Archive for October, 2010

Haphazard Hospitality

Hospitality is a lot more relaxed around here than it used to be, I guess because I'm a lot more relaxed. Or maybe I'm just more tired…. Either way, I've found that even on a "tired" day, I can still share my table as long as I don't get into the "gotta' be perfect" trap.

So, here's what hospitality's been looking like at my house this week:

Tuesday: we were supposed to host our weekly home group, but had to cancel due to my husband's work load. I invited a friend to stop by to visit me and share some leftover homemade potato soup. She arrived bearing beer, a bottle of wine, bread and flowers. Flowers went in a vase, beer got poured and we used the bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches. We talked until 10pm.

Wednesday: my husband had clients stop by the house to sign some contracts. They were happy to sample an assortment of goodies from my current cookbook project. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen baking away. I ran out of the house at 4:30 to do some quick errands, leaving behind a sink full of dirty dishes, and a chicken waiting to be made into something for dinner. The errands took longer than I thought and by the time I finally walked through the door at 6:00, I was exhausted, dreading the clean-up I'd have to do before I could even begin to think about dinner. Instead I was greeted with the aroma of this bronze beauty!

AND the dishes were done and the counters cleaned up. I wasn't expecting to be on the receiving end of hospitality yesterday, but I'm married to a man who knows his way around the kitchen and the way to my heart.

Today: friend came by for coffee at 7:30am, we chatted, and she sampled a few goodies. Coffee and chocolate at 7:30? YES. Around 2:30 my daughter Johanna dropped by to get in on the treat sharing – I loaded her up and got this text message 1/2 hour later:

"Mom" (grandson Tyler speaking): "How did Grandma get to be so good at baking?"

Johanna: "She puts love in the batter."

Tyler: "Oh, cool."

THE LAST COURSE: This hospitality thing isn't really all that complicated. You just have to put love in the batter, even if it's Duncan Hines. 


The Hospitality Habit


Do you get bugged when you make a mistake? The interesting thing about the phrase “practicing hospitality” is that the word “practice” is both noun and verb; it means a habitual action as well as repeating an exercise to improve a skill. So you could say that the practice of hospitality takes practice. Practice by its very nature involves making mistakes. How comfortable are you with that?

Hospitality teaches you to laugh at yourself. Practice it often enough and you’ll have enough material to become a comedian. I could write an entire column about the stray items that have mysteriously wound up in the food: most recently it was a piece of rubber band snipped from a bunch of parsley, making a chewy addition to the caramel cake I’d baked for a friend’s birthday.

Here’s a list of highlights from my history of hospitality hysterics:

  • I’ve forgotten to serve entire courses that I spent hours preparing
  • I burn the garlic toast…..always.
  • I’ve used non-ovenproof platters with disastrous results
  • I’ve set my sleeve on fire while boiling water for tea
  • I’ve scorched the soup but saved it by calling it “smoked chili” 

The question for most of us is: are we willing to let others see our humanness? Here’s the test: do you panic when a guest mistakenly opens your bedroom door while searching for a bathroom? Because you know what an unmade bed says about you, right?   

There's so much junk that gets in the way of our connecting with others: pride, outward appearances, insecurity – but let's get real: if we can’t accept our own humanity, how can we ever hope to accept someone else's? Hospitality (with or without meal preparation) is innate for some but more most of us, must be nurtured. In order for our guests to feel at home, we must be at home – in our houses, in our skills and in our skins.  Practice doesn’t necessarily make “perfect” a given, but it does help you to take it all in stride. The bonus for all that effort is a room full of happy, relaxed, friends. One might even fall asleep on the couch – the ultimate compliment.

THE LAST COURSE: We all worry about “screwing up.” What’s the worst screw-up you can imagine regarding hospitality? Write it down and then ask yourself if you could live with that. Give yourself permission to ‘do it imperfectly.’ HINT:  Life coach Christine Kane encourages reluctant hosts to throw an imperfect dinner party. If this is a stretch for you, start with your kindest friends and let them know in advance.


