Looking Back

rachelandjames 0521What a year it’s been! Without a doubt, 2014 has been my favorite year yet, thanks, of course, to the fact that I got to marry my handsome husband in April. The time that we got to spend celebrating with family and friends throughout our engagement season and during the wedding itself was completely irreplaceable. We’ve gotten to settle into our life together, explore new places, host friends at our home for loads of dinners, barbecues, and parties, snuggle with our fur baby, and plan exciting things for the future.

Looking back on 2014 has been a wonderfully reflective practice for me because we were blessed with so many adventures and amazing time with family and friends. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Starting a monthly Girls Night In tradition, thanks to Korena’s ingenuity and incredible hostessing abilities.
  2. Spending a weekend in Atlanta with our sister- and brother-in-law, enjoying time together and planning our wedding ceremony, which Brian did a brilliant job of officiating.
  3. Buying a juicer – a silly little thing that has truly changed my lifestyle as well as James’s – and whipping up tons of delicious creations, especially this spicy green variety.
  4. Slowly but surely adding special decorative (and functional) pieces to our home. My favorites: our bar cart & Yes affirmation banner, our bedside sconces, our dining table, our bookshelf-turned-china cabinet (inspiration found here), these quirky planters, our guest bedding, and my office lamp.
  5. Picking out our wedding bands with our jeweler in Arkansas. This was a moment in the wedding planning process that made our impending nuptials feel so very real.
  6. Traveling to Wheaton more than a few times for wedding dress fittings, family dance parties, and even a little rest and relaxation. One of the best things about the wedding planning season was getting to spend so much time with Mom, Dad, and Andrew.
  7. Celebrating my bachelorette weekend with my bridesmaids and best gals, many of whom traveled from all over the country to spend time with me. Pampering ourselves at the ESPA at the Joule Hotel was an absolute treat, and the dance party that followed at my house later that evening was one for the books.
  8. Our wedding weekend festivities. Having all of our loved ones and best friends in one place (at my favorite hotel, to be specific) at one time was totally surreal and beautiful, and it was truly a time that I’ll never forget. (I remember feeling particularly emotional when this photo was taken.)
  9. April 13th, 2014 – our wedding day! I still remember every little detail from our special day, and I could go on and on about all of my favorite parts and details…maybe I will on our one year anniversary. Spending our wedding night at the Hotel Saint Cecilia was so, so special, too.
  10. Honeymooning in Belize – what a gorgeous country. I can’t wait to go back someday!
  11. Starting this blog – three cheers to Coffee & Tacos!
  12. Settling into our life as roommates, one of my favorite parts about being married to James. I love living with him – and with Callie, of course! I feel so blessed by our sweet little family of three.
  13. Taking a calligraphy class. I love learning new things (especially if chicken & waffles are involved).
  14. Reveling in our wedding photos as well as our wedding video. We are blessed by incredibly talented friends who captured our special day so perfectly.
  15. Visiting Erin in Boulder with Karli and Becca. It was so fun to see our friend thriving in her new city, and there are few things better than Colorado in the summertime.
  16. Having Mom & Dad visit us in Dallas for a weekend. I loved having them stay at our home, explore our new neighborhood, and try out some of our favorite new haunts.
  17. Seeing Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers and Katy Perry in concert. (Puh-lease click on that link for the Katy Perry concert – our seats were so incredible that you have to see the view for yourself!) Though both artists are completely different from one another, each of the shows were equally mind-blowing.
  18. Hosting a garage sale and raising $5,300 to benefit Touch A Life! (Though I learned I am extremely terrible at hosting garage sales – five minutes in and I’m mixing margaritas and organizing fashion shows, yikes.)
  19. Celebrating five whole years of living in Dallas. My, how time has flown and how things have changed!
  20. Spending so many lovely weekends at the ranch, including last week for the Brown family Christmas festivities.
  21. Cooking (and categorizing + filing!) so many delicious recipes (some better than others, of course). If I had to choose a few favorites, they would be this pie, these enchiladas, this soup, and this salad.
  22. Visiting Andrew in Los Angeles with Mom, Dad, and James. There is nothing better than spending a weekend on the Best Coast with my family (dining in a greenhouse is a close second).
  23. Spending five days in Nashville for work and play, and eating at one of my new favorite restaurants in the country. Becca was the very best tour guide!
  24. Having our wedding featured on Style Me Pretty and being selected as a featured couple for Southern Newlywed’s blog! Our tacos-themed photo shoot was one of my most favorite memories from the year – what could be better than spending an evening noshing on tacos, drinking margaritas, laughing with my husband, and having it all documented by our extremely talented friend? Nothing.
  25. Traveling to San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, and Big Sur with Mom and Andrew. A full recap is yet to come but I can say that, without a doubt, after our honeymoon, this was absolutely my favorite travel adventure of the year. (Check out three of my favorite photos from the trip here, here, and here.)
  26. Reveling in the Thanksgiving holiday at home in Wheaton, making sure to squeeze in plenty of playtime with Andrew and Erin.
  27. Celebrating my 29th birthday with margaritas, puppy snuggles, and a delicious steak dinner with James.
  28. Speaking of James, throwing him a surprise 30th birthday party that will go down in history as one of the best parties ever!
  29. Taking a wonderfully restorative trip to Austin with James and Callie to celebrate Christmas, our birthdays, and life in general. It was so nostalgic being back in Austin – the last time we had been there was for our wedding! But we created so many wonderful new traditions and made so many new memories, so I can’t wait to go back. It was perfect (just like this picture – #icant).

