Saturday, August 20, 2011

If you liked the Hunger Games...

... I think you would enjoy Matched By Ally Condie. I just finished this book and I loved it! Like the Hunger Games trilogy, it is young adult dystopian literature and has a strong female lead. It is set in undetermined time in the future, when every aspect of life is now controlled by the Society. The Society determines what you eat, what you wear, what job you will have, and, the focus of this book, who you will marry, all with the goal of maximum efficiency. Soon after your 18th birthday, you attend your Match banquet, where you learn who you will marry after your 21st birthday. When Cassia Reyes is matched with her friend Xander, at first she is thrilled. But then her mysterious friend Ky causes her to wonder what it would be like to make her own decisions. This was a great read. I can't wait for the sequel to come out in November.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Pregnancy: 10 Weeks

Wow, it has been a long time since I've updated my blog! But after having a few people ask me about it, I thought I really should get back to blogging again. As you probably already know, we've had some life-changing news in our family since the last time I blogged. Our family will become 3 this March! We are thrilled about being parents. We've been married for 6 years now, and we've been through a lot as a couple. We've lived in 3 different states. I've had several jobs. We both got our masters degrees and Andrew is nearly done with his Ph.D. Andrew joined the Air Force. We became an aunt and uncle. And on and on. We have enjoyed being just the two of us so much. But we can't wait to add a little one to the mix and start the next chapter.

Right now I am 10 weeks along! That means our baby is about an inch and a half long (or the size of a prune). An amazing fact about our baby this week is that its elbows are already working!

I am feeling the pains of having a "barnacle" growing inside me (the baby's newest nickname). Morning sickness hit with a vengeance at week 6 and hasn't let up since. I feel like I am sleeping all the time! I included a picture here of me this week. Now, I am the first to admit that I wasn't a skinny girl to begin with! So this picture doesn't have much "baby bump" to it, just my normal chubbiness. But I know that I will like to look back eventually and see how my belly changed over time.

So I'm back to blogging. I promise to blog about more than just my pregnancy! Although the recipes may be on hold until the second trimester...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Books 23-26 of 2011

I'm a little bit behind on blogging about the books I've read recently. Life has been slightly hectic. But I have been doing some great reading. I've really been on a roll lately of reading books that are so good I can't seem to put them down! Here are the latest.

Book #23 was Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes, the amazing author/illustrator of one of my favorite children's books, Kitten's First Full Moon. I liked Little White Rabbit a lot as well. It is a sweet story about a rabbit using his imagination as he looks at his surroundings. The illustrations are great too. 5 stars

Book #24 was If You're Hoppy written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. A fun and silly book about animals with cartoon-y illustrations? Right up my alley! I loved it so much I came home with my own copy of it. 5 stars

Book #25 was The Heights by Peter Hedges. I really enjoyed this book about a young family living in Brooklyn Heights. It was an impulse read, I found it while wondering around the library without any particular purpose. While the blurb on the book flap hinted at a mystery that didn't actually exist in the book, I still thought it was engaging and the format of short chapters with alternating points of view made it a quick read. 4 stars

Book #26 was The Help. Like probably everyone else on the planet (or at least in the Southern United States) I have been hearing raves about this book for a couple of years now. I've been wanting to read it, but just hadn't gotten around to it yet. My husband was actually assigned this book to read for one of his classes, so I thought I'd try to read it as well while we had it checked out from the library. It was fantastic! Well worth all the praise. I could not put this book down. It's 451 pages and I read it in 3 days. It's thought-provoking and eye-opening, especially for someone of my generation and up-bringing. It made me mad and sad and happy and... it's just great. Go read it. 5 stars

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Really Big News!

