Vanilla Coffee Creamer

20140415-091416.jpg

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!
>

20140415-093744.jpg


Eating with the Armstrongs

20140409-225134.jpg

(perks of hosting a wedding shower: leftover flowers to brighten our home)

In true fashion, spring has been feeling quite full! Wedding showers, friends visiting, parties, and yard work have overflowed into our lives. We had a wonderful get away last weekend to a personal retreat center and we are excited to celebrate our third anniversary next week with a night spent in New Orleans!

The retreat last weekend was truly a gift. We spent two days at an amazing little bed and breakfast/counseling center about thirty minutes away from us with an incredible husband and wife who ministered to us, counseled us, and served us the best homemade Mexican food(thank you, Lord!) Coming up on three years of marriage, my teeny piece of marriage advice is this: get counseling even when you don’t feel like you “need it”. Honestly, Matthew & I are in a really sweet and peaceful season in our marriage, so we didn’t have a long list of issues to bring to our time of counseling. We went into the weekend asking the question: how can we grow in our marriage? I’m not sure why, but for some reason I expected to spend our time there weeping and hashing things out. Instead, our time was peaceful and refreshing, and our eyes were opened to some important things to work on and some revolutionary ways to communicate and grow closer as husband and wife. Even if you can’t get professional counseling, find a couple who is older and wiser than you and get time with them for advice and wisdom. However, if you can, find a professional marriage and family therapist to meet with! It is worth it!

In the midst of a full spring, here are some recipes we’re enjoying:

Smitten Kitchen’s Three Bean Chili. I love to try new chili recipes. Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs and I always know the recipes will be delicious. My change is adding some ground beef to up the protein factor for my husband. If you do add ground beef, add about 1.5 pounds, sautéed with the onions. Also, when adding the water, you’ll need to double it so that it doesn’t dry up & burn during the simmering process. I may or may not know this from experience.

The Pioneer Woman’s Heavenly Hummus Wrap: really anything with hummus is a favorite for me. Homemade is best, but I also absolutely love Whole Food’s Original Hummus. Randomly, last night I dreamed that I read the ingredient list for their hummus and it included ground up pancakes. Don’t worry, this is not true.

Spicy Sriracha White Bean Dip from White on Rice Couple; My go to for appetizers and snacks is usually a good ole classic hummus. But I really enjoyed this switch up with white beans and an Asian flare.

My Roasted Vegetable & Brown Rice Bowl with Peanut Sauce: I will never get tired of that peanut sauce! Such an easy and delicious meal, use whatever seasonal veggies are available!

Rachel Ray’s Pasta Carbonara: This is quite a creamy meal but a little less heavy because she doesn’t use cream in the sauce.  A few changes: I used brown rice fettuccine, I did not use lemony breadcrumbs as a topping, although that sounds delicious! Instead of asparagus, I used spinach and instead of pancetta, I used bacon. Overall, this is a great restaurant-style meal that’s easy to make at home.

Raw Brownies from A Couple Cooks: wowowowoweeee. These brownies have gotten rave reviews from friends and from my husband. Topped with some simmered down berries or served over coffee ice cream, this is the perfect dessert. These are totally easy to make and much healthier than your average brownie.

I’d love to hear what recipes you are enjoying lately! I hope you try and enjoy some of these.

These are some photos from our retreat. Isn’t Louisiana beautiful?!

20140409-224915.jpg

20140409-224940.jpg

20140409-224514.jpg


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.

20140310-230125.jpg

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.


Eating with the Armstrongs (plus why I love my siblings)

Today is a beautiful, sunny day in Baton Rouge. I’ve already enjoyed sitting outside at a coffee shop with a friend and later I’m planning to head to the dog park with Boone. The weather is a much needed pick-me-up from the early weeks of February which were grey and cold and sad.

I love February because I love Valentines Day! Hearts and chocolate, pink flowers, fancy food, cards, I love it all. Growing up, my mom always made Valentines Day special with a delicious and gourmet breakfast or dinner and my dad would give us flowers and Godiva chocolates, the best! It’s altogether more delightful being married on Valentines Day. Matthew and I celebrated with dinner at our favorite restaurant, Roberto’s on River Road, where we enjoyed sensation salad, stuffed red fish, and King Cake bread pudding. To die for. I bought Matthew some a beef jerky milk chocolate bar from Wild Ophelia and he said it is the best chocolate he’s ever had. What a man.

flowers

February is also wonderful because I get to celebrate the birthdays of two of my very favorite people in the whole world, my older brother and my younger sister.

