Dinner With Friends

I love a casual dinner with friends. Especially friends we haven't seen in a while. 

We took the opportunity last week to invite a couple over for dinner who we hadn't seen in several months. 

Don't let the work of giving a dinner party keep you from it. We put our guests right to work!

The guys grilled the steaks while Sherry and I put together the salad, washed the fruit, cooked a skillet of onions, peppers and mushrooms and made the garlic bread. 

Not only is it nice to have help with the meal it gave us time to catch up. I don't know what the guys talked about outside but Sherry and I discussed everything from work to kids and all things in between!

The only prep work I did to get ready for the dinner was to issue the invitation, make a casserole of cheesy potatoes and to set the table. 

The food was served buffet style from the kitchen. 

An empty dishwasher made clean up a breeze. After the kitchen was finished we finished the evening in the den with coffee and dessert courtesy of Sherry:-)

(BTW One of the reasons we live in Florida is so we can grill outside in January!)

Do you get your guest involved in the kitchen? 

I'll leave you with the recipe for a yummy and super easy make ahead dish. Assemble it in the morning or even the night before. Cover and refridgerate until ready to bake.
Cheesy Potatoes
Serves 4 or 5

4 large baking potatoes
1 large onion
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoon flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Peel and thinly slice the potato and the onion.
Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
Layer the potatoes and onion sprinkle with salt and pepper as you go. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan
Add the flour cook and stir for 1 minute
Slowly pour in the milk - whisk to keep mixture from forming lumps.
Heat and whisk the white sauce over medium heat until it begins to gently boil. Add the cheese and cook until the cheese melts. Don't over cook or the cheese will be stringy.
Pour the sauce over the potatoes and onions.
Cover the casserole and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Uncover the casserole and continue to cook until the top is brown and the potatoes are tender.  


Hospitality Doesn't Have to Be Complicated

I don't know about you but when I'm under the weather I like a nice cup of hot chicken noodle soup. Of course a pot of homemade soup is best but just in case I always keep cans of Campbell Chicken Noodle soup in my pantry. When I was little my mom would give us this very soup, ginger ale and saltine crackers. It seemed to cure just about anything.

So when my neighbor called to let me know she wouldn't be able to go shopping with me today because she was sick I knew what I had to do.

A couple cans of soup and ginger ale and a sleeve of saltines dropped off at her door...

Simple and easy. I have to admit I didn't even fancy it up in a basket. Just a plain paper bag:-)

I would rather have taken her a nice pot of good homemade soup with some fresh rolls all packaged up in a basket. But I think it's better to just do something than to not do it because I don't have time to make it perfect. Perfection can kill hospitality!

 And she was happy with my offering.

 Isn't it the thought that counts?

What do you keep on hand for when sickness comes your way?


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The Art of Being a Good Guest

When I invite someone  to my home I usually have a well thought out plan. A carefully prepared welcome, good food, a nicely set and decorated table. A comfortable place to sleep for overnight guests. Breakfast rolls, fresh coffee and orange juice...

I like to be prepared and make my guest comfortable. Sometimes I've even made a mental note of conversation starters or planned games to break the ice. 

These are the topics that most hospitality and home entertaining books and blogs cover. 

But have you ever stopped to consider that guests also have a responsibility?

I know that my actions and behavior as a hostess can sometimes make or break a party. The same can be said of the guests.

Have you ever hosted a party and one of the guests had to much to drink? The loving couple from church had an almost come to blows fight? Or no matter how hard you tried you couldn't get the new neighbor to utter more than a few words?

Yes, when we're invited to someones home we do have a responsibility to contribute to the party or gathering. I have a few rules that I follow when I'm a guest.

