A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a topic that seemed to resonate with and encourage many people – the topic of the dinner table. In our culture, in many ways, the dinner table seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs and is on its way to slow and gradual extinction. To fight for its importance and centrality in our homes, and to encourage one another in our struggle to keep it as a regular part of our weekly rhythm and routine, I thought it would be fun to step together into the classroom of the greatest teacher I know on the subject – my mom.
When I was growing up, it wasn’t a secret around the Ince household that my mom was an excellent cook…and I was not. Family lore includes many stories of my mishaps in the kitchen, including the time I was left to watch the broccoli on the stove, decided to pick up the book, The Robe, and became so absorbed in its pages that not only did I burn the entire head of broccoli to a crisp but charred the entire top of the white rental house stove as well. It took days of scrubbing to remove the blackened remains (I’m still sorry, dad).
All that to say, a chef I am not. I’ve always preferred books to spatulas, but my mom can turn any ingredients into a feast, and the place where she shines the brightest is in her kitchen and around her table. So I thought my mom and I could periodically team up to do what each one of us does best – mom can set a beautiful table, cook a delicious meal, and I can put it all into words. So, welcome to the first official entry of the blog series we’re going to call My Mother’s Table. Each entry will consist of a menu, the recipes to go along with it, pictures of her beautiful table, directions for us to follow to make our tables beautiful as well, and a devotional thought to go along with it all (that’s my small part).
This week, we are going to pull up a chair to my mother’s fall table. Because…it’s official…fall is here. Well, it’s sort of here. It’s here in Houston in a theoretical sense if not in an actual sense. So all you fall-loving-people (myself included), pull up a seat, cut yourself a slice of pumpkin pie, and join the feast at a place where I have never failed to not only be fed, but also loved.
- Cowboy Stew
- Fresh Greens with Homemade Salad Dressing
- Buffins (Mom’s Famous Mix Between a Biscuit and a Muffin – these are melt in your mouth delicious!)
- Pumpkin Pie (I don’t like pumpkin pie, but I like my mom’s recipe. It’s worth trying!)
2 lbs ground meat (beef or turkey)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cans minestrone soup (I use Progresso soup, 19 oz can)
1 52 oz can of ranch style beans (substitute black beans or kidney beans for a healthier stew)
1 can rotel tomatoes (substitute diced tomatoes for a milder flavor; can be helpful with kiddos)
Directions: brown the onion; add meat and cook until brown. Add the rest of the ingredients, juice and all. Heat until bubbly and enjoy! Everyone loves this stew!
Fresh Greens and Homemade Salad Dressing
Salad Dressing: mix together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 T balsamic vinegar, 2 T apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp dijon mustard. Pour over salad ingredients and toss when ready to serve.
Muffins (A Mix Between a Biscuit and a Muffin – Not Healthy But Worth Every Bite)
2 1/4 cup Pioneer Original Baking Mix
1 1/2 sticks (gulp!) unsalted butter, melted
1 hefty cup of sour cream
1 T sugar
Directions: melt butter, add rest of ingredients and mix (I do this by hand). Plop into greased muffin tins (I use coconut spray oil) and distribute batter evenly. Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Serve with honey, preserves, or jam. I personally like Apple Butter for the fall.
(This is a little different from the normal pumpkin pie because it’s not as dense, much like a custard texture. People LOVE it!)
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup solid pumpkin
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
2 unbaked 8-9 inch pie shells – 1 for the pie and 1 for the leaf cut outs on top. (I use Pillsbury pie shells, found in the diary section of the grocery store.)
Directions: cream eggs, milk, and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix in well. Sprinkle sugar over the bottom of the unbaked pie shell, then pour filling into the shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow pie to cool before serving.
For decor on top of the pie, I use leaf cut outs from Williams-Sonoma. Cut out the shapes from the an unbaked pie shell, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cut outs with sugar before baking. Bake alongside of the pie at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. After the pie cools, place them on top of the pie.
Homemade Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy whipped cream
1-2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs vanilla
Directions: pour pint of heavy whipped cream into a bowl and beat on high. As cream thickens, gradually add 1-2 Tbs sugar and 1 Tbs vanilla. Whip on high until the cream holds its shape. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve pumpkin pie with whipped cream with a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon sprinkled over the top. Delicious! Happy Fall!
The Table – by Susan
The fall table might be my favorite table to put together because it represents a time of year where my family can come together after summer vacations, a time when hot weather turns cooler, and a time when orange pumpkins grace the table as decorations and in the food we eat. Using my table to create the beauty that God has provided not only is a draw for family gatherings, but represents to me a little bit of the heavenly beauty that we will all experience together someday, in our exquisitely beautiful heavenly home where we will all feast around God’s table in perfect love and harmony.
