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Strawberry Basil Chicken Salad & the Best Method for Cooking Chicken Breasts

Every summer my Mom would make a big bowl of her chicken salad to keep in the fridge. It was the perfect lunch for busy little kids swimming out by the pool all day. She made this traditional summer dish with chicken breasts, celery, red grapes cut in half and rotini pasta. As we got older it became the perfect lunch to keep in the fridge for busy teenagers and summer schedules of sports, days at the beach and sleepovers. I pretty much grew up with the stuff!

As I got older I started parting ways with the white pasta but man did I love those chilled grapes!

Now I’m meal planning for my own family during a Southern California summer and it seems only right that I make chicken salad for our lunches! Every time this summer that I’ve set out to make the classic grape chicken salad, I always end up getting creative, using different fruits and veggies and veering away from the traditional recipe. Last time it was fresh cherries and corn this time it’s strawberry and basil! One of these days I’ll have to go back to my roots!

For this recipe I tried using a different method for cooking my chicken breast and it’s now my new favorite! Sometimes I’ll boil the chicken breasts, especially if I didn’t plan ahead and defrost them but that usually means missing out on flavor. Most of the time I’ll sauté them but I almost always wind up over cooking the chicken and it ends up dry and chewy. Gross.

This time I slow cooked the chicken at a low temperature and it ended up being the juiciest boneless, skinless chicken breast that I’ve ever had! It was so easy – you just flip it once and walk away!

BEST WAY TO COOK CHICKEN:

  • Season your chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with a good dusting of flour while your sauté pan, coated with a little oil, heats up on medium-high.
  • When the pan is hot, throw down your chicken, let it sit for only one minute and then flip.
  • After another minute you immediately turn the heat down to low, throw a cover on your pan and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • No peeking! After your 10-minute timer goes off you remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 10 more minutes.
  • NOW you can remove the lid – your chicken is perfectly done!

Sure, it takes longer but the good news is that this method frees you up to do all sorts of other kitchen prep like chopping veggies, unloading the dishwasher, setting the table, whatever you need to do. I thought for sure that I would under cook the chicken and I’d need to put it back on the burner for a couple more minutes but I was surprised to cut into this juicy, flavorful, “pink-less” chicken breast for my salad!


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The strawberries are delicious this time of year in California so I chopped up a few of those, quartered some persian cucumbers and thinly chopped some fresh basil off of the new plant that Eric’s Mom surprised me with last week!


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I also added a handful of chopped arugula to balance the sweetness of the strawberries and basil with a little fresh spice.

 
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Next, I threw in the juice of half a lemon, sea salt, black pepper, a little celery seed (optional) and a little all-natural mayo.

 
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Chicken salad is at it’s best when it’s cold so I like to let it sit in the freezer for a little bit while I clean up and toast my bread.

I love this flavorful and colorful spin-off of the traditional chicken salad recipe! It’s a convenient way to keep some healthy protein options on-hand for a quick lunch!

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Baby Prep: Newborn Hats & Mittens

Several years ago, when I moved to Minnesota, I found a keyboard and that took me on a journey of learning piano chords, songwriting and leading worship.
When I moved to California I found a sewing machine!

With the baby on the way and everything changing, I’m trying to be a good steward of the time that I have. I’m getting the opportunity to do things that I only dreamed of during my busy Starbucks life. I finally have the time & schedule availability to join a small group, to meet with other women in the church, to meal plan on a budget (first time I’ve ever had to do that!), to exercise at the start of my day, to support my husband by taking care of all the different odds & ends, work on video & photo projects and…to craft! 

I’ve had so many little ideas here and there throughout the years (and a growing “DIY” Pinterest board) but I didn’t have the time or energy to actually do it myself. Now it feels like I’m “living the dream” as I wait for our baby, work on different projects and adjust to this new life.

I’m not a fan of baby things. When my Mom was asking me about what kind of fabrics I wanted her to use for the baby quilt she’s making, my only rule was “no baby blue”. I’ve never really liked the baby prints or the powder blue (or pink!) color that’s used for blankets, outfits, fabrics…it’s everywhere! When we were registering just last week I was kind of wincing at every other thing my husband pointed out for that reason. Finally he said, “you know we’re having a baby right?”.

So I’m very aware of how ridiculous it might seem that I’m so picky but it’s really just a preference issue that I need to get over since this baby has a whole gang of family members that will be dressing him up and handing down clothes. BUT if you can save money by making your own designs that are more along the style that you prefer, then go for it!

 


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These little hats and mittens were made out of old knit shirts that I had. I figured since I wouldn’t be wearing an XS for the next several months I might as well save the money on buying fabric and put it to good use! I made up my own pattern for both of these after spending lots of time researching different construction methods on Pinterest and combining all that I learned.

Some of the best tutorials I found were here and here. Just find what method works for you, what size you need and then make your own pattern from there. I drew all of my pieces out on wax paper and saved them with my fabrics for future hats. These are so easy (& inexpensive) to make and perfect for little shower gifts for all the little newborns on their way!

 

The Time I Ruined a Surprise Engagement: Elizabeth & David Actually Got Married

Two weeks ago I spent some time in the good ol’ southern country of North Carolina with old friends, making new friends & celebrating love. Elizabeth was the last of us girls to get married. All three of us had been in Redding, CA for Amy & Paul, LA area for my wedding & now it was time to venture to the heart of the south where she would tie the knot with the love of her life.