  1. Arrive on time. There is no such thing are being fashionable late! 
  2. Call if I'm going to be late. Once my husband and I had a small fender bender while on the way to dinner with some friends. It wasn't serious but it still took over an hour to get a police report made. I called to let our host know and told them to please don't wait dinner on us. They went ahead and ate and we joined them later for dessert. Being a good host there were two plates warming in the oven for us:-)
  3. I try not to be overly vocal about my convictions. I tend to be a little opinionated (my husband would say very opinionated!) but I've learned over the years that expressing my opinion can be offensive to some. It's hard to completely ignore topics such as politics but I try not to bully my opinions on anyone.  
  4. Contribute to the conversation. A good hostess knows how to get the ball rolling but everyone should take part in keeping it going. I take the initiative and introduce myself to someone I don't know. I've learned to ask questions and listen when people answer. I don't wait till someone speaks to me because that may never happen!
  5. Don't monopolize the conversation. There are some subjects that I'm very passionate about but I've learned that if people begin starring at me glassy eyed it probably means I need to take a breath and give someone else a chance to speak.
  6. As far as alcohol goes I know my limit and so should you:-) 
  7. Offer to help. Sometimes my offer is accepted and sometimes it isn't but I like to let the hostess know I'm available and willing. 
  8. Don't complain about the food. This is something I taught my children. You don't have to eat it but you cannot complain about the food!                                                                                                 I was horrified once when a guest at my table actually spit food out in to her napkin! I had prepared a simple dish of spaghetti and meatballs, salad and garlic cheese bread. The guest in question had eaten a couple bites of  this bread when she told me it was delicious and wanted to know how I made it. When I said it was made with cheese and mayonnaise she spit it out and said I was going to make them all sick! She seemed to think that heating the mayonnaise under the broiler would turn it bad. As calmly as I could I explained to her that yes if you make something like potato salad with mayonnaise and sit it on the picnic table when it 90 degrees outside and you leave it for several hours you probably will make everyone sick. Cooking with mayo is a different story.  BTW no one got sick.                                     So please don't complain. If I don't like a certain food I discretely take a small amount, push it around on my plate and eat a lot of what I do like. 
  9. I don't overstay my welcome. I'm sure we've all been guilty of this. It's especially hard to leave when I'm having a good time. I try to be considerate of the hostess and make my goodbyes at a reasonable time. Or at least before the host and hostess change in to their jammies;-)
  10. I write a thank you note. This is something that isn't done much anymore but a simple thank you note can mean so much. I know how much work goes into planning a dinner or party. I appreciate it when I receive a little note so I make a point to always send one. 
So there you have a few of the things I do to be a good guest. 


I'm leaving you with the recipe for the offending garlic cheese bread. 

Eat it or don't eat it but please don't complain!

Garlic Cheese Bread

Easiest way is to split one loaf of french or Italian bread long ways or cut the bread in to slices.

In a small bowl mix:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese (or a combination)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan 
2 - 3 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano 

Spread the mixture evenly over the bread. (make additional spread if you need it to cover the entire surface of the bread)  
Broil on high until the cheese is melted and it's all brown and bubbly. 
Cut into serving pieces. 




Hospitality and Entertaining Notebook

Several years ago my sister and I went round and round over who came to dinner one Easter. I insisted that our brother's family came. My sister insisted they didn't. Then we couldn't remember if we had ham or fried chicken...Really? You think you'll remember these simple things...I won't tell you who was right about the guest list but we were both wrong about the food.

The guys smoked ribs.

That was when I began keeping a hospitality and entertaining notebook.

I use a simple 3-ring notebook.

Sometimes I get really fancy and use pictures and stickers like a scrapbook page...

Other times I jot the info down on a piece of notebook paper...

Some of the information I include in my notebook:

  • What was the occasion?
  • Who did I invite?
  • Who attended?
  • What was on the menu?
  • How did I decorate?
  • What dishes/glasses did I use? 
  • Any special serving pieces I used.
  • Where and how I served the food?
  • Where we ate (outside or in the house)?
  • How much ice we used?
  • Any problems or issues?
  • Did something go over really well? 

In my notebook I also like to include pictures of special recipes I've made...

In the front pocket I keep ideas for parties that I want to have...

I'm going to host this party when my tomatoes come in  this year!

It's fun to look back over the years and see the special times we've had. A notebook also helps to save me time  when I'm planning new parties. I can look back and get ideas from parties I've had and I also don't duplicate food or table decorations. (Unless I want to:-)

I like to keep my information in a notebook but you can keep it in a folder on your computer if you 
 want. The important thing is to just write it down. 