The pieces in my fall table that I use consistently in most of my tables are:
- A large bowl for the centerpiece, purchased from an online site called Wisteria. I find they have unique pieces that are reasonably priced. I love this bowl because it’s lightweight (even though it looks heavy) and it can be used all through the year. I just change what I put in it.
- 18 inch tall candle sticks to go around the bowls. My candle sticks are silver-plated, purchased from Pottery Barn a few years ago, but use what you like. Pewter, terra cotta, brass…whatever you have will do or whatever your eye loves. I’m sure Round Top has some doozies that would grace any table beautifully. For those of you in Houston, MAI also has some nice ones if you don’t want to wait for Round Top.
- 4 inch pillar candles to go on top of the candlesticks. My candles are battery powered, and I purchased them from CostCo, but you can get them many places – Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot….or use the real thing. Here in Houston, Accessory Place has a good selection of candles, as does Hobby Lobby or Michaels.
- The votives are mercury glass purchased at Pottery Barn, but a website called Luna Bazaar usually has a good variety for an inexpensive price. I always think that an uneven number looks best (go figure) so I have seven votives of varying shapes and sizes. I think a variety of shapes and sizes is more interesting than having everything the same. In some I have dried fall berries, in some little dried pumpkins (not sure if these are real pumpkins or seeds that look like pumpkins) and in some, I actually put a votive candle. I purchased the little pumpkins at Round Top and the fall berries at an interior design store, The Accessory Place. Most likely, you can find these or some that you like at other places like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Once purchased, you can place them in zip locks and save for the next year.
- A runner for the center of the table. This one is linen damask with leaves woven into the fabric, purchased at Williams Sonoma. I’ve collected different runners over the years that I can change out, depending on the season.
The pieces in my fall table that change from season to season are:
- The pumpkins in the bowl I bought at Whole Foods (a local grocery store), but Cornelius (a local nursery) has a large selection as well, with all shapes and sizes. Put pumpkins in the bowl that have the size and color that appeal to your eye. I also stuffed the bottom of the bowl with wadded up newspaper. That way I had to buy fewer pumpkins.
- The greenery comes from Hobby Lobby. It is a garland made up of six different pieces, 26 inches total in length. Purchase however many pieces you need for your table, and then weave the pieces between the bowl, candlesticks, votives or whatever other pieces you have. I like this particular garland because it looks real, and Hobby Lobby always seems to have the best selection.
- For the place setting I started with a dark woven oval place mat I purchased from Pottery Barn some years ago, which can be used with many different place settings. The charger is a purchase from Hobby Lobby, a sea green color that goes with many of my plates. The dinner plate and soup bowl were purchased at Marshalls, and the glasses are the taller french jelly glasses. The yellow-gold linen napkins were purchased at Williams Sonoma years ago with pewter napkin rings purchased from Pottery Barn, using my everyday stainless silverware.
Most of the pieces have been purchased over the years and are things I use frequently for my table, but the key is to collect things that you love and use them for your table to create your theme, using your centerpiece to set the theme and chargers that set off the place settings. Keep in mind that your table should reflect you. There’s no right or wrong. Just begin with what you have and add as you can.
The Thought – by Susannah
If I close my eyes, I can still picture the red sugar cookie tins from third grade Sunday School. My grandmother was the Sunday School teacher (she taught third grade Sunday School for over thirty years), and each week, she made sugar cookies to take to our class. The cookies were shaped as shepherd rods, stars, Christmas angels, fall leaves, or spring flowers and were used as the reward for those who had memorized their Scripture verse for the week. The very first Scripture passage we memorized was Psalm 23, and if I am still enough, I can feel the warmth from her knees next to mine, see her gentle eyes under brown rimmed glasses looking at mine, quietly and lovingly helping me to remember the words.
“The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil,
For You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
Thanks to my grandmother and her red-tinned sugar cookies, those words have followed me over the terrain of the last four decades of my life. They have followed me through the valley of a broken engagement and two miscarriages. They have held me through college years and child-raising years. They have guided me through strong friendships and broken friendships. They have nourished me through times of hurry and times of rest. And they are now holding me through a season of watching a dear friend with cancer pass from this life to the next, leaving her three young children and husband behind. Those words, perhaps more than any others in the Bible, have made the reality of the Shepherd’s presence near and almost tangible. Why?
