cooking · Home · hospitality

When Brave Hospitality Looks Like a lot of Pizza

The girls and I had the idea one early autumn afternoon that since Halloween fell on Friday night this year, maybe we should have some friends over for Friday night pizza.

They invited families from school and church and I spread the word to friends of my own who would keep on the path to sanity for the night. We ringed a patch of dirt with old landscape stones and called it a fire pit and broke out the paints for a little craftiness.

I stressed about who we had invited and if they would come and who we hadn’t and if they’d be hurt and people said–it’s okay if you just order the pizza.

But it wasn’t. Not because I wanted to show off or be prideful but because if you come into my home, I want to offer you a part of myself, a glimpse into our everyday chaos, a seat at our family table.

Even though we set up outside and banished all twenty-five kids from the front door.

I make pizza on Fridays because I enjoy it. Over the years it’s become a therapeutic ritual our family relies upon. Every other night’s dinner might be made up on the fly, but pizza has become a predictable routine they expect. And in a world that is constantly unexpected, it’s a small gift to keep something the same.

So I made eight pizzas and friends drifted in and out of my kitchen to keep me company and kids spilled off the back deck into the yard and I didn’t worry about our imperfect bathrooms or lack of living room square footage or carpets that desparately need to meet a Stanley Steamer.

I just made pizza.

There were people we’ve known for years and friends we’ve just met and at one point I wasn’t sure if those were trick or treaters or guests on our front porch. It was wildly disorganized and delightful.

And you know what surprised me most? That after we had canvassed the neighborhood, people came back. They drank coffee and cocoa and sat around and talked and listened and we all ignored the mess and the candy wrappers in the kids’ rooms.

I don’t host parties very often. We’re not asked to be the home for the socials. Our house is small and there’s no denying it. But what we lack in space, I’m learning to make up for with a face of brave hospitality.

That’s a catchphrase these days for inviting even when you aren’t ready, welcoming even when it’s a stranger, cooking even when you think you’re not as good as the delivery down the road. In this social media driven world of perfection, there’s a group of women in my generation who are striving to be less perfection and more purpose. To love like Jesus loved on purpose.

Over the kitchen table with marker stains.

Over the broken bread and wine that might look like coffee and scones but feels like communion.

Over in the small house with pizza in the backyard.

31 Days of Living Local · cooking ·

The BEST Apple Cake {31 Days: Day 14}

For all my posts in this 31 Days series on Living Local click here.

I live in the mountains.  Which means this time of year?  Apples abound.  Well, pumpkins and squash too, but especially apples.

There’s apple festivals and apple slingshots and fried apple pies at every roadside stand (along with boiled peanuts, don’t skip those!)

For the past month, I’ve been buying apples from the farmer’s market down the road.  They got them straight from the orchard just over the North Carolina line and at $9 a half-bushel made my kids pretty happy.

Especially because when apples abound, I make this.

It’s the best apple cake ever.  It’s simple, packed with the apple, peel and all, for the ultimate bang for your buck in nutrition and flavor.  I took it to the church potluck and have been asked numerous times for the recipe.

So here it is.  Straight from my sticky counters to yours.

Apple Cake (from Simply in Season)

5 cups apples (unpeeled and chopped, I put mine in the food processor for a finer shred and because I’m lazy)
1 1/3 cup sugar

Combine in large bowl and let stand while mixing other ingredients.

1/2 cup oil (I use vegetable oil)
2 eggs (slightly beaten)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Crack the eggs into a small bowl.  Beat slightly.  Add the oil and vanilla.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup plain flour (or just use this like I do when I’m out of ww)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup nuts (if you’re so inclined. I never am.)

Combine in a third bowl.  Stir flour mixture into apples alternately with egg mixture.  Pour into greased 13×9 inch baking pan or casserole dish.  Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees, 50-60 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  (May take longer if apples are very soft.)


2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp flour

While cake bakes, whisk together in saucepan and heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve lumps. Remove from heat.

1/3 cup powdered sugar

Mix into caramel sauce and pour over hot cake.

