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.


Breakfast Casserole & Hostess Tips

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Hostessing is one of my favorite things to do. I love to make people feel welcome and comfortable when they come to my house, whether it’s just for an evening or an overnight visit. I have to admit, however, that at times I do let myself get stressed out about it when things are going the way I expected. Recently when my husband told me that some guests were coming in town an hour earlier than expected, I starting completely freaking out cried a little and he looked at me with just a tad bit of concern. So my number one rule of hosting is: you aren’t perfect, you can’t be perfect, so just get over it. Chances are, the person coming to your house isn’t perfect either, so calm down. No amount of pristine cleanliness and perfect decore can equal your expression of genuine care for the person who walks in your door. That’s what they’ll remember most. That being said, here are a couple of my go-to tips for hosting anyone who stays the night.

1. Make sure your guest room is clean and welcoming. Fresh sheets, all surfaces newly dusted, the floor vacuumed and mopped, and a candle lit. Put some interesting books on the nightstand for reading options, a notepad and pen, and if you have room, a chair of some sort so they can relax. If possible, make some space in the closet for luggage.

2. Provide fresh towels, wash cloths and toiletries. I like to include a little container full of: toothpaste, a toothbrush, floss, melatonin, Tylenol, cough drops, mints, body wash, lotion, soap, deodorant, tissues, mouthwash, almonds & chocolate. I basically just raid the little one dollar travel-size toiletry section at the grocery store! Most people won’t use all or even any of this stuff (except the chocolate is always gone!) so you don’t have to buy more of all of these things every time.

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3. A clean bathroom! When people use the bathroom, they want it to be clean. I include more fresh towels, good hand soap, and a cute hand towel. A hair dryer is a great thing to have as well as good body lotion and extra toilet paper. Plus I’ve deep cleaned it, making sure there is hopefully not one single dog hair to be seen. Again, nothing fancy for me, just clean and simple.

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4. A good, hearty breakfast with coffee (and the fixings), tea and orange juice available. Find out what time your guest normally wakes up and wants their coffee. I’m the type that hopes for it first thing. Again, it doesn’t have to be something crazy like homemade hollandaise sauce over shrimp and eggs Benedict. Just go with something easy and flavorful. And something you’ve made before to insure success. I recently served house guests some failed homemade pumpkin cinnamon rolls that didn’t rise, not my best moment, but thankfully they were good friends and very gracious. Plus I had bacon so that saved the day.

For a great and simple breakfast option, this variation of a breakfast casserole is really delicious. This week we are hosting some guests unexpectedly. I was able to throw this casserole together simply and inexpensively.

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I would love to hear some of your tips about hosting! Send them my way!

Happy hosting!

Breakfast Casserole:

Ingredients:

7 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
2 large red potatoes, julienned
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Sliced avocado for topping

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the julienned potatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix potatoes together with olive oil so they are evenly coated. Roast potatoes in oven for 20 minutes.

Spray a 9X13 inch glass pan with cooking spray.

Sauté diced onions and bell peppers in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté one minute. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, and chives.

In the baking dish put roasted potatoes and sautéed onions and peppers, combine together. Pour egg mixture over the veggies. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Top with sliced tomatoes, spaced over the casserole.

Bake casserole for 30-35 minutes until eggs are cooked through.

Top with sliced avocado and enjoy!

**the eggs and potatoes make this a hearty dish, but some cooked, crumbled bacon or breakfast sausage would be delicious added to the mix. Just combine with the veggies before pouring in the egg mixture.

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Ode to October + Lazy Saturday Brunch

I love how fall just takes over. Pumpkins everywhere: cookies, muffins, drink flavors, even soups. Decor, carving, roasting seeds, flower planters. I love that the color orange in the shape of a large round vegetable is the center of fall. I love the weather, the cool days (well, one here and there), the sweaters, the s’mores. I love how when fall comes the holidays come soon after. There’s a sense of nostalgia and celebration that arrives with fall. My birthday is in October, and three years ago on my birthday, my husband proposed to me. That adds another level of lovely memories to my fall experience. I’ve always loved the fair with its rides and fried food. It’s just wonderful. Thank you, God, for fall.

Well, sooner or later, you’re bound to have a lazy fall morning probably on a Saturday or Sunday, so here’s what you should do. Sleep in. Brew a big pot of strong coffee. Light a fallish scented candle (pumpkin of course, or my new favorite: spiced orange & cinnamon). And whip up a big brunch that you can enjoy at a leisurely pace. Does anything sound better?

Last Saturday, I made a scrumptious and easy vegetable hash with a fried egg on top. Totally simple and totally delicious. You could add a side of buttered toast or top it with some crumbled bacon or add a Mexican flare with fried chorizo and salsa. However you try it, next time you have a lazy Saturday, enjoy  the relaxation and coziness of a mid-morning brunch.

If you’re not a fan of peppers and spinach, make this with any assortment of veggies!

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Ingredients: 

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 clove minced garlic

3 cups fresh spinach

4 eggs

1/2 of an avocado, sliced

a sprinkling of chopped green onion

a sprinkling of shredded cheese (I used mozzarella, but cheddar or feta, or really any cheese works great)

salt and pepper to taste

To make:

Saute onion and bell pepper in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. After a 5 minutes and veggies are becoming translucent and soft, add minced garlic. Saute garlic for about a minute then add spinach, 1 cup at a time. Stir in each cup of spinach, adding more when wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat to low, and allow to sit while you fry the eggs.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil and fry two of the eggs. There are lots of ways to do this depending on how you like them. I don’t like my eggs runny. Here’s how to fry an egg.

Put half the veggies on a plate, sprinkle cheese on top of veggies, top with two fried eggs, top with sliced avocado and chopped green onion. Repeat for second plate. Enjoy!

More brunch inspiration: (these aren’t quite in the healthy category)

Three Ideas for Exciting Waffles

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Biscuits and Gravy

Mushroom & Brussels Sprout Hash

Savory Cornmeal & Chive Waffles with Salsa and Eggs

Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Butternut Bacon Syrup