Category Archives: Entertaining Company

All of the things I know and love about having company in my home; whether it is for brunch or dinner, fellowship, a holiday or a long weekend. I love it all!

A Trip to the Market

My mom and my aunt are visiting right now and a visit with my mom and my aunt will always include a trip to the market. Always. Not only do we love to cook and eat together but we love to shop together. Grocery shop. Call us crazy but we “window” shop at the grocery store like other women window shop at the mall.

My littlest guy is only in pre-school a few days a week so he is my grocery shopping buddy. He pushes the cart for me, crosses items off of the list for me and helps me find what I am looking for. We had so much fun taking grandma and Aunt Andi to our favorite store yesterday.

First stop, the pastry case. Nathan was given the very important task of picking out a dessert treat for himself and his brother and sister. A big responsibility. But a challenge he was most happy to accept.

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So many choices.

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In the end, it had to be the chocolate cupcakes.

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Of course I had to get a picture of the chocolate croissants.

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And the fruit tart. I love fruit tart but today, I’m just looking.

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Next, cheese. We were shopping for the Greek salad we’d planned for dinner so I only needed Feta but it is always fun to look and imagine the possibilities contained within that deli case. On my aunt’s recommendation I also picked up some Myzithra. Delicious!

By this point, I had heard “lobsters mommy, lobsters” at least 10 times so, it was off to the lobster case.

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Nathan loves to visit the lobsters. What five-year-old boy isn’t fascinated by the lobster tank?

As for me, the lilys in the floral department caught my eye.

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No matter how busy I am, I always walk through the floral department. It makes me happy.

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Question: Why is Nathan blurry? A) Because his mom is still working on her photography skills. B) Because his mom feels a little weird taking pictures in the grocery store and is trying to be quick and discrete. C) Because Nathan never stops moving. D) All of the above. Answer … oh, I think you know the answer.

Next, produce. By far my favorite. Truly. The colors alone captivate me. Grocery store poetry.

Next time you are in the produce aisle, try not to just race through and grab the bananas and bag of salad scribbled hastily on your list. For a moment, forget the list and take a little time to take it all in. Be inspired and realize how blessed you are. We have at our fingertips, health and wellness, variety, beauty and a reminder not only of God’s blessing and provision but of His wonderous creativity.

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See what I mean? Color. Variety. Bounty. We are blessed.

When I’m ready to “check-out”, I always look for Debbie. She’s our favorite checker, Nathan usually spots her first and makes a beeline for her. She is always happy to see us, always remembers us and always has a smile for us. And on this trip, she let me take her picture.

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Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a chore or an errand or just one more thing to do. The grocery store can be a place where we spend time together as a family, laugh and imagine the possibilities, see really cool creatures up close, work on our big-boy skills, make connections and slow down just enough to see all that we have and remember just how fortunate we are.

Joy is where you find it.

By the way, we girls don’t just like to grocery shop. My sister gets into town this afternoon and we’ll be hitting the thrift and antique stores too. We may have to do that while Mr. Nathan is in school though; think “bull in a china shop”.

Oh, I almost forgot, I have an amazing Greek salad to tell you about. I promise I’ll do that soon!

Family Dinner Favorite: Barefoot Contessa’s Lentil Sausage Soup

I can’t remember which dinner favorite number I’m on, so I’ve decided to drop that catchy part of the dinner favorite series. Suffice it to say that this hearty, healthy and insanely delicious soup is most definitely a favorite – even with the kids.

If you have read many of my recipe posts then you will not be surprised to learn that this recipe comes from …

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Right! The Barefoot Contessa. Oh to be “Barefoot in Paris” – well, not all of Paris but I’m sure there are some parts where it is safe to be barefoot – a park maybe? The Jardin des Plantes or the Champ de Mars (I totally googled those) or the Louvre – okay maybe not the Louvre. If you ever do go barefoot in the Louvre in Paris, you really do have to come back here and tell me all about it!

Anyway, all tangents aside, this soup is one of my all time favorite things to eat. In case you were starting to think otherwise, we really do eat pretty healthy around here; apple dumplings and fancy mac and cheese are treats, delicious heavenly treats, but not staples on the regular menu.

Like so much of the food I love, this soup holds special memories for me. One of the first times I made it was two years ago when my high school friend Tara came from San Francisco to spend Thanksgiving with us. She flew in late in the evening, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, after a long day of work in the corporate jungle. I knew that she needed to walk into warmth and comfort, feeling welcome and at home and wondering what that amazing smell was coming from the kitchen. It’s my job to know, I’m her friend.

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After a big hug and a few tears, I invited her to settle into the guest room, put on her jammies and warm socks and relax by the fire; letting the stress of a hectic pace and demanding job begin to melt away (and be replaced by the stress of three wild, really loud little kids who all want “Auntie Tara’s” attention at the same time – never mind that, just think warm and peaceful thoughts; it helps). I made quite a few yummy things for her during that visit (including Thanksgiving dinner) but that first evening of catching up around a warm fire with a steaming bowl of this soup is what stands out most in my memory. I hope it does in hers as well. I love you my friend.

Barefoot Contessa’s Lentil Sausage Soup

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Yes, it looks delicious and it tastes even better.