This is a very big day in the Presnell household. Andrew was just sworn in as a First Lieutenant in the United States Air Force! He will be participating in the Air Force Health Professionals scholarship program. They will pay for the rest of his schooling (2 1/2 years including his internship) and then he will serve as a psychologist for the Air Force for 3 years with the opportunity to re-enlist at that point if we decide that's what is best for us. It has been a big decision and we have mostly kept it quiet, because it was a competitive scholarship and we wanted to wait until it was official. I am so very proud of him. It is an opportunity to help our soldiers in a way that is very needed. And a way for us to get some great experiences and opportunities. So that's about all we know for now. I'll share any more details when I have them!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book #22 of 2011

Book #22 was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. I loved this book! And I was really excited to find out it was the first in a series of 7 books. The heroine of this book is Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old aspiring chemist living in a picturesque English village in the 1950s. When a dead body turns up in the garden of her family's estate, it turns out that Flavia is pretty good at solving mysteries, too. Reading this book was just fun. I highly recommend it to pretty much anyone. 5 stars

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cadbury Creme Deviled Eggs

Usually, I hate deviled eggs. Just thinking about them now kind of makes me want to gag. But THESE are some deviled eggs I could get behind. Although I'm pretty sure I could only eat about half of one of these sugary concoctions, made from Cadbury Creme Eggs and buttercream frosting. If you want to make them, check out the info over at Serious Eats.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ferris Bueller Board Game

I love this Ferris Bueller board game! So fun, colorful and creative. I have seen this movie probably 100 times (at least). I'll stop every time I see it on tv. "You're Abe Froman? The sausage king of Chicago?" Click on the picture to see a larger image. From Max Dalton.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Books # 20 & 21 of 2011

Well, I'm now a fifth of the way through my goal for 2011! Book #20 was The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. I thought the movie looked pretty good, and I always like to read the book before seeing a movie if possible. I thought the book was pretty good, although there was a little too much lawyer-speak for me. I was hoping there would be a little more action and less focus on the courtroom proceedings. 3 stars

Book # 21 was The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Ranch Wife by Ree Drummond. Ree is one of my very favorite bloggers. Her website,, is full of great photography, recipes, and other fun and pretty things. However, this cookbook was just ok. I didn't feel like it offered much past what is available on her website. In fact, I think there are some much better recipes on her website! 3 stars

Monday, March 7, 2011

Books #18 & #19 of 2011

Book # 18 was Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Mirjam Pressler. This is a young adult book translated from German. To me, the subject matter, about a teenage girl who learns about her grandfather's involvement with the Nazi party, had more potential than the writer was able to live up to. While I'm sure it's possible that the writing could have suffered in the translation, the novel was disjointed and at times confusing, going back and forth between the main character's inner dialog and actual advancement of the plot. However, this book does offer an interesting perspective of how the German people are dealing with the sins of their fathers (and grandfathers). 3 stars

Book #19 is Runaways Deluxe Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn. This is maybe the best graphic novel I've ever read, or at least my favorite. A group of teenagers learn that their parents are super-villians and set about an attempt to thwart them. Published by Marvel, Vaughn sprinkles in some fun references, including Captain America coming in to "save the day" but really not doing anything of the sort. I can't wait to read the follow-ups to this first volume. 5 stars

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thought for Today

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Apple Butter Banana Bread

I love this banana bread recipe from Better Homes and Gardens. The apple butter adds an extra little something that makes it taste better than regular old banana bread!


  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (2 small)
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1/4 cup canola or cooking oil


1. Grease and flour the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl combine eggs, sugar, banana, apple butter, and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared pan.

3. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing. Makes: 1 loaf (16 servings)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Mamaw

Today my Mamaw would have been celebrating her 78th birthday. I think about her and miss her every single day. Of course there's the old cliche that you don't know what you've got until it's gone, but in that case I don't think it's true. I knew what I had, and I loved my Mamaw like crazy. Of course, there were times when she drove me crazy, too. All good relationships are like that. But what I didn't realize until she was gone was just how much she had influenced my life and the person I have become. I wish that I could tell her thank you for that. Mamaw passed away when I was 21. Andrew and I had just gotten engaged a couple of weeks before. She didn't get to be there for my wedding, and she'll never get to meet my kids. But I'll have so many stories to tell them about her. And it's because of her that I'm the person I am. Every once and a while little things will dawn on me, and I'll see her influence in my life. As you can tell from reading my blog, two of my favorite things are cooking and reading. Mamaw was such an amazing cook and always encouraged me to help her in the kitchen. We would spend weekends together picking out recipes and cooking away. My earliest memory of reading are of the cassette tapes Mamaw used to record of her reading me stories so I could listen to them when she wasn't there. I'd give anything in the world to have just one of those now.

For my cousins and I, Mamaw was a constant in our lives. She was there for us at times when our parents couldn't be. For me, she was there through my parents' divorce. I was only 2 years old when my parents divorced, but I know it would have been a much more difficult time in my life without Mamaw there to shield me from it. Mamaw lived through some difficult times in her own life, but I remember the big smile she would have on her face any time she was around her family. Thinking about her tonight, I have a smile like that now.

Adele - Rolling In The Deep (Live on Letterman)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Books #13-17 of 2011

In addition to trying to read 100 books in 2011, I also hope to eventually read all of the Caldecott medal and honor winners. The Caldecott Medal is given every year to the most distinguished American picture book of the year, based solely on the illustrations. Lucky for me, the education library on campus has an awesome selection of school media materials (including children's and young adult books) and even has all the Caldecott winners separated into their own section. So the other day on my lunch break I went and sat down with a few of them.

Arrow to the Sun, illustrated by Gerald McDermott is based on a Pueblo Indian tale and was the winner of the medal in 1975. It is about a young boy who came into being when an arrow was sent to earth from the sun. When he gets older, he returns to the sun in search of his father. The illustrations are created out of geometric shapes in bright colors and are really beautiful. 4 stars

Prayer for a Child was written by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones and won the Caldecott medal in 1945. It is an illustrated bedtime prayer, with sweet traditional illustrations. For me the best part of this book was seeing an example of an early children's book and thinking about the all the children who have read it over the years. 4 stars

The big surprise out of this group was the winner of the 1978 medal, Noah's Ark, illustrated by Peter Spier. At first glance it's simply the story of Noah's Ark told entirely in illustrations. But once I started to really look at the illustrations, I fell in love. The illustrations are extremely detailed and funny and just generally gave me the warm fuzzies. I feel like you could find something new in the illustrations every time you read the book. I especially liked the scenes showing how Noah took care of all the different animals. I never thought too much about it before, but that would be a big job! 5 stars

The very first Caldecott medal was awarded in 1938 to Animals of the Bible, illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop accompanied by text from the New King James Version of the Bible. Not exactly the text we would give a book geared towards children today! It was definitely interesting to see the first medal winner, and the black and white illustrations were beautiful, but this wasn't my favorite book ever. 2 stars

Finally, I read the 1997 medal winner, Golem by David Wisnieski. It is kind of a Jewish folk tale set during the persecution of Jews in 15th century Prague. This is one of those Caldecott winners that is not really appropriate for young children, as many of the themes and images could be frightening. The story was interesting, but it was obvious to me that the illustrations, made out of layers of cut paper, were the real star here. 3 stars

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book #12 of 2011

Book #12 was The River Wife by Jonis Agee. It's a novel about several generations of one family, all connected by the family patriarch, Jacques, and all living in the same house over the years. Jacques was a river pirate along the Mississippi, and the book features the stories of his first wife Annie Lark, a freed slave named Omah who assisted him with his pirating, his second wife Laura, his daughter Maddie, and his grandson's wife Hedie, who finds the books containing the stories of all these women years after the fact. I don't really have anything exciting to say about this book one way or another. It was one of those books that was just kind of there. It wasn't great, it wasn't awful. None of the characters were particularly likable, and at times the writing was rough. I wouldn't particularly recommend it. 3 stars

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cheese Grits

Tonight I'm cooking cheese grits and this one of my favorite recipes, not only because it's so yummy but because it's also super easy. Cheese grits are a great side for pretty much anything if you ask me. Sometimes we have them with shrimp and sometimes with chicken sausage and diced tomatoes, which doesn't sound all that special but is actually really delicious. Tonight we're having them with jerk pork chops (grilled by Andrew the grill-master).