I think it is because the words of the Psalm create a table not out of the Psalmist’s troubles, but in the midst of his troubles. This Psalm is a meant as a table in the wilderness for those who are on the way, rather than for those who have found their way.
And isn’t that what all good tables do for those who sit around them? They do not so much eliminate people’s enemies as they make a place for people in the midst of their enemies. That’s what my mother’s table did for me. It didn’t take away the hardships of high school, but it provided a consistent haven in the midst of them.
Does your family and community experience regular nourishment and nurture like that around your table? Do you open the doors of your home to weary pilgrims on the way who need a place to be refreshed from the enemies that war on their soul on a daily basis within and without?
The people around our table don’t so much need to know that we can make every enemy go away and vanish (you might think they need that, but they don’t). What they need to know is that when the enemies of life come (and they invariably will), their place at the table is secure.
And if you have young children, the lessons they learn from your table now, in the present, will transfer to what they understand and know about the table of the Lord in the future. There will be a day they will walk out the front door of your house to create their own homes and their own tables. But the place you secured for them at your table will be a place they will carry for the rest of their lives in the hearts. And however they sat at your table will be the way they most easily and naturally sit at the table of the Lord.
Take a few moments today or this week to sit down and reflect on your table. What are the messages most consistently communicated to those who sit around your table? Are they messages of consistent, covenantal love…or conditional love? Are they messages of mercy and forgiveness…or grudges and bitterness? Are they messages of joy and peace…or anger and stony silence? Spend some time this week thinking through how you can craft consistent messages of love to those who sit around your table, much as the Good Shepherd and Host of Psalm 23 has crafted messages of mercy, faithful, covenantal love for you at His table. Here is a prayer to help you start:
Lord, the table You have entrusted to me is sacred space. Around it, You have brought specific people who need specific, tangible reminders of your constant, unconditional, covenantal love when walking through the wilderness. Give me the wisdom to know that every time I act as Hostess at my table, I am standing in Your shoes, giving people a taste of Heaven and of their Home to come. Help me not to take my role lightly or to treat it flippantly, but to give great thought to the tone of my table, the love it communicates, and the healing it brings. Don’t let me shun the role of a servant in my home, but enable me to take on the role of a servant, in order to make room for the Shepherd to heal and restore people’s souls. Begin today with restoring my soul at Your table, so that my table may be used in Jesus’ Name to restore others. It is in Jesus’ Name that I pray, Amen.
To receive further encouragement on the kind of tables we want to set in our hearts and homes, connect with me this week on Facebook.
Two weeks ago, my good friend Margaret Austin wrote an excellent blog on how to begin to Push Back the Darkness. And it’s had me thinking…what are other practical ways you and I can push back the encroaching darkness in our culture, our families, our own personal lives, and in our children? There are many ways to push back the darkness, but I can think of two simple ways right off the bat. One is prayer, a topic I blogged about last week. But the other is practicing the presence of the table.
High school was hard for me. Really hard. I never felt like I fit in, and I always felt like I was walking uphill or swimming against the tide. I can still remember the feeling of driving up to campus in my 1986 red and gray suburban, hoisting my ginormous, green, Lands Ends backpack onto my back, and lugging my books, my nagging worries, and all of my insecurities and feelings of failure around with me to class. My school was on the other side of town from where my family lived, so at the end of the day at 5:00pm, after my sports’ practice was over, I had an hour long drive home in rush hour traffic to look forward to. By the time I walked in the door at the end of the day, I was weary and spent from battling the hardships of the day. But I always had one thing to consistently look forward to – my mother’s table. I can still remember the feeling of opening the side door to our house and stepping into the kitchen. My mom always had a candle burning in the kitchen window, a signal we knew was there to welcome us home, and her table was always set, complete with placemats, cloth napkins, silverware, and candles burning in the wooden barley twist candlesticks.
When dinner was ready, my brothers and I each had our own place at the table, a place that remained consistently ours from elementary school through college, and it didn’t matter what paper was due the next day, what exam we were studying for, or what math problem had our stomach in knots. Each one of us stopped what we were doing when it was time for dinner and took our place at the table.
I miss those meals at my mothers’ table. I miss the consistency of being known, fed, loved, cared for, and heard, no matter what had happened during the day. I miss the conversations about theology and politics that took place as we grew older, and I miss the laughter that my brothers always provided. Now that we are older with families of our own, we sometimes get to sit around the table again at my parents’ house, but it’s never been quite the same.
My mother’s table was a refuge for me, a place where my family consistently practiced the healing presence of one another.