Give yourself about two hours. The soup is easy to make but time-consuming with a lot of chopping and important steps that ensure proper flavor development. Take your time and enjoy the process, that is, afterall,  half the joy of creating a dish like this.

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Start with French Green Lentils

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I can only find them at one store (a specialty grocer) and they are pricey but Ina swears they are the most tender and flavorful of the lentils. Who am I to question? I will try it sometime with brown or red lentils though, just to see for myself.

Now for the chopping (which is very therapeutic if you didn’t know) …

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onions and leeks – sorry, I forgot to buy the leeks this time but the soup turned out great anyway.

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Carrots, medium dice.

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Celery, medium dice as well – split the stalk lengthwise and chop; be sure to use the celery leaves too, don’t throw them away.

Lentil-Soup-7Thyme and garlic. Be still my heart.

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Saute’ the onions, leeks (if you remembered to buy them), garlic, thyme and seasonings first.

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Add in the celery and carrots. If you are a food nerd like me, you can tell me what the French term is for the carrot, celery, onion combo – I know you can, even if you won’t admit it.

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Then the chicken stock, tomato paste and lentils.

Lentil Soup 12Use a good chicken STOCK, not just broth – it really does make a difference.

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Add in the Kielbasa – the lower fat Turkey Kielbasa tastes great in the soup and is better for you.

Lentil-Soup-14The recipe calls for a splash of red wine, so since the bottle had to be opened anyway …

Lentil-Soup-18A glass of wine, a slice of crusty bread,

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Enjoy!

Wicked … I mean, Fancy Mac and Cheese

She seems like such a nice woman.

Friendly, genuine, approachable.

She’s a loving wife and a great mom. A good friend.

She is kind to animals and loves dogs and horses.

She openly shares her life and her recipes.

My kind of girl.

But this, this is just too much …

She calls it “Fancy Mac and Cheese”. It sounds sweet and safe and wholesome.

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It is not.

A few Saturday’s back, I watched her make it. Smiling innocently, sweetly, looking fabulous.

After the episode ended, I pulled out her cookbook to look “Fancy Mac and Cheese” up for myself.

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Surely my eyes had deceived me. I must have imagined it. Five kinds of cheese, carmelized onions, bacon, roasted mushrooms, bechamel. It couldn’t be. No one has the nerve for such a thing.

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But there it was. In print, before my eyes. Undeniable. In all its sinful, gooey, calorically off the charts glory.

Fancy. Fancy, nothing – this stuff is WICKED.

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When faced with such obvious decadence, what’s a girl to do? A disciplined girl would close the cookbook, back away and make a salad.

What did I do? I made Fancy Mac and Cheese.

That is my confession … I made Fancy Mac and Cheese. I MADE FANCY MAC AND CHEESE!

And then I ate Fancy Mac and Cheese, just a little bit but I still ate it. I ATE FANCY MAC AND CHEESE!

All I can say is … Holy it was worth it Batman!

If you are up for five straight hours on a treadmill, followed by a Jillian Michaels DVD, and far too many burpies, push-ups and mountain climbers, then you are a better woman than I and are safe to click the link below for the recipe …

The Pioneer Woman’s Fancy Mac and Cheese

Five kinds of cheese, nope I wasn’t kidding; gruyere, fontina, parmesan, gorgonzola and a nice hunk of goat cheese. I know. Just wait, It gets even better/worse.

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There’s Bacon.

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And carmelized onions. I’ll give you one guess as to what they were carmelized in.

Yup. And butter too.

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And roasted mushrooms.

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Next, the cheese sauce – a bechamel with the gruyere, fontina, parmesan and goat cheese.

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Pretty much the perfect cheese sauce for macaroni.

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Now the layering begins …

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first onions

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then the cheesy macaroni …

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next the mushrooms, gorgonzola and bacon and then repeat the layers.

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Bake for 20 minutes – just enough time to run a few laps around the back yard – and …

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There it is, maybe the most decadent savory treat ever created.

I served it with a big green salad. You know, to make myself feel better.

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And I shared – to spoil a friend, minimize leftovers and make myself feel better.

There, I have confessed.

If you need to make a Fancy Mac and Cheese confession, I am here for you. I understand.

My Favorite Strata for Brunch or Christmas Morning

Sourdough Strata with Tomatoes and Greens

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I found this recipe in the Food Network Magazine a few years back and have made it countless times since then. Brunch is one of my favorite ways to entertain friends so I am always looking for great recipes and this one certainly qualifies. It is always a crowd pleaser and I hope you will try it. It is great for Christmas morning as it has vibrant red roasted tomatoes and luscious green spinach and looks very festive. I tastes even better and is a good vegetarian option. Because I am not a vegetarian, I often serve it with a side of apple chicken sausages which is a nice touch.

I recently made it for brunch with friends from bible study, read all about it in Set Aside Busy for Brunch and a Deep Breath, and it did not disappoint.

Because this is not my original recipe, although I can pretty much make it in my sleep which is often the case as it gets made right before bed and put in the fridge overnight, I can’t reproduce it for you here on my blog but this link will take you right to it, Sourdough Strata with Tomatoes and Greens.

I would, however, be happy to give you a few hints as to what yummy goodness awaits you and a few thoughts on what has worked best for me in making this dish.

