Category Archives: Those Wonderful Special Occasions

Reflections, stories, and ideas for holidays

Old-Fashioned, Home-Town Date Bars

Larry and my husband were close friends from such early days that Alan can’t ever remember not being friends. They lived across the street from each other, rode the school bus together, and roomed together during part of college. Larry and his wife, Kari, even ended up at the same university where Alan and I were in grad school one year, and Kari and I used to swim together and dream about what our babies would be like, since we were both pregnant with our firstborn (sons) at the same time! Now, years later, we’re living in the same community again—also with my closest friend from school days, Brenda (and her husband Tom), which is super fun!

Often when we get together, Kari brings some delectable dessert, but a few weeks ago Kari was at a medical meeting and couldn’t make it to our dinner party, so Larry brought a dessert that had been a favorite when he was growing up. The recipe is so old he hasn’t a clue where it came from, but Alan also remembered loving date bars when he was little (growing up in the same rural community), and Tom (Brenda’s husband, also a farm boy growing up) remembered them from his childhood as well. I loved the salty, sweet, buttery flavor, so I thought you might too! Thank you for sharing, Larry!!

Old-Fashioned Date Bars

For the date filling:

  1. In a medium sized sauce pan, mix 3 cups of cut up dates, ½ cup of sugar, and 1 ½ cups of water.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened.
  3. Set aside to cool.

For the crust/crumble:

  1. In a bowl, mix together thoroughly ¾ cup butter (softened) and 1 cup of brown sugar.
  2. Sift and stir in 1 ¾ cups flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of salt
  3. Stir in 1 ½ cups of rolled oats.

Place half the mixture on the bottom of the baking pan and pat the mixture down (9” x 13” pan if you want thin date bars or 8” x 8” or so if you want thick date bars.  I think I used a 6 ½ “ x 9” pan and it seemed a bit too thick to me).

Spoon the cooled date mixture onto the crust/crumble in the pan and spread evenly.  Then spread the remainder of the crust/crumble mixture evenly onto the date filling.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Psalm 100

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Happy Thanksgiving!!

Marshmallow-Smothered Sweet Potatoes

With Thanksgiving coming up in just a few weeks, it seems appropriate to write about family favorites for a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, and one of my family’s favorites is a sweet potato casserole smothered with toasted marshmallows. It’s super simple but always popular. Here’s how:

Marshmallow-Smothered Sweet Potatoes
(serves about 12±)

3 pounds of canned yams (or baked, peeled, and diced sweet potatoes)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Sprinkling of salt

4 tablespoons butter
10-ounce package of marshmallows (can also use miniature, but full-sized ones look almost irresistible!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. After draining off all but about two tablespoons of the juice from each can, empty both cans of canned yams and their juice into a covered casserole dish, arranging them so they’re as flat as possible (without squashing them).
3. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt evenly over the yams.
4. Bake covered in the oven for 40 minutes.
5. Remove the cover and add a layer of marshmallows over the top.
6. Return the uncovered casserole to the top rack of your oven and bake until the the marshmallows are melting and start to turn a golden brown. This takes approximately 15-20 minutes, but test it carefully and often, because all ovens are a bit different, and the casserole can go from toasty to burned very quickly!
7. Serve immediately, although if you can’t, you can try covering it loosely with aluminum foil. Don’t let the foil touch the marshmallows, though, or they will stick and pull off the beautifully toasted, crusty top!

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,
and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High
” (Psalm 92:1).

Pulled Pork and BBQ Pork Sandwiches

Of course, if you really want pulled pork at its finest, it comes straight
from a cooker that’s been slow-roasting a succulent pig for hours. However, that usually only happens for special occasions
like weddings or family reunions. Still, you don’t have to have the finest of the finest in order to enjoy pulled pork!Around my home, pulled pork is not an uncommon way to use leftover pork. The most tender pulled pork is stripped from a slow-roasted pork roast  or leftover BBQ ribs, although you can actually use any leftover pork.