This year was such an amazing one, and I feel so blessed by all that we’ve been given. Aside from broken bones and cancelled Ghana trips, there are few things that I want to leave behind in 2014 – there are so many memories that I’d like to relive over and over again! That being said, I love the fresh start associated with a new year, and I know that so much goodness is in store in 2015. Thanks for following along as I document it all here on the blog. Happy New Year!

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Pumpkin Chili

Whew, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things after Christmas, isn’t it? Especially when New Year’s Eve lurks just around the corner. James and I spent Christmas at the ranch with his parents, siblings, aunt, nieces, and nephew (12 of us in total!), and we had an absolute blast. Our five days in Cross Plains were filled with lots of runs and walks on long dirt roads, snuggles with our 11-month old niece, playtime with all of the ranch puppies (Callie included!), many stolen naps, several game nights (have you ever played Telephone Pictionary? holy fun!), a triple date with James’s sisters and their husbands, and, of course, plenty of delicious food. We celebrated my birthday on Saturday and I got to pick out the menu, so I chose some of my favorite dishes from James’s mom’s repertoire – breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes with white gravy, beet & citrus salad, and spiced green apples. For dessert we had another one of my favorites, the rhubarb-strawberry crisp that James’s mom served at our rehearsal lunch. It was heavenly!

When we got home, James tended to some chores around the house (namely taking down the Christmas tree, le sigh) while I tossed in a load of dusty laundry and got to work on a super basic pumpkin chili that Becca passed my way. I tweaked the recipe slightly, adding in some grass-fed ground beef from the ranch as well as our favorite ranch-style beans. Don’t get turned off by the idea that there’s pumpkin in the chili – it just adds a good richness, no sweetness (as long as you don’t mistakenly buy pumpkin pie filling!). The cumin and chili powder in this dish are the stand-out flavors, and I love them. You can use any kind of beans that you like. I think this would be delicious served alongside some cornbread and topped with green onions and sour cream.

Pumpkin Chili

Recipe adapted from Julia’s Album (photo from Julia’s Album as well)

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 2 cans Rotel tomatoes with diced chiles
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 can ranch-style beans with jalapeños
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Season beef with whatever you like – we prefer onion powder, hot salt, and pepper. Place ground beef in the skillet and cook until brown.
  2. In a large pot or second skillet, cook chopped onion and minced garlic in remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes on medium heat until soft.
  3. Add pumpkin, canned tomatoes & chiles, vegetable broth, black beans, garbanzo beans, and ranch-style beans. Add ground beef.
  4. Add half the cumin and half the chili powder, stir everything well, and season with salt and pepper. Taste your chili and season if needed. If desired (and yes, we do desire it!), add the remaining cumin and chili powder.
  5. Bring to a boil. Make sure to stir all ingredients together well to combine flavors and spices. Reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes longer.
  6. Top with green onions and sour cream and serve with cornbread.

Harvest Salad + Basic Vinaigrette

Since we’re in the height of the holiday season, our calendars filled with parties and treats and goodness galore, I’m seeking some balance as I plan out my meals, especially as I chart out my workday lunches. To counter all of the delicious holiday treats that I’m consuming (and loving), I’ve been guzzling green juice and noshing on lots of fresh salads, ensuring that I’m still absorbing loads of good nutrients. I’ve come up with a leafy concoction that mirrors a salad that Korena makes every year for the harvest, and, as a result, there are very few exact calculations for the amount of each ingredient required. So I’d just use however much of each item that fits your palette best. I love this salad because every bite is a little surprise – you may get a burst of tomato or creamy avocado, a bite of tangy cheese or wholesome quinoa, or a taste of tart cranberries or crunchy pecans. The vinaigrette I use with this salad is my very favorite because it’s so versatile, and it comes from a recipe in Bread & Wine (of course). It’s super basic yet hugely flavorful and it goes with everything (including last week’s White Bean Soup). Enjoy!

