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Meal 3 – Brown Sugar and Ginger Chicken

October 9, 2013

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We scheduled dinner with a friend for Monday night.

It ended up being one of those crazy weird Mondays. It would be difficult to go into all of the details but a combination of Emily-being-too-optimistic-about-what-can-be-done-before-9:00-a.m., a dirty kitchen that I didn’t have time to clean before my morning lesson, pouring rain, a long drive through the wrong part of D.C., and make-up and regular lessons taking place on opposite sides of town all added up to me being pretty annoyed at my own bright optimism and pretty stressed by a little after noon.

But then a girlfriend came over spontaneously – asked to come over suddenly, just as everything that had made the morning hectic ended- and we worked through the hours of the early afternoon together to the soothing smell of a fall candle, listening to the patter of the rain. And that friend’s sudden need added a soft calm and cheery presence to my out-of-breath morning.

By the time 7:00 rolled around and it was time for our dinner-guest to arrive, somehow everything that was tumultuous about the day had fallen into place. All of the commitments of the day had been fulfilled, the stress of the day had washed away, and dinner was waiting, hot and satisfying, for Mark, me, and our dinner-guest to enjoy.

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And on a day that was – in some ways – stressful and weird and wet and unhappy and – in other ways – cozy and delightful and satisfying, I learned an important lesson. There were moments during that wet busy day when I wanted to call off the dinner, reschedule, move it to another more ideal day, whine that we were over-scheduled and over-committed.

But the truth is that the friend who showed up spontaneously in the early hours of the afternoon and the dinner guest who arrived at our door at 7:00 actually made my day far better than it would otherwise have been.

We talk about how to bless others through hospitality but what we often forget is that hospitality blesses us. When friends carve time out of their schedule to come enjoy a meal with us, when they bring conversation and strawberry ice-cream and waffle cones and warm encouragement, when they bring companionship and empathy and love, they give us wonderful gifts that we could get no other way.

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Sometimes I forget this lesson and I take out my stress by canceling cozy dinners with friends, by constantly moving commitments around, by trying to pretend that it’s the commitments and people and relationships that are to blame and not my own frazzled, self-centered, anxious, rushing state of mind.

We should practice hospitality simply because it is good for us. It is good for our souls to stop the rushing, stop the madness, stop the fretting and to slow down and pause and enjoy the company of those who are on this road with us.

So take my advice today, my advice to myself that I forget so frequently. Are you too busy, over-scheduled, over-booked, frazzled, tight on time? Have someone over to dinner anyway.

It doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The presence of a friend, the conversation, the change of pace, will remind you of what is good. We don’t need to stress. We don’t need to run around frantically. We don’t need to constantly shuffle our commitments on the calendar like so many pawns on a chessboard.

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But we do need each other. Breaking bread together is one of the most fundamental acts of a civilized society. To achieve what is good, to forge those bonds of community, we need to do it. And do it again. And do it more. Until the practice of eating together becomes so natural that we forever shake this terrible habit of feeling like friends and good food are dispensable.

I’ll even help you. Use the menu below and you won’t even have to plan. Just do it. Invite someone over for dinner. On a Monday night. You won’t regret it.

Chairs Around the Table: 3

Main Dish: Brown Sugar and Ginger Chicken

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tsps. ginger

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tsp garlic

1 tsp pepper

 5 chicken breasts.

Blend the ginger and brown sugar. Pat the chicken breasts dry and cover thoroughly in the brown-sugar-giner rub. Mix the other ingredients in a measuring cup. Pour gently over the chicken breasts. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours. Place the chicken breasts in a baking pan. Bake at 365 degrees for 30 minutes.

Side Dish: Rice

Salad: Baby kale with Mushrooms, tomatoes, red bell-peppers, pistachios, and this dressing.

Appetizer-That-We-Ate-With-Dinner: This spinach-artichoke dip. I replaced the kale with spinach and added bacon bits and I’m so glad I did.

Dessert – These gingersnaps, plus our guest brought delicious strawberry and chocolate ice-cream along with waffle cones. Scrumptious.

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101 Meals Series: Meal #2 ~ Balsamic Vinegar Marinade

September 17, 2013

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Painting our entire main floor meant that we had to put hosting on hold for a few weeks. But now we’re enjoying the main floor’s new look and are excited about hosting a lot during the fall!

A good friend from church came to hang out with us on Sunday night; one of our housemates and his sweet girlfriend joined us as well. We consumed a lot more peanut butter cookies than was probably advisable, drank a lot of iced tea, and laughed a lot.

I’m excited that we can use our dining rom again and am looking forward to all of the fun times in store this fall!

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Chairs around the table – 5

Main dish – Chicken with Balsamic Vinegar Marinade

2 lbs chicken breasts

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar

1/4 white wine

2 tbl. Dijon Mustard

1 tsp. garlic

1 tsp. dried cilantro (or fresh cilantro sprigs)

1 tsp. fresh basil leaves

1 tsp. pepper

Place the chicken in a glass bowl. Whisk the marinade ingredients thoroughly and then pour over the chicken. Fork the chicken a few times then cover and place in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Pour all of the contents of the bowl into a baking dish and bake at 365 degrees for 35 minutes or until chicken is cooked all the way through.

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Side dish – Rice and roasted spaghetti squash with carrots.

Salad – Green Salad with Mushrooms, red bell peppers, sliced almonds, and Balsamic Dijon-mustard dressing

Drink – Iced Sweet Orange Tea

Dessert – Peanut Butter Cookies

Guests Brought – Wine

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Table

Meal 1 ~ A Zesty Summer Evening Feast

August 17, 2013

Some lovely friends came over for dinner last night. Two of us were exchanging emails and trying to sort out when we could all get together.