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Beautiful ripe plum tomatoes …

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tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh thyme (you could stop right there and be happy but it gets even better, think cheese – lots and lots of cheese, so keep going) …

Strata-4and roasted until rich and full of flavor. Yes, you will need to soak your sheet tray after roasting the tomatoes. Don’t line it with foil or parchment as you need to be able to scoop and flip the tomatoes during roasting. No shortcuts, you’ll just have to use a little elbow grease and clean the pan or maybe you are fortunate and have children big enough to clean the pan. I envy you. Either way, I promise, it will be worth it.

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A good crusty sourdough is really the best bread for this strata. Don’t trim the crust, use every crusty, crunchy bit!

Strata-5I told you there would be cheese. The recipe calls for Fontina and Parmesan, if you can swing the price, use Parmigiano Reggiano and then save a sliver to eat with a slice of pear. You’ll thank me later.

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I have always used spinach but you can use any green such as kale, collard, arugula, etc. It would be great with arugula – I’ll have to try that soon.

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I know, right? Just wait until it is baked and bubbly and gooey and so delicious that you forbid anyone to speak to you until it is gone so as not to ruin the blissful moment you are having.

If you’ll excuse me, I have some in the fridge leftover from brunch last Thursday, I think I hear it calling my name.

Okay, just a few more things before I go …

Be sure to make it the night before and let it sit in the fridge to allow the bread time to soak up the eggs and milk.

Take it out of the fridge about 30-45 minutes before baking and let it come to room temperature, you will get better results that way.

Be sure to turn off the heat and let it rest in the oven for at least 10-15 minutes so it has time to set up properly.

Enjoy!!

And let me know what you think once you are ready to talk (or type a comment) again that is.

Set Aside Busy for Brunch and a Deep Breath

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Christmas is just around the corner and we girls are BUSY. Have I mentioned that on top of everything else, I have a daughter with a birthday the week before Christmas? BUSY!! This time of year is hectic and our TO DO lists have never been longer. We overload, overcommit, overextend, overdo, and overwhelm … ourselves. It happens. It just does.

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We do all of this while desperately trying not to overlook the WHY of it all. We are celebrating the birth of Christ and the gift of salvation He lovingly and freely gave to us. We know that is what it is all about and it is important to us that in the busy-ness of it all, we slow down a bit and give ourselves time to breathe, time to reflect and time to be grateful. But how do we do it?

Prayer and personal quiet time with God is imperative to our well-being, perspective and spiritual health and is the first place to seek Him and find His peace. God loves and desires that time with us and He puts it on our hearts to need Him and to seek Him. But he has also created us to need each other and to desire connection. He loves to see us gather together in fellowship to enjoy each other’s company and share all that He has given us. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy, in fact it is so much better when it isn’t. This past Thursday, I was so blessed to have a group of women that I have spent the last few months in bible study with come to my home for brunch. Brunch is by far one of my favorite ways to open my home and welcome others. It is easy, it is low-stress and for whatever reason, it is always special. This Thursday brunch was just that, special.

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It was a time to take a breath.

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To reflect on the time we had spent together in the study of God’s word.

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To break bread together and share a meal that everyone had a part in preparing and pulling together.

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To remember and rejoice in the true gifts of the season.

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To set ourselves right and enjoy each other’s company and the company of our Savior.

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To model for our children what it means to share life and gather together in fellowship.

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To be blessed by the wisdom of a Godly woman who encouraged us to come before the Lord with reflection on the state of our hearts and minds and partake of the elements that we might be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas and give thanks for the real gifts of the season.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1Corinthians 11:23-26

May we continue to remember, Lord, what it is we celebrate this joyous season and thank you for the moments we spend together in fellowship, filled with your spirit.

A Martha, A Mary or A Monica?

I recently read a post by Jennifer Schmidt via the [In] Courage blog site that really resonated with me. In her post, The Christmas Party that Almost Wasn’t , Jennifer talked about how she almost cancelled a gathering of friends because her busy schedule had left her Christmas decorating unfinshed and her house a mess and not exactly party ready. But then she remember why she had planned the party in the first place and put the voices of self-doubt to rest; “They didn’t care if my tree trimming mimicked Martha’s because in spite of what she whispers, I knew this was a Good ‘Enough’ Thing.” She went on to have the party and enjoy a truly blessed and special evening. An evening she would have missed. An opportunity to bless other women would have been missed had she listened to “Martha’s” voice in the back of her head. Take a moment to click the link above and read her story. I know you will be blessed and encouraged by it, I certainly was.

Not only did the post itself hit home but so did many of the comments afterward. So many women holding back, afraid to open their homes for so many reasons; too messy, too cluttered too small, too worn down, plain or undecorated, too “lived-in”. But also afraid of being rejected because they had put themselves out there at some point and had had been hurt when no one came and were left feeling insecure and unwilling to try again.

We are holding ourselves back because we are afraid of failure, judgement and rejection. We are afraid we won’t measure up, aren’t good enough or don’t matter so why bother? I just can’t stop thinking about these women, wanting to reach out to the heart of each one and reassure her that she has so much to offer. That she doesn’t need to be perfect, just genuine and willing. Encourage her to do what she can and trust God to do what she can’t.

