Archive for September, 2010

A Table You’ll Never Leave

Are you guys fans of the NapaStyle catalog? I received my fall issue the other day and every time I look at it I develop serious drool issues. Earthy colors, funky textures, lots of Italian influence, plus how could you not want to buy stuff from a chef whose last name is Chiarello?!  I've always been pleased with the products I've ordered from Napa, like these gorgeous Italian ceramic tile wall hangings:

There was a photograph titled "A Table You'll Never Leave," that really caught my eye. The sub-title, "it's not about the taste, it's about the experience" almost made me think they read my blog and got the idea from the post that says, "It's not what's on the table, it's who's on the chairs."  Geez, can't they come up with their own stuff?!

My search to find a 'table you'll never want to leave'  was a difficult one, even though I knew just what I wanted – a huge, scarred-up old farm table. Preferably for under $150.

Real antique farm tables are rarely huge; most of the ones I came across were smaller than my current table and they wanted thousands of dollars for them. A friend offered me a Queen Anne dining set she wanted to get rid of and for a minute I considered  painting it black and scuffing it up – giving it a few whacks with my meat cleaver or something.

Just as I was about to accept her offer, I decided to scan Craig's List one more time. There it was: a ten foot beauty circa late 1800's, originally used as a restaurant prep table. Perfect! So was the price. Yea!

I get excited thinking of the meals that were prepared on it, the conversations that must have taken place, the fingers nicked from dull blades – the people who worked there shared more than a space at the prep table; they shared life.

That's what its all about, isn't it? We each  have our own "tables" where we can reach out and connect with others.

I enjoy a crowded dining table, but there's another "table" where I connect with people: my writing desk. I read somewhere that writers spend exorbitant amounts of time in solitude in an attempt to connect with others.   A blog, after all, is merely a modern day way of sharing our lives. It helps when you all leave comments; this is supposed to be a two way conversation!

For some it's a dining table, for others its a conference table. It could be a cafeteria table at a hospital, or even an operating table; what better place to show love to strangers? Teachers have their desks, receptionists can welcome visitors with a pleasant smile, a kind word and a cheerful telephone voice. Entertainers and speakers practice hospitality when they focus on the crowd more than they do themselves. The stage is their table.

Shakespeare said 'all the world's a stage." Maybe its really a table.

THE LAST COURSE:

  • Where do you connect with others?
  • Can you think of ways you could make the 'tables' in your life more user friendly?

"He has taken me to his banquet hall and his banner over me is love."  Song of Solomon 2:4. 

Reclaimed Materials, Reclaimed Hearts

 

Are there things in your home you're not using?

My husband and I recently “reclaimed” a room in our house (whoa! I accidentally typed “hearts” instead of “house”…. hmmmmm) transforming an unused formal living room into what we refer to as the “communal dining room.”

Our vision for the room encompassed more than the dining aspect; we wanted it to be a place where a group of people could worship, have fellowship, and study God’s word; a place where we could share life. A place where we could sit down as strangers and leave as friends.

We wanted to use our new/old dining room – the more scratches and dents the better and so we opted for mostly reclaimed materials – pieces of furniture and accessories that had once served a purpose, but had become relegated to the “past it’s prime, no longer functional, out of style,” category.

If only the old pieces could tell their stories….How did the long gash on top of the farm table get there? Who decided that honey pine chair would look better with a coat of turquoise paint? What was served in that old ceramic pitcher with the crackled glace– iced tea, lemonade, well water?

This is what one corner of the finished room looks like. The "jelly cupboard" is actually the top to an antique sideboard.

 

 

 

As a former baker and owner of "The Dainty Morsel," I couldn't pass up this old cake tin – I wonder what types of cakes they kept in it?

The old Italian espresso cups were a gift from my grandmother when I was just a little girl. 

Aside from my car, I guess I have a thing for scratches and dents, bangs and bruises – I like the mellowness that comes with aging. Old things have tales to tell and I want to hear them.