Harvest Salad

Ingredients for Salad:

  • Mixed greens
  • Spinach
  • 1/4 ripe avocado
  • Grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • Broccoli, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup cooked quinoa
  • Mediterranean feta cheese (regular feta will suffice but I love the added kick from the Mediterranean flavors – I use Président brand)
  • Dried cranberries
  • Pecan pieces (toasted if you have time!)

Ingredients for Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper

Directions:

  1. Mix all of the salad ingredients together. That’s it!
  2. For the vinaigrette, combine the ingredients in a jar (I use a rinsed out salsa jar – it works perfectly). Shake, shake, shake until you achieve your desired consistency. Add more oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste.

Camille Styles Entertaining

Camille Styles EntertainingOver the weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Camille Styles at her book-signing party in Dallas, and, as expected, she was just lovely – genuine and bubbly and so nice to be around. I have always loved reading her blog because it’s so chock-full of excellent, creative content, beautiful visuals, and lots of resources for things to do and places to eat in Camille’s hometown of Austin, one of my favorite places to visit. I was so excited when I learned earlier this year that she was publishing a coffee table book. (Fun side note – our wedding planners arranged all of the flowers for her gorgeous book!) The final product is just beautiful, and like the blog, it is filled with fun ideas for making every day one that is not only worth remembering but also, most importantly, worth celebrating. I love this excerpt from the book where Camille writes,

“So while I’m not always successful at it, I do my best to seize the day and let the beautiful items I own bring me joy right this minute instead of waiting for a ‘worthy’ opportunity. We all deserve to be surrounded by beauty, and if something breaks, it can be fixed; if it’s lost, it can be replaced. Even if your spending an evening solo eating Chinese takeout, set the table with real dishes, pour yourself a glass of wine, and savor a good meal. It’s moments like these that set us on a path toward living the life we dream of – a life in which we’re respecting our bodies with nourishing food, nurturing our souls by making time for our passions, engaging our senses with beauty, and expressing our love to family and friends by inviting them to create memories together.”

I’ve gathered so much inspiration from within the book’s pages, and I can’t wait to put Camille’s tips into practice!

Week & End

IMG_8696Happy weekend! What are you up to over the next couple of days? Becca and Mark get in from Nashville late tonight, so James and I are going to eat the yummy pot roast we put into the crock pot this morning and snuggle with Callie until they arrive – I can’t wait to see them! Becca and I are taking a City Surf class in the morning, then the boys will join us as we meet some friends from college for lunch at Good 2 Go Taco. In the afternoon, when Becca and Mark head to a wedding, Laura and I are going to meet up to attend the Camille Styles Entertaining book party! I’m so excited – all of Camille’s other parties have looked so beautiful, and I’m sure the Dallas event will be no exception. On Sunday, we’re going to eat more tacos and Tex-Mex, and in the evening, Laura and Kyla will come over for our annual besties Christmas dinner. We’re going to whip up some of this festive punch to drink alongside a harvest salad, tortilla soup, and pie. There’s so much goodness to look forward to!

Have a great weekend and enjoy some links from around the interwebs!

I saw this carry on cocktail kit on Instagram the other day and thought that the idea was brilliant. The packaging is so dang cute, too.

It might be time to face the facts: I am addicted to Serial. Like, want-to-cancel-all-of-my-plans-so-I-can-listen-to-more-podcasts addicted. Becca sent me this great link that helps listeners associate photos with the characters in the real life story, and while I love the way the podcasts force you to really hone in and listen actively, it’s nice to have a visual of the people mentioned throughout the episodes. I also love that friends and even local businesses have been hosting listening parties – it conjures up images of fireside chats and evenings spent listening to programs on the radio. So good.

My friends Natalie & Andrea posted a gift guide on their blog and I love everything they selected! I especially adore the shout-out they gave to me and the Clare Vivier coin purses that I gifted to our bridesmaids at our wedding. Their sweet words about our special day were so touching – thanks, gals!

Per our birthday tradition, Erin sent me our favorite Momofuku Milk Bar B-Day Truffles and they are unbelievably delicious. I actually can’t believe that I still have a few left – it would be so easy to devour them in minutes – but I’m glad that I saved some so that I can enjoy one (or two) for dessert after tonight’s pot roast.

As is typical this time of year, there are so many amazing movies coming out. I want to see The Imitation Game, Exodus: God and Kings, Wild (I read the book last year), and Unbroken (I’m reading the book now), to name a few. P.S. We saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay before Thanksgiving and loved it – definitely a must-see!

