Many of you have followed our annual Cousins Camp with our grandchildren (who are "at least 4 years old and potty-trained) via Facebook and on my blog for the past 14 years. It remains one of the highlights of our year. We make excursions to area attractions, do crafts, swim, and play games, but I believe ALL of us would agree that our favorite times during Cousins Camp happen around the table. Most of the time, we have breakfast at home, eat out for lunch, and then are back home for supper. We love it when we're not in a rush and can just relax, eat, laugh, and talk, talk, talk. They tell stories. Steve and I tell stories. They ask questions. We ask questions. Meals are simple, leaning toward quantity rather than quality.
When you take 11 grandchildren into a restaurant, you are bound to get looks of "Oh know. Our pleasant meal has just come to an end." I recognize it. I've had similar thoughts. One trick we've employed in the past is to tell them we're going to count the number of unsolicited compliments we get. It's amazing how quickly the sounds of "please," "thank you," "may I have ____," "please pass the _____," "Yes, ma'am," etc. etc. can soften the reality of 13 people eating together in a public place. I remember a time about 5 years ago when we received 3 compliments from the servers and fellow diners. In that case, we headed to Dollar Tree and gave each child $3 to spend. Now that they're older, bribes aren't necessary, thank goodness.
(An Asian restaurant, a German restaurant, and a Mexican restaurant. They are smiling in all of them).
As for as Empty Nest Hospitality is concerned, I believe keeping it simple is a huge key to success. I will never forget the time my friend Fran Elam spontaneously invited us over to her house after church one night just because she wanted to spend more time with us. When we got there, she had not spent the whole afternoon cooking or cleaning. She just fixed some simple, but very delicious, grilled cheese sandwiches, and we had a great time. Now mind you, Fran is a whale of a good cook. Her blackberry cobbler and peanut brittle are legendary. But her gift of hospitality is even MORE legendary.
In this stage of our lives, we're way past putting on a show or trying to impress. Or, at least I hope we are. Now it's all about the conversation and the chance to get to know our guests better. And I've decided it's time to go ahead and use the good dishes. So what if one of them gets broken? That's just one less thing our kids have to do something with when we're gone, right? Why should all the dishes keep taking up room in my cabinets without ever seeing the light of day?
Two recipes that I tend to make often are Baked Italian Spaghetti and Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake. They are almost 100% guaranteed to please even picky eaters.
BAKED ITALIAN SPAGHETTI
1 large can tomato sauce 3 c. water
1 6-ounce can tomato paste 1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped 8-ounces thin spaghetti
2 cloves garlic 1/2 lb. sharp cheese, grated
1 1/2 t. chili powder 1 pkg. dry spaghetti sauce mix
Brown ground beef, chopped onion, and chopped pepper in large skillet. Add remaining ingredients, except spaghetti and cheese. Simmer slowly for 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Cook spaghetti until tender. Rinse with water. Drain. Layer spaghetti in a large casserole alternately with sauce and grated cheese. Just as guests arrive bake at 350-degrees until cheese melts. Serves 8-12 people.
CHOCOLATE CHIP BUNDT CAKE
1 yellow cake mix 1 (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding mix
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream 1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. water 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips Garnish: powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease and flour a 14-cup Bundt pan. Place cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, water, and eggs in large bowl. Beat at low speed for about 30 seconds, then increase speed and beat for 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Fold in the chocolate chips, and pour into the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar.
THE LAST SUPPER
We see in the Bible that Jesus asked Peter and John to prepare a Passover meal for His disciples because He longed to spend time with them and teach them one last time before He faced the crucifixion. We call it the Last Supper.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
Think about His words "what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment" as you observe Easter this weekend. Because of His death on the cross and the miracle of His resurrection, we can say on Sunday -- "He is risen! He is risen indeed!"