My attraction to all things battered extends to people, too – I don’t wish them battered, but I realize most of us are. We need to tell our stories if we're to become useful again and where better to tell them than gathered around the table?

The Last Course:

 

One of the meanings of shared is “to take a stake in.” Have you taken a stake in someone else’s life lately? Are you willing to risk letting someone into your home, your heart, your closed-off place?

But What About the Recipes?

Once upon a time my identity revolved around my kitchen expertise. If a friend had a cooking question, they didn’t look it up; they called me. I would sigh and say, “Do you read your cookbooks? Ok, here’s what you do.” Then I’d hang up, puffed up bigger than the lemon soufflé rising in the oven. The feedback was addictive: I make it, they eat it, they love it, they love me – instant gratification.

Well, not always instant – the twelve-layer Dobosh torte was pretty time-consuming, given that the top layer was cut into wedges, caramelized and then leaned against chocolate buttercream rosettes. My specialty was pretentious, “I’ve been in the kitchen all day you better appreciate it/me” cooking. And I had a thing for layers, 12-layer tortes, layered gourmandise de legumes, (the term ‘food snob’ comes to mind) layered salads, trifles, “oh, look at all the pretty colors” parfaits, all of which led eventually to some other layers that I won’t elaborate on except to say that they make it difficult to fit into my skinny jeans.

Repeat recipes? Forget it; somebody might remember, (as if that would be a bad thing). If a recipe was less than three pages long, I turned up my nose. Not that I couldn’t wing it in the kitchen, I loved to improvise, but I had (and have) a healthy respect for solid, based-on-sound-technique recipes. Of course they were long, difficult and time-consuming; they were French!

Here’s the dictionary definition of recipe: Rec-i-pe /resipee/n. 1. A statement of the ingredients and procedure required for preparing cooked food. Synonyms: prescription, formula, method, technique, system, way, means, procedure.

I guess I'm a lot looser about everything these days because that, my friends, does not beckon me to the kitchen, at least, not anymore.

Here’s the definition I prefer: an expedient; a device for achieving something.

My translation of that is, “Make it easy, ‘cause I’d really like to enjoy my friends.” So, yes, friends, The Shared Table will include “expedients” from time to time, but there won’t be a ton of ingredients, measurements or instructions. Simpler is, well…simpler. And better, in my book. Stay tuned.

Let us break bread together

Even as a little girl, I sensed that something special takes place when people share a meal, and given my Italian and Southern Scotch-Irish heritage, our family enjoyed some amazing meals when we gathered for reunions, all of it foreign to our bland Midwest palates: spinach-stuffed ravioli and polenta on the Italian side – crab, collards and biscuits at Mom Minnie's. No wonder I was a pudgy little kid.

Those meals not only filled my tummy, they satisfied my soul with a deep sense of belonging. Imagine sitting around the table, with people speaking Italian, or listening to my larger-than life uncles tell their crazy stories of life on a shrimp boat! Laughter was the main ingredient of those hours-long meals and I remember feeling like I was part of a larger story.

It turns out I was on to something; as I've studied the ancient tradition of hospitality, I've learned something special does indeed take place when we gather together to eat. In Christian circles, we often call taking the Lord's Supper 'breaking bread.' Jesus gave his life, (became broken bread) for us so that we might have life.

Breaking bread can also refer to the common meal. Something equally mystical happens when we gather together to break bread - strangers become companions, a word whose literal meaning is "the one with whom bread is broken."  

Interestingly, the Scottish word for companion is "marrow" – the essence, the best part. It can be a simple sharing of rustic bread and rough red wine, or an extravagant seven-course feast, but the best part, the essence, is the experience of companionship.

THE LAST COURSE: The part about the marrow reminds me of a teacher friend of mine, who as the end of her summer vacation approaches, likes to say that she is "sucking the marrow out of each remaining day." She knows how to savor the riches of her life.

