Getting ready for warmer days... & a recipe!

My baby Sweet Basil plants
Unlike most other parts of the U.S., the area I live isn't actually seeing the end of winter. The grass is getting green, the trees are budding, and we actually have had a huge bloom of mosquitoes already but chances are, we'll see snow again a few more times between now and June. Crazy huh?

Montana just has one of those dramatic climates that experiences very rapid shifts. Especially here in the central part because we're on the high plains. This area is why our state has the nickname 'Big Sky Country'. When I first came here almost 20 years ago it was actually physically disorienting. Granted I was used to the big city where it took 20 minutes of highway driving to get from one end of it to the other so my perspective was very different. After a couple of decades though it's still fascinating.

Tomato starts from school & mint clippings from last fall
Yesterday our temps hit the 80's which is freakishly warm for April. It felt so good after months of being cold. I almost put on shorts. Almost. Instead I made a very simple summer favorite dinner and turned on the dusty fans we'd not used since September. Soon it will be time to wash curtains and shampoo the rugs. In the meantime it's tending the few plants we've got started and dragging the screens out of the garage to combat the bugs that have somehow managed to gets busy breeding already.

I thought I'd quickly share how to throw together the yummy dinner we had last night since it's FAST, delicious, and pretty healthy. It's one of those summer dinners I look forward to all year even though I actually don't care for chicken.

Grilled Chicken and Strawberry-Spinach Salad

• 1 package pre-washed spinach (I prefer the organic Marketside one from Walmart)

• About 12 large strawberries (more or less, to you preference)

• A vinaigrette dressing such as Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette Dressing (very kid friendly) or Kraft Greek Vinaigrette (spicier)

• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Tastefully Simple Bayou Bourbon Glaze or similar glaze *optional

Grill your chicken breasts, adding the glaze in the last few minutes of cooking or it will char pretty bad. (Personally I loooove charring but my kids and husband don't so my piece is always the last one from the grill). Really you can do any glaze or marinade on the chicken but I find the lighter the better as the salad is where you want your flavor.

This was my REAL dinner plate last night ;)
Put your spinach into a serving bowl. Wash and slice strawberries 'sideways' so they look like hearts or if preferred into eighths for a more slivery shape. Toss the strawberries onto the spinach. Because they weigh more than the spinach leaves I find it best to toss right before serving and then drizzle he dressing over the salad. You can also add finely diced scallions and almond slivers if desired but I'm the only one who can or will eat them so you can also add them on the side for those who might want them. Depending on your tastes or your children (or your dressing choice) you can even add some crumbled feta to the salad.

If you desire you can slice the chicken breasts and lay them on the salad like in a restaurant if unglazed. I prefer mine on the side. The great thing about this dinner is how flexible and to-taste it can be. A lot of people balk at the spinach-strawberry combo but if you like both they're awesome together

You could add another side dish, sometimes I add baked beans or whole wheat rolls but I find a big plate of the salad and chicken is perfect for us. It's very filling and with the fruit and veggies very vitamin-packed. You might even convince your kids that spinach is yummy. ;)

I hope you'll give it a try. It's not quite a recipe but I hope it inspires you to try something new on one of these hot nights in the months to come. As soon as the weather warms I get ravenous for grilled meats and fish paired with green veggies and fruit.

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