Right now, I’m working on plans for a community dinner at CasaRock. Our little church does them from time to time. The kind Vicar Paul asks who might like to host an evening of good food and great conversation, and sign-up sheets are placed on the table that serves as foyer and guest registry and whatever else is needed on any given Sunday. Worship services in an elementary school cafeteria mean that communion is served each week amidst signs encouraging kids to clean up after themselves, and food pantry contributions are collected in the “nut-free zone” to the right of the front doors. There is no special lighting, no comfortable seat cushions for the lunch tables turned into benches—but there is a nice coffee bar for everyone who attends, set up by volunteers who are quick to offer a napkin and a smile, served up with a piece of homemade pumpkin bread. And special gatherings beyond Sunday happen in homes. I think that’s a very good thing.
I know you think it’s no surprise that I raised my hand without hesitation when he asked who might host a dinner. With an entire section dedicated to #kitchentherapy, it’s pretty much a dead giveaway there’s something about preparing and serving food that resonates deep within my soul. There are always lessons to be learned, there is always grace to be lavished and hope to shine brightly there.
Some folks even say hospitality is a spiritual gift.
I beg to differ.
I think there are most certainly gifts that are divinely inspired – mine are exhortation, leadership, and wisdom (though I question the last one quite often when I can’t find my glasses while they’re sitting on my face or I freak out that my phone has gone missing while I’m talking to someone on it). But I believe hospitality isn’t one of those gifts for any of us. Rather, it’s a discipline to be practiced by each and every one of us. It’s sprinkled all throughout scripture – in Romans 12, we are told to be kind to everyone and extend hospitality to strangers, and in Hebrews 13, it says that our hospitality may even be brightening the day of angels. Hospitality goes far beyond hanging out with friends. It means caring for strangers, refugees, widows, orphans, wayfaring travelers in need of a little kindness.
It even means treating our enemies with kindness. Yes, even our enemies.
Hospitality isn’t something only some of us are divinely equipped to do. No, hospitality is at its essence a reflection of the personality of Jesus. Maybe that’s why 1 Peter 4:8-9 likens being hospitable with loving well – and we are encouraged to extend hospitality without complaining about it.
Trust me, I’m still working on the whole hospitality thing. Laying down my life as a welcome mat for others grinds away the sharp barbs of control and smooths the rough edges of privilege and entitlement. Even the simple act of saying “yes” to a potluck is a lesson in the making, because it means I can’t force the outcome. And for a girl who stares down perfection and anxiety on a regular basis, simply trusting God to indeed work all things together for good (including a dinner filled with folks and food I might not know) is a much-needed thing.
Hospitality is a potluck. It is a safe place to sleep, or some clean clothes to wear. Hospitality is a kind word or a genuine smile on a hard day, a little spare change to make the journey easier, a warrior prayer. Hospitality is at its best when it’s shared without discrimination, and it shows its muscles most when it is lavished on souls who don’t expect it.
So right now, I’m working on plans for a community dinner at CasaRock. And while I might be pondering recipes and figuring out how to set the table for probably 12 or maybe 15, I’m praying that I let go and hospitality be the host. What are ways you practice hospitality, or have seen it lived out in lives around you? I’d love to know.
We’re in this together, you know. And I am for you. CasaRock is always open. There’s good food and free wifi, and snuggles from Pearl.
And what would #KitchenTherapy be without a couple of recipes? Here are two that are cause for celebration. One is a modern take on an ancient Lenten tradition, and the other is chocolate (chocolate needs no explanation). Both are delightful.
Browning Pudding (inspired by Ina Garten)
½ pound butter, melted and cooled slightly
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
¾ cocoa powder
1 t. espresso powder
½ t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla (use paste or Mexican vanilla, if you have it)
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Prepare your baking dish by lightly buttering it (a 2-quart 9X12 dish is best). Go ahead and make sure your ½ pound of butter is melted and cooling.
Beat eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until very thick and fluffy. While they’re beating, sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside. When your eggs and sugar are ready, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the vanilla and dry ingredients, mixing ONLY until combined. Slowly pour in the butter and mix again ONLY until combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and place that dish in a larger baking pan. Add VERY hot tap water to the larger pan until it comes halfway up the outside of your baking dish, and bake for exactly one hour. Trust me. Ina says one hour, and she speaks truth. The result will be a crispy crust and a pudding like center. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream and fresh fruit. Show hospitality by letting others enjoy your brownie pudding too.
A Modern Take on Semnel Cake
Semnel cake is an ancient tradition during Lenten season – the 40 days leading up to Easter. At the midpoint in Lent, young maidens would prepare a rich fruit cake for their mothers to represent the hope and joy that the season of reflection and sacrifice would ultimately bring. To this day, in the UK, Mother’s Day is celebrated at the midpoint of Lent. Now, a REAL Semnel cake is fruitcake covered in almond paste and adorned with 12 marzipan balls representing the disciples. My goddaughter Sylvia and I decided that the cake needed a modern-day makeover. We did well. You’ll do well to make this cake, even if it’s not Easter or Mother’s Day.
First the cake:
½ cup yellow cornmeal (we used stone-ground)
½ cup cake flour (we used gluten-free)
1 t. baking powder
1 stick butter, softened
¼ cup almond paste, cut into small pieces
½ t. vanilla (Mexican, if you’ve got it)
1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks
¼ cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Prepare one 8-inch round cake pan, or two 6-inch round cake pans by buttering and then dusting with flour.
In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and almond paste on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add vanilla, then slowly pour in confectioners’ sugar. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Raise speed to high and add the egg yolks and whole eggs, one at a time. Reduce speed to medium, add the sour cream and dry ingredients and mix ONLY until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake is golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack.
Decorate the cooled cake with almond paste that’s been rolled to ¼” and cut to fit only the top of the cake. Flute the edges to make it a bit fancy. Make 12 small almond paste balls to adorn the top of the cake. If you’ve got a kitchen torch, you may “toast” the almond paste a bit for fun.
Serve with fresh fruit and this amazing raspberry sauce.
What desserts do you make for celebrations? Share the recipes with me – I’d love to try them!
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