Chicken Little

Is your grocery budget feeling the effects of the economy? I'm thankful I learned how to stretch the food dollar back when I had three little ones to feed. I scoured the store ads, came up with a menu, made a list, clipped my coupons and then headed out with the kids in tow, sometimes to as many as four grocery stores. Admittedly, gas was cheaper back then.

When chickens were 39 cents a pound, I loaded up my cart in triumph. It didn't take much  to make me happy in those days. Once home, I cut them up and packaged them strategically, boning the breasts for a company meal, freezing the wings until there was enough for Buffalo wings, cooked the legs and thighs that night, and then made the backs and scraps into chicken stock. I felt rich as a queen knowing what was tucked away in my freezer.

I still work the chicken magic; the other day I bought  boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Aldi – there were three half breasts in the package, total cost was around $4.49. With a wave of the chef's knife I transformed those three breasts into three meals for my husband and I.

The first night I threw together a meal that surprised me when I stopped to consider how inexpensive and tasty it was and with a few tricks, also totally suitable for guests. I started by pounding out the breasts then cutting them into four cutlets, dredging them first in flour, then eggs, and finally bread crumbs I made out of leftover homemade corn muffins. I sauteed them quickly in a dab of butter and oil. Here's the chicken before plating:

I served the chicken with rice and black beans. The cost of the rice is hardly worth calculating – I buy 20 pound bags from the neighborhood Mexican market, and it lasts forever. The beans, canned and already seasoned (yes, I make them from scratch sometimes, but hey, it was a Wednesday night and I'd just had a fight with my husband – he was lucky I was cooking at all) came from Aldi's too, and cost $.59 a can. I jazzed up the presentation a bit by molding the rice in a custard dish and centering on the plate. Here's what the finished dish looked like:

The whole meal took maybe half and hour.

The next night I used another breast for a Thai stir-fry dish and then marinated and grilled the final breast to top a main dish salad the following day. All with one little package of chicken breasts.

Nothing earth-shaking here, but any of these meals could easily have been served to company. All three were all simply and easily prepared without recipes, and doable on even the skimpiest budgets. Personally, I'd be happy with just the rice and beans, but I've got a MAN to feed.

What magic tricks are you performing in the kitchen these days?




In leafing through some of my old journals last night, I came across a poem I'd written for my other blog, I really like this poem, but for some reason, never published it. It's about not being seen, which fits right in with yesterday's post

Here's what it's like to be a stranger, from the turtle's point of view:


I see them scurry past me

watch their hustling, huffing selves.

They don't see me

never acknowledge that I'm a fellow sojourner

more like something to step around

a landmark to pass on their

relentless journey to where.

My pace is slower

so slow I lose track of my destination.

You don't see me

but I see you.

I'd love to keep up with you 

I'm just not made that way.

But if you should stumble or fall by the wayside

I'll happen upon you eventually

and you will be glad to see me then.


Have You Ever Been the Stranger?

Have you ever felt overlooked, looked down upon, ignored, or had people distrust you because you were different? Have you ever felt invisible? I know I have.

Years ago when my husband and I were searching for a new church home, we walked into the lobby of a very large church and were immediately directed over to a huge metal rack. The rack was full of name badges, one for each member of the congregation, who upon arriving, picked their badge off the rack and pinned it on. We were instructed to fill one out for ourselves, which we did and we then spent the next 1 1/2 hours without being greeted by a single soul.

What was meant as an exercise in hospitality had become a dead tradition.

Name tags, though they can be helpful, do not produce hospitality, do not truly welcome the stranger, and do not build community.

People build community.

Do you know who make the best "greeters?" It's the people who were once strangers themselves, the ones who remember what it felt like to be invisible.

Have you ever wondered why homeless people, even after receiving assistance and offers of help, so often return to the streets? It's because the sense of belonging is so powerful. For many, it's the only place they've ever experienced acceptance.

It's been said that we think what we need most is safety. The homeless have something to teach us – what we need most is acceptance.

