Copycat Cheesecake Factory Barbecue Ranch Salads

We all have favorite meals and snacks that we crave from time to time.

Copycat Cheesecake Factory Barbecue Ranch Salads

 

For me, it can be something as simple as a fig, honey and goat cheese crostini, or something more hearty like Chicken Saag from my favorite Indian place down the road. For my fiance, it’s Chicken Barbecue Ranch Salads from the Cheesecake Factory.  Read more

Perfect + Simple Baked Chicken with Veggies

Say goodbye to dry chicken. And hello to …

perfect baked chicken juicy
Tender, juicy poultry perfection. Seriously, after you cook your chicken this way I promise you that you’ll never want to cook it another way. I will be the first to say I have struggled to master the art of cooking chicken over the years, but I think I’ve finally cracked the technique.

I’ve learned that it is a myth that to get tender chicken, you have to cook at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time. You can actually get restaurant-quality results in under 30 minutes! Read more

Ready…Set…Go!! The Sweeter Life is open for business!

For the past four years, I’ve been thinking about starting a business on the side selling cookies and treats for special occasions, friends and family, etc. And now, after much encouragement, the time has come for me to follow through on my dream. I give you….. (drumroll please)

The Sweeter Life cookies and treats

The Sweeter Life is your destination for cookies, bars and cupcakes — perfect for weddings, birthdays, businesses and any social gatherings! Watch for a website to come, but for now, email me for ordering and pricing information. Orders are available for free pick-up and expedited shipping (shipping charges will depend on location). Contact me for more information. The time for me to share my passion is now, and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me. Have a lovely and sweet day!

Honey Oat + Coconut Granola Bars

Who says making granola bars has to be difficult and time-consuming?

Honey Oat + Coconut Granola Bars | laurenhardy.com

If you’ve ever wanted to start baking homemade granola bars but were too daunted by the task — this post is for you.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked past Nature Valley bars and told myself, “You should really try making those yourself sometime,” but then never took the initiative because I feared it would be difficult. Until today. One day last week, I woke up and just told myself I was going to try it, whether it was a success or flop. Now, I have learned that making granola bars from scratch is probably one of the easiest things to do in the kitchen, aside from cooking noodles and sauteing vegetables, or things of that nature.

What I love about these granola bars is that they are the perfect fix for when hunger strikes. Along with the usual dried fruit and nuts, I carry one or two of these around with me all day in case I have a snack attack. Another plus? Though many baked goods spoil within a few days, these bars still tasted the same after an entire week of being in a sealed container. Not too shabby …

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God, do you really love me?

Discouragement, dissatisfaction, anxiety, fear and shame. Though these five words carry different, painful ramifications, there is one trait they share: They keep us from experiencing love, peace and self-confidence.

Discouragement. A coworker undermines us at work – we shame ourselves for not being smarter.
Dissatisfaction. Daily life doesn’t live up to our expectations – we wallow in our situation and itch for something more.
Anxiety. A looming diagnosis has yet to be determined – we walk around on pins and needles and hold our breath.
Fear. The news reports another shooting – we lie awake at night fearing the worst.
Shame. Someone or something attacks our identity or communicates hatred – we feel unworthy and unlovable.

Imagine a life full of discouragement, dissatisfaction, anxiety, fear and shame. What do you see? For awhile, I would have been the first to raise my hand and say “me, me!” I am the poster child for these types of pain. Many of the circumstances and environments I endured in my childhood managed to hardened my heart, which ultimately led to self-loathing and a complete disconnect between me and God’s love. Don’t ask me where, but somewhere along the line, amid all the raging seas, I forgot what God’s love looked like…and what it meant for me.

Did I love God? Absolutely. But did I feel God’s love and love myself? Not exactly. I shut myself off to those emotions to protect myself from being hurt in the ways that others had hurt me. It was the only thing I knew to do to keep myself safe.

But no matter what I thought or believed, there is beauty in the brokenness. How?

Because now I see, that even with a hardened heart, God loves me through it all. And He loves YOU through it all, too. 

I’m still learning more about God’s love and asking him to continue to melt my heart even more every day. It hasn’t been easy, but He has given me the peace and reassurance that it’s OK to let go and open up.

The best part is: the more I grow to understand God’s love, the more I believe in my purpose and myself.

Do you feel God’s love?

Imagine what He sees when He looks down on you and compare it with what the Bible says. Are you letting the five words steal your joy and ability to feel love?

 

Strawberry, Caramelized Onion + Balsamic Pizza

“We are of many colors, but all of one heart,” I overheard a parent say at a recent PTO meeting that I attended as part of my job as Communications Specialist for Edina Public Schools.

The group was talking about the importance of embracing diversity and creating educational opportunities for students to authentically bond with peers different from themselves. I nodded my head in agreement as the parents took turns discussing why it’s necessary to branch out and interact with people regardless of race, skin color, religion or gender.