This was a pretty miraculous occasion seeing as I (almost) ruined their surprise engagement during my wedding weekend back in October.

For the longest time Amy lived in California, I lived in Minneapolis & Liz lived in North Carolina. The easiest way for all of us to keep in touch consistently was to have an ongoing “group text” where we updated each other on daily life happenings. I still remember the day when we discovered “the power of group message”! I was sitting on the kitchen floor of my little home in Minnesota, drinking one of my favorite Midwest brews (R.I.P…) and laughing as my phone was just shy of literally blowing up from the speed and frequency of incoming text messages. Us three hadn’t been this accessible since we all lived in the same town! Oh wait…that never happened, actually.

Liz moved into the country’s best kept secret of a home town, Marquette, MI, just as I was moving out. She became a part of Amy’s family during her time up at Northern Michigan University and developed a kindred-spirit type friendship with my childhood best friend (Amy). When I would come back to town to visit we’d  spend time with Liz. Meeting her for the first time felt like a reunion with a friend that I had known for most of my life. We hit it off and spent that summer night coloring cement stairs to her house with sidewalk chalk & encouraging words and laughing (obnoxiously) loudly as we laid on the beach and watched for shooting stars.

Fast forward to my wedding weekend. Amy & Paul were coming in town for our backyard DIY (God bless Ruby) wedding. Liz & her boyfriend (who we all knew she would end up marrying) David wanted to come but he had other plans which left Liz flying solo out to LA. A couple weeks before the wedding David called and asked if he could fly in to surprise Liz and propose to her a few days before we tied the knot. I was ecstatic! What an honor to have one of my sweetest friends get engaged to the love of her life in the same place where I would marry mine! It was going to be a weekend of LOVE!

We continued on preparing for the weekend with a little spring in our step, just knowing what was around the corner. Amy & I went to great lengths  to “sheep dog” Liz to make sure she was in the right place at the right time. We had our own set of text messages that contained our virtual girly-giggles of excitement (this would sound so dumb to someone from my Grandpa’s generation) & where we coordinated the secret operation from a distance.

So the day before Liz is supposed to be arriving in town I’m running around the back yard talking with friends and family, working on crafts, introducing people, the whole nine yards of pre-wedding craziness. I quickly check my phone and reply to Amy in what I THOUGHT was our private text conversation with “Yes and David will be here at 4 to propose”.

I went about the rest of our wedding to-do list blissfully unaware for the next…two minutes until everything just stopped. It was like in those Visa commercials where everything is going swimmingly until someone whips out a checkbook and screws up the rhythm of life.
That was me. Screwing up the rhythm of life. I had just blown David’s brilliant, elaborate engagement plan by carelessly replying in the wrong set of text messages.

My life was over.

A few swear words and a moment of shock later, I was unraveling with inconsolable sobs over our wedding crafts as everyone just froze not knowing how to fix this situation. Our friend Ruby was coming up with strategic options (maybe David could change his flight and surprise Liz on the plane?) and my almost-husband called David to break the news while I tore my sackcloth and rolled in ashes.

BY THE GRACE OF GOD, David was forgiving, understanding and worked with us to create a Plan B, Operation: Recover the Element of Surprise.

I think only a few minutes had gone by at this point so I was able to do the lame “Ha! Just kidding!” move and hope that Liz was blonde enough to fall for it. That sort of didn’t work…sort of did.

The next day we pick Liz up from the airport take her to Venice beach, listen to her talk about the ring that she wanted and how she hoped David would propose soon and wait on pins and needles hoping and praying that she doesn’t suspect a thing.

During all of this David is already in town, standing by, ready to walk into the backyard as I’m touring Liz around the “reception area”. He walks in, she starts crying, they share a beautiful moment, she says yes and thankfully my group texting nightmare becomes a thing of the past that we just laugh at.
Thankfully…

So there was this time where my life was over and David & Liz almost didn’t get married and our friendship was ruined forever but then here I stood, on this beautiful property in North Carolina, watching a miracle unfold; keeping my friends & seeing them finally tie the knot.

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This is Amy & Paul at the wedding rehearsal. We’ve been friends for 13 years and in that time I’ve managed to never unknowingly sabotage her marriage.

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I’ve been trying out some new filters for post-processing my photos with a more filmic element. I’m glad I shot around a little bit during the rehearsal because once the day of the wedding came I didn’t have time to dig out my camera.

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A sweet burlap banner I made for the flower girl to carry up and down the aisle. The front says “Uncle Dave, here comes your girl…”

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This is my new friend, Brian. He was the photographer for Liz & David’s big day and did an absolutely incredible job! You can see the first post from their wedding here.

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We spent the day after the wedding hanging out by the pool, getting sunburned and enjoying THE BEST BBQ I’ve ever had in my life! I grew up in Memphis so that should be saying a lot! This family-friend of the bride provided lunch for everyone, complete with his own homemade BBQ sauce and sweet mustard canned in Mason jars. Mmm…and I’m not even a meat person!

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It’s so fun to look back on the wedding and see how a lot of what Liz imagined for decorations and color schemes actually came to life! It looks just like the photos from Pinterest that we’d send back and forth during our months of planning.


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YAY! WE’RE MARRIED!