Hospitality is about acceptance.


Hospitality in a church setting is a reflection of God's gracious welcome. Congregations that don't emphasize shared life will have a difficult task in reaching out to strangers. Sometimes, though, even churches who seem to be doing it right, fostering a sense of care and community among members, can lose sight of the strangers in their midst.

How would you rate the sense of welcome in your church family? It can be very healthy to visit other churches periodically to remind yourself what it's like to be "the stranger."


Beautiful You

I'm privileged today to introduce Shared Table readers to a wonderful writer friend, Rosie Molinary. Rosie is an awesome author, speaker and teacher whose work I admire. We met at a seminar about freelance writing several years ago and I have to say that she has been a big encourager to me, always ready to applaud my efforts to step forward in my writing. Rosie's first book "Hijas Americanas" was published by Seal Press in 2007 and dealt with Latina Body Image. This month she launched her second work, "Beautiful You" – a daily guide to Radical Self-Acceptance. In addition to writing, she teaches a course on body image at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and speaks on body image, diversity, self-awareness, social justice and writing around the country.

Beautiful You is set up as a 365 day action plan, but I like to think of it as a daily devotional that challenges women to be fully, un-apologetically themselves.

What does that have to do with the theme of The Shared Table? Lots, it turns out!  Rosie tells her readers about two regular dinner parties she looks forward to each month – one with her book club, the other is a Scrabble dinner she hosts for long time friends.

Read this excerpt from Day 329, titled, "Have a Dinner Party"……

Sharing great meals are a way to strengthen our ties to each other. They help us to live more fully, to connect more deeply, to share some of our most crucial needs with others. They build community and foster our creativity. They boost our spirits.

Today – Plan a dinner party in  your home for one other person or several other people sometime in the upcoming week. Call and invite them, establishing a personal connection for the evening right then. Plan a menu that will bring you joy, and then begin working on it. Sharing a meal with loved ones will buoy your spirit and remind you that the experience of lie is one that has very little to do with your appearance.

The Last Course:

I love Rosie's book because it deals with relationships – first and foremost, the one we have with ourselves. If we're not comfortable in our own skins, in our own homes, how are we ever going to reach out to others?


Have you lost heart?

"So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up or quit." (Galatians 6:9)

Another translation of this verse puts it like this: "Let us not lose heart in doing good."

I've been tempted to lose heart lately. Ok, I have lost heart lately and it's not a good feeling. When you lose heart you're no good to anyone, including yourself. At times like these, my conversation with God goes something like this:

"I'm doing the work, why aren't you blessing me?!"

It's like I'm still the little girl who was told I'd get a treat if I was good.  It reminds me of a line from one of the Christopher Robin poems: "Have you been a good girl, Mary Jane? Have you been a good girl?!" Obviously I have a propensity towards being works-oriented.

When God gives me a vision of something he wants me to do, I just jump right in and start making plans, setting time lines and getting the T shirts and business cards printed, instead of praying and listening.

Like Richard Dreyfuss in the movie "What About Bob?" my tendency is to say,  "I'll take it from here, God!"

The problem is that when I make it all about me – my work, my priorities, my agenda, my expectations, it's only a matter of time before I become discouraged and frustrated. Maybe a little mad. Eventually, I lose heart.

What I've discovered is that the only way to not lose heart in doing good is if my heart isn't all tied up in it in the first place. God wants me to have a pure heart -a heart that follows hard after him.

At the end of the day it's not so much about what we do as it is about who we are becoming. Becoming more like Jesus is a lifelong process.

In due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

When I get weary, I get teary. I used to just shut down when that happened but I've learned that I can cry and yet keep on going. Scripture tells us that David wept till he had no more strength and then he strengthened himself in the Lord.

As believers, we're promised that our sowing will result in reaping, even if we sow in tears.

"Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him."

What a beautiful picture the Lord painted for us.


And so, Father, we look to you, our Lord of the Harvest. We lift up our dry and weary hearts and ask you to send your rain. I pray that the tears we shed will soften and purify our hearts, make us humble and real and approachable and authentic.

