Summer Fruit Salad with Minty Lime Dressing

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Whew! It’s been a crazy couple months! Summer is normally a bit overloaded, but this summer is even crazier than usual. We went on a trip to Indonesia and that trip was bookended by weddings, friends in town, and several important meetings for Matthew. We’re off again this weekend to a wedding in Austin and are excited to see Texas family.

In the midst of the craziness, I’ve still been cooking and especially enjoying summer fruit! Have you had any peaches yet? They are to die for! I haven’t been able to get enough peaches or blueberries and I’m hoping to visit a blueberry farm to pick my own in the next couple weeks. Growing up, every summer we would drive to Tyler, Texas to pick blueberries. After picking pounds and pounds in the hot summer sun, we’d go to a nearby state park for a picnic and swimming. When we got home, my mom would make blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, and freeze lots of the fresh blueberries for later use. I love those summer memories!

Today, I’m sharing an easy summer fruit salad that is refreshing and a little out of the ordinary. It’s great on it’s own or paired with Greek yogurt for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert. I definitely recommend eating this the day you make it as berries don’t like to be wet for long and this salad had a sweet dressing with a little extra zing.

Happy cooking and happy summer!

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Summer Fruit Salad with Minty Lime Dressing

ingredients

4 small, ripe peaches or 2 large, ripe peaches, slice
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup sliced raspberries
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 Tablespoons water
1 Teaspoon honey
1 Teaspoon lime zest
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
12 mint leaves, finely chopped

to make

Wash your fruit and slice peaches and strawberries. Place all fruit in a bowl.
In a small jar or bowl, combine water, honey, lime zest and juice, and finely chopped mint leaves. Pour over fruit and stir gently. The dressing will mostly fall to the bottom, but that’s ok. Allow fruit to refrigerate for 30 minutes to soak up the dressing. Before serving, give a stir and top with toasted walnuts. (Don’t add the walnuts too soon or they’ll get soggy)

Enjoy!

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Vanilla Coffee Creamer

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I love coffee in the morning. In our home, my husband is the one who gets up first and goes straight into the kitchen to grind fresh coffee beans, boil some water, and brew coffee in our French press. I love the smell that slowly makes its way into our bedroom, coaxing me to get up and embrace the day. I love sitting in a comfy chair by the floor to ceiling window in our living room and taking some time to sip my coffee and set my heart on Heaven as the day begins.

I want to be a black coffee drinker, but I’m just not. Even after working at a high end coffee shop for almost a year, I could never give up the creaminess of coffee. I’m long past the days of hydrogenated soy bean oil creamer (yuck!) but I do still enjoy the “natural” versions that have lots of sugar. That’s why I’m excited about this homemade kind, and will never go back!

Sweetened with maple syrup and honey, this creamer is delicious, cheap and easy to make. I’m never going back!

Vanilla Coffee Creamer

Notes:
*if this isn’t quite sweet enough for you, add more maple syrup
*if you’re looking for a dairy free version, this recipe was adapted from Against All Grain-her’s is dairy free!

Ingredients:
2 cups half and half
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

To make:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low boil then turn heat to low immediately. Allow to simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Shake well before using each time.

Enjoy!
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Eating with the Armstrongs

You know those people who are just comforting and refreshing? Being with them is easy, a breath of fresh air? This week we’ve spent time with two different couples who bring us so much life.

One of those couples is my parents who visited for the weekend from Dallas. We laughed, we shared deep conversation, we ate, we worked in the yard, and overall we just relished in each other’s company. My parents are two of the world’s best.

It also comes in handy that they enjoy yard work (or at least we say they do) because Matthew & my dad picked up 23 massive bags of leaves and my mom and I planted some flowers and ferns in a garden bed that needed some love.

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The other couple is a husband and wife from church that we are just getting to know but who are two amazing people. I told them tonight that they need to name their house “the refuge” or “the haven” because every time we go, that’s just how we feel. And I really need to tell you the menu of the dinner they prepared because it was divine: steak, homemade challah bread, grilled avocado, grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted potatoes and a spinach and feta salad. Now that was glorious enough, but dessert was over the top: homemade strawberry pop tarts with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The pop tarts were flaky and buttery and the vanilla ice cream was sweet and perfect.