I want to reach out because as much as I love to open my home to others, to entertain and to fellowship, I get it, I have been there too. And I have been worse. I haven’t just been a Martha, I have been a Monica. I want them to know from the heart of a recovering perfectionist that thinking you have to be perfect and have it all together before you can be accepted only holds you back from your purpose. God works through imperfect people. All the time. He has to, there are no other kind. But it is when we trust Him with our imperfection that He is truly able to use us.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

There was a time in my life when I poured my heart and soul into the illusion of perfection. How I looked, how my home looked. How everything looked. I was compensating on the outside for all that was missing on the inside and what was missing was a true relationship with Jesus and an understanding of His gifting on my life and how I was to use it.

We joke about Martha Stewart and how she has contributed to all of our insecurities. Side note: don’t you love God’s sense of humor naming this woman who symbolizes all that makes us feel inferior “Martha” when it was Martha in the bible who struggled in a similar way?

But as I said, I wasn’t just a Martha, I was a Monica. If you are over the age of 30, I know you remember Monica from the TV show “Friends”. An uptight, type-A, intense, neurotic, controlling perfectionist. Yep, that’s the one.

Now before you run from this blog and never look back, I wasn’t entirely horrible. Actually, that wasn’t really me at all or at least not who I was meant to be. In truth, I was wearing the weight of the world’s expectations, as so many women are. Misjudging the gift of hospitality and service God had given me and putting everything I had into being what I thought I was supposed to be, what I thought I wanted to be. God created me with a servant’s heart but because I didn’t put Him first, I was missing the point and was held captive by worldly expectations.

When I “welcomed” people into my home or entertained, it wasn’t with a heart focused on hospitality and blessing others. It was with a heart desiring to be accepted and applauded not for who I was but for what I could do.

Let me share with you and example of how things went back when I was “perfect”. Please don’t feel obligated to use these tips in the planning of your next party.

The “Twenty Steps to a Perfect Party”

Step one; conception and planning or over-planning of big gathering (a.k.a. production).

Step two; creation of a detailed TO DO list for big production approximately 2.4 miles long.

Step three; become overwhelmed by TO DO list and procrastinate everything that isn’t fun.

Step four; do all of the fun stuff on the TO DO list and then freak out about all of the other stuff that remains on TO DO list; which is most of it.

Step five; Shop for big production. Correction, over shop, over buy, over spend for big production.

Step six; stress about imperfect house. Vow to finish all unfinished projects.

Step seven; stress about having to do everything myself and brood about being the only one who cares about the TO DO list.

Step eight; stay up way too late the night before the big production over cleaning and over perfecting all that I have procrastinated and vowed to accomplish, grumbling the whole time because I am so overwhelmed.

Step nine; get up way too early (after staying up way too late) and get more and more frustrated at my husband because he is still asleep and not up helping me wipe the dust off of the top of the base moldings behind the door of every bathroom and hide all of the unfinished projects that never got finished. Why is he still asleep? Because he is not a crazy person.

Step ten; present my husband with his own TO DO list after he finally decides to get out of bed and help me.

Step eleven; give my husband “the look” and the silent treatment after he says “you know, these are our friends, they don’t care how the house looks or if everything is perfect, they are coming to see us and to hang out with us. We can just order pizza”. I’m sorry, what did he just say? I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that last part. Poor guy, he is obviously unaware that girls peek behind other girls shower curtains to see if the tub is sparkling or (heaven forbid) is in need of some attention.

Step twelve; spend the next several hours in a crazed whirlwind perfecting my house, my meal, my presentation, my personal appearance. Did I leave anything out?

Step thirteen; freak out when the doorbell rings because I would give just about anything for just one more hour. It seems like I could always use just one more hour.

Step fourteen; The moment of truth. Just a few seconds to shove anything less than perfect into the oven, cupboard, closet or pantry. Will anyone need to get into the pantry? Lord, I hope not.

Step fifteen; put on an “it was nothing” smile and soak up the kudos, the “I don’t know how you do its” and the “you are amazings” – stressed, exhausted, missing the point  and a little over the top (okay, so far over the top that I need an oxygen mask) but amazing.

Step sixteen; spend the next hour in the kitchen finishing the meal (ugg, where is that extra hour) while everyone else is socializing and having fun.

Step seventeen; decline any offers of help, really, I’ve got everything under control.

Step eighteen; manage to enjoy exactly 22 minutes of the party.

Step nineteen; start cleaning up because once again, I am just too good of a hostess to accept any offers of help. After all, I certainly can do it all.

Step twenty; skip church the next day because I am a tired crabby mess from being so perfect.

Sound like fun? That is what it takes to put on a perfect “show”. It is crazy, it is unnatural, it is unhealthy and it is unneccessary. I hope you have never done this to yourself but I am willing to bet I am not alone. Why, why, why do we do this to ourselves?

One year I put on a big Halloween Party and slept through the whole thing. No joke. I planned and planned and decorated and made costumes and cooked and cleaned made everything “perfect” and was so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch about an hour into the party. And the party was not even at our house. And I don’t even like Halloween all that much.

I know, crazy. But that is the good news. I am now able to see how crazy all of it was.

Praise God, He did not leave me stuck there. He gave me reason to seek Him to rely on Him to long for His company. At the time, that period of refinement seemed like pain and heartbreak but in the end, it was a blessing, a deliverance.

