Friday, May 29, 2015

Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

Summer is here.  At least I think it is...can't really tell since we have had so much rain down here in Texas!  Monsoons everywhere!  Good news is my lemon tree is budding!!!!  Next recipe might have lemons in it : )

Warmer weather can only mean one thing!  Chocolate and banana smoothies all the time!!  Yeah Baby!  Super grateful for my awesome Vitamix my sister and Mom bought us for our wedding - love that thing! turns out that smoothies can get old really I decided to skip my daily smoothie and opted for veggies and hummus...then 1 hour later all I was craving was chocolate and bananas!  I am obsessed I tell you, straight up addicted!  I decided to switch it up a bit and made dark chocolate banana muffins way or another I was going to get my chocolate/banana fix :)

These were super simple muffins and they were so delicious and moist!  Winner winner chicken dinner...actually winner winner muffins for dinner! : )  This recipe has sugar in it, but you can probably swap honey/maple syrup for it if you want...I am going to try to do it next time with 1/4 cup honey instead of the 2/3 cup sugar.

Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins
yields 12 muffins
Adapted slightly from here

  • 1 cup mashed ripe or over ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup canola oil, or melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp unsweetened almond milk (or milk of your choice)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1-1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (semi sweet or dark)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees...or in my case with my gas oven 350 degrees
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use the back of a fork to mash the banana until only very small lumps remain. Add the vanilla and the egg and use the fork to whisk the mixture together until completely combined. Add the oil and milk and stir to combine. Add the sugars and stir again.
  3. Using a spatula, stir in the cocoa powder, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix until the cocoa is completely incorporated. Stir in the salt and baking soda, then gently fold in the flour, until just combined.
  4. Divide the batter among 12 paper-lined muffin cups, about 3/4 full. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Bake for 15-17 minutes, rotating once, until the muffin tops look set, and a cake-tester inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes, before removing and cooling completely on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room-temperature.

Share these muffins with someone who is cranky...chances are they are just hungry : )

Eat your heart out,


Italy vs. France in a showdown...who wins? Part deux

Welcome to France!

The land where everyone walks around with a Baguette tucked under their armpit.
The land where Baguette is part of every meal...seriously every meal.
The land of delicious cheese.
The land of abundant pastry of the highest quality.
The land of "be sure to bring your fat pants because our food is really that good!"

We loved France!  In a food battle they would beat out Italy...sorry to all the Italian Fans out there...but in our books France take the cake...or should I say Baguette? : )

We stayed at the Best Western in the Latin district close to Notre Dame and the Odeon station.  Great location - close to a lot of restaurants and sights.  The hotel was cozy and the employees were very kind - we would stay there again.

The Smiths Bakery, Paris

As soon as we arrived in Paris we checked into the hotel and then wandered around looking for some pastry...I wasn't kidding when I said eating was the main mission of this trip for me...poor Andrew had to stop at every bakery we passed while I admired their displays and treats.

The first place we decided to try was called "The Smiths Bakery" - totally not a French name, but it looked really delicious so we decided to try it out.  Total bliss, utter and complete bliss.  Everything we tried from this place was a winner!  We went back twice in our 3 days stay there.

 This Palmier was so good!  It had a dark nutty taste to it almost like caramel or burnt butter - best one I have ever eaten!
 Super Moist Praline cake...really it was a cupcake without a wrapper - but it was delicious

They had a gelato cart in front of the bakery, it looked so good but we never got around 
to trying time!

Le Bistrot Mazarin, Paris

After we walked off the calories from our Pastry we stumbled upon this place - it was packed, but the servers were very friendly and even stopped us from ordering the lining of cows stomach stew...that was close...
 Sauteed Leeks with a balsamic dressing topped with a deep fried soft boiled egg...very yummy!
 Roast Chicken in a cider sauce with French Fries

The next morning we were tempted to return to the Smiths Bakery, but instead we tried a place next to it that lots of people were going in and out of

 Andrew got a Pain au chocolat...of course...
Delicious and simple egg quiche.  They serve them room temperature in a lovely flaky pastry....speaking of eggs, I noticed at the grocery stores they keep the eggs on a shelf near cereal and not cold in a refrigerator...super awesome!

This is us on an awesome Blue Bike Tour of the city!  Great tour to get an overview of the city - definitely do it if you are in Paris!

The lovely Notre Dame

Lots of options for grab an go sandwiches on baguettes...this one was delicious!  Some sort of paprika chicken with yummy!

After the bike tour we stopped and got this super refreshing fresh fruit and sorbet treat.  It was so light and delicious with lots of weird fruits including some gooseberries and fresh coconut slices.

Mass at Notre Dame, such a beautiful Church!

After our best day of the whole trip, a romantic walk along the Seine river...this dude was awkwardly following us along the river and I kept glancing behind me just to make sure he wasn't about to mug us...third time I turned around he was urinating on the wall...haha super weird.