Ryan lives in Colorado where he skis and snowboards and makes the most of life with new adventures developing all the time. He is laid back, full of joy, friendly, and just the sweetest. I’m so thankful for my big brother!

Natalie lives in Texas where she is loved by every person she knows, is the smartest girl I’ve ever met, drop dead gorgeous, and excellent in everything she puts her hand to. She may be my little sister, but I have lots to learn from her.

I’m celebrating you both today!

family

In the food world, here are a few recipes that we have enjoyed lately:

Caesar Dressing is one of my favorite things to make at home. This one uses Greek yogurt for a delightful creaminess. If you’re afraid of anchovies, just omit them! As much as I love garlic, I would use 2 cloves instead of 4, especially if you make this for a party.

The Pioneer Woman wins again with these decadent dark chocolate brownies. Chocolate heaven. As well as with Queso Fundido, a meaty Queso dip that was devoured in minutes by recent party guests.

We loved the Walnut Crusted Chicken from Kitchenspired. The flavors are really profound and the walnut crust gives the impression of breadcrumbs without the bread.

One of my new favorite meals is spaghetti squash with a meaty marinara suace. I really don’t miss the pasta at all. Just use your favorite meat sauce recipe with roasted spaghetti squash. It’s delicious!

Enjoy these recipes, friends!


Book list for 2014

20131231-151954.jpg

(Source: Pinterest)

Happy New Year’s Eve! I love making New Years resolutions. In all honesty, it doesn’t bother me if I do all, part or none of my resolutions, I just enjoy thinking up ideas for a productive new year. Drinking more water, exercising and getting in shape always make the list. This year I’m excited to start cooking more seasonly as my friend Lena and I signed up for a produce co-op from a local farm. Hopefully lots of fresh recipes will be shared here from that new venture! My other cooking goal is to cook one meal a week from a cookbook I own. I have a large library of cookbooks and am excited to get inspired by new recipes.
The resolution I always make and usually always accomplish is my book list. My list includes novels, spiritual growth, and historical nonfiction. So here’s what I’m planning to read this year:
1. Real Marriage by Mark Driscoll
2. Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly
3. Undaunted by Christine Caine
4. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
5. So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore
6. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
7. Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
8. Seven Great Men & the Secret to Their Greatness by Eric Metaxes
9. Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
11. Powerful & Free by Danny Silk

Books to finish from last year:
Leading from Second Chair by Mike Bonem & Roger Patterson
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

I’ll let you know how these are! Happy resolution making and happy reading!

20131231-154452.jpg
(Source: Pinterest)


What We Love about Dallas

Visiting our families in & around Dallas is always a treat! Last week, my parents planned a family “stay-cation” for us in Dallas. We spent the mornings enjoying good conversation, hot coffee & hearty brunch around the breakfast table while in the afternoons we enjoyed the city. My parents did a great job of planning and I hope you get some ideas for Dallas adventures.

My parents have a beautiful backyard and pool that feels like an oasis!

20130814-160852.jpg
Day one brunch, Cajun style: leftover jambalaya with a fried egg, fresh fruit & coffee!

20130814-160917.jpg
Afternoon on Lake Ray Hubard! We rented a pontoon for the afternoon and had a great time tubing, swimming and relaxing. We loved that Matthew’s parents joined us and we enjoyed dinner at The Flying Saucer , which has delicious and creative burgers. I didn’t get a pic, but my San Miguel burger with chorizo, avocado, pico de gallo, and queso fresco was flavor packed and delicious.

20130814-160945.jpg
Visiting the George W. Bush Library was incredible! The museum portion is an in depth look into George W.’s presidency. The designers did a fabulous job making the museum highly educational and interactive.

20130814-161015.jpg
After enjoying the best-ever chips, salsa, margaritas and fajitas at our all time favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, Mi Cocina, we ventured to the Bishops Art District for dessert at Emporium Pies. This gem of a pie shop was opened a year ago by our friend Megan and her business partner. The pies are phenomenal and the atmosphere is bright and cozy. We shared the French chocolate silk with pretzel crust, the deep dish apple with cinnamon streusel, and the coconut custard. Trust me, you don’t want to go through life without tasting these pies.