He made me more of a Mary. And then He made me a Mom. Priority shift, perspective, humility and a softened heart – all wrapped up in three little packages. I am still a Martha and always will be. It is my nature. It is who He created me to be. The difference is I am learning to be a Martha for Him and not for me. Monica still pops in for a visit every now and then but thankfully she doesn’t stay long, one of my children usually sees to that.

My-Mess-4The warning I have posted in my boy’s bathroom because even though it is okay not to be perfect, there are just some things you need to warn people about.

So why am I taking a risk and laying it all out there? Because I am no longer afraid to admit my imperfections and because I was touched by a group of women I don’t know but can relate to. Because I don’t want one more woman to miss out on the joy of fellowship and welcoming people into her life and her home because she doesn’t think she is good enough. And because I don’t ever want to fall back into the trap of pretending to be perfect.

The Christmas season is here and it is the perfect time for opening up your home to others. If this is intimidating to you, start small. Invite just one or two people over, family or close friends you love and trust and order Chinese take-out or pizza (a wise man once suggested that to me) something simple. Or start with brunch and ask everyone to bring something. I love having people over for brunch, it is easy, intimate and relaxed and far less intimidating than a dinner party. The details aren’t what matter, it is the company and moving beyond your comfort zone that does. Try it and see how God works. I’ll be praying for you.

If you, on the other hand, can relate to even a little of what I have shared in this post, here is my challenge to you. Invite someone over and leave the dishes in the sink, the unfolded laundry on the couch and the stack (or stacks) of unsorted school papers and mail on the kitchen counter. I dare you. You may feel like you want to throw up but I promise you in the end you will feel free or at least on your way to feeling free and you will bless your guest by sharing what is real and putting them at ease and they will love you for it. I’ll be praying for you too, you’re gonna need it.

If you don’t know the story of Martha and Mary, I encourage you to read about these wonderful sisters in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-12:11. I also encourage you to read the book “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” by Joanna Weaver. I read it several years ago and am now reading through it again, a refresher course before the holiday entertaining begins.

I’ll be posting soon about “Decking the Halls” around here so just for the sake of authenticity, here are a few behind the scenes photos.

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Christmas decorations awaiting my attention.

My-Mess-2There are always plenty of Legos to step on and after Christmas, there will probably be more.My-Mess-1And the stockings were hung draped over the back of the chair for the last four days, with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Happy December and Happy Imperfect Entertaining!

The Traditions of Thanksgiving Day

It is 5 a.m., Thanksgiving morning (actually, it is currently Friday afternoon – you didn’t really think I had time to write on Thanksgiving morning did you? – but I am sharing a memory so please bear with me) the house is peaceful and the joyful madness in the kitchen is about to begin. But first, a cup of coffee and a little breakfast and a moment to enjoy the quiet and the still of the early morning.

A perfect pear and the stuffing will never miss that little crust of bread. Sighhh, I wish I could have truffle butter every morning.

My quiet moment is just that, a moment. There is a lot to be done. This year I will be feeding six adults and eight kids. Not the 25 I fed last year but I love the smaller more intimate gatherings just as much. The people who are coming to spend Thanksgiving with us are special. People I love being with and am looking forward to making a meal for. Friends who have become family. Friends that we have created tradition with. As so many military families do. We started having Thanksgiving together more than 10 years ago, before any of us had children. Now, as I plan the table settings, I realize, we are officially outnumbered. My how we have grown together and how thankful I am for them.

I’ve finished my breakfast and licked any remnants of truffle butter off of the butter knife so, I guess it is time to get started. First on the agenda, stuffing. My favorite. I prep and put together many of my side dishes the day before but I always save the stuffing for Thanksgiving morning. Just one more tradition on a day of many.

I love the smells that fill the kitchen as I make the stuffing, smells from my childhood. Sausage sputtering away in a hot pan and onions and celery sauteing in a sinful amount of butter. I remember waking up to those smells in the morning as a kid and I want my kids to remember it too.

It isn’t even baked yet and it is irresistible. Just a little nibble for quality control. Ahhh, be still my heart. If you’d like to try it, you can find the recipe here, Sausage and Herb Stuffing.

Next, prepping the turkey and starting the stock.

A simmer pot of stock is a must for making gravy and warming up the turkey after it has been sliced and arranged on a serving platter. I throw the turkey neck and giblets into a pot with water, the celery ends, a few small onions and a few sprigs of fresh herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary). When I am ready to use it, I strain it and keep the broth warm on the stove top.

The turkey, the star of the show. I am a briner. Not everyone is. I say whatever works for you but I love how moist and flavorful my turkey comes out after 24 hours of bathing in a salty brine. There are a lot of brining recipes out there. I just buy a package of brining mix from World Market or Williams Sonoma and brine my turkey in a large stock pot in my extra fridge. You can put your turkey in a bringing bag and then brine in an iced cooler if you don’t have the fridge space. Works like a charm.

She isn’t much to look at yet, but she will be … or he, I’m not really sure, I didn’t check.