Here's the recipe. It's from the February 2008 issue of Southern Living. I didn't take many pictures because it's so easy and quick there's hardly any steps to take pictures of!

1 (14 oz.) can chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking or instant grits (I use instant)
3/4 cup Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Hot sauce

Bring first 3 ingredients and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat (Note: Once it starts boiling, the milk will cause it to boil over fast, so watch out); gradually whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened (the time this will take will differ depending on what kind of grits you are using, the instant ones usually take less than 5 minutes). Stir in cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Season with hot sauce.

See? So easy. You can see from my picture that I use fat-free and reduced-fat milk and cheeses and they taste just as good I promise. So that's a good way to cut a few calories. Hope you like 'em!

Cameo Candies

These cameo chocolates make me smile! I kind of want to buy the molds and make some myself and then throw an old-fashioned tea party. Actually, I think they give me the warm-fuzzies because they remind me of my grandmother. I can remember her wearing a cameo necklace (it was pink, on a long gold chain) and I also remember her making mints similar to these for receptions and parties at church. I found these in this month's Country Living.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day to My Love

Generally, I'm not one for big proclamations of love. I love my husband A LOT and I think anyone who knows me knows that. And he absolutely knows that because I tell him everyday. But since it's Valentine's Day and he bugged me last night because I haven't written a new blog post in a week, here's a post especially for my husband Andrew, the love of my life.

Remember when we first started dating and we wanted to be together every second of every day? I still feel that way. You're the funniest, sweetest, most entertaining person I know.

Remember when we got married on went on our amazing honeymoon that was so much fun we still talk about it all the time even though it was almost 6 years ago? I can't wait for all the other trips to new places and new adventures that await us in our lifetime. I love that you dream big and want us to see the world together.

Remember when we moved North Carolina and didn't know another soul except each other? We learned so much about ourselves and grew closer as husband and wife. We learned to appreciate nature and small-town life and discovered the values we want for our family. I'm incredibly grateful to share my life with someone with principles and convictions.

You know how I always cry over little things like when a Disney World commercial comes on TV and I think about how much fun it will be to take our kids there one day? Thanks for not laughing at me but always just kissing me on the forehead and calling me your tender-hearted girl. And thank you for being so careful with my tender heart.

Remember how I used to hate baseball because I thought it was super-boring but now I love it and want to watch it every night, all summer long? Thanks for encouraging me to keep an open mind and try new things.

You know how you can always make me smile when I'm sad? I love that.

And you know how you tell me I'm beautiful when I'm wearing a ball cap and no make up? That's pretty much the best thing ever.

So, basically, what I'm saying is, you're awesome. I look forward to many many more years together until we are old and dress like this un-ironically and embarrass our children.

And I want to kiss you like this every day and embarrass our children some more. And keep kissing like this every day until we move past the years where it embarrasses our children and we become the adorable elderly couple that still kisses each other like this and have for the last 60 years.

Happy Valentine's Day Drew. I love you lots.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Secret Sisters

I just discovered this group this weekend. They are sisters from Muscle Shoals and I LOVE their voices and musical style! And how could I not like a song called "Tennessee Me"?

I thought that was great, and then I found them covering my favorite Patsy Cline song, "Walkin' After Midnight" which was also really good! It made me smile on this rainy Monday. I can't embed it, but here's the link. You should watch it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Books #10 and #11 of 2011

Well, I haven't been doing much cooking or much of anything else interesting this week (besides being on the hunt for some of these cupcakes) but I did take a trip to the library and have been doing some reading!