So the next time you gather around the table, do it with an attitude of expectancy. Slow down; take time to truly appreciate your 'daily bread' and be thankful for the very best part….each other.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM AN ITALIAN FEAST:

Roasted Italian sausages and grapes, bathed in olive oil and rosemary, accompanied by polenta and white beans with sage. The meal was molto bene, and so was the fellowship!

Pork, Prayer and Praise


In a recent time of discouragement, I asked the Lord for a word, anything at all to help me continue with an attitude of praise, ‘cause all I really wanted to do was pout.
 
“Speak to me,” I said. “What is it you want to do in my life?”
 
Then he spoke to me in that intimate way he always does, words of life and living water:

“Pork, Prayer and Praise”

“Ummm, alrighty then," I replied. "Ok if I get back to you on that one.” ????
 
I went to the grocery store later that week and as I perused the meat section, looking for an affordable source of protein to meet the needs of my carnivorous husband, the $.99 lb pork shoulder roasts nearly jumped out of the case and into my cart. I hesitated at first because they were really way more meat than just the two of us could eat.
 
“Exactly,” I heard the Lord say over the loudspeaker.
 
Lord knows I make a mean Cuban pork roast, so I purchased two of the biggest roasts they had, came home and sent out an invitation that the Ely’s were throwing a “Pork, Prayer and Praise” gathering at our home on Friday night and that they should come prepared to Eat, Pray, Love.

Now here's the thing you should know – that recent time of discouragement I mentioned earlier? I'm talking about serious discouragement. Neither my husband nor I were particularly in the mood to throw a party. There's been a lot of news around our house lately and none of it the kind you want to shout from the housetops about.

However…..all the recent sleepless nights have led to some pretty interesting conversations between me and the Lord; in fact he's been quite chatty.

Lord: "We need to talk."

Me: "Don't you ever sleep?"

Lord: "Remember your focus on hospitality? Communal dinners? Reaching out?"

Me: "It's all I think about."

Lord: "Don't you think it might be a good time to get back to it?"

Me: "Not particularly."

I can be like that sometimes. To be honest, though, it had occurred to me that the best remedy for my funk would be to do the exact opposite of what I felt like doing –which was to run away and hide.

Then the Lord started talking again. This guy never gives up.

Lord: "Read 2nd Corinthians chapter 8."

Me: "Right now?!"

Lord: Silence, but I swear I could hear his eyes rolling back in his head.

Me: "Now," I said. "Right now is a good time." So I turned on the light, picked up the Bible and read. 

Me: "And?"

Lord: More eye rolling and then….."Read it in The Message Translation."

This is what I read:

"So here's what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart's been in the right place all along. You've got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can't. The heart regulates the hands."

The heart regulates the hands.

I had made a commitment to keep my heart and my home open, no matter what. I needed to "do what I can, not what I can't." Pork, prayer and praise was what I could do. Despite everything that was going on in my life, I could throw the doors open, join hands and hearts together with others and declare: "YET WILL I REJOICE!"

Matthew 10:27 says, "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops."

Maybe the "news" around the Ely household hasn't been all that great lately, but what He speaks to our hearts in the middle of the night is definitely worth proclaiming and acting upon!

So, last night was our "Pork, prayer and praise" gathering. We provided the pork and the place, our guests provided the side dishes and we all joined in the prayer and praise.

Here's a sampling of what our guests said about the evening  on Facebook:

"Profuse pork, portentous prayer and profound praise with a peptic palliative provided!" (referring to the candy dishes filled with Tums – you can't serve Cuban pork without black beans!)

"Positively pacified after a particularly palatable and pleasant party of pork, prayer and praise with precious friends…."

Precious.

THE LAST COURSE:

Has the Lord ever spoken to your heart in the middle of the night? When you're exhausted it's so easy to roll over and say, "Get back to me about that in the morning, Lord." We've all done it.

But, oh the blessing we receive when we pay attention. I guarantee you that if you can say yes to his gentle voice at 3am he will give you something to shout about in the morning!

"Weeping may last through the night but a shout of joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5