You can make yourself crazy reading all of the different ways to cook a turkey. Here’s what works for me; brining for 24 hours followed by a good rinse and pat dry, then a rub down with 2 sticks of butter combined with chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage (I gently lift the skin and rub it directly on the breast meat as well) and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. I tuck the wings under and fill the cavity with a quartered lemon, a quartered onion, and a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary and sage. I put a cup of stock, a cup of white wine and two chopped onions in the bottom of the roasting pan, insert a probe thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh and roast at 325 degrees until the thermometer reads 165 degrees (approximately 3 hours for a 14-16 pound turkey). I do cover the breast with foil if it is getting too brown and I baste 3 or 4 times, or once an hour-ish, during the cooking process. When the turkey comes out of the oven, I tent it with foil and let it rest while my side dishes bake and I make gravy from the pan drippings.

Now for setting the table(s). I hate to iron. I love to iron my table linens. My only explanation is that ironing table linens is easy, even relaxing, and I find it enjoyable because it has to do with food and eating. And I love anything that has to do with food and eating.

Last year, we had so many people for dinner that we had to bring our giant picnic table in from the back yard; which actually worked out great. Benches hold a lot of bottoms!

Thanksgiving 2011

This year, with fewer people, I could get a little more creative and decided to go tan and white with my dishes and linens. I love white dishes but enjoy using a different color salad plate to add some interest. An added bonus is that you can have variety without taking up the storage space that having multiple sets of dishes would. I am always on the lookout for beautiful and interesting salad plates.

A tradition I started a long time ago is to put an ornament at everyone’s place. For me, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season and I want my guests to leave with something for their tree and a remembrance of the day.

This year I found these adorable wooden woven hearts (at Target – where I find so, so many things) which came in white and a beachy whitewashed wood. Lovely.

Someday, my dream of having a 20 foot (or so) long dining room table will come true but for now, I serve all of the food buffet style, because there is just too much of it to put on the table. I do, however, put the salad and a bread basket and butter plate, cranberry sauce, cheese for the salad (this year it was a delicious applewood smoked bleu cheese) and a gravy boat at each end of the table (the gravy doesn’t go on until just before we eat – but I’m sure you already knew that).

For the kid’s table, I found an adorable paper table-cloth (at Target – are you sensing a theme here) with coloring activities, word searches, tic-tac-toe, etc. so the kids had something fun to do while getting settled for dinner.

My daughter is a leftie.

Each of the kids got an ornament too. This year, sweet fabric animals for the girls and colorful dinosaurs for the boys (Target).

The tables are ready.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on – gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “parade rest”, doesn’t it?

David has donned the coat from his pirate costume and a straw hat and proclaimed himself a pilgrim.

Our guests have arrived and the kid’s table is a hit.

The turkey is done (I told you she’d be pretty) …

and carved.

The sides are out of the oven. You can find my recipes for Sausage and Herb Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes and Zesty Carrots here. And the recipe for Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole here. Enjoy!

It looks like the only thing left is to sit down together, say grace and enjoy the good food and great company the Lord has blessed us with.

I am thankful for …

My Lord and Savior who continues to work in me, pushing me further than I could ever go without Him. A kind and gentle husband who loves me. My children who are such a gift. Family. Friends who have become family. Health and healing. Treasured and beautiful traditions. The home that God has given us, which is so perfectly suited for welcoming company. The sweet faces that are gathered around our table; happy and healthy and loved.

Does anyone have room for dessert?

I’ll give you one guess where I found these adorable cupcakes. You got it, Target – you are paying attention! The beautifully frosted sugar cookies came from A.J.’s – a lovely specialty grocery store that we have here in Arizona.

And the pumpkin pies came from a wonderful little Pie Shop just down the street called Piefection. I can bake. I love to bake. I am not super woman. And, as Ina Garten (who I am also very thankful for) says, “no one has more fun if you make dessert yourself.”  Yes, I know that you can buy gargantuan pumpkin pies at Costco for about $5.00 and I have done that. These pies cost a little more than that and are worth it for two reasons. First, they are handmade with the best ingredients and are delicious and second, I will always support a gal who is brave enough to do what she loves and start her own pie shop. If you are in the area and want a fabulous piece of pie, here is where you can find one:

Piefection, 6731 E. Brown Rd., Suite #104, Mesa AZ, 480-218-PIES(7437), http://www.piefectionaz.com

Did someone say dessert? What timing. We’re just glad Uncle Mark made it and that Thanksgiving dinner re-heats well. The life of an airline pilot, you work a lot of holidays.

Another wonderful Thanksgiving and so much to be thankful for.

This year, I am also thankful for the people who inspired me to write and to start my own blog. I absolutely love writing it and am so thankful to those who have taken the time to read it, like and comment on my posts and support me. I appreciate you so much. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving in the company of those who mean the most to you.

Oh, I almost forgot, I am also thankful for truffle butter; very, very thankful.

A Few of my Favorite Sides

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite Holidays. Which is not surprising considering how much I love food and feeding people.

Each year, even though I promise myself I won’t, I usually buy at least three magazines (okay five) with Thanksgiving recipes. I already have more recipes than I will ever need, use or even read all the way through. And, truth be told, I usually end up making the same things every year anyway because, well, I love them, they are family recipes and they are … tradition. But I still buy the magazines because you just never know and because I have a serious magazine problem.

Here are a few of my favorite family sides, tried and true, made year after year (despite my intention of trying something new).

