Category Archives: Those Wonderful Special Occasions

Reflections, stories, and ideas for holidays

Lenten Specials

Do you observe Lent by giving up something you normally love? This year, I gave up coffee, and my son Joel has given up meat. Actually, Joel and I both find the challenge and discipline good for us, because every time we miss these staples of our lives, it reminds us of all that Jesus gave up throughout his life! And, it makes us appreciate the amazing bounty that we usually enjoy.

Joel’s fast from meat for these few weeks before Lent also reminded me of when we were in India last fall. There were several occasions when beef was listed on the menu, but when I’d order it, the waiter would always come back and politely say that they had no beef that day. Our guide eventually explained that it was illegal to serve beef in India because cows are sacred, and so I soon resigned myself to enjoying chicken and pork for the duration…and a few unusual meats, like water buffalo (which tastes like very tough beef).

Therefore, it was with special joy that my eyes lit on a distant McDonald’s while we were at the airport in New Delhi waiting for our flight to Nepal. We scurried right up the stairs and to the far end of the waiting area, anticipating a Big Mac. Alas, even at McDonald’s there were no burgers to be had. They only served various sandwiches made from chicken or fish. We had to laugh…mostly at ourselves!

Why is it so hard to give up certain privileges and freedoms…even for a few weeks? It made me feel ashamed of myself for thinking I might “get away with” a juicy steak or burger while visiting a country where cows are considered holy. I don’t believe cows are sacred, but they do. Shouldn’t I be more than willing to curb my own appetites and pleasures for their sake? I think so!

 “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:8-13, emphasis mine).

The Scripture teaches us this about Jesus Christ: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

In The Cave

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’d like to share this meditation written by a dear friend from my writers’ group who is a retired English teacher…wise, deep, and sweet!

It is the season of Lent, before Resurrection Sunday, and our church is encouraging us to be more contemplative in our personal worship, to be quiet, to listen to the voice of the Lord as we clear our minds and pray and wait. We have practiced being quiet in the worship service, in small meetings, in vesper services. It is a lovely and beautiful time. It is also totally awkward for someone determined to learn through study, to work out the faith in good deeds, to be busy just about all of the time.

In the middle of Lent we take a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with two of our grandsons. We have been there before and also to various caves around the country, so small wet stairs going down down down, slippery handrails, and the “Now I am going to turn off the lights” from the Ranger are not brand new events. However, they are the events I most dread even though I am thrilled to be there with our grandsons.

After a long hike down into a truly mammoth cave, “you can do it you can do it” keeping time with my footsteps, our group reaches a large inner space with high ceiling and park-supplied benches. The Ranger tells us all to “take a seat.”

He talks about where we are, how the large space has been formed, and answers several questions from the group. Then he says, “I am going to turn out the lights.” I schooch over closer to my husband. “But first, I want all of you to close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”  Yikes, I find my husband’s hand, move even closer to him. And I also close my eyes. Best not to remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave, “Now I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” Click, he turns them out. Best not remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave with our eyes closed and the lights turned off.

“When I tell you to, open your eyes.”  Momentarily, he tells us to open our eyes. I do, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, the darkness, the blackness, is all the same. I can’t see anything. Then the Ranger says, “I am going to turn on my light; it is the equivalent of one candle.” He clicks something and a light goes on. He is standing in the same place as before, he is holding a small light, and I can see the whole cave — ceiling, walls, jagged floors, bench seats, my husband, our grandsons, everyone else.

The Ranger makes some jokes about the overhead lights. Then he tells us that we can see well enough to get all the way out of the cave by this one small candle light if needed.  However, he does turn on the regular lights and we breathe easier.

And deep in the cave I think, “Wow, this is just like the practices for Lent. ‘Close your eyes,’ the Ranger says. ‘Be still,’ the Lord says. The choice is mine.”

The Ranger says, “I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” The lights go out which is not by my action, but I keep my eyes closed which is my choice. I choose to let my eyes adjust, I choose to clear other images out of my mind and heart. These are my choices.

The Ranger says, “Open your eyes.” I obey. It is deeply dark, fearsome. When I am quiet, focused, it can be deeply dark, fearsome. Light-action-busy is much more comfortable. “Now I will light one candlepower of light,” he says, his action not mine. The acuity of my vision astounds me. How can I possibly see this much? I see because I obeyed the Ranger and prepared my eyes.

So it is in the time of Lent. I can be still and quiet, close my eyes to the confusion of life. I can accept the darkness and allow the eyes of my heart to adjust. And now, with my eyes prepared, what more do I see?

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

(Written by Helen Bell. Thank you so much, Helen!)

Prime Rib

Ever since our honeymoon, where I had my first taste of prime rib,
it’s had a special place in my culinary heart.  Prime Rib one of those rare treats reserved for the very best of occasions
and the very finest restaurants.   (How’s this for “fancy” prime rib…at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.)   Every cruise we’ve ever been on serves prime rib at least once, and last week, while celebrating our 45th anniversary, we were back at our all-time favorite  honeymoon spot…eating prime rib again!