But even more refreshing than the food was the conversation. Conversation is an art form and tonight it was woven together with strands of good question asking and stories and life-stirring wisdom.

Who in your life do you need to set the table for, think of some good questions, and invite over for an evening of refreshment? It doesn’t have to be fancy or as gourmet as last night, just thoughtful and genuine. Here are some recipes we’ve enjoyed lately to help you plan:

Black Bean & Quinoa Enchilada Bake from Two Peas & Their Pod
A yummy & healthy tex-mex inspired casserole. You really won’t miss the meat but you could easily add some cooked chopped chicken or cooked ground beef to make it heartier.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Our Best Bites
No butter and no wheat! These cookies are sweet and decadent with just a couple of ingredients.

Scrambled eggs with Smoked Salmon from Pioneer Woman
Wow! These are so scrumptious and add a little bit of gourmet flare to your scrambled eggs. I made my eggs using my tip for the best ever eggs.

Collard Green Falafel with Hummus from Minimalist Baker
Don’t be afraid of collard greens. They are a great leafy green with a bit of a spicy bite similar to arugula. This is a fabulous vegan and gluten free falafel recipe, best served with lots of hummus.

Warm French Lentils from Ina Garten
I’ve recently discovered my love for lentils. They are super healthy, filling and inexpensive. This recipe is packed with flavor and you can easily add whatever vegetables you want to. It’s definitely one of my new favorites and Matthew loves it too.


Avocado Toast & a Tip for the Best Scrambled Eggs

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Growing up, breakfast at Papau & Grammy’s house was always a comforting treat. The scent of Grammy’s flaky, buttery biscuits and her made-from-scratch, stick-to-your-ribs sausage gravy plus Papau’s famous scrambled eggs would fill the house and make our mouths water. And although the days of eating sausage gravy are now few and far between (or never), thankfully creamy, fluffy scrambled eggs are a delicacy deemed healthy and inexpensive.

Papau’s eggs are made with olive oil over low heat and lots of Papau love and really can’t be improved upon, so let’s just make sure that’s clear. But when I came about Shauna Niequist’s trick for the best scrambled eggs, I had to try them. With only eggs, a good non-stick pan and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, these are hard to beat. Something about adding the eggs, already whisked, to a cold pan, turning the heat to a medium low and slowly running your spatula through them creates the absolute creamiest eggs imaginable. The only thing better would be if Papau had made them.

If you’ve never enjoyed the simple luxury of avocado smashed onto a piece of toast, well, you’re missing out. It’s the best treat for breakfast, lunch or dinner and can even be made with gluten free bread, because while it’s not good eaten soft, gluten free bread can be turned into some darn good toast. My dad’s method of “oven toast” is the best: your choice of bread with a couple pats of butter, toasted in the oven at 350 for ten minutes. Can’t beat it.

So, I’m not really sharing a recipe, but just an idea and a method. Trust me and try it!

Avocado Toast with Scrambled Eggs

for one, easily multiplied

Ingredients: 

2 eggs, whisked in a bowl until the yolks and whites are combined

1 piece of bread

1/2 an avocado

a sprinkling of salt and pepper

To make:

Toast your bread. Smash avocado on top.

Make your eggs. Please make them with this method, you won’t regret it.

Put a small, non-stick pan on the stove top. Add whisked eggs. Turn heat to medium low. Slowly and gently use your spatula to move the eggs around the pan. Be patient as you won’t see much progress at first. Don’t leave the stove, keep stirring. Soon, the eggs will begin to pull together, continue stirring until the liquid has come together into light, fluffy scrambled eggs. Just before they seem completely done, remove from heat. (They’ll continue to cook).

Immediately scoop them onto your avocado toast and eat while warm!


Shockingly Delicious Banana Nut Pancakes (sugar, wheat & dairy free)

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Part of mine & Matthew’s love story (is that grammatically correct? Took me a couple tries) were weekly breakfast dates to a little cafe in Waco where we’d order hot mugs of coffee with flavored creamer, massive pancakes and the best migas around. We’d sit over breakfast enjoying our food and each other every single week for a good while. In an effort to get to know each other better while dating, I made a list of questions that’d we’d take turns asking, about our childhood and movies we like and places we’d been. It was such a sweet time to find out new things and laugh and share our hearts all over pancakes and coffee. Now that we’re married, I’m amazed to find that we can still ask each other lots of questions and find out plenty of new things. We love to take time to enjoy a meal and just talk. One of my favorite resources for good question asking is this blog.

