Winter Comfort-Soup is On

I love to cook.  Being a part of Debbie Arnold’s food blog is always a special treat and privilege.  If you know anything about Debbie Arnold, you know she is an amazing cook and is full of great tips (which she shares on Arkansas KTHV 11 During Dining with Debbie).  It is always a little humbling to prepare a dish to share on her blog, but the other aspect of Debbie Arnold is her genuineness and love of gathering in the kitchen.   She is a down to earth home cook who inspires you to jump right in and share the kitchen.

Transitioning back to work full-time outside of the home has made cooking at home a little more difficult.  However, I still believe that relationships are most often built around the table.  We were created to need sustenance.  We were created to need relationship.  The table draws us together, allowing for two of our basic needs to be met. That belief, my desire to nurture my family physically and emotionally keeps me working to find ways to meal plan better, to slow down and let the cooking time also be bonding time, and letting go of some of my “perfectionist” expectations of myself.  Meals have become a little simpler.  The crock pot finds it way to my counter at least once a week.  My girls play a bigger role, getting something started as I am on my way home or taking on one of the dishes as we put a complete meal together.  I have also found I turn to some of our favorites more often, cooking less variety during the week.   It just helps keep things simple, and keeps us at home.

Today, I am sharing one of the few soup recipes my family can agree upon and devour in less than an hour.  Cajun Shrimp Chowder.  The recipe, originally passed along to me by a friend from Louisiana, has been given a few Chaplin tweaks. It was the perfect bowl of warmth and comfort after church today.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.  Spend a little extra time around the dinner table this week with family and/or friends.  In a world filled with sadness, turmoil, and busyness we all need the comfort of good food, good company, good fellowship.

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Southern Hospitality: It Ain’t About You

I love to host events.  I have the Spiritual Gift of hospitality and come from a long line of Southern cooks, most of whom loved to entertain.  There’s just nothing better than good food, a cool beverage, some flowers and a host of friends.  Every time I entertain, I am reminded thought “It ain’t about me!”

It saddens me that as our houses have grown in size and Viking Ranges have gained in popularity, fewer and fewer people entertain.  I am hopeful though as I follow blogs and spend too much time on Pinterest, that the next generation is bringing good old fashioned hospitality back.  That’s exactly as it should be.  I also notice though that the houses are a little smaller, the tables set with restraint, and what is old is new again.  How fun!

As I mentioned, I come from a long line of great cooks and hostesses.  Each with their own style, but each made certain their home was ready for guests and the very best of what they had to offer was prepared with love for those visiting.  I pray the gift of hospitality is something I will pass on to my girls.  Hosting others in your home can be one of the most fulfilling tasks.  Especially if done right.  And, the only way to ensure you do it right, is to remember, “It ain’t about you.”  Too often we get more concerned with what people will think of our home, our place settings, our choice of attire, etc… and we fail to think about the person(s) we have invited into our home.  To entertain well, one must make your guest comfortable.  And that can mean different things for different folks.  But what it always means is placing our attention on them.

I have been blessed to have a husband and children that love having others in our home.  That being said, we have hosted a LOT of stuff.  I am always so blessed when my guests tell me how comfortable they were at my home or have someone take the moment to tell me how “homey” my home is.  Now, I realize that in some “southern” talk that can mean my home is cute, not the top in vogue design style etc… but, if someone felt at ease, enjoyed good conversation and wanted to linger, then “homey” I’ll take!  This point was driven home a few years ago when a dear friend called and asked if I would take the lead in hosting a bridal shower for her son’s bride elect.  Her reasoning for calling me was simply this, “I know you will think about her and make it comfortable.  She likes simple things, doesn’t have expensive taste and would much prefer that money be spent on a cause than on cakes or silver.”  Yes, entertaining is ALL about your guests.  Of course, I hosted the bridal shower and I do believe it was a success, meaning the bride elect was at home and felt welcomed.  In reality, I got a few raised eye-brows as I recommended we use a few paper products, have rustic decor and serve mini cupcakes instead of a large bridal shower cake, which in the South can come close to looking like a mini version of the wedding cake!  We served on white porcelain trays, no silver, no crystal.  Oh my…  But, you see, that was this bride-to-be.  She loved color and simplicity.  Her heart was tender and she was a giver.  A lot of fluff and sparkle would have seemed a waste to her, almost even an offense.  Lesson learned, yet once again.  Entertaining ain’t about me, it’s all about my guests.

Here are a few tips, followed by some pictures of various hostessing moments.  Enjoy.  I hope you will be encouraged to open your home.  Plan a party.  Plan dinner with friends.  Keep it simple and make it ALL about them.