Encourage us that we might encourage one another, cause us to flourish so that we might reach others for you. Strengthen us in our gifts and talents and send us out into the fields you've prepared for each one of us. Help us to not grow weary.


Interview with a Hospitalitarian

Have you ever met a "Hospitalitarian?" Double click to read explanation in yesterday's post.

Each month I'm going to invite a hospitalitarian to join us at The Shared Table – to share their heart, their vision for hospitality, their stories, their secrets and maybe even some recipes! While some of them may have careers in the hospitality industry, most of them are just like you – brave souls who have made the decision to live their lives with an open door policy.

Today I'd like to introduce you to my dear friend Bonnie Jackson. Wife, mother, homemaker, business owner and grandmother, Bonnie embodies the spirit of hospitality; both her house and her heart are an open door. I can't think of a better person to kick this thing off.

Susan: Bonnie, I guess we've been friends for over 30 years now;  one of the first things that struck me about you was the sense of ease you seemed to have about entertaining.I don’t remember ever seeing you flustered. What do you attribute that to?

Bonnie: A lot of it has to do with planning ahead. I've always tried to think of details beforehand so I didn’t have anything to do once my guests arrived.

Susan: So are you saying that you typically serve meals that can be prepared ahead of time?

Bonnie:On occasion I'll do last minute preps but only if they're not too involved because I always think my guests are more important than the food I'm serving. If I have to stand there to read a recipe, I don’t do it. I've always tried to make things that present well but are simple to do.

Susan: You've always seemed very organized; does that come naturally to you or is it something you learned over the years?

Bonnie: I'm by nature organized and have always paid attention to details. Growing up,I did a lot of waitressing and always viewed it as an organizational activity, trying to think ahead of who needed what. One summer during my college years I worked at a very high end resort in Northern Michigan; it was a phenomenal experience. I used to keep cards of hints of things people liked and tried to do little things to please and satisfy the guests, quietly. 

Susan: Do you remember the first time you had people over to your home for a meal?

Bonnie: [laughter] We had our pastor and his wife over for dinner and I made spaghetti. I didn't know how much water to use and basically made noodles you could plaster the walls with.

Susan: I know having people over has always been a regular practice for you and your husband, Greg. Have there been seasons in your life where you were more active that way than others? Is it slowing down now or the same?

Bonnie: It's an ongoing thing, it just looks different now. I've always enjoyed meeting new people, maybe because I've moved so many times in my life. We still host large church functions at our house and have people over for dinner, but now I focus less on perfect meals and more on finding things guests really like; it's more about the fellowship. I still have a penchant towards doing things that I think would bless somebody. I grow a lot of flowers, so I tend to make my own arrangements and put things at people’s places. It's just something I’ve always liked. We do things more casual and less formal than we used to.

Susan: I seem to remember a funny story about unexpected guests.

Bonnie: Greg invited some friends over and forgot to tell me.  I'll never forget going to the door and they were standing there with a bottle of wine. We joked around about it later, but I felt perfectly comfortable serving them what we were going to have; I had made smoked sausage with sauerkraut.. It was more about the fellowship; gathering together was more important to me.

Susan:  I like to describe hospitality as sharing with others the gifts we’ve been given; what do you think is the most obvious gift that you share with others?

Bonnie: I’ve been a new kid very frequently, and know first-hand how important that gesture is of making people feel at home, like they’re part of things. Its hard to grow into a community when you feel like everybody else already knows each other.

Susan:  Do you have any organizational tips for us?

Bonnie: People kid me about my organizational thing; I just try to make little mental notes. I’m observant. Sometimes people say things and I remember their likes and dislikes and I try to incorporate that. Not all people are geared that way. I think prayer has a lot to do with it too, praying that you can be there with your guests. I always try to get to know more about them than I knew before they came.

Susan: Any thoughts on the difference between entertaining and hospitality?

