“…forgetting how to have a good time on Saturday night is as lethal as smoking crack. It just takes a little longer to kill you.” Pearl Cleage, “I Wish I Had a Red Dress”
In my teens, a hoppin’ Saturday night was an excuse to stay up as late as I wanted and consume massive amounts of television. In my 20s, it meant getting dolled up and going somewhere my friends and I could drink and dance. In my early 30s, it still meant getting dressed up, but we would forego the drinking and dancing, and instead treat ourselves to exquisite meals out.
Now, in my late 30s, I still like to dress up, I still like to dance, I still like to eat, and sometimes, I will still have a drink. Even though the Corona crisis has sometimes stifled the ability to “go out,” it hasn’t stifled the best kind of Saturday night.
That, I have learned, can happen right at home. Surrounded by people I love, and with our senses tickled by food we enjoy. I saw this in action right before the world went crazy, when a small group of fascinating friends and relatives gathered around my kitchen table.
Welcomed in Our Own Skin
It was a tight squeeze, but no one seemed to mind the need to maneuver between the water cooler and the corner that functions as my online elementary classroom.
No one was wearing pajamas but no one was looking fancy, either. We just enjoyed being welcomed in our own skin.
We broke bread together, murmuring over the deliciousness of what each one brought. We breathed in deep the smells of luscious butter and fresh oregano that wafted from the steaming dishes. I didn’t have fancy silverware or linen tablecloths (although I do love my cream satin table runner), and we weren’t eating beef wellington or specialty sushi.
It was comfort food, cornflake potato casserole (recipe below) and Italian stuffed chicken, so unlike what I would order from new and upcoming Cali restaurants—but still so good. Partly because of the moist poultry and full flavors, and partly because of the love and care that went behind it. This food was a reflection of the hearts who brought it.
Eating together without the hum of other customers or general bustle, the only extraneous sound being my water cooler (sometimes it sounds like it’s eaten a bear), we had nowhere else to be and no other distractions.
A scratched wooden table and ranch dressing in a bowl turned into so much more. It was a vehicle for comfortability and conversation. Our tales brought laughter, gasps, and sometimes even goosebumps.
I saw facets of my guests I hadn’t seen before, and heard their stories from new perspectives. The “how we met” tale of my friend and her husband blossomed from a cute 30-second snippet to a full-blown, cross-countries love story, with all the stress and butterflies and drama to boot!
Testimonies of God’s great love and His attention to small details were given context and richer meaning. From encounters with Jesus to daily blessings, the stories ranged in size and scope, but fascinated us just the same. And of course, there’s always those oddball retellings of the unexpected side of life that just makes you laugh!
I loved observing my guests have a space to see and to be seen for who they truly are—to be able to feel comfortable in their own skin and expose little pieces of their soul. It was just an old-school table and some casseroles, but it paved the way for a heartwarming night.
Meal Time Matters
Sitting across from my friend on that original Saturday night, her black hair spilling over her shoulders and her face lit up with delight as she talked about how she arrived here, I thought, “this is what it’s all about.” What better place to be than with people I love, meeting people that they love, all sharing stories of our lives and humanity?
As the shutdowns are loosened and the quarantines are completed, that’s something we can take with us into whatever the new normal will be. An ability to cherish the time with those around us, and a recognition of what our own dining table can bring.
Our tables, whether they be wood, Formica or glass, provide a space for our loved ones to see and be seen. To hear and be heard. To feel warmth, safety, and love. Be it stories of heartfelt trauma or tales of goofy mishaps, our conversation and closeness over a delicious meal plant unforgettable seeds of hope.
Sarah’s Famous Cornflake Potatoes
*Recipe courtesy of a hometown newspaper contest in Troy, Ohio.
3 or 4 cups crushed cornflakes
1 bag frozen Ore Ida Potatoes O-Brien (don’t substitute for this brand!)
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 large container sour cream
1 regular container cream of mushroom soup
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt a half stick of butter and pour into the bottom of a 13×9 inch casserole dish, coating the bottom of the dish completely. In the casserole dish, mix together Ore Ida potatoes, cheese, mushroom soup, and sour cream. Mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Melt remaining half stick of butter. Take the cornflakes and put into a plastic bag. Pour melted butter over the cornflakes. Close the bag, shake well while crushing up the cornflakes.
Spread cornflake mixture on top of the potato mixture in the dish evenly. Cover with tin foil and bake for 1 hour. After 1 hour, take tin foil off the dish and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, until cornflakes are golden brown and crunchy.
Let cool for 15 minutes and enjoy!
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