Hosting 101:

  1. A clean home is more important than a decorated home.  I know, we all hate it, but mop, vacuum and scrub the toilets.  It’ll go a long way.
  2. No need for crystal and china-although if you have it USE it!
  3. Set the table the day before.   Include placing serving pieces on the table.
  4. Be creative in your centerpieces:  A few potted plans sitting on some burlap running the center of the table.  (Your guests can take them as party favors or you can plant them the next day.)  A grouping of candles is always fun.  Fresh fruit gathered among-st some grapevine or set upon a wreath.
  5. Keep the food simple.  A meat, a starch, and a veggie or salad.  Make dessert the night before or have something mixed up ready to pop in the oven.  I love chocolate chip cookie dough in ramekins.  Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream.
  6. Be creative with napkins:  Use bar towels, bandannas, and yes, even paper
  7. Don’t stress over the details and by all means don’t snap and yell at your family.  (This is the voice of experience.)  Your guests will notice the tension more than they will notice the missing centerpiece or toys under the coffee table.
  8. Let the dirty dishes wait.  Your guests came to see you.  Be seen.  Sit and visit.

 

She made it herself.

She made it herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yep-plastic cloths, plastic dishes ...  But lots of fun

Yep-plastic cloths, plastic dishes … But lots of fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was all about him and GOLF

It was all about him and GOLF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple, Yet Elegant for the Mom

Simple, Yet Elegant for the Mom

 

 

Soups On! Winter in the South

It has been a cold winter.  And for those of us in the South, we just ain’t used to this white stuff called snow.  We have a love hate relationship with it.  We love it for about a day.  Then, all our power lines begin to fall, electricity may or may not go off and stay off, the streets are iced, we have no real means of getting our streets ready or cleared, etc… One thing for sure though, we have food.  First inclination of bad weather and off to Kroger we go!  It’s a battle for Wonder White Bread and Milk.  Go figure.  This year, apparently bananas were also in high demand, and LORD HAVE MERCY there was a Rotel and Velveeta shortage.  Now that, dear friends, is a SIN, with a capitol S!  We love our food, especially when “snowed in”.  After all, isn’t that what every good Southerner does when stuck inside?  Cook and eat.

I myself love a good pot of soup.  Slow cooked soup with some rolls or crackers and cheese.  Better yet, a little cheese dip and some tortilla chips!  Two of my go to soups are:  Taco Soup and a new favorite Tortellini Soup.  The latter is actually quite healthy and vegetarian.  The Taco Soup, well, kind of healthy until we sprinkle on the avocado, add a dollop of sour cream, and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese.  It’s the South-no apologies.

I thought I’d share my go to recipes.  Both are easy to make and both are great for taking to sickly friends.

Taco Soup:                                                                                                                                                                              

2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained

2 pckgs ranch dressing mix (powder)

2 pckgs taco seasoning

3 cans mixed beans (I like Kroger Simply Organic:  kidney, black and pinto beans)

1 can chick peas

2 cans Ro-Tel

Tortellini Soup

42 oz vegetable broth

2 (9oz) packages spinach tortellini

1 can diced tomatoes with garlic

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup light whipping cream

Both soups:  Just dump it all into a slow cooker.  Let simmer for 3-4 hours.  Top Taco with the above mentioned.  Top Tortellini with shredded Parmesan.

Taco SoupTortellini Soup

Simple Salmon with Gourmet Flavor

I love to cook and have always been committed to family meals.  We manage them 4-5 times per week.  I love simple, but I love flavor and made from scratch.  This Salmon recipe has become a favorite.  You can grill it on cedar planks or bake it in the oven.  Either way the seasonings caramelize and you get this gooey sweet and spicy coating.  

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Begin with skinless Salmon.  I love to buy mine at Sam’s.  In a separate bowl mix 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 to 1 Tbsp Chipotle Chile Powder (this is a very spicy, smoky spice so be careful if you don’t like heat), and 1/4 tsp salt (I use  Sea Salt which brings out extra flavor in cooking).  Stir the dry rub mixture together.  Spoon equal amounts of dry rub over each salmon filet.  Gently massage the dry rub into the filets.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Best if sits 4-6 hours.  If grilling on Cedar planks, make sure you soak the cedar planks all day in water.  I will rub a small amount of olive oil on them before placing the Salmon filets.  Grill until Salmon is bright pink and you see caramelization of rub.  If baking, heat oven to 375 F.  Bake for about 20 minutes. Turn broiler on and broil for just under 5 minutes.  

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I usually serve a side salad and steamed rice alongside this dish.  During summer and fall I will throw some squash, zucchini and red onions on the grill as a side.

Family meals can be done.  They can taste great and do not have to mean hours in the kitchen.  A little preparation yes, but the time around the table can be captured in no other way.  