You know the game . . . “What about next week?” What about two weeks after that?” “I’m so sorry; that won’t work. What about Christmas 2015?” K shot me another email. “What are you guys doing tonight?”

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Done. Mark and I thrive on spontaneity. I cooked the main dish and dessert; the guests brought an amazing quinoa salad and wine. We threw open the windows and enjoyed the cool summer night as we ate the zesty meal.

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This recipe makes a lot of ganache, so when it was time for dessert, we brought it out and doused the strawberries in chocolate.

Chairs around the table – 5

AppetizerArtichoke Dip and Chips

Main dish – Lemon Pepper Chicken

I rubbed mine ahead of time with a bit of pepper, salt, and basil and, since I was out of wine, I skipped that step.

Side dish – Roasted Potatoes.

2 lbs red small potatoes

1 large onion

1/4 olive oil

1/2 garlic

Chop up the potatoes and the onion. Douse them in olive oil and garlic. Cook them at 350 degrees for 2 hours, stirring occassionally. Broil for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese at the end. 

Dessert – Orange-flavored Bundt Cake with White Chocolate Ganache and Strawberries.

For the bundt cake, I simply used this cupcake recipe for the batter, left out the cinnamon, added an extra 1/2 tsp. of orange extract, and baked it in a bundt pan for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. 

I tried to substitute white chocolate for dark-chocolate in this recipe. It could have worked better, but anything chocolate is pretty amazing on strawberries.

Guests Brought – A fabulous quinoa salad and lots of wine.

Near Disaster – I almost set the house on fire 15 minutes before the guests were supposed to show up. Instead of cooking the chicken in one of my trusty pans, I threw it onto a cookie sheet with no rims. The olive oil dripped off and smoked like Mt. Vesuvius. We turned every fan in the house on the kitchen, opened all of the windows, and managed to shoo the smoke out just before our friends rang the doorbell.

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A New Goal: 101 Meals

August 15, 2013

In the fall of 2010, Rachel from Balance and Blueberries and I set out on a mission to cook 101 recipes in 1001 days. Then I moved, started a new job, met Mark, finished grad school, planned a wedding, quit my job, got married, and started freelancing full time.

Rachel has experienced basically all of the same life events in pretty much the same window of time. She also quit her job, moved, started a new one, married a great guy (who happens to ALSO be an engineer) 8 months before our wedding, and started freelancing full time.

She is just a miracle worker and so, in that same amount of time, also managed to finish her 101 in 1001 recipe list while I abandoned mine. She crossed the finish line this week, hitting 101 recipes, and her accomplishment has inspired me to think about trying again.

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I realized, the other day, that, although I cook all of the time, very few of my recipes are written down on this blog. This is, in part, probably because I consider few of them particularly unique. I use a lot of recipes from Bona Vita (my mom who happens to be a pretty amazing in the kitchen) and Epicurious, tweaking and experimenting a bit with each, but not creating anything particularly new.

I realize though, that most recipes in this life are a twist on someone else’s idea. The unique magic in the kitchen happens not in the execution of one recipe, but around the recipe, as you combine it, dish it,serve it, and build a story around it, turning someone else’s recipe into a memory of your own.

Mark and I love to have friends over for dinner. I plan the menu, he tells funny stories, I serve the food, he helps out with the dishes. It’s a pretty good deal.

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Entertaining can be scary though. There’s a difference between following one recipe and building an entire meal. It’s a little like performing and there is an intimidating void between one recipe and an entire meal served in your personal space to a bunch of expectant, hungry guests.

The barriers between you and hosting are many. The kitchen is small, the dining room table is covered with papers from grad school (or maybe there is no table), schedules are full, and the living room is crowded (or maybe you live in a studio and the living room is filled with a bed).

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The void is so intimidating that, in fact, many people simply forego the entertainment part and either never entertain at all, stick to only having very good friends over (who will overlook an imperfect or simple meal on paper plates), or just meet up at a restaurant.

And a good restaurant has its charm. But the satisfaction of entertaining people in your home is unmatchable. In my circles, we talk a lot about building community, how it’s done and where and why.

Around a table, community is built with stronger, better ties than anywhere else. Over a meal in your home, strangers become friends, ties with acquaintances will grow stronger, and beautiful memories can be made. An anticipated dinner on the calendar is a story waiting to be written.

Our living space is small too. (We share a kitchen with three other guys. And sometimes with their girlfriends. And almost all of us like to cook.) Our dining room doubles as a bike room. I don’t own a tablecloth yet because, for crying out loud, I just figured out how to choose a shower curtain.

But you don’t need a perfect space or a flawlessly executed recipe to entertain. You just need some friends or acquaintances, some ingredients, a dash of color, and a bit of courage.

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I realize that I need to be braver about entertaining. Entertaining is an art and an art only gets better with practice, so I’m setting out on a new journey.

I am setting a new goal of 101 meals. 101 meals around our table, 101 evenings of conversation and friendship, 101 chances to make something beautiful.

A culture of food and dining and community can only be built around our tables if our tables are open to the ones we love and the ones we would like to know.

Will you join me?

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101 Recipes Challenge

November 15, 2010

101 Recipes. 1001 Days.

Goal: To learn 101 new recipes by August 12, 2013. (Full credit for the brilliant 101 in 1001 idea goes to Day Zero.)

The Team: Join Rachel from Balance and Blueberries and me in conquering the challenge! If you would like to be added to the 101 Recipes Challenge blogroll, e-mail your link to emilyadams829 at hotmail dot com.

So here's my "recipe-wish-list". I'll be adding to it as I find recipes that intrigue me. Some of the items are basic staples. Some are elaborate luxuries. Some are complex and time-consuming. Some are convenient and quick.What's on your list?

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