My favorite pancake to order (they were massive, so you could only eat one) was a banana and mixed nut pancake. I’ve wanted to make my own, but who knew they’d be in this form! Y’all, I just have to confess that I’m usually hugely skeptical of bread like things made without wheat or sugar. They other day, I tried to make wheat and sugar free pumpkin pancakes which turned out just…bleh. Because of that setback, I’ve been determined to find a delicious wheat, dairy, and sugar free pancake recipe. Whelp, victory is mine, because here it is! I wondered if I only like these because I haven’t had sugar or wheat in a week due to my 21 day sugar detox, but Matthew approved these as well, especially topped with bourbon infused maple syrup (omg).

I hope you try them, by yourself or shared with a friend and lots of question asking.

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Banana Nut Pancakes
Serves 2 (about 8 tiny pancakes)

Ingredients:
2 bananas, well mashed
One egg, beaten
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup pecan halves
1 Tablespoon coconut oil or butter

To Make:
Mash bananas in a bowl, add beaten egg and whisk to combine. Add cinnamon and vanilla. Chop pecans finely and combine all ingredients.

Heat 1/2 Tablespoon of coconut oil or butter in a non stick pan over medium heat. When the oil glistens, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the batter (only fill halfway) and pour into small pancake shapes in the pan. When the batter bubbles, flip cakes and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Keep a good eye on them as they can burn quickly. After you’ve cooked half the batter, add another 1/2 Tablespoon of coconut oil or butter to cook the rest.

These are delicious eaten plain, but for true decadence, top with maple syrup, fruit or bananas. It’s best to make them small so they are easy to flip. I recommend serving them with bacon or scrambled eggs for a filling breakfast.

Update: you can absolutely make these without the nuts, they will just a little thinner and you’ll have to be extra careful flipping them. I’m also going to try several other varieties like adding lemon zest and poppyseeds (excluding nuts, cinnamon & vanilla) or chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

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Chewy, Crumbly Oat & Pecan Granola Bars

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The New Year feels like a breath of fresh air and a choke hold at the same time.  A fresh opportunity to start over, to make goals and plans but also a big lug of pressure to do do do and accomplish EVERYTHING. There are moments of brightness and there are moments when I just want to make the noise my puppy Boone makes when he can’t reach his tennis ball under the couch, a pathetic groan/moan/whimper. Sometimes I wish the New Year started in March when the weather warms up just a little bit, the sun is shiny enough for an afternoon walk, people start wearing jean cut off shorts and flowers peek through the dirt. In January I just want to snuggle in my bed. I don’t want to get up when it’s still dark outside to go to the gym. (I’m super thankful to live in the South where it might be 70 degrees in a couple of days).

But I AM so thankful that I get to take it day by day. I don’t know if tomorrow will even be here. It’s no guarantee. But I do know that right now I can play with my dog, I can try a new recipe, I can listen to a friend, I can drink a huge cup of water and take my vitamins. I can go on a 30 minute 10 minute jog and read a couple pages of a book, I can take food to a homeless person. Well maybe not all in one moment, but I can at least do two of those things today.

That’s what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful that as I choose to embrace this moment, then the next and then the one after that, all the moments will add up. They’ll add up to a day then a week, after that a month, and finally a year. And after a year, they’ll all be packaged up tidily or messily, but they’ll be packaged up nonetheless, to be reflected on, mourned over, laughed at, and proud of. In the meantime I may have a day where I don’t do much more than what I was supposed to do, but that’s OK. Because I can start again the day after that.

So today, in this simple recipe, I’m embracing a goal for the New Year. Maybe it’s yours to. By making a healthy (sugar free! wheat free! dairy free!) granola bar, I’m contributing to my goal of eating breakfast, which is contributing to my desire to be healthier, which is contributing to wanting to loose a couple pounds, which is contributing to having more energy and feeling better. Here’s to today!

