Remember when I said I didn’t want to take myself too seriously this time around? Well, I didn’t go into details then but truth be told, I have been a perfectionist my entire life. Seriously, everything I have ever done since Kindergarten had to be top notch, award-worthy, best in class – actually... screw best in class, I always wanted to be in a class of my own!
I probably drove my parents crazy growing up, always pushing myself to be beyond excellent in my endeavors. One time my parents even offered me a cash prize if I got a B… I considered that proof that they wanted me to take it down a notch. Were they crazy though?! As if I would take money over straight A’s. Yeah… I was a strange kid.
Perhaps though, now you can see why one of my goals in pressing restart was to not take myself so seriously. So, despite having taken 2 months off just weeks ago, I decided to not take any work with me on our family vacation to Hawaii and to write about it afterwards. More power to me!! Booyah!!
Awe Hawaii… I could daydream of these islands all day, every day. On this particular trip we hit up the big island for our first time ever and it surely didn't let us down!
When we flew in I was almost in shock of how dry and moon like the surface was. If I didn’t know any better, perhaps I would have thought we were making a moon landing! The black lava rocks and flows were simply stunning to stare out at. And over the next week we continued to marvel at all the distinct landscapes we came across – from lush rainforests, to rocky snow covered mountains, to rolling green pastures filled with happy cows - the scenery was ever changing and absolutely brilliant.
Fun Fact: Did you know the Big Island contains 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones! I read that the same amount of different climate zones exist if you follow the coast from Alaska to Costa Rica. I mean that is just incredible!!
Moving forward from my fascination with the climate zones, our week there was totally, 100% action packed!! We toured the island via helicopter, swam with dolphins, watched humpback whales put on a spectacular show, “swam” with manta rays at night (puked with manta rays…), went hiking, cannonballed into waterfalls, zoomed down zip lines, toured Volcanoes National Park, strolled on black sand beaches, and of course, found some time to just kick it in the sun and read a good book.
One thing I must admit, up until this trip, I had a fear of water – more so of drowning than swimming but I also hated the way snorkeling made me feel. Without having peripheral vision while snorkeling, I always felt claustrophobic. My heart would start racing and I would get wildly anxious, so much so that I would find myself frantically getting out of the water to land where I could see 360° around me.
I knew my fear was completely irrational but I wasn’t sure how to kick it. But when it came time to swim with the dolphins, it was do or die. Nature wasn’t waiting on me…
My best friend Brenda, whom happened to be in Hawaii the same time we were, was out on the boat with us that day and encouraged me to jump in, promising she’d hold my hand the whole time! I was skeptical and already short of breath but I knew if I didn't jump then, I’d freak out and probably not make it in. So, I clumsily plopped in after Brenda...
She really did hold my hand the entire time and she did so firmly. I felt comforted and at ease, my anxiety wasn’t totally gone but I also knew I wasn’t going to drown right then and there.
Within seconds, dolphins surrounded us; they were gliding underneath us and swaying right beside us. It was hands down the most spectacular sight I have ever seen!! I felt one with the dolphins, with the ocean, with nature, one with the universe.
When we finally bopped our heads up, we saw dolphins spinning in the air five, six, and seven times over! It was extraordinary!! That's when I realized I was breathless; but not from anxiety. I was panting from trying to keep up with the dolphins; I had been swimming freely without fear!!
By the time it came for our third jump, I hopped in before Brenda and got after it. My fears had slipped away somewhere in the last hour and I found myself swimming as fast as I could to stay alongside the dolphin pod. I could not wait to call Ben and tell him the news!
Letting go of one of my two true fears was a huge deal for me. I am still in awe of myself today just thinking about it! In case you’re wondering, I’m terrified of snakes – that is my last, known remaining fear…
Through all the excitement and adventure that was Hawaii, we had to eat somewhere in between activities to fuel us for the madness that lied ahead. And eat we did!
We had a great grill at the house we were all staying at together so we cooked all but three meals the entire time we were there. We took turns cooking big dinners and on my night I decided to whip up a few salads and BBQ some shrimp. My heart was originally set on some sort of fish but not being able to find any at the local market (weird, right??), I settled on the next best.
For the salads I went with a Sweet Corn Salad and a fruity Mango-Papaya Salad. At RylieCakes Bakery we had a hugely popular corn salad so I decided to make a version of that. I love this salad for two reasons – first off, it is fantastic all year round! In summer you can grill corn on the cob for a sensational charred flavor and in winter, you can use frozen corn and sauté it up with butter for the same effect. They are both easy techniques and fitting for each season :)
The second thing I love about this salad, is its flexibility. For example, in Hawaii I couldn’t find radishes for the life of me so I threw in some daikon instead. If you want to eliminate the heat, substitute a bell pepper for the jalapeno peppers. Use cotija instead of feta! Or if you’re vegan, simply skip the mayonnaise and feta, and add an extra crisp veggie if you like. I’ve done it all ways and none of them have ever let me down!