Fast forward to the present day. Over at the Baker household, I really can’t remember the last time I used cloth napkins at my table. I have “paper plates” on my grocery list as a staple item, right up there with laundry detergent and toilet paper, and most of our conversations consist of me trying to convince my girls that I really did think the joke they told was funny (my best fake laugh at the end of the day usually just isn’t all that convincing), telling Caroline to sit on her rear end, not on her knees, reminding Lizzie that if she gets up randomly from the table one more time, she will eat by herself in the next room, telling Lillian for the third time to put her book down and actually look at the rest of us while she is eating, and trying to coax Mia Grace to actually chew her food and not hold each bite in her mouth for thirty minutes.
Just so I don’t throw in the towel on family dinners all together, I have to consistently remind myself that my mother did not start using cloth napkins at the table until I was in high school, and I don’t remember any deep, theological conversations taking place until I was around the age of 16. Up to that point, the most theological thing that was said was, “Please stop passing gas at the table.”
With that being said, I have to remind myself at the beginning of each and every school year when schedules ramp up and my patience and energy dwindles that no matter where my family is in its stage of “table life,” profound healing has the potential to occur and lessons in theology are preached each and every evening around the table. And whatever I have to do to fight for my family to actually sit down and eat together is worth every ounce of time, effort, and creative energy I can muster.
Why?…Because as we practice the presence of being together, we are literally pushing back the darkness.
The table communicates to a child that he has a place, no matter what his day was like at school or who left him out. The table communicates to a child that she has a voice and people who want to hear what she has to say, no matter how deaf the world around her can be. The table communicates to each of us that community is important, that practicing the presence of people is necessary, and that true nourishment cannot occur living life on our own as an island.
In an article by Anne Fishel in The Chicago Tribune entitled “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them”, she writes, “[A] stack of studies link regular family dinners with lowering a host of high risk teenage behaviors parents fear: smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity. In one study of more than 5,000 Minnesota teens, researchers concluded that regular family dinners were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. In a very recent study, kids who had been victims of cyberbullying bounced back more readily if they had regular family dinners. Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors than church attendance or good grades.”
Now don’t get me wrong here. What I am not saying is that I do not think regular church attendance is important or even vital or necessary. But what I am saying is that I think Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6 are true: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
Children not only need to hear theology preached from the pulpit, but they also need to hear it when they sit in our homes, around our tables, throughout the regular rhythms of daily life in order to really know and believe that it is true. The pulpit is often where theology gains entrance into our children’s heads. But the table is where theology becomes embedded in their hearts.
In her excellent book Table Life, Joanne Thompson says it this way: “Don’t miss the meaning of Jesus stepping down from eternity to eat his oatmeal. His choosing to come to the table sets the record straight: Mealtime is sacred. A meal is not a church service, but the table remains an altar. It’s the centerpiece of family life. Mealtime is set apart as an enduring expression of God’s kingdom provision. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Time is God’s good creation, and mealtime is God’s metronome designed to bind our body lives to the Father.”
As I think about the commitments of this fall and the effort it takes to put just one good meal on the table, I need encouragement, reminders, and the ability to focus on the importance of the table in my family’s life in order to push back the darkness on a regular basis.
If you need help like me, consider buying a weekly meal planner.
At the beginning of each week, plan your dinner time menu while looking at your calendar. On the planner, don’t just plan out the meal and the ingredients, but plan out the times you are actually going to sit down together. To help with that, I number the meals where we can sit down around the table and circle them so I can have a visual as well as mental reminder.
My goal at the beginning of each week is to sit down together four out of seven nights. Reality hits, and it is usually ends up being three. But putting pen to paper helps me to make a commitment at the beginning of the week to our family time, something I believe is deeply valuable and important, and it helps me to say “No” when commitments, no matter how good they are, pop up. The planner provides an easy and valid way to say, “I’m sorry; we already have plans that evening.”
So often I succumb to the temptation of thinking that I need a masters degree in counseling to help people. Or I need a medical degree to become a healer of the soul. Or I need fancier dishes or matching placemats or gourmet meals or all the time in the world to offer those around me a place at my table. But that isn’t what God’s Word shows us. All that we need is a table, and the presence of mind to say, “Pull up a chair, your place is waiting. Sit down for a moment so we can talk.”
That’s it. So this fall, as you plan out your schedule and think about your family’s needs, don’t forget about your table. Make it preimment. Make it a priority. And make sure you become present at the table one meal, one week, one season at a time. Don’t feel like you need start perfectly. Just start. And don’t even be afraid to start badly. But don’t miss the fact that one of the greatest ways you can push back the darkness in your culture, your family’s life, and in your friends’ lives, is to set them a place at your table.
Let the meal times begin.