From Chaos to Order to Thanksgiving

Lest anyone think I am always organized, completely together… I’m giving you a glimpse of my kitchen counter Friday afternoon.  Not pretty.  If you looked real hard, you’d see dog hair on the floor, along with some damp fall leaves drug in by our two furry friends.  

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There was a moment of complete frustration.  And before I knew it the negative self-talk began in my mind.  “You don’t have enough time.”  “You are so behind.”  “There’s no way to have everything ready for Thanksgiving, then three weeks to Christmas and then the girls’ birthday.”  Thankfully, yes, thankfully, I had spent quite a bit of time Friday reading in God’s word before the sun rose, reading through Crystal Paine’s manuscript, and had lunch catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in two years.  We had laughed about memories past, shared our mothering struggles and even discussed the dysfunction in each of our families that can drive us crazy. But in the end, we had laughed much and recognized all the good in our homes, in us, in our husbands.  So, I took a step back.  I shut the negative talk down.  I looked at the calendar, saw an opening on Sunday and blocked off two hours.  I then jumped in the car with my family to enjoy an evening with friends watching basketball.  Sure enough, I enjoyed the weekend and my family, knowing in advance about my “blocked off time” left me to the quiet of my kitchen for an hour and half.  The mess on the counter got cleaned up. Coupons got clipped.  I finished filling out the gift idea list, scheduled the new events on the calendar and reviewed the menu for the week.  I blocked off time (with 30 minutes extra on the front and back side) for each task:  shopping, board meeting, real estate calls, church reminders, baking, food preparation, laundry etc…  I sighed a deep sigh of relief.  I wiped down the counters, grabbed a tall glass of water and just sat for a moment.  What a great feeling.

Life can seemingly go from good to bad to ugly in a matter of seconds.  And sometimes, that indeed happens.  A catastrophic event occurs.  But more often, we just think life has gone from good to bad.  We allow ourselves to get overwhelmed.  We wallow in the chaos and never stop long enough to take a breath and work at restoring order.  And that, that is what steals our joy.  That is what keeps us from experiencing gratitude and having a sense of peace.  Just a little quiet time focused on reigning in the tasks, getting a written plan in place, and life can go right back to great.  Yes, there’s a lot to do.  Yes, it may mean more time in the kitchen than usual.  I may be up a little later, but what a privilege.  How blessed I am.  How blessed we are.  How deserving of thanks is my God who is and was and is to come.  

So, don’t get bogged down in the chaos this week.  Take time, right now, to create order.  It is within your power.  Then, as I will do, work the plan.  Let the blogging, the extra house project, Facebook, etc… fall to the side.  This week they are not necessary.  Only your list, only your family, only Thanksgiving.  

My kitchen bar is still clear.  And as of tonight one of the tables is set and ready.  Be Still.  Let the God of Order fill your thoughts.  Be Thankful.

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Simple Dinner: Shrimp Penne Pasta with Creamy Garlic Sauce

I LOVE to cook.  Maybe it’s being from the south, maybe it is family heritage.  Whatever it is, I love to cook.  Eating dinner at home is one of those BEST things for my family.  It is a priority.  And, contrary to popular belief, it is possible.   My kids are not hermits.  We engage in extra curricula activity.  We attend church.  My husband and I both manage small businesses, I home school, we have friends and yet, we manage to eat at home together 4-6 nights per week.  Top it off, we NEVER eat chicken nuggets at home.  I don’t mean that to be haughty.  Again, it is a choice we as parents make.  Are my kids exposed to enough of that outside of our home?  If so, then I am going to minimize it in our home.  Now, lest you think it is a made from scratch meal every night, please know there is an occasional pizza or Chinese take out, and on occasion a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna or Chicken and Rice.  As with all things, each of us can do and will do what we determine we desire to do in the time we are given.  With a little Sunday night planning, bi-weekly or monthly grocery shopping, and use of pre-set oven or Crockpot, there are actually a lot of simple, quick menus to prepare.  One of my staples and family favorites is Shrimp Penne.

Finished Shrimp Penne with Creamy Garlic Sauce

Finished Shrimp Penne with Creamy Garlic Sauce

Shrimp

Shrimp

Creamy Garlic Sauce simmering

Creamy Garlic Sauce simmering

Cook the Penne according to recipe.   Begin by sauteing 2 lb of pealed shrimp in olive oil and 2 tbsp of minced garlic.  Add 2 cups of heavy whipping cream to the cooked shrimp.  Stir in 1/8 cup of chicken broth, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp oregano.  Add salt and ground pepper to taste.  Stir and let simmer.  Last, but not least, stir in one cup of shredded Parmesan.  Let the Parmesan melt completely.  If the sauce has gotten too thick, add a little more chicken broth or some butter.  Dump the cooked and drained Penne into the sauce.  Fold (do not stir aggressively) the Penne into the sauce.  Let the mixture simmer on low (cover the pan) for no more than 3 minutes.  Serve directly from pan.  Sprinkle some additional grated Parmesan on top.