It’s easier than pie, and here’s the simple 1-2-3!

1. Shred fully cooked pork meat into bite-sized (or smaller) chunks.
2. Cook over low heat with a cup of water, salt, pepper, onion, and garlic powder to taste until the meat is so tender it’s falling apart. (You can put the top on and steam it for awhile if you had pork chops or some other tough cut, but just make sure you check on it every few minutes, stirring it and adding water as needed.) 3. Once it’s tender and shredded, you’re done, and I sometimes serve it that way. However, we usually like a little of our favorite barbecue sauce added to give it an extra kick. Then, it’s “BBQ pork,” which is a perennial crowd pleaser around our house, especially when the pork is heaped on onion buns!

(P.S.—If your pork is really fatty, drain or spoon off as much of the liquified fat as you can before you serve it or add barbecue sauce. I once had a Kalua pulled-pork sandwich in Hawaii that was so big and so fatty that I couldn’t finish it and felt sick about half-way through trying to eat it. It tasted great, but the fat and sauce was literally dripping down my arms. Famous…but not for me!)

(P.S.S.—If you have an instant pot, this is the perfect way to make tender pulled pork especially fast and simple!)

He giveth meat in abundance” (Psalm 36:31).
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

The English Inn: Can Imitations Exceed Originals?

My kids sometimes tease about the fact that the Birthday Club started out as a couple of hours in the afternoon for coffee and cake, over the years expanded to include lunch, and now (14 years later) has become a full day affair! In response, Cindi says we should try to make it sound slightly more legitimate by calling it “The Birthday Research Committee,” since we are always trying to find interesting new places to explore and often take our husbands or kids there later. And, of course—it’s fun to share my finds with any of you who live in the area!  🙂So, after our hike along the Grand River, and in keeping with our river theme, we stopped for lunch at The English Inn in Eaton Rapids, also on the Grand River. If you’re ever wishing you could go for a romantic getaway to jolly old England without having to fly across the Atlantic, have I ever got a deal for you! The English Inn is not only a first-class restaurant, it’s also a beautifully updated Bed’n’Breakfast where you can get a  quaint room starting at $115 per night (which is admittedly a lot, but that’s a lot less than flying to England).  This 90-year-old classic Tudor Revival home was first built for Irving Reuter, who was the general manager of the Oldsmobile Corporation and one of the first ten to invest in General Motors.Today, it’s been expanded to include a banquet hall that can facilitate wedding receptions for up to 250 guests, although the original mansion has been completely renovated and filled with elegant period pieces.           Since 1991, it’s been listed in the State Registry of Historic Sites. We were running late and feared we’d miss out on lunch, since they only serve until 1:30 pm, but Cindi called, and they very graciously remained open to serve us, even though we were their only customers at that late hour.            The food was exceptional, and all three of us were very pleased. I had the beef and rarebit and will definitely be trying to figure out how to imitate their great tenderloin tips and creamy rarebit! If possible, even better than the outstanding food was their impeccable hospitality. Our waiter assured us that we could linger as long as we wished over lunch (which we did!), told us all about the history of The English Inn, and then later toured us around, inviting us to meander through their extensive gardens.I read this about them: “As it once was during the Reuter’s tenure, fine dining and hospitality remain the order of the evening at The English Inn.” Absolutely! The English Inn is nestled along the Grand River and reminded me of a time our family stayed at The Talbot Inn along the River Thames near Oxford, England.If anything, I would say The English Inn is even more elegant and gracious, and it made me reflect on the possibility of an imitation becoming even more beautiful than an original. As a Christian, I will never come close to being as perfect and spiritually beautiful as Jesus, because He truly is God incarnate. But, it inspired me to work at becoming a more gracious and lovely imitation!