Sausage & Herb Dressing/Stuffing

This stuffing (or dressing because I like it baked separately, not stuffed into the turkey cavity) recipe is really the one recipe I never deviate from. I can’t. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. I have changed it up a little from my mom’s original recipe (a fresh herb option, etc.) but for the most part this is the stuffing I have had every year for as long as I can remember.

  • 3 Quarts Diced White Bread (I like crusty artisan bread but I trim off a little of the outer crust if it is too chewy or hard. You can use any white bread).
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Rubbed Sage (or 10 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced)
  • 2 tsp. Dried Thyme (or 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves)
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Flat Leaf Italian Parsley
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 Cup Butter + 2 Tbsp. to dot the top of the stuffing
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 3 Cups Chopped Celery
  • 1-2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 1 pound of sausage – browned and cooled (you can use hot or sweet Italian sausage or a half pound of each or whatever sausage you like).

The night before: dice the bread and let it sit out on a baking sheet to “dry-out” over night, or you can toast it in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes the next day. However you do it, it needs to be dry (not hard but dry).

Place the bread in a LARGE mixing bowl. Mix the salt, paprika, nutmeg, pepper, sage, thyme and parsley together and then sprinkle over the dried bread cubes. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture. Stir and set aside. Saute’ the onion and celery in the butter until soft and transparent (5-8 minutes), add a pinch of salt to help “sweat” the onions & celery rather than brown them. Cool slightly and then add to the bread mixture. Add enough stock to generously moisten the bread (approximately 1 cup – but it may need more depending on the bread you use). Add the browned and cooled sausage to the mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated. Put your mixture in a buttered 9×13 casserole dish, dot the top with the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes until golden brown and crusty on top. Serves 8-10

Sweet Potatoes and Walnuts

Forget the marshmallows! If you love an ooey gooey sweet potato dish then this one is for you. All of my childhood Thanksgivings included this dish and I love it but I have to be honest, I really LOVE roasted vegetables and this year, I am going to serve a roasted sweet potato and butternut squash combo. But here’s the ooey gooey one in case you want to try it, I promise you won’t be sorry (but you will need to work-out the next day).

  • 2 1/2 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes (or yams)
  • 1/2 Cup Broken Nut Meats (walnuts or pecans, whichever you prefer)
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Butter, melted
  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice

Steam the sweet potatoes until just fork tender (20-30 minutes) and let them cool completely so you can handle them. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Place the sweet potatoes into a buttered 2 quart baking dish. Scatter the broken nut meats over the sweet potatoes. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and sprinkle over the sweet potatoes. Combine the melted butter and orange juice and pour over the sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Serves 6-8

Zesty Carrots

Warning: my husband hates these; but that is just because he’s weird and doesn’t like any sort of casserole. Have you ever heard of a mid-western boy who doesn’t like casserole? I know, crazy. His idea of a Thanksgiving vegetable is a can of corn warmed up in the microwave – where’s the fun in that? Unless you leave it in the can when you warm it in the microwave – that could cause a little bit of “fun”. I am not recommending that, I’m just saying it would be interesting.

  • 6 large carrots – cut into quarters or thick “pennys”
  • 1/4 cup water reserved from cooking the carrots
  • 2 Tbsp. grated onion (or 1 small grated onion)
  • 2 Tbsp. Prepared Horseradish
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise (or May Mays as my son says)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Crumb Topping:

  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs (I use Panko)
  • 2 Tbsp. Melted Butter
  • Paprika

Cook Carrots in water until they are tender crisp (about 8-10 minutes). Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 of the cooking water. Arrange the carrots in a shallow baking dish. Combine the onion, horseradish, mayonnaise, reserved carrot water, salt and pepper and pour over the carrots. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter and sprinkle over the carrots. Lightly sprinkle the top with paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Serves 4-6

So there you have it. Three amazing side dishes my mom spoiled us with. I apologize that I don’t have pictures – I will post them after Thanksgiving when I’ve made the recipes (I guess I’ll have to make the sweet potatoes after all – oh, darn). Give them a try and let me know how you like them. And don’t forget about Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole that I posted yesterday.

Since you were kind enough to read all the way through, I am going to let you in on a little secret. The BEST green beans EVER are at Target. The Archer Farm’s steam in the bag green beans. Throw them in the microwave for sixish minutes, toss them with some olive oil and a good pinch of kosher salt and you will be a star! Fresh tasting, crunchy, perfect green beans just like that – or use them in your green bean casserole; if you don’t have a weird mid-western non-casserole eating husband.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole

When I got married in January of 1996, I was not only blessed with a terrific husband but also with an incredible new family. He comes from some really great people. One of those people is Aunt Peggy. I fell in love with Aunt Peggy when I first met her when she flew in from Oklahoma (I just had to pause and sing the song in my head for the correct spelling … where the wind comes da da da da da) for our wedding.

Aunt Peggy

I felt at ease and connected with her from the start. She has “a way about her” and is just one of those people who makes you feel loved and special. She is beautiful inside and out. She is a true lady, classy and always fabulously pulled together and she is warm and welcoming. I so enjoyed the time I got to spend with her then even amongst the wedding craziness and busy festivities, I got to know her a little bit and was (am) very happy to have her in my life.