To keep things simple I serve this with french bread, slightly toasted and a side salad.  Takes no more than 30 minutes to throw this together.  Short on time, cook the pasta the day before.  Store it in a zip lock bag.  Same with shrimp.  Run hot water over the pasta in a colander.  Heat shrimp up in skillet with olive oil.  Continue with recipe directions above.

Having a few staples like this allows you to create a great meal in a short amount of time.  Sit at the table and enjoy your family.

Can you do IMPROMPTU?

I did not blog last Friday.  It was the 31st.  If you have followed my blog at all, or know much about me, you know I try to set aside the 31st of the given month and have a mini-retreat.  It is a day of planning,  praying over the calendar, reflecting upon weeks past and looking to the future.  I didn’t get a full day this time, due to an important board meeting I needed to attend. Fortunately though I had smidgens of time leading up to the 31st to get things organized, highlight some areas of concern and list out the items I wanted to focus on.  I had some big decisions to make.  Although my time was limited, I had a good day.  I was able to pull aside during the late afternoon and do what I needed to do.  Three things emerged, each a message already on my heart.  Having them emerge again, helped me focus and make some tough decisions.

1.  I need more intimacy with Christ.

2.  Come Home.  I have felt that call on my heart for two years.  It is difficult to know what that means.  We are in financial times and in a place in life where my working would make sense, would provide more security for college etc…  I am still engaged in Real Estate.  My best friend and I have started an organizing business.  However, the refrain keeps going through my mind.

3.  I need to give the very best to my family, so that corporately we can overflow into our community and world.

Some big decisions followed.  I’ll write more about those Wednesday.  That evening, following this time of refreshment and planning, I made a special dinner for the family.  I had this planned, but at the end of my day, this particular day, it felt comforting and rewarding to do this special task for my family.

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I made cheese Polenta with Barbecue Shrimp.  I pullled out my new soup and sandwich platters from Pier One.  We had toasted garlic bread and a side salad to round out the meal.  My family was duly impressed.  We lingered a little longer at the dinner table, enjoying a special Friday night.

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Then came the challenge.  My mother decided she wanted an impromptu 69th birthday party.  Thankfully, being fairly organized, and coming out of a day of revisiting my purpose, we were able to throw it together.  My sister-in-law and her 4 youngest pitched in.  On top of that, a young married mother of two called asking us to keep her precious two year old daughter over night so she could focus some time and energy on her marriage.  What’s one more at the party!  With the help of two incredible daughters and an ever patient husband we created a taco salad bar and put together a little birthday centerpiece on the island.

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I don’t share this hoping for a pat on the back or adoration.  (although a few words of encouragement never hurt :))  No, I share it because I was challenged after a day of planning and purpose searching to live what I preach.  I was reminded yet again, that being organized, planning and knowing our purpose is not so we can do more with the same amount of time.  It is not about accomplishments.  It is not about managing time.  Being organized is about living in such a way that you can allow the interruptions (good or bad).  You can focus on people and relationships.  You can give.  You can live being EFFECTIVE, not just EFFICIENT.  There were some things that didn’t get done over the course of the weekend, but no regrets.

Then today, I got the blessing.  Sometimes we have to bless to be blessed.  I attended my first ever blog event.  Arkansas Women Bloggers hosted a get together at Family Life here in Little Rock.  I hesitated and almost didn’t go.  But I went.  And oh how glad I am I did.  It was refreshing to be around other women sharing their hearts through blogging, all with a desire to minister to other women.  The greatest blessing came though in meeting Barbara Rainey.  I have know of Barbara and read her books, but to meet her in person was true joy.  She has entered a new phase in her own life, and is doing some amazing things as an “empty nester”.  To get a glimpse go to http://www.everthinehome.com.  (I have to confess I placed an order as soon as I got home!)  While I was excited to meet her and hear about her new venture these words struck deep into my heart.  God used Barbara to confirm for me my decisions and heart desires.

“My advice to you as moms is to remember, you don’t have to do it all now, in this season.   As women we are blessed to be able to lead two lives.  We have a season where we focus on God, our husband and our families.  Then we get to have this other season, when the kids are gone, to pursue all those other things.  Don’t try to do it all now.  You have thirty to forty, maybe even 50 years to pursue other things after you children have left home.”

It was as if in that moment I could breathe.  God has been clear to me to come home.  He has blessed my husband’s business providing what we need.  He has given me opportunity to engage in real estate and a business with my best friend, but most of all He has reminded me the time for my family is now.  As Barbara said, there will be time later to pursue other things.  My girls are only home for a period.  They will navigate these teen years but once.  There are no second chances.