It wasn’t until about a year ago it occurred to me that I might be able to afford serving it for something most unusual, like New Year’s Eve, but it turned out so yummy that I think I’ve inadvertently started a new tradition! Although many places advertise “slow roasted,” after experimenting, I think flash roasting first in a super hot oven, then letting it slow roast, and finishing it on the grill works the best!

Truly Prime Rib
(serves 6-8)

Preheat oven to 500°F. while rubbing a
3 pound prime rib with
3 tablespoons Italian dressing
3 tablespoons fresh, crushed garlic
1 teaspoon course-ground pepper
1 teaspoon course-ground salt
1 teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning (or your favorite)

Place in a covered roasting pan fat side up and roast in the oven at 500°F. for 20 minutes.
Turn the heat down to 325° and roast another half an hour.
Turn off the oven but let it continue roasting in the oven until you’re ready to serve it. It needs to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing to retain the juices. If you serve it immediately, it should be pink inside. If you want it rare, only roast it for 10 minutes at 500°F. and turn the oven off, letting it continue to roast for up to an hour. Kick up the heat again briefly to 325°F. just before it’s time to serve to make sure it’s hot, then let it rest for 10 minutes with the oven off before slicing.                              This is rare, but for my taste, it’s too rare!  This is our idea of “perfection,” although several of our in-law kids prefer it more done. To make it medium or well…just keep cooking it longer at 325°F. If you’re in a hurry to finish and need several levels of done-ness, you can also finish off a few slices in a frying pan. The more you cook it, however, the tougher it becomes. (Just sayin’) 🙂 If the weather isn’t too miserable, you can also finish off the prime rib on the grill. Super heat it in the oven at 500.°F for 10 minutes. Let it rest in the oven for up to an hour with the heat entirely off. Fire up the grill and give it another 10-15 minutes (depending on how cold it is out; rotate it several times so it doesn’t burn)  just before you’re ready to serve it. However, you still need to let it rest at least 5 minutes for juice retention. This has become our all-time favorite method. Hot. Juicy. Bursting with flavor!

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matthew 24:45).

Chilly Chili Crab Cakes with Horseradish Sauce

Having a high tea to break up the winter blahs has been a long-standing tradition for our birthday club, so we’re always looking for new recipes to share.On our last cruise, my favorite appetizer was their Salmon Tartare, but when I discovered that “tartare” refers to raw meat, I decided to use cooked crab meat instead and make up my own recipe, inspired by the ingredients from the menu. Some years we go in for lots of complicated dishes, but Cindi and Rex had just returned (at midnight) the night before from a mission trip, where Rex was doing anesthesiology at a hospital in Honduras and Cindi was helping at the school, so we tried to make things super simple this time.The party still managed to be a great hit (as always), and my new crab creation turned out to have excellent flavor (even if the dull green color disappointed me). (…On the bright side, it might be fun for St. Patrick’s Day!)  🙂   Also, you could fry the cakes in butter for a more traditional crab-cake, golden-brown look,  but if you’d like a chilled dish for a summery occasion, try this:

Chilly Chili Crab Cakes
(makes 12 servings)

Mash one avocado in a bowl. Add:
The juice from one fresh-squeezed lemon (helps preserve the color of the avocado as well as making everything taste better)
1 small can (4 oz) of mild green chiles 1 pound crab meat
2 tablespoons capers (could be left out if you don’t like capers)2 tablespoons pesto (could be replaced with sour cream, but I love pesto, and I was trying to make it dairy free)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Lawry seasoning salt (or  your favorite)
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix everything thoroughly. You could serve the salad on lettuce leaves (like the turkey wraps above), although this particular time I served them on little beds of shredded red cabbage. Scoop the crab mixture into balls with an ice cream scope, and top them with a tablespoon (each) of horseradish sauce made from equal parts of horse radish and mayonnaiseWe had such a wonderful evening, but I think even if we’d just gotten together with bread and tea, it wouldn’t have made much difference! “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).(Rex is sharing highlights of their trip with Alan and Steve. Working in a remote hospital overseas, as you can imagine, had a lot of frustrating challenges and tense moments, but they also saved some lives!)

London Broil: Fit for a Feast

On our honeymoon, I tasted “London Broil” for the first time, and it’s been a favorite ever since! Although it sounds British, it’s really a North American dish made from marinaded flank steak that’s been broiled (or grilled) and cut across the grain into thin strips. If you like beef, you’ll probably love London Broil!

I think it makes a great holiday feast,
and here’s my personal favorite way of preparing it:Succulent London Broil
(serves 6-9)

1 thick flank steak (2-3 pounds).  You can ask the butcher for a “London Broil” cut, or sometimes they’re sold by that name at supermarkets; Meijer here in GR sells them so named. One pound serves about 3 people.

Sprinkle one side of the flank steak with a heavy coating of meat tenderizer and then use a meat tenderizer to puncture many holes into the steak. Rub in 1 tablespoon of Italian dressing. Turn the steak over and repeat the process on the back side of the steak.

Next, rub onto each side of the steak:
1 tablespoon of fresh-squeezed garlic
2/3 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Place the steak in a covered dish on the counter for an hour or in the refrigerator for several hours. (This part can even be done the night before.)