20130814-161036.jpg

20130814-161048.jpg
On our last full day, we went to Bowl and Barrel. This is absolutely the coolest bowling experience ever. Forget about carpeted walls and smokey air, this swanky uptown restaurant/bar/boutique bowling is hip, clean, and the food is incredible! We loved trying an assortment of appetizers.

20130814-161106.jpg

20130814-161141.jpg
House made fries with sweet ketchup and ranch, a hot pretzel with grainy mustard, mimosas, beer from the tap, bacon wrapped goat cheese stuffed figs, fried cayenne quail, and Texas cheese fondue. Divine!

20130814-161151.jpg

20130814-161214.jpg
Dad was quite proud of his victory!

20130814-161233.jpg
The whole week was a blast, but my favorite part was taking a cooking class as a family at Central Market! We received excellent, hands on instruction as we cooked a three course western-inspired meal. Our instructor explained each step and we learned new skills as we chopped, diced, stirred and mixed. Our meal was delicious: avocado, grilled tomato, corn and red onion salad, stuffed flank steak with cheesy grits and roasted vegetables, and skillet blueberry cobbler.

20130814-161249.jpg

20130814-161314.jpg

20130814-161325.jpg
We feasted a lot this week, so our last brunch was a lighter family favorite: Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, pecans, toasted coconut and maple syrup.

20130814-161343.jpg
I cannot express how much I love my family! I’m so thankful my parents invited us to this family “stay-cation” and worked so hard to make it fun and special. I highly recommend any and all of the things we did in Dallas and I hope you try them.
What are your favorite things about Dallas?


Easy Tomato Burst Pasta + Summer Reads

Easy summer pasta and good books to read, really, what’s better?

We’ve been on the road quite a bit the last couple of weeks with only a day or so in between trips, making it difficult to grocery shop. But with an abundance of cherry tomatoes & basil in my garden, I’ve been making this easy, flavor packed pasta on the days we’re home. Even if you don’t have a garden, tomatoes & basil are in season so you can pick them up at your farmer’s market or grocery.
As you cook the whole cherry tomatoes over low heat in a covered pan, they burst open creating a spectacular sauce. The real star of the show here is actually the cloves of garlic which sweeten up as they’re sautéed whole in olive oil before being chopped and added to the sauce.
Great as a side, light lunch, or dinner entree with the addition of grilled chicken, I hope you try this recipe and love it!

Ingredients:

1 cup whole cherry tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
8 fresh basil leaves, whole or chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups of spiral pasta

To Make:

Cook pasta according to package directions.
Drizzle 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil into a sauté pan over medium low heat. Using a chopping knife, lightly smash the garlic cloves with the side of the knife so as to remove the peel. Add whole cloves to the pan and sauté for 3 minutes until lightly browned.
Remove garlic cloves and add whole tomatoes. Turn heat to low and cover. Allow to sauté for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes burst open.
Roughly chop the garlic and add it to the pan. Add fresh basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste.
Drain pasta and drizzle 1/2 Tablespoon olive, stirring to get it all covered. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put pasta into a bowl and pour sauce on top. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top and enjoy!!

20130803-170546.jpg

At the beach, on the plane, by the pool, and before bed at night, here are some great reads I’ve enjoyed this summer!

Love Does by Bob Goff

With hilarious stories of adventure and kindness, Bob Goff brings readers into the journey of learning how to love extravagantly.

Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist

Real talk on life. Through thoughtful essays sharing stories of life and God, Shauna Niequist reveals her experiences of celebrating each day.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Both through provoking and heart rending, this novel is a geniusly creative weaving together of stories that reveal human nature and the complexities of modern life.

Prophet by Frank Peretti

Probably my favorite novel of the summer. A fictional but truly apt critique of modern society. I wasn’t able to put this book down as the story is both mysterious and compelling!

Leading From the Second Chair by Mike Bonem & Roger Patterson

This is an incredible book for anyone who is in a place of subordinate leadership. The authors share from their experience, providing wise and insightful understanding into the complexities of leadership.

What books are you enjoying this summer?