Book #10 was Maus by Art Spiegelman. Wow. Amazing book. It's a graphic novel telling the story of the author's father, who lived as a Jewish man in Poland during World War 2 and spent time in Auschwitz. The characters are portrayed as animals rather than people, with each ethnicity and/or nationality as a different animal. For instance, Jews are mice and Germans or other non-Jews are for the most part portrayed as pigs. The book flashes back an forth between the 1970s, when Spiegelman is recording his father's story, and the father's story itself. The book shows the way the father's experiences would impact the way he lived the rest of his life. This book was eye-opening and doesn't hold back. Parts were difficult to read but I feel it's important to be educated about these events. I highly recommend this book, which is the recipient of a well-deserved Pulitzer prize. Being a graphic novel, it is a fairly quick read. I wasn't able to put it down and read it in 2 days. 5 stars

I was slightly less thrilled with book #11, Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez. This was a book I had marked as wanting to read from the Young Adult Literature class I took 2 years ago. It's about Anita, a 12-year-old who lives in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Her parents are involved in a plot to kill the dictator and liberate the country. The book was fairly interesting, but personally, I don't care much for books written towards the tween set. The writing was simplistic for my taste, but it was a good story about a topic that doesn't get a lot of attention. 3 stars

Monday, January 24, 2011

Books #7-9 of 2011

More kids' books! I had a couple of coupons this weekend for Barnes and Noble to buy one kid's book and get one half off so I had a lot of fun reading kids' books to decide which ones to buy. In case you are wondering, I ended up bringing home Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type, Harry the Dirty Dog, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and (book #9) I Must Have Bobo!

Book #7 was Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown. I loved the bright illustrations in this book about a bear cub that finds a stray human child and wants to make him her pet. 4 stars

Book #8 was Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates. Andrew actually picked up this book in Barnes and Noble because of the cute cover illustration. Dog loves books so much that he decides to open his own bookstore, because even more than he loves books, he loves sharing them. 4 stars

I liked book #9 so much I bought it! It was I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal. This is a brand new book that according to Amazon doesn't actually even come out until tomorrow. I loved it! The little boy in the book is very attached to his toy monkey (I can relate to this... I still sleep with my teddy bear I've had since I was two!) But someone else also loves Bobo... the boy's cat, Earl! When Bobo goes missing, who do you think has him? 5 stars

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

This weekend my sister and her boyfriend came to eat with us. To me that meant time to try a new dessert recipe! I feel better about making whole desserts when other people come over because maybe that means Andrew and I won't eat the whole thing ourselves! I actually chose this recipe because we were in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago when I found my husband in the bakery looking longingly at this very kind of cake. I had been going through a big pile of old magazines and tearing out recipes I wanted to try and found this one in an old Southern Living. I have linked to the recipe and and copied it here. Also, enjoy the pretty picture from Southern Living, I didn't take any of my own this time. (Which is good actually, the cake turned out kind of ugly but tasted just great.) Seriously, the cake tastes like a giant chocolate chip cookie. Amazing. Anyway, the recipe...

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Prep Time:
25 minutes
2 hours
Makes 12 servings


  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (12-oz.) package semisweet chocolate mini-morsels
  • Garnishes: whipped cream, cherries


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork. Sprinkle in a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Beat in chocolate mini-morsels. (Mixture will be thick.) Spoon batter into prepared pan.

4. Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Books #3-6 of 2011

Six books down, only 94 to go on my quest to read 100 books this year! Right now I am stuck on Love in the Time of Cholera, but that's another story. Here's what I thought about the last 4 books I read.