Delicious for dessert, brunch, or just as an afternoon snack!

31 Days of Living Local · cooking

Meal Planning with Your CSA {31 Days: Day 3}

I used to spend hours on the weekends planning a menu that revolved around sales prices and ad circulars and Southern Savers and stockpiling.

Then I realized I was driving myself and my family crazy and Saturdays were becoming a burden rather than a blessing.  My quest to meal plan and be frugal and clip coupons was eating away at family time.  I had a tendency to wait until then because we always have Friday night pizza, so I knew that plan and usually by Saturday, the paycheck was in the bank.

But this past spring we joined a CSA.  It’s Community Supported Agriculture and being a part of one has really shaped the way I approach meal planning and grocery shopping. Basically, as a member, you are buying a share of a farmer’s crops.  You’re taking part in the risk that is farming, but you’re putting money directly into the pockets of local farmers and supporting their families.

   Through a CSA the consumer has a direct connection with the food they purchase.  Furthermore, the consumer can provide a farmer with input.  For example, if a particular variety is not favored the consumer can inform the farmer.  This allows the farmer to better meet the needs of his customers and friends.  If more of certain vegetables are desired that farmer can adjust his next planting.  Where else can you have such a direct impact regarding the needs of your family’s nutrition?

~from Red Dust Ranch, a North Georgia Farm

My delivery came every Wednesday afternoon which meant if I waited until Saturday to begin meal planning again for the next week, I had vegetables just sitting and waiting.  Plus, our share changed slightly from week to week, so I couldn’t always count on having the same amount or variety. I had to let go of my need to control knowing exactly what would be available.  And I had to start using my resources to help me figure out what to do with six straight weeks of kale, cabbage, and collards!

I’ve referenced this cookbook several times, but truly, Simply in Season is the best go-to resource for using local produce in a variety of meals as side dishes and the main course.  It’s organized by season and color-coded, so I knew I could just flip to the red section and find a variety of ways to use squash and zucchini and tomatoes that would be different than my standard casserole and BLT.

Like this? This crustless summer squash quiche is easy, budget friendly, and is the reason I’ve also learned to make my own baking mix.  Plus it’s versatile. You can actually substitute any seasonal vegetable into this recipe, and if you’re feeling really Pinterest-y, go ahead and cook it in teacups or a muffin tin for individualized portions.  (My kids always think those are more fun!)

Using this resource and delving into my friend Jamie’s book, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, has also helped me discover that stocking my pantry doesn’t necessarily mean I have a dozen boxes of cereal and bottles of salad dressing.  Instead, I’ve begun stocking with actual real food supplies: flours, oils, vinegars, rice, grains, fresh dairy (local when I can), fresh and dried fruits, and lots of produce.  For me, this has meant that I can approach grocery shopping with the idea that I should keep on hand the items that I need to change my meal plan at the last moment because I drove past the farmer’s market and their corn finally came in or they just picked the last batch of okra.

Like most of us, I get in a rut of what my kids like, what’s easy, what’s comfort food, and I don’t always explore new options.  Being part of our CSA has given me new perspective on what my kids will actually eat and has broadened my scope of what types of meals can keep us frugal and full.  We’re no longer convinced that meat has to be a part of every dinner, and I’m excited to see my kids trying vegetables like turnips, eggplant, and cabbage that they would’ve rejected in the produce section of the grocery store.

The difference is: they know our farmer.  To them, his name is Mr. Chris and he pets their kittens and talks to them about his horses and brings them food.  They have a connection now to what’s on their table and that motivates them to try new things. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links but the opinions are my own. I’d never link you to something I didn’t believe in!

31 Days of Living Local · cooking ·

Summer Squash Quiche

Summer Squash Quiche (adapted from Simply in Season Crustless Zucchini Tomato Quiche)

2 cups zucchini and yellow squash (diced)
1 cup tomatoes (diced, or sometimes I slice cherry tomatoes in half)
1/2 cup onion (diced)
1/2 cup mozzerella cheese (shredded)

Place in greased casserole dish or 10-inch pie dish. (I use a casserole dish that is slightly smaller than a standard 9×12.)