Diversity opens the door to share perspectives through storytelling. And as a storyteller, I truly believe these perspectives have the power to forever change a life. Certainly, not every person we come in contact with is going to leave a lifelong impression on us, but it’s incredible how even one social exchange can alter a worldview, however slight the change may be.

strawberry basil balsamic mozzarella pizza_lauren hardy

So where does pizza tie in? Unfortunately, I don’t think this Strawberry, Basil + Balsamic Pizza is going to change someone’s life…unless you’ve never had goat cheese before, and then, in that case, this pizza could be rock-your-world life changing. Read more

The only thing that can break every chain

This week, I had a heart-wrenching interaction with a young girl. The following post follows that conversation and my reactions to what was said.

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Though she had seemed fine just moments before, the young girl I was speaking to looked at me with tears in her eyes.

Photo | Dustin Gaffke, Creative Commons

Photo | Dustin Gaffke, Creative Commons

“I’ve struggled with depression since I was 10,” she said, her lips pursing together to keep the pain shut inside. “Sometimes the pressures of life…it just becomes too much, and I don’t know what to do.”

My heart broke into pieces. Here was this special, little girl, struggling with something so big. Why did things like this have to happen? It just wasn’t fair. I wanted to give her a hug. I tried to think of what to say…anything that could impact her in a positive way. I didn’t know if my words would even mean anything at all to her, or offer any kind of comfort, but in a step of faith, I decided to share a bit of my story with her. I reached out my hand and told her that I could relate.

“How?” she asked.

“Well, I struggled with anxiety attacks in high school,” I began, pausing for a few moments, before leaving her with something that took me years to learn: “But I promise you, it gets better. Keep fighting. Things can change.”

As I walked away from the girl, I felt helpless. I was mad and sad. Mad that this young soul had to go through something like this at such a vulnerable age, and sad for not just her, but myself, who also sometimes still doesn’t know what to do when the things I struggle with resurface.

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Have you ever met someone whose words or actions held a mirror up to your soul? Someone who exposed the darkest part of you that lingers no matter how often you bid it to go away?

That’s what happened when I spoke with this girl. She reminded me of the anxiety that lingers still deep within my soul. She reminded me of my weakness: that I don’t know all the answers, or have a secret formula for happiness or a content spirit. But amid all of that doom and gloom, her story also reminded me of the hope and power we have within Christ.

Later that day, I took a moment to reflect and pray. I refused to be defeated, or see this girl’s situation as hopeless.

Dear Jesus, help this sister…help me…help all your children overcome. Our daily lives and struggles are proof that we can’t go through life alone. And I know you made us for so much more than all of this pain. I know there is a reason for it all. So show us your glory. Make us new. Mold us into all that you want us to be. And help us see you—see love—in everything.

I don’t know how many of you out there are struggling with something, but I want you to know, and I truly believe, that if we place our trust in Jesus, He has the power to break every chain that holds us down. I’ve seen him at work in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. It might not be on our time tables and battle scars are common, but I will continue to hold on to the hope that in Christ, we can choose to overcome each and every day.

Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Covered Cookie Bars

Let me preface this post by saying that I value healthy eating. I get dietary guidelines and the importance of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and (for those of us who are not lactose-intolerant) dairy products.

sea salt chocolate caramel cookie bars

I am an advocate of whole foods. And I truly believe I feel best when my diet is full of them. And yet…I am also someone who believes in enjoying something sweet every day.

I believe in moderation and taking care of our bodies and minds; but I don’t believe in deprivation.

Dessert should be delightful, fun and delicious. One night, as I was enjoying a regular chocolate chip cookie, I asked myself…what could be more delicious and fun than a chocolate chip cookie?

My conclusion? A chocolate chip cookie covered in sea salt caramel and chocolate, of course! Baker’s tip: For extra gooey cookies, take the bars out of the oven about 5 minutes early, then serve with vanilla ice cream or milk. (Note: picture is not a 13×9 pan as instructed to use in the recipe. The cookie bars in the photo were made using leftover dough.)

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Cheesy French Breads with Artichoke + Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the messiest, but most delicious and satisfying appetizers you will ever taste. It’s so good, my fiance and I frequently make a meal out of it by eating several with a side salad.

Cheesy French Breads_Hardy

Cheese. Garlic. Bread. Pesto. Artichoke. And more cheese.

Probably a good idea to grab the napkins for this one, folks.

Though simple by design, this appetizer is bold in flavor. I originally developed this recipe for Pillsbury.com, which is why the first ingredient is their crusty French loaf bread dough—feel free to use fresh French bread if that is what you prefer. Either way, you’ll hardly be able to wait for these piping hot cheesy breads to cool off before digging in. Read more

Caught by surprise

A woman went into cardiac arrest at our church yesterday.

Ambulance

In the middle of worship, after the last reprise of the chorus of Christ Is Enoughsomeone from the congregation yelled, “We need prayer!” The church my fiance and I attend is very large, so we could not see what was going on. All we could do was follow the worship leader’s instruction, drop everything that we were thinking about, and run to God in prayer for this sister in Christ.

Eight scary minutes passed since the paramedics carried her outside of the sanctuary, and our lead pastor came on stage to update us on her condition.

“Eight minutes ago, I was told that this woman was in full cardiac arrest, with no heartbeat,” he paused. “But I can say now, thanks to your prayer, and God’s power and provision in guiding the medical team’s facilitation of care, the woman has a heartbeat and is being sent to the hospital to recover.” Read more