A Quick Meal When Time is Short

When time is running short and you have to put a meal on the table it's often tempting to run out and pick up fast food. But not only is fast food not always fast (I once sat in the drive thru for 40 minutes to pick up chicken because I didn't have enough time to fix something at home! ) it's expensive and not very healthy or good for you.

This is a favorite meal for when unexpected company shows up or for a quick family dinner.

 Quick, easy to prepare and filled with lots of veggies. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish...

Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

Chop up lots of your favorite veggies.

Fry them quickly in a little oil.

Brown the chicken and add the veggies. Serve over rice and ENJOY!

This is how you do it...

Gather your ingredients:

3 Tablespoons of oil for cooking.
3 or 4 lean skinless chicken breast (about 1 pound)

4 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 teaspoons sugar (optional-but it does cut the bitter lemon a little)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy)
2 teaspoons minced or chopped garlic

Cut the chicken in to chunks and place in a large zip lock bag.
Mix the ingredients for the marinade pour over the chicken. Seal the bag and let meat marinate for at least 15 minutes.

2-3 zucchini squash
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 green pepper
1 medium onion
2 teaspoons minced or chopped garlic
1 cup of fresh spinach thinly sliced

1 cup of water, chicken broth or vegetable broth

Cut the veggies up in bite size pieces.

Start cooking...
In a large cast iron skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic and the onion and stir quickly in the hot oil for about 1 minute.
Add the zucchini and stir quickly for 2 minutes.
Add the peppers and cook for another 1 - 2 minutes until the veggies are slightly brown and soft.

Remove the veggies from the pan and keep warm.

Add another 1 Tablespoon of oil to the skillet.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and allow excess liquid to drip off. Add in one layer to the hot oil and cook until browned. You may have to  do the chicken in batches if your pan isn't big enough.

Add the additional 1 tablespoon of oil if needed to cook all the chicken.

Once the chicken is browned add the marinade to the pan add one cup of water or chicken broth. Cover the pan and allow the chicken to cook until done. Cut a piece open and check for doneness. It shouldn't be pink inside.

Put it all together...
Once the chicken is done dump the veggies back in a give it a stir. Add the spinach at the last minute and allow it to just wilt.
Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Serve over rice or for a change of pace use spaghetti noodles or crunchy chow mien noodles.


You can use any combination of vegetables. Broccoli, carrots, snow peas...
Use beef in place of the chicken
Leave out the meat and enjoy a vegetarian meal.

Next time unexpected company turns up or you're just short on time don't panic- it only takes a few ingredients and a little time to stir up a yummy meal!

BTW if you're using Weight Watchers Points Plus you can see how I calculated the points for the recipe at my other blog A Year of Healthy Habits. This is a group that I started with a couple of my friends. We meet together weekly to encourage and support one another as we try to lose a little weight improve our health by developing healthy habits. 

Do you have a favorite go to meal when you're short on time?


Sometimes Spontaneous, Sometimes Intentional Hospitality

Sometimes hospitality is spontaneous, spur of the moment, come on in and join us for whatever we happen to be eating. Babies fussing, everyday dishes, paper napkins, water to drink, maybe even a pot or pan on the table. 

Everyone takes their plate to the kitchen and helps clean up... 

Others times hospitality is intentional. 

Date set on the calender, invitations sent, menu planned,

table set with the silver and good china, house made ready, a special bottle of wine.

Is one better way better than the other? 

No, not really.

Spontaneous says this is the way we live everyday. You're welcome at our table to share in the good, the bad and the not so pretty of our family.  It says we aren't afraid to let you see the real us.

Intentional says I'm expecting you . I've put my best foot forward for you. I've made an extra effort for your sake.

Is one way harder than the other?

I'd say yes.

Spontaneous hospitality doesn't really worry if the napkins are cloth or paper of if we drink out of red plastic Solo cups.

Intentional hospitality matches and irons everything!

Is one way scarier than the other?

Yes! For me at least...

To spontaneously extend hospitality means we show the 'real' way we live. Not the perfect exterior that takes days or weeks of planning but the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives. It exposes our flaws and the dirty dishes in the sink.

To make an intentional show of hospitality means I can cover up those imperfections. Sometimes that feels good and safe.