Photo by Briana Wollman for James’s 30th birthday party 

White Bean Soup

I swear that I crave soup on a weekly basis in the wintertime. It’s not even very cold here in Dallas (I think it’s supposed to be 70 degrees on Saturday!) but there’s something about the combination of soup and December and the holidays that is nostalgic for me, so I find myself making tons of different kinds over the course of the month (continuing on into January and February, too). Since I’m cooking through Bread & Wine, I decided to try author Shauna Niequist’s White Bean Soup, a hearty mix loaded with delicious beans and vegetables. It is safe to say that I am now obsessed with this soup – it was so easy to make and it is extremely tasty. It thickens over time and gets better and better each day, almost chili-like in texture and so flavorful and robust. I add vinaigrette to my steaming bowl of soup, and James liked his with prosciutto. Both of us agree that parmesan cheese a must. And here’s an important note – I couldn’t find fennel at the store when I was shopping so I made the soup without it, and I think it turned out delicious. I’m sure it tastes wonderful with fennel included, as the recipe suggests.

White Bean Soup

Recipe via Shauna Niequist

Ingredients:

  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1/2 lb carrots, sliced into thin coins on a diagonal
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced on a diagonal
  • 6 cans white beans in liquid
  • 1 tbsp rosemary, rough chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a stockpot or Dutch oven, soften two sliced shallots in olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add carrots, fennel, and celery, and allow to soften for 10 – 15 minutes.
  3. Add beans in their liquid and chopped rosemary.
  4. Cover and cook for 20 minutes at a gentle boil.
  5. Taste, add salt & pepper, taste again – and keep in mind that you’ll get a good amount of salt from the toppings.
  6. Cook for 20 more minutes, or longer if you have time. Off heat, mash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon for a rustic chunky texture. If you’d like a smoother texture, run it through a food processor or use an immersion blender in the pot.
  7. For the balsamic vinaigrette, mix a spoonful of Dijon, a few tablespoons of balsamic, a quarter cup or so of olive oil, some salt and pepper in a glass jar, then shake well. Adjust to taste.
  8. Serve with a small pitcher of vinaigrette, and bowls of prosciutto torn into ribbons, grated Parmesan, and chopped rosemary.

Around Here

Party DecorWow, time sure does fly – December 10th already?! I apologize for my absence on the blog lately – but then again, I don’t because so much goodness has been happening around here and I’ve stepped away from my online presence to soak it all in.

The holidays are such a magical time of year, aren’t they? We had an amazing time in Chicago for Thanksgiving, and last week was spent celebrating James and my birthdays, which are just four days apart (so fun!). My 29th birthday was on Wednesday, the 3rd, and Touch A Life has a policy that gives employees the day off on their special day, which is such a treat. I got my stretch on at yoga and my sweat on at City Surf, treated myself to my favorite juice and smoothie at The Gem, picked up some birthday goodies at J. Crew, and got a foot massage at my favorite place. James and I noshed on filet mignon, barbecue ribs, creamy spinach dip, and French fries at Houston’s for dinner, toasting with martinis (for me) and whiskey (for him). It was the perfect day.

James’s 30th birthday was on Sunday and I threw him a surprise party! It was the best. Nearly 35 of our closest friends came to celebrate James and he was so totally shocked when he walked into our house – we nailed the surprise! My super talented friend Bri took photos of the day, which I’ll share here soon. I had so much fun planning the decor (a few party remnants are pictured above), snacks, and drinks, and all of our friends pitched in with setting up, throwing James off, and keeping the secret about the party. It is the best party I’ve ever hosted, filled with so much fun, love, and good food. James had a fantastic time, which made me so happy.

Holiday events are in full swing, which I love! Tonight is a Christmas-themed girls night in at Korena’s, and tomorrow the Black Frames are playing at a charity wrap party hosted by Fullosophie. My dear bestie Becca and her boyfriend Mark are coming in from Nashville to attend a wedding this weekend, and I can’t wait to see them (and eat tacos at the best spot in town). Sunday night marks Laura, Kyla, and my fifth annual Christmas besties dinner, and the following day is my favorite event of the season (tied with the besties dinner, of course) – the Cone Christmas dinner at Patrick and Lauren’s, where Patrick cooks an entire holiday meal filled with delicious seasonal favorites. James and I are going to check out the Highland Park lights with Callie and hot chocolate in tow, and we’re scooting down to Austin the weekend before Christmas as a special treat to one another (also with Callie in tow, as we’ll be staying at my favorite hotel).

I’ve been cooking some of Shauna Niequist’s recipes, as I planned, so I’ll be sharing a recipe tomorrow, as well as some fun posts the rest of the month! But if I go MIA again, have no fear – I’m just enjoying all that the holiday season has to offer, namely the fact that we get to spend this month thinking of the amazing Christmas story and Jesus’s birth. What a beautiful season – I hope you are loving it as much as I am!