"Come to the Table" beckons diners with recipes, prayer


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It's the Thomas Kinkade of cookbooks.

"Come to the Table: Food, Fellowship, and a Celebration of God's Bounty" contains more than just pictures of pies and soup bowls; it's also full of landscapes, nature photos and elaborately set tables. As in Kinkade paintings, the scenes are all picture-perfect, portraying a world where nothing is amiss and light and shadow figure prominently.

No wonder: Author Benita Long said photographer Sammy Anderson waited three hours for the sunlight to hit a gate perfectly before he shot it.

And the photos of the food?

"Madonna has not been photographed as much as some of that food."

But it's supposed to be more than just a pretty book.

It's no accident that the book was released shortly before Thanksgiving. In many ways, it captures in book form what Thanksgiving is all about.

Ms. Long hatched the idea when she couldn't find "something that celebrated -- in a beautiful book -- the Christian way of life."

She found beautiful Jewish cookbooks but not a Christian counterpart.

"In any culture, an important part of the culture is food. And in any culture, an important part of the culture is faith." Her job was to show how those things meld for the Christian.

For her, the crux of the issue was to convey joy around the table.

"This book is about celebrating our daily nourishment. Celebration is a spiritual discipline just like prayer and Scripture reading. You're acknowledging your dependence on something outside yourself."

The book contains sections on breakfast, picnics, small group dinners, family gatherings, seafood (often referenced in the Bible) and other food-related events, plus a selection of table prayers.

Perhaps the strongest section thematically is the breakfast section. Ms. Long's opening essay calls morning a time of renewal, and copious Bible quotes about morning and dawn decorate the recipe pages. At the end of the section, a two-page photo spread shows geese flying in V-formation in a muted sunrise, with Psalm 139:9-10 superimposed:

If I take the wings of morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,

And Your right hand shall hold me.

Despite the lofty ideals held out in Ms. Long's essays and Mr. Anderson's often glorious photos, recipe creator Ann Mitchell said she wasn't aiming for exotic or labor-intensive recipes.

"This is not a gourmet cookbook. We wanted doable things that would appeal to a broad audience."

Some odd juxtapositions result, such as Joe's Pork Roast (barbecued) followed by Egg and Caviar Croustades.

In all honesty, many recipes aren't all that original. Italian Sausage Strata is just one of many variations on the egg-and-bread casseroles that soak overnight in the fridge, and several salads mix fruit and greens with vinaigrette dressings -- no longer an unusual combo.

But that's the point: Ms. Long said she wanted to show that even simple food can be presented with style and grace, leading to pleasure for those who partake.

"How food is received and presented is as important as what it is, even if it's weenies on a bun.

"It's really not the same when you eat Thanksgiving dinner off paper plates, is it?

"But you don't have to have a lot of fancy things. It's about doing your best."

Those pictures of fancy tables in the book? The dishes came from Target and the flowers from Sam's Club.

"I wanted to show people how to make a meal special," she said.

Why bother? Because it's a way of living out faith.

Early Christians, Ms. Long said, considered it an important expression of their faith to extend hospitality to others. What we now call "entertaining," she said, ought to be called "hospitality" in order to focus on the guest rather than the host.

If we are truly hospitable, she said, we don't just bolt food and move on to more important matters. "We live in a fast-food nation. We need to slow down and think about it more."

If we do, she said, we'll get what many people crave: a true sense of community around the table.

"In this day and time, people need their faith, food and way of life to synthesize. People want all these elements to come together. We're so fragmented."

"Come to the Table: Food, Fellowship, and a Celebration of God's Bounty" (Thomas Nelson, $24.95) is available through bookstores, major retailers such as Sam's Club, and online booksellers such as amazon.com.




Spicy Cheddar Spread

PG tested

This appetizer would make an impressive presentation before the Thanksgiving meal. We decided we liked the dip even better when we heated it (microwaved until hot) before spooning it into the bread bowl.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 1 pound New York sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4-ounce jar chopped pimentos, drained
  • 10-ounce can diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
  • 1 cup good-quality mayonnaise
  • 1-pound round crusty bread loaf

Shred cheese by hand or in food processor. Combine the shredded cheese with the garlic, pimentos, tomatoes and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Chill several hours for flavors to blend.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out center of bread loaf and toast bread until browned. When ready to serve, fill bread with cheese spread and serve with toast rounds.

Yields 3 cups.

-- "Come to the Table" by Benita Long et al




Orange Cranberry Bread

When you're buying cranberries for Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, pick up a few extra and make a quick bread for next morning's breakfast.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 1 navel orange (about  1/2 pound)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice unpeeled orange into small sections, removing any seeds and tough white membrane. In a food processor or blender, combine orange slices and 1 1/4 cups of sugar and pulse until oranges are finely diced. Add cranberries and pulse until the oranges and cranberries are very finely minced. Set aside for at least 30 minutes for the juices to form.

Grease and flour two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cranberry mixture, eggs, and oil and mix well. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, the remaining 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and pecans. Add the cranberry mixture to dry ingredients and stir gently until blended. Divide batter evenly among each loaf pan. Bake for 44 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves.

-- "Come to the Table" by Benita Long et al




Green Beans with Toasted Pine Nuts

This would make a colorful, healthful side dish for richer foods on the Thanksgiving plate.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 1 1/2 pounds haricots verts or small tender green beans, trimmed
  •  1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cook beans in boiling salted water until tender. Plunge into ice water and drain. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, reheat the beans in microwave until warm. Place in a 2-quart casserole. Toss with pine nuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8.

-- "Come to the Table" by Benita Long et al




Ham (Or Turkey) and Linguini Casserole

PG tested

With leftover turkey substituted for some or all of the ham, this would make a nice post-Thanksgiving meal. Frozen asparagus, cooked according to package direction, works in this recipe, although it wasn't as crisp and colorful as fresh.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 2 pounds asparagus, cut into thirds
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  •  3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Cracked pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups cubed cooked ham or turkey
  •  1/2 pound linguini, cooked and drained
  • Paprika for color

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook asparagus in boiling salted water about 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain asparagus and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and hold color. Drain and set aside.

In a 4-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and stir in half-and-half, milk and chicken broth until well blended. Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in  1/2 cup cheddar, 1/3 cup parmesan, lemon juice, onion, dry mustard, parsley, salt and pepper. In large bowl, combine ham and linguini. Pour sauce over linguini, tossing to mix.

In 3-quart casserole (we greased ours), layer half the linguini mixture. Cover with steamed asparagus and top with remaining linguini mixture. Sprinkle with remaining  1/4 cup cheddar, 1/3 cup parmesan and the paprika. Bake about 45 minutes until bubbly and hot.

Serves 10 to 12.

-- "Come to the Table" by Benita Long et al


Rebecca Sodergren, a former Post-Gazette staffer, is a freelance writer in Centerville, Ohio. Contact her at soderg@hotmail.com .


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