Grill (or broil) on high heat, searing the meat on each side for about two minutes. Then, reduce the heat and continue to grill the meat for 2-3 minutes per side. Don’t overcook it, or it will be tough! For medium rare (considered the best flavor), you probably won’t want to grill it more than about 8-10 minutes total, but you can test it and see if it’s done enough for you.

Once it’s done, set the meat on the cutting board, and let it “rest” for five minutes, then slice it with an electric (or other very sharp) knife into thin slices. If you can’t serve it immediately, put it in a covered dish in the oven to keep warm (about 200°F.), but do serve it as promptly as possible after it’s cut.

We served it over Christmas with baked potatoes, but it goes very well with rice too. Other sides might be vegetable salad, fresh bread, fruit salad, and Brussel’s sprouts or some other hot vegetable. As we had 24 members of our family for the holidays, and a big group that night, I got so busy serving that I forgot to take photos of the completed meal, but it’s one of those memorable dinners that everybody loves!

Happy New Year to you!!

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
(1 Corinthians 5:8)

All I Want for Christmas is…What??

Ever since Donald Gardner was wishing for “two front teeth” when he composed “All I Want for Christmas”  back in 1944, the idea of thinking about what we personally want for Christmas has been a popular part of  America’s Christmas culture.  When our children were young we used to have a music ministry, and I think the broadest smiles we ever got from an audience occurred when our youngest—who was indeed missing his two front teeth that Christmas—sang the song as a solo.                                             What do you want for Christmas?
If you could reduce all your hopes and dreams to one big wish, what would it be?  I noticed that over the past thirty-two years, the name “All I Want for Christmas” has generated more Christmas movies than any other single topic. In 1982, a Happy Days episode told the story of a little girl who wished for her mother to make up with the girl’s estranged grandmother.  In the 1991 movie by the same name, a brother and sister’s ardent wish (and plot) was to get their divorced parents back together. In the  2007 version, a little boy enters a national “All I want for Christmas” video contest in the hopes of finding a new husband for his widowed mother. (We watched this one, and it’s really cute! In fact, if you’re looking for a sweet, romantic comedy this December, I think this one is a family-friendly winner!)In the 2013 version,  All I want for Christmas is a playful tale about a lovely young lady who meets Santa’s helper, “St. Nick.” You might be able to guess what she wishes for…  The 2014 All I Want for Christmas features a  young boy who wishes for a different set of parents…and learns that money isn’t everything!           This year’s edition (2017) is about a little girl who wants a pet dog. All this to say, although people may sing about wanting two front teeth for Christmas, the enduring theme over the years concerning what people really want revolves around relationships, restoration, reconciliation…about loving and being loved. After all, isn’t that what all of us want all the time? But, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we be giving birthday gifts to him? What do you suppose Jesus wants? The Bible teaches us that Jesus wants the same thing all of us want: Love, reconciliation, and unity. He wants us to love God and be loved by him! God began by loving us. He sent his son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life and die in our place so that we can be forgiven for our sins, be reconciled to God, receive eternal life, and have a wonderful love relationship with him. This Christmas, can you give Jesus the gift he’s longing for? He wants you! He wants you to believe in Him, to love him, and to trust Him always. In the last prayer recorded before his death, Jesus expressed his heart’s desire: I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23, ESV).  If you want to give Jesus a gift this Christmas, how about giving him the gift of your love and devotion? By the way, have you heard that God also has a gift for you? If you feel estranged from God, please know that he’s offering you a chance to reconcile: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you haven’t received his gift yet, it is my prayer that this Christmas you will!

Hot Mulled Cider to Make Your Holidays Merry and Brighter

Do you go Christmas caroling?  When I was little, our family sang carols around the piano, but as an adult, I’ve also gone out caroling almost every year and have many special memories…a friend trying to play his coronet in the freezing cold…babies bundled with rosy cheeks, starlit nights, snowball fights, heavy snowfalls (which can be romantic too!), rolling to make angels in the snow, and best of all—seeing elderly people light up at the sight of the younger generations coming to their doorstep to serenade them with joyful songs heralding the birth of Christ!  Whether you sing at home or around your neighborhood, it’s always important to warm up afterward with a good, hot cup of cocoa or cider. Here’s a simple but pretty sensational recipe for hot, mulled cider that’s guaranteed to warm you inside and out this Christmas!

Merry and Bright Hot Mulled Cider
(8 Servings)

Pour into a large saucepan:
1/2 gallon apple cider 2 sticks cinnamon (Just as a tip: we’ve found that sometimes Asian markets sell cinnamon sticks for much less than regular grocery stores; check around!)
1/2  teaspoon allspice
1/2  teaspoon ginger1 orange, cut in half. Squeeze the orange hard to get all the juice into the pan, and then pierce the rinds with 18 whole cloves. Add to the brew and simmer for 15 minutes, then let it stand (covered) until 5 minutes before you’re ready to serve it. Just before you serve it, heat it to a simmer again, so it’s piping hot when you pour it out. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:11).  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).