Shortly after our wedding, my husband learned that the Air Force was transferring us to Altus, Oklahoma. That fall, I would be leaving everything that was familiar and everyone (almost everyone) that I loved. I remember being excited about the new adventure but apprehensive about moving away from my family.

I had a hard time at first as we settled into our new home (our first fixer upper – I’ll tell you all about it sometime). I loved being married, I loved working on our home and I was making some really great new friends. But I missed my mom and my sisters and my old friends. Thankfully, Aunt Peggy and her husband Uncle Milt were only about 45 minutes away and they became my “home away from home”. But, I haven’t told you about Uncle Milt yet.

Uncle Milt is the best and I took a shine to him right away. He always called me “that girl”. I would walk in the front door and he would say “oh, here comes that girl” but he said it in a way that was endearing and let me know he was happy to see me. He caught on that I love banana pudding – the kind with the vanilla wafers, chunks of bananas and mounds of whipped cream … heaven! – and would always run over to the all you can eat buffet in town and pick some up so there would be a styrofoam container of affection waiting for me in the fridge.

Some of the best memories I have of our time in Oklahoma are of the cribbage matches between Aunt Peggy and I and Gary (or Doug as his family calls him) and Uncle Milt; girls against boys. Gary and I always had fun going out to the Officer’s Club or two-stepping at “Boot Scooters” with friends. But I had just as much fun (if not more) spending a Saturday night around the dining room table whipping the pants off of those boys – well that’s how I remember it anyway.

I also remember that first Thanksgiving in Oklahoma, my first Thanksgiving as a married lady and my first Thanksgiving away from my family and traditions. It could have been hard. But instead, it was a Thanksgiving with the new family I was coming to love so much and the beginning of new traditions and it was wonderful. It was also the first time I had Aunt Peggy’s corn casserole.

She called it “Mickey’s Corn Casserole” at least that is how I have it written down but I don’t know “Mickey” or why it might be called that. I think of it as Aunt Peggy’s. She made it for me, well she made it for everyone but it felt like she made it just for me, and it made me feel happy and loved. So I am calling it “Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole”.

I can’t share my Aunt Peggy with you, I wish I could and I hope that you have an “Aunt Peggy” of your own, but I can share this simple but wonderful recipe with you.

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole

  • 2 – 15 oz. Cans Creamed Corn
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Box Jiffy Cornbread Mix
  • 1 Tbsp (or 1 small) Grated Onion
  • 1 Cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

Mix all of the ingredients together, pour into a buttered casserole dish (9×13) and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The casserole will be slightly soft to the touch. Let it rest and “set-up” for at least 15 minutes before serving. Scrumptious! The consistency is somewhere between cornbread and polenta and grits – although I am a Northwestern girl and am somewhat confused by grits so I might be a little off here. Regardless, it is soft and creamy but just firm enough to hold its own.

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole Printable Version

Just a few days ago, I made ribs and served them with the corn casserole and my favorite green beans (I’ll tell you about those some other time).

Oh, that was a happy day! Delicious!

Aunt Peggy and Uncle Milt

Come January, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Milt will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary. Their love story is an inspiration, as is the family they have built. They have four kids (three sons and a daughter) who, along with their spouses, kids and grandkids, are a testament to the bonds of family. This casserole is a family recipe and is part of a legacy (Jiffy Cornbread Mix and all). I hope you will try it and that you will feel happy and loved too! Let me know what you think and please, someone explain grits to me.

 

What Comes Next?

Focusing on a lot

Parties and entertaining, food and recipies, decorating, gardening, remodeling, Pinterest projects, family, motherhood, special needs parenting, foster care, adoption, friends, faith, charity, favorite things … (deep breath)whew!

How in the world does it all tie together cohesively? Where is the focus? I’ve done my first post, I have so many ideas, what comes next? Why didn’t I just do a blog about my passion for lifestyle and entertaining? Or a blog about my calling for adoption, motherhood and raising children with special needs? And why did I start my blog on fall break when ALL of my kids are home from school ALL – DAY – LONG?

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last couple of days (and late nights). I have formulated and reformulated. Planned and re-planned. And I have come to this conclusion. This is who I am (all of it) and I want nothing more than to be authentic and real. Each of these “categories” is an important part of my life (yes, even Pinterest – I mean really, have you seen it?) and are all parts of the sum of who God made me to be. The good news is, there is a common thread here. God has given me the gift of reaching out and creating community. The gift of hospitality and the desire to welcome, encourage and connect with people and that gifting is woven through every facet of my life.

So simply put, here are the 5 basic reasons Welcome Company encompases what it does:

  1. I can’t narrow or limit my focus  – it is not in my nature.
  2. I am not a professional, I am currently a HOME-maker and wear the label and experience proudly.
  3. My kids are just too funny not to talk about all the time!
  4. The biggest part of Welcoming Company and creating community is opening up and sharing your life with others. This is my life, all 1,476 categories of it (see, I did narrow it down.)
  5. God has written a pretty amazing story for us so far and in sharing it, my greatest hope is that He will be glorified and you will be encouraged – how could I leave anything out?

You know, now that I think about it, scratch number one. It isn’t really that I can’t focus, I just focus on A LOT! Now the fall break thing, that’s just how I roll.