength if you haven't noticed already.  I can't help it....I'm detail oriented.  Maybe I should make that my New Year's resolution for next year...shorter blog posts. 
    Well, Happy New Year folks!!  May you keep.... or at least learn...from all your resolutions!!!!