Category Archives: Hospitality

20151123blog_2

Seasoned with Gratitude

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Costco rolls, green bean casserole. . . . I know these will appear on our Thanksgiving table. Still working on dessert ideas. Pumpkin pie likely won’t make the list since I think i would eat it alone. Sniff! I’m wondering if our son still likes mustard with his turkey. Hmm. . . .

Still thinking about how to season my preparations with gratitude and working on the coloring project I mentioned last week.

I do want my table to look beautiful. And I hope that this year I don’t forget something in the oven. (That has happened more times than I like to admit.) But I also think a lot about how to foster a grateful conversation around the table as we pass the food.

I discovered a printable resource for facilitating conversation around the table. You can print them out from my Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/415175659378643802/.

20151123blog_1

Lately, I have returned again and again to these verses in my favorite book, words I plan to read at our Thanksgiving table because they sum up for me what lies at the core of my gratitude.

Psalm 103
A psalm of David.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagles!

Wishing you and yours a Thanksgiving celebration seasoned with gratitude.

cooking

Some Food for Thought and for the Table

This week I want you to meet Linda, a friend from whom I have learned a lot in life and in the kitchen. Pull up a chair and a cup of coffee. Imagine yourself sitting with us in Linda’s sunny kitchen. Oh, and don’t miss the recipe at the end of the blog.

Welcome, welcome, Linda. I’m so happy to have you on the blog today. Let’s start by having you tell readers a bit about yourself and our connection.

Thanks! Afton and I have known each other since we were eighteen-year-old college freshmen. In our senior year, we shared an apartment with two other friends. We all agreed to practice active hospitality so we had almost nightly dinner guests. Oh, and we named that apartment, Bella Casa Mia (BCM). That means “my beautiful home “ in Italian. (I’m Italian.)

Having grown up in a family where we regularly shared meals with extended family, but rarely had guests outside the family for dinner, this was a something of a new experience for me. In that year, I began to see the experience of sharing a meal as an opportunity to show and receive love, to foster friendships, to welcome the newcomer, and almost always to become energized by the excitement of hearing new stories and perspectives. (Yes, I am an extrovert.)

That was almost thirty-five years ago, but I still savor the joy of sharing around a table.

Your kids, like mine, have left the nest so how has that changed your time around the table?

When my kids were young, and unenthusiastic hosts, and my house always seemed to be a mess, we did cut back on hospitality a bit. But we still did it because we believed our kids would benefit more from learning to enjoy company than from insulating themselves in their rooms. Now our nest is empty most of the time so I have less to juggle when entertaining, although for me is still is not effortless. I love offering a meal that says, “You’re worth the effort.” And I want my home to be comfortable and ready to receive guests. That does not mean gourmet dinners or a spotlessly clean house, but I do enjoy expressing love by offering hospitality as a gift.

Not long ago, after an impulse invite, a newcomer to our church came home with us. Despite the fact that I served leftovers for lunch and had made no particular housecleaning effort, we still had an absolutely fabulous time getting to know this man, who was new to the area, and whose wife would not be joining him until the next month.

What is the hardest part of food-related hospitality for you?

Sometime the hardest part is screwing up the courage to make the offer and then follow through with finding a time that works for all of us.

And what advice do you have for those of us who want to entertain over a meal but feel intimidated by all that involves?

If you have been hesitant to offer a meal, keep it simple. Don’t be insecure that your cooking or home won’t be good enough. People love to be loved. I know that when I get invited to someone’s house, I don’t care if they clean and polish or if they produce a meal worthy of the reality cooking shows. In fact, my own motto for being a guest is, “A peanut butter sandwich at someone else’s house is still eating out.”

Enjoy your company with a simple meal, or takeout, or a frozen lasagna. The important thing is that you open the door and help your guests feel welcome.

I just have to ask, any kitchen disasters while getting ready for guests?

On an evening during a weeklong power failure (Super Storm Sandy), some young adult friends stopped by to pick up something from our daughter. Since they also were affected by the storm, I invited them to stay for dinner. I had must use now Italian sausages that I would normally par-cook first, but our electric stove didn’t work. So, I put them on the grill and started talking to our young friends. The next thing I knew, flames shot out of the grill about a foot from the kitchen door. I eventually rescued the well-cooked, almost inedible sausages. Since there wasn’t much else, we all ate them and laughed.

You have given me so many wonderful recipes over the years and served as my cooking advisor on the other end of the phone so many times. My guests and family are grateful. :-) So, do you have a go-to entertaining recipe you can leave with readers?

Here’s a simple recipe that is one of my favorites. It’s adapted from Four Ingredient Cookbook.

Salsa Chicken: 

4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 16-oz jar of salsa (we like medium)

1 TB Dijon (or other kind) mustard (Can add up to 2 TB for stronger flavor).

1 TB sugar (Can add up to 2 TB for sweeter flavor.)

Dredge the chicken breasts in flour and then brown them on both sides in a skillet with a little oil. Add the salsa, mustard, and sugar. Stir with chicken and let it all simmer uncovered on the stove until the chicken is cooked through.

*You can also cook this in a crockpot. Simply layer all ingredients (no need to brown the chicken) and cook on high for about four hours.

You can personalize this recipe by trying different spices, taco seasoning, chili powder, sautéed peppers, onions and garlic, a drained can of beans, cheese on top, etc. It’s great served with rice and a vegetable or salad. A box of brownie mix makes a delicious desert.

Thank you, Linda, for encouraging us today with your love of entertaining and cooking. I can practically smell that chicken cooking. Looking forward to my next visit with you and lots of time sitting with you at your kitchen table.

20151102_blog

The Gift of the Table

I have a “thing” for dining room tables. They pull me in when I walk past them at IKEA. They hold me in awe when I look at them in an Amish showroom. I drool when I watch Property Brothers and see a family getting a fourteen-foot dining room table made to seat their entire large, extended family.

So why the fixation?

Yes, I do admire the craftsmanship of a solidly-made piece of furniture.

But on a much deeper level, I love what happens around the dining room table: laughter, conversation, discussion of current events, a feisty game of Bannagrams®, dessert. . . .

In these days of empty nest, I don’t spend as much time at the dining room table as I have in years past. Most nights I make dinner for two, and often John and I just eat in the family room. (And, yes, sometimes we watch “Wheel of Fortune.”) But I keep the table covered with a tablecloth and set with candles as if to say, “At any moment, my dinner guests might arrive. I want to be ready.”

Last night we did have a dinner guest. By noon I had the table completely set and found that I kept sneaking into the dining room to take another look. Silly?! As I stood and gazed, I smiled in anticipation of our time together. Questions, answers, jokes (John’s department), and laughter. Connection.

Oh, the gift of a table.

20151102_table

Most of our dinner came from boxes, but it still smelled good, tasted good, and facilitated good conversation, living up to all I had anticipated.

santafechicken      cornbread

And now I anticipate another gathering around the table as our son and his girlfriend just told us they are coming for Thanksgiving. Yahoo! Can’t wait to set that table and become immeresed in conversation while passing the stuffing.

Oh, the gift of the table.

I recently discovered an organization that promotes family dinner. Love it! They have some great ideas, including recipes and conversation starters: http://thefamilydinnerproject.org

And next week I hope to have my dear friend and college roommate here on the blog. She is my go-to-gal for cooking questions and hospitality. Join me here next week for a taste of Linda’s wisdom in life and food. And discover one of her favorite quick and easy recipes.

Thanks for reading and thanks for joining me on this Storm Sister journey.

Grateful!