We decided to try this place out because they had Beef Bourguignon on the menu...we loved it!

Fresh greens with a creamy balsamic dressing and avocado
Oh yes, escargot...we tried it, he loved it...I was indifferent, but it is so pretty looking
Yes!  Beef Bourguignon was so delicious!  
They served it with mashed potatoes and mashed carrots - perfection!

Then we wandered around and found a whole street with tons of walk up Crepe places...
so divinely amazing!

Such an art!

I think this one was sea salt and caramel...not too sure what we ordered, all that matters was that we ate it and it was good!

Artisan Boulanger Patissier

Lovely chocolate financier cake made with ground up almonds, such a simple
but scrumptious little cake

At Versailles

Smashed almond croissant we ate at Versailles, it was so good!
RADISHES EVERYWHERE at a market in Louviers

Our last meal in France was Italian...haha...go figure.  It was also better then the Italian food we ate in Italy!  What are the odds!
Amazing fresh salad with sliced avocados, hearts of palm, grilled corn, pureed roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and fresh melon - so refreshing.

Pizza with perfectly crunchy and thin crust.

Fruit de Mer Pizza, "Seafood Pizza"

Au revoir dear France, we will return to eat more of your delightful food one day.

France: 1     Italy: 0

If you want to get an idea for what France is like please watch the Flight of the Conchords video : )

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Healthy Brownies and Positive Changes in your life

I was driving home today after work and I was reflecting on my life and the lives of people that I know, and the decisions that we have all made for our lives and our futures.  I was thinking that some people have a really hard time making good decisions for their lives ...why does this happen?  I mean the way I see it is that there is good and then there is bad...this line is very stark and all this mumbo jumbo about the grey area is total crap.

For example:  Killing a baby at 2,3, or 8.5 months in the womb is seen as acceptable and okay by some (this is the grey area), but then killing a baby at 9 months outside the womb is seen as unacceptable by all.  Yeah - no grey area there or anywhere- murder is murder no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, no matter the story, no matter the location - inside or outside the womb.

I was thinking about why some people have an easier time distinguishing between the good and the evil, and why some people can't seem to see that line at all.  I think this line of thought came about after I read this reflection yesterday in a daily devotional I occasionally read.

"Because of all of the following that we do, a lot of mixed messages can buzz around us.  Still, Jesus wants to be the main one we follow, and we need to tune into His voice.  God speaks to us a lot; messages may come through nature, Scripture, dreams, our sacramental and communal lives and in the whispers deep in our hearts.  We are invited to transform and trust.  Ultimately, we must have a habit of listening to Jesus so that we can discern what is of God and what is not.  We are called to be people who know Jesus so well that we can recognize his voice and follow Him above all else."
Sr. Julia Walsh, F.S.P.A

As I look back on my life and the decisions that I have made (I'm not saying they have all been good - because they have definitely not been), but I see that I was able to make the bigger and more important life changing decisions and the little ones with confidence and peace because I was trying to listen to what God had planned for me.  As I look around me and see so many people struggling and making poor life decisions it seems clear that the root of their being stuck in the grey area is due to the fact that they can't hear the voice of Jesus and see His plan for their lives.  Oh how beautiful it would be if everyone could hear the voice of Jesus in their lives and see how much He loves them and wants them to be happy.  I pray for a lot for people in my life who struggle with making good decisions, usually I pray for an exact thing or an exact problem they are facing...I think it is time I also start praying that they can tune out the world around them and instead hear the clear and commanding voice of Jesus telling them that they are loved and pointing them in the right direction.

It is never too late to make a positive change in your matter how big or small it is never too late.

Speaking of positive changes...really this is connected, I swear :)

Today I went through a few boxes of "too big for me now, but one day I will surely fit back into them clothes" from 3 years ago.  Got rid of them all.

I was feeling guilty for eating to many cookies recently...they are truly my arch nemesis...then I tried on a pair of my pants from 3 years ago and they almost fell off they were so big and baggy on me.  I guess it has never really registered with me how much weight I have lost in the last 3 years.  Seeing clothes that are 3 sizes too big on me now was such a shock and the encouragement I needed...I went and threw the plate of cookies away immediately.

This was a positive change in my life.  Eating healthier, working out more intentionally, and feeling better about everything in my life.

Make a change.  A big one or a small one.  We all need to change me I know...I have so much to work on!  Ask God what needs to change in your life and listen for His instructions.

Gluten/Refined Sugar Free Brownies 
adapted slightly from the Deliciously Ella blog
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup cocoa (I used raw cacao)
1/4 tsp. baking soda 
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix honey, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth.  Add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Stir to blend. Pour into greased 8x8 inch pan. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until center no longer jiggles and top feels cakey.

Cool on a wire rack before cutting.  Yum.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Italy vs. France in a food showdown...who wins?