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Like a River Glorious
(—Frances R. Havergal, 1876)

  1. Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
    Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
    Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
    Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

    • Refrain:
      Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
      Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
  2. Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
    Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
    Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
    Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
  3. Every joy or trial falleth from above,
    Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
    We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
    They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

Boston Cream Pie in a Pan and Boston Cream Pie Sundaes

One of Alan’s long-time favorite desserts for his birthday has been Boston Cream Pie, and over the years I’ve made a lot of them. However, I love the custard filling and tend to overfill the layers, so often the cake looks great until the first cut, and then the whole top layer starts to slide off and ends up looking like Sleeping Beauty’s birthday cake before it was baked. To compensate, I’ve developed a recipe that fits snugly in a 9X13″ baking pan and can’t really come apart at the seams!  Here’s how:  Bake a white cake (any you like, from scratch or mix, according to the directions), only pour the batter equally into two 9X13″ baking pans. If you have one pan that’s slightly smaller, so much the better…the smaller one can become your top layer.

Most cakes take 30-35 minutes to bake at 350,°  but test your cakes after 12 minutes. One of mine was done before the other, so I ended up baking one for 12 and the other for 15 minutes. They’re done when the middle springs back after a slight touch.

While the cake is baking, make the filling.Vanilla Custard filling:

Combine in a  two-quart sauce pan:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch.

Mix together thoroughly  until there are no lumps left, then add
3 eggs (both white and yokes) until the batter is smooth and completely mixed.
Next, add:
4 cups whole milk, stirring thoroughly with a whisk after each cup
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cook over low heat, stirring often and then constantly until it starts to bubble and thickens. Use the whisk to keep it smooth, but if you scrape the bottom and sides with a spatula every minute or so, it will keep the bottom and sides from browning. When it’s thickened, turn off the heat and add:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Whisk together thoroughly again and set aside to cool.  Once the cake is done, take it out and cool it (still in the pans) for about 10 minutes, or  until you can loosen the sides of the smaller of the two layers. Pour the warm custard over the bottom layer of cake. Carefully loosen all the edges of the second layer with a metal spatula, and when you can tell that even the bottom is loose, either flip the entire cake over on top of the bottom layer (which has been covered with custard) to make a second layer of cake, or flip the pan over on your hand and then flip your hand over the pan so that the second layer lands upright over the first layer.  If you can do this, you have a slightly rounded top to your cake, which is attractive, but if you miss, the cake might break into pieces. If the cake breaks up…not to worry! You can arrange the pieces on top, and after it’s all covered with frosting, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference, although you might want to add another 1/4+ cup milk to your frosting so that you can almost pour it on top rather than frosting it the traditional way. I haven’t tried this, but you might also be able to take the top layer out 1/2 at a time to make the switch easier.

How ever you do it, after you have the top layer securely in place over the bottom layer and the custard filling, let the whole thing cool while you make the frosting.

Whipped Chocolate-Chip Frosting

Microwave for 2 minutes:
2 cups chocolate chips in a bowl (can be milk, semi-sweet, or dark)

Meanwhile: in a mixing bowl, add:
1 stick (or 1/2 cup) soft butter
4 cups powdered sugar
Sprinkling of salt (about 1/16 teaspoon)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whip everything together in your mixer until it becomes a soft, fluffy frosting. Then, gently add the melted chocolate chips. If you want, you can stir the chocolate chips after they’ve been melted until they are smooth, or if you like the chocolate-chip-bit look, just add them in as they are. Some will be melted and some will still be a little chunky.

Ladle out the frosting and spread it carefully and evenly over the entire pan. It’s best served fresh and still slightly warm, but if you make it early (like the day before), it can also be stored in the refrigerator, although it must be room temperature when it’s eaten for full flavor.  After the first serving, I store it in the refrigerator but bring it out 2-3 hours before serving it again. Hope you enjoy!P.S.—With the last six servings, I put them in sundae dishes with hot fudge sauce, a scoop of ice cream, and some whipped cream on top.        This is possibly a little decadent, but it was quite delicious that way!!

Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.” (Psalm 47:6)

Refreshing Virgin Pina Colada Smoothies

Those of you who know me well know that I don’t drink anything alcoholic. In fact, I’ve never had an alcoholic drink in my life and don’t intend ever to have one unless Jesus  himself offers me one when I get to heaven (which I’m doubting will happen). However, I love fruit flavors, variety, and pretty stemware, so I love experimenting with various non-alcoholic drinks, and here’s one that’s perfect for a warm day when you feel like celebrating!

Refreshing Pina Colada Smoothies
(makes four 8-0z. servings, although only three are pictured here)

In a juicer or blender that can handle ice, add:
2 cups ice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup cooled coconut syrup (recipe here if you need it: )

I was serving it for dinner so didn’t add yogurt, but if you want a healthy breakfast drink with some protein, add 1 cup of plain Greek (or regular) yogurt. With yogurt added, it will serve 5. If you add another cup of ice, you can serve six, and it still tastes plenty strong and sweet.

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7, ESV. May we be a source of refreshment and joy to those who visit our homes this summer!)

There’s Nothing Quite Like the Full English

When Alan and I were on the Norwegian Star‘s Central American cruise through the Panama Canal earlier this year, we had many delightful breakfasts, but one of the best was our perennial favorite abroad, “The Full English,” so I’ve decided to write about it today. However, I’m not really going to publish any particular recipes, as I usually do, because all the foods are standard, it’s just that the combination of “the perfect seven” ingredients makes for a memorable breakfast that can keep you fueled for a seven-hour hike across the moors of England…or a big day of exploring Asia, Central America, or anywhere else in the world!  Our first experience with “The Full English” was at a hostel under the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London many years ago. We affectionately dubbed this hostel “Mel’s East,” because it reminded us of the rescue mission where we often volunteered in Grand Rapids. Despite the humble and somewhat unkempt condition their dormitory-style facility (and people up all night chattering in foreign languages as they called their families in other parts of the universe), Mel’s East served us an incredibly hearty and surprisingly tasty breakfast, and from that day to this,  we have a soft spot in our hearts for “The Full English.”  Since then, we’ve enjoyed it at such classic venues as The Royal Highland Hotel in Inverness, Scotland (where the “Full Scottish” included haggis), the Cappabhaile House in Ballyvaughan, Ireland (in Ireland it’s called “The Full Irish” and may include soda bread), and historic places like the Talbot Inn and Buckingham Hotel in England (where “black pudding” [aka/ “blood pudding”] are popular additions). But, the “Full” breakfast is not just a favorite in the U.K. We’ve eaten the Full English around the world, even in remote areas of Africa and India! So, no matter who you are or where you live, the “Full English” will be a memorable feast for you and yours!

The Full English
(serves one or the world!)

The perfect seven ingredients include:
1. Fried eggs (can also be poached)
2. Fried bacon (English bacon is more like American ham)
3. Grilled tomatoes
4. Grilled mushrooms
5. Baked beans
6. Grilled sausages
7. Toast. We’ve had amazing toast grilled in butter and served hot, but normallyit has been toasted, buttered, and preferable cooled in a toast cooler (such as the one above) and served with an assortment of toppings, such as orange marmalade, marmite (for those who can stand it; I can’t), and fruit preserves. (Leave the nutella for the Italians, the cheeses for the French, and the meats for the Germans. We are not on the Continent now…)At the most wonderful B’n’B’s and fancy hotels, all this follows a first course of cold cereals, pastries, stewed fruits and juices. If you’re going to be truly English, this feast is served with a steaming pot of black tea with lots of milk (not cream) and sugar. Many places make accommodations for coffee lovers, however, and I’ve even been offered some great hot chocolates at times. There are also many delicious possibilities for extras, like friend potatoes, Tattie scones, or classic scones, but these are not part of the gold standard. Also, just FYI, this is not what the Brits eat every day for breakfast. This is what they eat for special occasions or serve to special guests, and it’s sometimes served late morning instead, like a brunch.            Ready to try? I guarantee, it’s even better than green eggs and ham!  🙂

My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)