1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup Baking Mix (Bisquick or make your own)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 eggs

Put ingredients in blender and process until smooth, about 15 seconds. Pour over vegetables.  Bake at 400 degrees 30-40 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. (If you have a lot of tomatoes with extra juice, it will take longer to set. Tent with foil if top is browning too much.)

Variations: Substitute broccoli, spinach, or kale.

We like it with homemade biscuits and salad.

cooking · · linkups · perfectly imperfect

Behind the Scenes with Blackberry Jam

yeah, so don’t let those pretty little jars fool you.

I did indeed make homemade blackberry jam yesterday.  A labor of love for my husband.  Seedless and old-fashioned canned and everything.

I also nearly burned the house down and have a blister the size of a dime on the base of  my thumb to prove it.  Because when you use a pot that is too small for 4 cups of prepared blackberries and 8 cups of sugar and one box of pectin AND a 1/4 of lemon juice and then you bring it to a “gentle rolling boil”, well, let’s just say it doesn’t stay gentle for long.

That pot of jam boiled all over my stove top and my hardwood floor and my kitchen cabinets.  It scorched dishtowels and the innocent simmering green beans and my thumb when I tried to stop the bursting black mess on the burner by swiping at it with a sopping towel. (i know, i know, not my smartest move.)  Finally a big cup of water and the box of baking soda kept that mess in check.  In the meantime, the smoke alarm was going off (nice to know it works!) and my seven year old was hiding on the porch with the little ones.

Not my finest Pinterest moment.

But as I camped out by the sink with my hand under cold water and surveyed the damage, I managed a little survey of myself also.  You see, I’m impulsive with recipes and directions.  I don’t always read from beginning to end and I’m notorious (at least to my husband) for substituting ingredients because I didn’t check before I started to make sure I had what I need.

And in the case of the jam, I had an inkling (okay, a warning) that this would happen.  You see, I had to bring the fruit and pectin to boil before I added the sugar.  Which I did.  And I noticed then that the pot wasn’t quite big enough.  But I forged ahead because who wants two pots to wash when I can make do with one?

Or rather, who wants to wash two pots instead of the floor, the counter, the sink, the dishtowels, and the stove top?

I don’t think my stove will ever be the same.  But then again, I might not either.  I think I’ve learned a lesson the big-burning-blister hard way:

sometimes it’s better to slow down and actually follow directions if you don’t want to end up with a sticky mess.

And yes, I finished making that stupid jam.  It might not set correctly.  I think I false sealed a few lids. Oh, well.  I’ll just make a batch of biscuits and it will all be gone in a week anyway.

Linking up with Crystal for the first time today!


cooking · · Manic Monday

A Monday Menu {& a Sunday Dinner}

 Just so you know, this isn’t what we’re having for dinner tonight.  It sure was good when we had it last week, though.  Also, you should probably know I made it up.  Usually that turns out pretty well for me.  Joshua says I only ever use recipes for inspiration, which is true.  This one definitely was inspired by the recipe for Creamed Spinach in this.  I love this dish because it’s full of vegetables that kids normally won’t eat alone, but once you wrap something in a tortilla and put cheese on it, mine are begging for more.  Well, Annabelle does pick out the tomatoes.

Creamy Spinach and Beef Enchiladas
10-12 tortillas
2 lbs ground beef
1 tbsp taco seasoning (I use this homemade recipe)
1 c fresh spinach
1 tbsp butter
1 can evaporated milk
1 tbsp flour
1 can diced tomatoes w/pepper and onion
1 c shredded monterey jack cheese

In a large pan, brown the ground beef.  Sprinkle with taco seasoning while browning.  Drain and set aside.  In the same pan, saute spinach.  Set aside with beef.  Melt butter in the pan and whisk in flour until smooth.  Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until smooth on medium heat.  When mixture thickens, add back in the beef and spinach.  Stir well to combine.  Season with salt and pepper (or more taco seasoning) to taste.

