Eating with the Armstrongs

You know those people who are just comforting and refreshing? Being with them is easy, a breath of fresh air? This week we’ve spent time with two different couples who bring us so much life.

One of those couples is my parents who visited for the weekend from Dallas. We laughed, we shared deep conversation, we ate, we worked in the yard, and overall we just relished in each other’s company. My parents are two of the world’s best.

It also comes in handy that they enjoy yard work (or at least we say they do) because Matthew & my dad picked up 23 massive bags of leaves and my mom and I planted some flowers and ferns in a garden bed that needed some love.

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The other couple is a husband and wife from church that we are just getting to know but who are two amazing people. I told them tonight that they need to name their house “the refuge” or “the haven” because every time we go, that’s just how we feel. And I really need to tell you the menu of the dinner they prepared because it was divine: steak, homemade challah bread, grilled avocado, grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted potatoes and a spinach and feta salad. Now that was glorious enough, but dessert was over the top: homemade strawberry pop tarts with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The pop tarts were flaky and buttery and the vanilla ice cream was sweet and perfect.

But even more refreshing than the food was the conversation. Conversation is an art form and tonight it was woven together with strands of good question asking and stories and life-stirring wisdom.

Who in your life do you need to set the table for, think of some good questions, and invite over for an evening of refreshment? It doesn’t have to be fancy or as gourmet as last night, just thoughtful and genuine. Here are some recipes we’ve enjoyed lately to help you plan:

Black Bean & Quinoa Enchilada Bake from Two Peas & Their Pod
A yummy & healthy tex-mex inspired casserole. You really won’t miss the meat but you could easily add some cooked chopped chicken or cooked ground beef to make it heartier.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Our Best Bites
No butter and no wheat! These cookies are sweet and decadent with just a couple of ingredients.

Scrambled eggs with Smoked Salmon from Pioneer Woman
Wow! These are so scrumptious and add a little bit of gourmet flare to your scrambled eggs. I made my eggs using my tip for the best ever eggs.

Collard Green Falafel with Hummus from Minimalist Baker
Don’t be afraid of collard greens. They are a great leafy green with a bit of a spicy bite similar to arugula. This is a fabulous vegan and gluten free falafel recipe, best served with lots of hummus.

Warm French Lentils from Ina Garten
I’ve recently discovered my love for lentils. They are super healthy, filling and inexpensive. This recipe is packed with flavor and you can easily add whatever vegetables you want to. It’s definitely one of my new favorites and Matthew loves it too.


Eating with the Armstrongs

The coming of fall has been a dream! A few things I’ve enjoyed lately…

My birthday was really special this year. I felt so loved by friends and family and specifically enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner at Frankie Marcello’s with my husband (get the chicken piccata!), tea with my girl friends at the English Tea Room  (the Earl Grey Supreme is divine) in Covington, dinner and drinks with Matthew and my parents at Galatoire’s Bistro (you’ve got to try the banana bread pudding!), and gifts galore!

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The pumpkin latte with house-made maple whipped cream at Magpie Cafe. Need I say more?

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The grand opening of Trader Joe’s. I won’t mention how many times I’ve been so far. But some of my TJ faves so far include: 21 Seasoning Salute (a salt-free blend of yes, 21 different spices, perfect for chicken, fish, burgers, eggs, etc..), Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea, Tuscan White Bean Hummus, Gorgonzola Crackers, and Coconut Bonbons, and my husband’s fave Cookie Butter (dangerous).

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Rollerblading with my puppy, Boone. Maybe the most fun and scariest form of exercise ever. I’m bringing rollerblading back!

My fall herb garden. I transferred most of my herbs from my larger garden into pots so that in the unlikely chance that it freezes this winter I can bring them inside. I love having fresh herbs right outside of my house to use in my cooking. I’m growing: rosemary & thyme, arugula, cilantro, chives & dill, sage & parsley, and not pictured, basil, oregano, mint, lavender and patchouli.

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Besides all these delights, lately we’ve enjoyed:

California Chicken Rice Bowls: this is a flavorful and delicious meal. I made it for a friend who recently had a baby, and they loved it! Also great with quinoa instead of rice. I topped it with feta cheese rather than blue cheese and skipped the walnuts.

Butternut Squash Pasta: husband approved! The sauce has a unique sweetness that changes things up a bit from your normal pasta sauce. I added a whole can of tomato paste as well as a de-seeded roasted red pepper to the blender when blending the sauce. I enjoyed the added savory and tomato flavor to offset the sweetness of the butternut squash. The recipe makes a ton, so I’m going to use the leftover sauce for pizza sauce later this week.

Lebanese Style Stuffed Eggplant: It may sound out of the box, but these stuffed eggplants are absolutely divine. The flavor profile is actually not as unusual as you might think. I used cous-cous instead of rice. Try it!

Balsamic Pot Roast: we enjoyed this out of the ordinary take on pot roast. Pot roast is a great dinner for a cold night after a busy day, as the slow cooker does all the work!

Homemade Granola: served as cereal with milk or a topping for Greek yogurt with maple syrup and fruit, this is one of our go to breakfasts. It is simple to make and much cheaper than buying from the grocery. Plus you can control the sugar content. I like to make a batch on Sunday afternoon and enjoy throughout the week.

Blueberry Upside Down Cake: an easy but impressive looking dessert. Perfect with vanilla bean ice cream or homemade whipped cream.


Green Thumb: Gardening 101!

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Gardening is my summer hobby. Thanks to my new puppy I get up pretty early these days and I enjoy watering my herbs, veggies and flowers while the sun comes up. It’s good to water in the morning so that the sun doesn’t burn the plants which can happen if you water in the afternoon. Gardening takes devotion and patience if you’re growing more than a pot of basil. But it’s a blast to see life growing and to eat something you grew on your own!

Above is my garden that I planted the week of May 18th. My parents helped me churn up the dirt in the raised beds, which were built by the previous owners of the house, as well as mix in a good compost and fresh soil. We put in some plant food and fertilizer to help encourage growth. All of my plants were transplants, rather than seeds. In just over a month, we’ve enjoyed: lots of basil, chives, dill, mint, parsley, rosemary, oregano, and lemon thyme.

It’s overflowing!

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We got to eat one squash before my entire squash plant ended up rotting. I was disappointed, but it’s all part of the learning process. Apparently this is a common problem. I did not know that mulching is very important for a squash plants as is pruning the large branches so they don’t crowd each other.
My arugula also did not survive due to an infestation of tiny white worms. Next time I’ll be more proactive about getting an organic pest killer, and I plan to attempt arugula again in the fall.

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I picked my first jalapeño yesterday and quite a few tomatoes are almost ripe! My one bell pepper so far is huge but not yet red. We’ve had a ton of spinach, which grows rapidly. My eggplant, cantaloupe and cucumber plants all have flowers but no signs of fruit yet. Apparently cucumber takes a little longer to bare fruit even though it is rapidly overtaking everything else (it thrives in heat and humidity).

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Pictured above: heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, jalapeño, bell pepper, cucumber, and cantaloupe!

I’ll post some garden fresh recipes soon! My favorites have been Minty Green Tea Limeade, basil pesto, and various salad dressings with lots of herbs.

Do you garden? What are you growing? Any tips?