My hubby and I just returned from a 10 day adventure to Italy and France.  I had traveled to Portugal when I was a kid, but haven't been back to Europe since then.  Andrew had never been to Europe.  So this was a real experience for us, totally put us out of our element being in a country where we didn't speak the language.

These are some things that I learned from our trip:

1)  Have comfortable walking shoes - this is a must...and find them many weeks before you leave for your trip, not the day before.

2)  Travel light.  We really tried to pack light, but as we went from place to place we kept acquiring more stuff and our bags expanded.  We were going in and out of airports, subways, trains and buses a lot - which was difficult with heavy bags.  I think I wore everything I packed, but we had access to laundry throughout the trip - so in retrospect I would have packed even lighter.

3)  Learn a few key words from each language of the country you are travelling to..such as: Please, thank you, water, bathroom, yes, no, etc...

4)  Pace yourself.  We tended to overbook our days, and by then end of the day we would almost collapse out of exhaustion.  Oy.

5)  Bathrooms are really hard to find in Italy and France. There aren't really any public ones, and most of the time you have to eat or drink somewhere to be able to use their bathrooms...ended up paying $6 one time for one coffee just so we could use their bathroom.

6)  Look up the customs and etiquette of the country you are travelling to.  Do you tip at restaurants?  Learn the basics of the menus and courses they typically serve.  For example, in France a lot of the restaurants had price fix menus with 3-5 courses.  Also, most restaurants in Italy didn't open for dinner until after 7:30pm.

Okay - let's start out with the most important thing from our trip - the FOOD!


We stayed at an apartment in Trastevere  that we found on airbnb.  The place was great, hosts were awesome and gave us lots of information before our trip, and we recommend it to anyone travelling to Rome.  My sister lived in Rome during college for a semester and suggested this part of town as a good place to stay.  She was right.  It was set apart from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still in walking distance to all the big tourist sights, plus there were lots of cute restaurants nearby, and tons of Churches.

L'Antica Salumeria, Rome

We stopped by this place that is located in the piazza that the Pantheon is in.  Got these yummy chewy cookies that were rolled in pine nuts.

Mama Ristobistro, Vatican area

We ate lunch at this little cafe near the Vatican.  It was clean, service was great, and the food was fresh.  We had zucchini and eggplant fritters, and then a shrimp, vegetable and couscous dish.  Pretty good!

Hostaria Luce, Trastevere

This was by far our most favorite restaurant in Italy!  We stumbled upon it after trying to get into 2 other restaurants that had good reviews online, only to be turned away since we didn't have a reservation.  We were tired and so hungry, and then we found this little gem.  They had a real lemon tree with lemons on it in front of the place so we decided to give it a try.  The owners and hosts were so gracious and kind to our weary souls, and they made us feel most welcome.  The took the time to explain some things on the menu and tell us about their specials.  The owner was a legit old Italian guy that was so happy and kind, and made us feel right at home.

They served us fresh bread with this yummy whipped ricotta topped with some sort of artichoke mousse - delicious! 
 Fresh greens and fruit salad - simple, but so fresh!  The owner said they got most of the veggies from their farm that very morning.
 Boiled broccoli, romanesco broccoli and cauliflower
 Fresh pasta with a lamb ragu
 Fresh artichoke ravioli
 Baba au Rhum cake - amazing!
 La Torta “Caprese” cake - chocolate and almond - scrumptious!
 A welcome sight to weary travelers!

Vechchio Forno, Florence

This was the best bakery we found during our time in Italy.  We went there twice in the 2 days we were in Florence.  Cute little place with sweet ladies working there, always a line, but worth it!

 Some kind of Spinach and ricotta pastry - so flaky and simple, but really good!
 Pan au chocolate - again, he really stuck to getting the same thing everywhere : )
Super moist carrot bread, eating on the steps of the San Lorenzo market area

Borgo Antico, Florence

Our first day in Florence we happened upon the Santo Spirito market - super lucky we caught it since it only comes around once a month!  There were a bunch of cute restaurants in that piazza, so we returned the next day and found this place.  Had some yummy pizza and a fresh shaved artichoke and Parmesan salad there.

Gelateria Carabe, Florence
I was on a mission to find a cannoli before I left Italy...they are really Sicilian, so it is not common to find them in bakeries near Rome and Florence.  The first night we passed the place right up and ended up getting sub par gelato somewhere close by.  The second night we were determined we would find the place and thanks to Andrew's navigation skills we found it!!!  Totally worth the search, added bonus their gelato was the best we had!  The cannoli was so delicious and fresh!  The key to finding a good cannoli is to find a place where they fill the cannoli after you order it, otherwise the shell can get soggy.  If you are in Florence seek this place out and thank me later.

That's about it for Italy Folks!  This post has gotten too long, so I am going to talk about the Food in France in a separate post soon to come...stay tuned!