In a casserole dish, pour out half the tomatoes and spread across the bottom of the dish.  Spoon beef mixture into tortillas, roll, and place seam side down in dish.  My dish will hold 6-8 rolled tortillas.  Extras I roll and place in a gallon freezer bag for later.  (I just thawed and cooked some last week and they froze really well.)  Top tortillas with remaining tomatoes and then sprinkle cheese on top.  Cover with foil and bake on 350 for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes more until bubbly.

Now how about this for dessert?  That’s my mama’s lemon pound cake.  She made it for our the first Payne-ful Sunday dinner of the year yesterday.  My siblings and I are trying to hang out more and have less drama. So instead we played a board game.

It went pretty well.

Gus is bonding with his Uncle Corey, who my girls still call Uncle Bubby.  Corey’s going to teach him how to survive in a house full of girls.  He should know how, after all.

Poor Gus.  They just try to keep him contained all the time.  Doesn’t work.

Yeah, that’s my onion bin.

It’s 6:37.  I’ve been working on this all day in brief moments that I can snatch between fussy baby, laundry, vacuuming, making butternut bisque over orzo with sausage (that’ll be next week’s Monday Menu post, I told you I’m always behind).  I think I’m done.


cooking · · monday

A Monday Menu: Broccoli-Beef Wellington

I like to make plans.  Unfortunately, plans don’t always work the way we hope.  So, lately instead of trying to make grand, sweeping plans for the big picture, I’m taking things one day at a time.

By far the best plans I make these days involve food.  Although I worked full-time for the past eight years, I never really embraced menu-planning until my first year at home.  Now it would be one of my top recommendations to any overwhelmed mom who is working outside the home.  If that’s you, I wish you simple prep, easy cleanup, and hearty dinners that provide enough for lunch leftovers.  That’s why, I’m going to start featuring some of our weeknight favorites here.

Since I’m home full-time, I have gotten a bit more into cooking completely from scratch.  I rarely buy condensed soups anymore, I bake homemade bread, I canned my first batch of apple butter this past October.  But when I was working, some nights I barely had time to open canned soup, so feel free to adjust any recipe to meet your family’s needs and schedule.

Here’s a sample of one of our latest favorite meals that’s quick, one-dish, and simple, yet looks impressive.

Simple Broccoli-Beef Wellington
1 lb ground beef
9 oz package frozen broccoli, thawed (or cheat like me and buy a steamer bag)
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 8 oz cans of crescent rolls

Season to taste and brown ground beef with onion.  Drain. Add the sour cream and cheese and mix well.  Add the broccoli (should be slightly tender).  Cover and let simmer while you prepare the dish.  Spray a 13×9 glass dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Open one can of crescents.  Spread them across bottom of the dish.


I have no idea how I lucked out and this worked out so perfectly.  That never ever happens.  Note: You can use the crescent sheets, but I find that it only takes about a can and a half, so then you still have to find something to do with the extra dough.  Next, spread the ground beef mixture.  If it seems a little dry, you can always add more another tablespoon of sour cream or milk.  Then, top with the remaining cresents.

Like I said, you might have extra crescent dough.  For this one, I got a little fancy (translation: making it blog worthy) and cut the remaining dough to fill in extra space and then made a B on top for our last name.  Usually I just roll the extra into their regular shape and bake separately.  But tonight I didn’t want to dirty another pan or listen to the whining since I barely had two rolls left, and I’m feeding four other people.  Now that’s done, you can brush the top with a beaten egg if you want.  Bake 18-20 minutes at 375.

Enjoy!  I served this last week with a side of glazed carrots.  It also goes well with salad.  If you don’t care about carbs or are stretching it, maybe some mashed potatoes would be yummy, too!

One of the great things about this dish, is it’s also very budget friendly.  I buy the crescents on sale with coupons, always buy the beef on sale in large quantities that I can divide and freeze, coupons again for the broccoli and sour cream.

Hope it makes your Monday!

For some of our other family favorites, go here.  I am slowly building this page so check back often!