But real hospitality isn't always safe. Whether planned or spontaneous it's about the people. About sharing not only a plate at our table but our lives with others.

I'm challenging myself this year to be more spontaneous in showing hospitality. I guess you can say that I'm going to be

Intentionally spontaneous! 

How about you? Is it easy for you to invite someone in on the spur of the moment?

I hope to be a blessing to someone today!


Grace at Home


Cards for the Troops

I meet with a group of ladies once a month to work on our scrapbooks or a craft project. 
We probably do more eating and talking than actual crafting but we do have a good time:-)

At our annual Christmas tea and cookie exchange we were discussing plans for our group for the New Year. One of the ladies suggested that as a group we take on some type of an outreach. 

We decided to make handmade cards and send them to the soldiers in Afghanistan. (This was very appealing to me since my oldest son has been on two deployments.) The plan was to make Valentine cards that the soldiers could use to send back home to their loved ones. 

Time was running short so we decided to meet in early January and make the cards. They'd then be boxed and mailed to the boyfriend of one of the girls in our group. He agreed to make the cards available to the other soldiers in his unit. (She laughed and said that was one way to be sure to get a Valentine's Day card from her boyfriend!)

We met this past Saturday with the hope of making 30 cards. 

Organized chaos

By the end of the day we'd made 48 cards!
(That's really good considering we had a 6 month old baby visiting and everyone had to take turns loving on him:)

As I worked on my cards I prayed for the soldier who would receive it and for whoever he/she sent it to. I know the other ladies did the same. 

Please remember our soldiers who are faithfully serving our country in places far away and their families at home. 



26 Acts of Kindness

NBC's Ann Curry began "26 Acts of Kindness" to honor the memory of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy. You can read about it here and there is also a Facebook page.

The idea is simple. We each need to step out of our comfort zone and do something nice for someone. 

26 kindnesses for 26 people.

(Of course there's no reason we have to stop at 26.)

You can post about it on Facebook or keep it a secret. It's up to you. 

Like Ann Curry said, "Are you in?".

I am!



Why I Always Serve Fruit

One thing I've learned over the years is that some people don't eat sweet desserts. 

Unbelievable but true!

Some people don't like sugary desserts, some are dieting but others can't eat sweets for health reasons like diabetes. 

So I always make a point to offer fruit at meals. 

Even when it's just my family I always include some kind of fruit that is in season. We don't have dessert every night but a little fruit can satisfy a sweet tooth. 

And it's good for you. 

Do you include fruit as part of your meal? What's your favorite way to serve fruit?


A Small Thing Brings Great Joy-Write a Letter

"A letter is a blessing, a great and all-too-rare privilege that can turn a private moment into an exalted experience."  
Alexandra Stoddard

Do you write letters? Not email- typed on a computer but with pen and paper written by your own hand?

It makes me sad to think that handwritten letters sent by what is called snail mail are becoming (and maybe already are) a thing of the past. 

The other day my husband remarked that if it wasn't for junk mail we'd get no mail at all. Even the bills are paperless. More ecologically sound I suppose.

When my mother-in-law was alive she was a prolific letter writer.  At least once a week a letter would appear in the mailbox.

I loved to see the envelope in the mailbox with her small, not so neat handwriting. Her stationary usually had a red cardinal on it somewhere.

Sometimes the letter was addressed to me or my husband or to one of the children. 

She'd fill the letter with little bits of what was happening with my husband's brothers and sister. She'd send her love to her grandchildren. And somewhere in every letter to me she'd tell me I was a good mom and I was doing a great job...

I miss those letters. 

I miss my mother-in-law. 

I'm a keeper. A sentimental fool so I still have every letter she wrote to me and most of the ones she sent to her grandchildren. I love reading over those letters. Those little doses of love and encouragement that only cost her the price of a stamp but are priceless to me.

I wish I could be more like my mother-in-law but I do manage an occasional letter here and there. I like to think about the person coming to the mail box expecting junk mail or bills and being surprised to see a hand written letter. I hope that my letters bring a little moment of joy and anticipation to the person receiving it.

Is there someone in your life who could use a little note of encouragement? Why not drop a letter in the mail and send a little cheer?

Sometimes the smallest things bring the greatest joy.


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