Chewy, Crumbly Oat & Pecan Granola Bars

Makes 12-16 bars

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ingredients:
2.5 cups oats
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons or so Sunflower seeds
4oz Medjool dates (pitted)
2 ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup olive oil (used separately)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey

to make:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine oats, chopped pecans, coconut flakes & sunflower seeds in a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle maple syrup and 1/3 cup olive oil over top and stir with a spatula to coat everything well.
Bake in oven for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

Combine honey, vanilla and remaining olive oil and pour into a large bowl. In a food processor, chop bananas and dates until smooth-ish. Scoop into the large bowl of liquid, add oat mixture to the bowl. Stir all the combine.

Pour/scrape mixture into an 8×8 baking pan. Line with parchment paper if you have it (I never do!) or just spray a little cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Store in the refrigerator! Enjoy them for breakfast on the go or crumble them into almond milk or Greek yogurt. Also delicious as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea!

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Breakfast Casserole & Hostess Tips

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Hostessing is one of my favorite things to do. I love to make people feel welcome and comfortable when they come to my house, whether it’s just for an evening or an overnight visit. I have to admit, however, that at times I do let myself get stressed out about it when things are going the way I expected. Recently when my husband told me that some guests were coming in town an hour earlier than expected, I starting completely freaking out cried a little and he looked at me with just a tad bit of concern. So my number one rule of hosting is: you aren’t perfect, you can’t be perfect, so just get over it. Chances are, the person coming to your house isn’t perfect either, so calm down. No amount of pristine cleanliness and perfect decore can equal your expression of genuine care for the person who walks in your door. That’s what they’ll remember most. That being said, here are a couple of my go-to tips for hosting anyone who stays the night.

1. Make sure your guest room is clean and welcoming. Fresh sheets, all surfaces newly dusted, the floor vacuumed and mopped, and a candle lit. Put some interesting books on the nightstand for reading options, a notepad and pen, and if you have room, a chair of some sort so they can relax. If possible, make some space in the closet for luggage.

2. Provide fresh towels, wash cloths and toiletries. I like to include a little container full of: toothpaste, a toothbrush, floss, melatonin, Tylenol, cough drops, mints, body wash, lotion, soap, deodorant, tissues, mouthwash, almonds & chocolate. I basically just raid the little one dollar travel-size toiletry section at the grocery store! Most people won’t use all or even any of this stuff (except the chocolate is always gone!) so you don’t have to buy more of all of these things every time.

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3. A clean bathroom! When people use the bathroom, they want it to be clean. I include more fresh towels, good hand soap, and a cute hand towel. A hair dryer is a great thing to have as well as good body lotion and extra toilet paper. Plus I’ve deep cleaned it, making sure there is hopefully not one single dog hair to be seen. Again, nothing fancy for me, just clean and simple.

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4. A good, hearty breakfast with coffee (and the fixings), tea and orange juice available. Find out what time your guest normally wakes up and wants their coffee. I’m the type that hopes for it first thing. Again, it doesn’t have to be something crazy like homemade hollandaise sauce over shrimp and eggs Benedict. Just go with something easy and flavorful. And something you’ve made before to insure success. I recently served house guests some failed homemade pumpkin cinnamon rolls that didn’t rise, not my best moment, but thankfully they were good friends and very gracious. Plus I had bacon so that saved the day.

For a great and simple breakfast option, this variation of a breakfast casserole is really delicious. This week we are hosting some guests unexpectedly. I was able to throw this casserole together simply and inexpensively.

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I would love to hear some of your tips about hosting! Send them my way!

Happy hosting!

Breakfast Casserole:

Ingredients:

7 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
2 large red potatoes, julienned
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Sliced avocado for topping

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the julienned potatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix potatoes together with olive oil so they are evenly coated. Roast potatoes in oven for 20 minutes.

Spray a 9X13 inch glass pan with cooking spray.

Sauté diced onions and bell peppers in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté one minute. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, and chives.

In the baking dish put roasted potatoes and sautéed onions and peppers, combine together. Pour egg mixture over the veggies. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Top with sliced tomatoes, spaced over the casserole.

Bake casserole for 30-35 minutes until eggs are cooked through.

Top with sliced avocado and enjoy!

**the eggs and potatoes make this a hearty dish, but some cooked, crumbled bacon or breakfast sausage would be delicious added to the mix. Just combine with the veggies before pouring in the egg mixture.

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