I should mention, this recipe is the "Bring to an Awesome Summer BBQ Batch!"...meaning if it is just for you and yours, I'd probably cut it in half or plan on eating Sweet Corn Salad for daaayyyysss - that's what we do!
The Mango-Papaya Salad I made flying off the seat of my pants! I simply wanted to create something uber fresh, relying more on the natural flavors of the fruit than on too many spices or cooking techniques. The salad ended up being a gorgeous blend of reds, greens, and oranges; with each bite you got a hint of sweetness, a crunch of coolness, and a refreshing smidgen of mint. It was everything I ever wanted in an island salad and more.
So here I am, back on the mainland, daydreaming of Hawaii as it ever so slightly continues to drizzle outside and I thought, “Why not recreate that meal we had in Hawaii?” Bring a little touch of summer, of the island, of a carefree lifestyle, into our home for a night!!
I set out to find all the ingredients I needed and made a few substitutions along the way. I couldn’t find papaya so I opted for mango (yum!) and low & behold, we had Mahi-mahi in our freezer from last summer!! Dancing party going on right here!! Funny how I couldn’t make fresh fish on an island but had it in my freezer just waiting for me at home! It was meant to be.
For the fish, I decided to blacken it. I love blackened fish and had never made it before so I figured, YOLO! I used Morton & Bassett’s Cajun Spice Blend and Urban Accents Herbes De Provence and I must say that they mashed up magically together!
Fish is blackened by the butter charring in your hot, hot skillet – in other words, the fish should be sitting in a shallow bath of melted butter at all times. If you find your fish isn’t surrounded on all sides by bubbling hot butter, add a little more!
In the photos here you will see two hearty 8oz filets. I should have cut them in half and fried them as 4, 4oz filets. I made this mistake so you didn’t have to! Follow the recipe and your blackened fish will be even better than mine!!
Lastly, since the fish is done in a flash, I’d recommend you make the salads first and set them aside until you are ready to serve with your delightfully seasoned, perfectly blackened, piping hot fish!
Lick the Bowl – You Only Live Once,
(Spicy) Sweet Corn Salad
(Yield: 3# - 12 4oz servings)
- 2 oz olive oil
- 1 oz butter
- 16 oz white corn, frozen
- 16 oz yellow corn, frozen
- 1 green scoop Mayonnaise
- 8 oz feta
- 2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 2.5 oz (or 2) jalapenos, finely diced
- 0.5 oz (1 cup) cilantro, chopped
- 2 oz red onion, finely chopped
- 3 oz radishes, halved & thinly sliced
- Garnish: QS green onions + cilantro
- Warm large sauté pan over medium heat, once hot add oil and butter. Be careful not to burn oils here, you might need to turn your heat down at first. Once butter has melted, add frozen white and yellow corn.
- Turn heat up to high after adding corn and let cook until corn starts to char – stir occasionally allowing it to char on all sides. Once cooked, remove from heat and let cool.
- While corn is cooling, mix together mayonnaise, feta, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, pepper, and smoked paprika. Taste test and add additional spices if wanted/needed.
- Fold in jalapenos, cilantro, red onion, radishes, and cooled corn.
- Refrigerate salad until serving. When ready to serve, garnish with fresh green onions and cilantro.
(Yield: 1.5# or 6 - 4oz servings)
- 1.5 oz olive oil
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- Zest from ½ lime
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- 0.25 oz basil, chiffonade
- 0.25 oz mint, chiffonade
- 8 oz watermelon, small diced
- 8 oz mango, small diced
- 6 oz cucumber, small diced
- QS basil + mint for garnish
- Whisk together olive oil, lime juice, lime zest, salt, pepper, chili powder, basil, and mint. Taste test and add additional seasoning if needed/wanted.
- Fold in watermelon, mango, and cucumber.
- Best kept at room temperature until serving but be sure to refrigerate overnight.
- For good looks, top with more basil and mint to serve :)
(Yield: 4 Filets)
- 4 Mahi Mahi Filets (4 oz each)
- 1.5 Tbsp Cajun Seasoning
- 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence Seasoning
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 4 oz butter
- 1 Tbsp Sun Coco oil
- Fresh lemon juice from ½ lemon
- Pat dry fish filets.
- Whisk together Cajun seasoning, Herbes de Provence seasoning, and black pepper in a small bowl.
- Liberally coat both sides of each filet with seasoning. It really should be caked on! Let sit or refrigerate until frying pan is heated and ready to go.
- Using a cast iron skillet or thick-bottomed frying pan, warm over high heat. Once hot, add butter and oil. When butter is nearly melted, you can add your fish.
- Add thicker filets first as they will take slightly longer to cook. Fry on each side for 2 to 4 minutes depending on thickness. You will begin to see the fish turn white, which should be a signal that it is ready to flip. Fish should flip easily, if it is “stuck” to bottom of the pan, add a little more butter and/or let fry a little longer.
- After removing fish from frying pan, squeeze fresh lemon juice over filets.
- Serve warm with Sweet Corn Salad and Watermelon-Mango Salad :)