The third book of the year was Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. This was an incredible book. It starts with the story of Sarah, a 10 year old Jewish girl living in France in 1942, beginning with the night that Jews are rounded up in Paris and sent to holding camps outside the city. It switches point-of-view and time periods back and forth between Sarah and a woman named Julia, who, 60 years later, is finding her life intertwining with Sarah's story. I highly reccommend this book, especially to those, like me, with an interest in World War II history. 5 stars

I knew when I took this 100-book challenge, the only way I would be able to complete it would be to include children's books. But that's ok because there are lots of children's books I want to read. I took 2 children's literature classes in library school and now I love kid's books even more than I did before!

For book #4 I read Snow by Uri Shulevitz. It won the Charlotte Zolotow Award in 1999 and was a Caldecott Honor book that same year. I loved this book. It's a book of few words, but the pictures were gorgeous. The little boy in the book is very excited about the possibility of snow, but adults try to tell him it isn't going to snow or that it's going to melt as soon as it hits the ground... but they are wrong! It snows and snows and the little boy has lots of fun playing in it. 5 stars

Book #5 was City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. Mo is one of my favorite new children's book authors, and I love his quirky, funny style. This book isn't his usual fare, and personally, I didn't like it as much. The watercolor illustrations are great, but the story just didn't do it for me. 3 stars

Book #6 was Pinkalicious by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann. I'd been hearing about the book for a while, but hadn't gotten around to reading it. It was a cute story about a little girl who eats too many cupcakes and turns pink! What a great problem to have... 4 stars

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shrimp and Orzo Salad

I was feeling creative the other night and made up this recipe for a Shrimp and Orzo Salad. For some reason, all these things just sounded really yummy to me. And actually, it turned out pretty good. I sort of cobbled together this orzo salad recipe from Simply Recipes, this balsamic mushrooms recipe from Martha Stewart, and this orzo recipe from Rachael Ray.

Here's what you need:

1 Cucumber
1/2 a bag of Baby Spinach
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
8 oz. Sliced Mushrooms
3 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
2 cans (3 1/2 cups) Chicken Stock
2 cups orzo
1 lb of Shrimp
Juice of 1 Lemon, divided
3 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
Pinch of Dried Basil
Pinch of Dried Oregano
Feta cheese (as much as you like)
Salt and Pepper

Wow, that's a lot of ingredients! Don't worry, it's not that hard to put together.

1.Peel the cucumber and cut it into cubes.

2. Tear the stems off the spinach leaves. (Or don't, if they don't bother you. I don't like the tough stems personally.)

3. Make the balsamic mushrooms: Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook them until they're brown, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the 3 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. of salt, and some pepper. Cook another minute, then take the mushrooms off the heat and spread them out to cool.

5. Next, start cooking the orzo. Put the chicken broth in a pot and bring it to a boil. Once it's boiling, stir in the orzo. Return the broth to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender. (Side note: You could cook the orzo with water -- the directions are on the box -- but cooking it with chicken stock adds LOTS of flavor.) When the orzo is finished cooking, try to cool it down a little by spreading it out on a platter or cookie sheet and/or placing it in the fridge. It will be really hot and this is supposed to be a cold salad.

6. Next go ahead and make the dressing: Place in a bowl the 3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil, 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp. of red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. of Dijon mustard, a pinch of dried basil, and a pinch of oregano (or any other herbs you'd like to throw in).

Whisk it until it looks like this.

7. Now cook the shrimp. If they have shells or tails, remove them. Place a little oil in a pan over medium high heat. Season the shrimp with some salt and pepper and the remaining lemon juice.

8. Cook the shrimp until they are pink and yummy-looking. Then take them off the heat and let them cool a bit.

9. Cut the feta cheese into cubes (or crumble it if you prefer).

10. Mix it all together! Toss the cucumbers, spinach, mushrooms, shrimp, orzo, feta, and dressing in a BIG bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste. If you can wait, put the salad in the fridge to chill for a while. If you can't wait, have some right away (but it's better cold)! The recipe makes plenty for leftovers -- we ate on it for a couple of days!