Bonnie: I do think they are really different. Entertaining is more of a form and a program; it's like a three point outline. Hospitality brings more of a subjective element into it where your guest is more important.

Susan: Any final words of wisdom or advice or encouragement?

Bonnie: Don't use busyness as an excuse for not getting together with people. Work will be there tomorrow but the opportunity to get together with somebody might not be.


I love Bonnie's emphasis on being observant. It's about paying attention – fascinating phrase, isn't it? It's going to cost you something – time, money, your heart, but you get so much in return: a new perspective, friendship, stories…..Hospitality is about who you're becoming.

Coming up next: Two recipes from Bonnie's kitchen, that fit right in with our theme of "Expedients" rather than long, involved formulas for failure. You can find them in the categories section under "Dainty Morsels."


Bonnie’s Baked White Chili and Grammabelle’s Banana Bread

Baked White Chili

1 tsp. salad oil

1 medium vidalia onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

4 chicken breast halves (boneless/skinless), cut into 1" pieces

1 can white kidney beans (cannellini beans 15-19 oz. can ) drained

1 can garbanzo beans, drained (15-19 oz. can)

1 12 oz. can white corn, drained

2  4oz. cans chopped green chilies

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/4 lb. Monterey Jack cheese  (regular or light)

Preheat oven to 350.  In a saucepan over medium heat, heat oil, cook onion, garlic until the onion is tender.  In a 2 1/2 quart casserole, combine onion mixture with chicken (uncooked), white kidney beans, garbanzo beans, corn, green chilies, and chicken broth.  Cover casserole and bake for 50-60 minutes or until chicken is tender.  To serve, add addtional spice to taste, garnish with parsley or cilantro, and serve with shredded cheese.   Serves 8.

This is also good with black beans added.


Grammabelle's Banana Bread

Mix in a bowl

   2 ½ cups Sugar in the Raw                                   

   1 cup oil

   3 eggs (slightly beaten)

   1 ½ cup ripe bananas, smashed

   6 T. buttermilk

Whisk or sift together

   1 tsp. salt

   2 tsp. baking soda    

   2 cups whole wheat flour

Add to the first mixture. Add

   1 cup oatmeal

   2 T. wheat germ

   2 cups chopped pecans (optional)

   1 cup craisins

   1 cup chocolate chips                    

Stir well. Spoon into 2 greased & floured loaf pans 9×5 inches.

Bake 1 hr. 20 mins. @ 325

Makes 2 loaves






Ever heard the term "HOSPITALITARIAN?"

Danny Meyer, the famed New York City restaurateur and author of the book "Setting the Table" coined the term to describe people who believe that nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any transaction.

He defines hospitality further by saying, "Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side…that they are for you." Meyer attributes his business success to his practice of only hiring hospitalitarians.

Now isn't that interesting? You'd think he would be boasting about all that amazing food. Instead he credits his team – chefs, servers, bus boys and hostesses for creating an atmosphere that entices customers to return time and time again. This year Meyer launched Hospitality Quotient, a learning business which empowers companies to transform their businesses through the power of hospitality.

I'm privileged to know quite a few folks who are worthy of the title "Hospitalitarian" and I'd like to introduce them to you. Each month I'm going to invite one of them to join us at The Shared Table – to share their heart, their vision for hospitality, their stories, their secrets and maybe even some recipes! While some of them may have careers in the hospitality industry, most of them are just like you – brave souls who have made the decision to live their lives with an open door policy.

In tomorrow's post I'd like you to meet my dear friend, Bonnie Jackson. Years ago, my husband nicknamed her "Bonsai" for no reason other than the fact that it made her laugh. But I just discovered something interesting about that nickname which makes it very apropos.

Many people mistakenly think that a bonsai tree is a naturally small tree or plant when in fact it's actually an average tree or plant that has been trained to retain its small size. Hmmm. That is Bonnie in a nutshell. When you're Bonnie's guest, it's never about her – it's about you. 

Bonnie with one of her favorite guests – her granddaughter Annabelle.