Thursday, April 2, 2009

Praise the Lord, and Pass the...Gravy

Thank God for churches.
That’s kind of an understatement, I know, but besides the many ways these houses of of worship can feed our souls, there’s another way they, and any number of other organizations, schools and other groups, can feed us.
Like literally.
The woman in my life is a great cook, but she’s just plain busy most of the time. And once she’s home for the evening, chances are, I’m off covering a sporting event, which really reduces the incentive for whipping up some gastronomic delight that’ll be cold by the time I get home. And while I might have more time some days, my “let’s throw something frozen into the crockpot with a can of cream of mushroom soup and see what happens” approach to entrees has worn a little thin. Besides, most of those recipes are on the “10 Most Unwanted list,” according to the American Heart Association and other health authorities.
Actually, we manage pretty well most of the time, with both of us relying on a fairly healthy catch-as-catch-can diet. But sometimes, I get a hankering for some old fashioned home cooking...the kind that contains equal parts of calories, carbohydrates and love. Kinda like mom used to make before moms got too busy to cook or, even worse, went on a diet.
That’s where the aforementioned churches and other groups come in, because the church supper (or breakfast or luncheon) is truly where it’s at.
We recently went to a production of “Church Basement Ladies” at Circa 21, which is a delightful musical comedy set in--you guessed it--a church basement. The theme of the play has to do with the events surrounding the never-ending task of churning out meals for the wide variety of fundraisers, seasonal dinners, weddings and funerals that the church hosts.
Watching it, I suddenly realized that, if you pay attention, there’s no lack of opportunities to take advantage of this hallmark of American cookery. Walk into a church basement or hall on the right day and the right time, and your senses will be suddenly turned topsy-turvy with a bountiful barrage of sensuous scents.
Put more simply, it smells darn good in those church halls when they’ve got something cooking in the kitchen.
Pancakes and sausage.
Homemade casseroles and jello salad.
Baked ham and scalloped potatoes.
Soups and stews lovingly made from scratch.
Pies and cakes and cookies of every description.
These are some of the staples of church food, though I admit, I have my favorites, like the late, lamented corn beef and cabbage feed at the Kewanee Knights of Columbus and the Friday night Visitation fish fry. Or the supreme carryout, the ham loaves put together at Grace United Methodist Church in Galva. Though I guess soup and bread is meant to be some kind of sacrifice for the season, I’m more than fond of the lenten soup suppers we have at my own church, St. John’s in Galva. It’s hard to beat the combination of somebody’s favorite soup recipe along with a veritable bake-off of fresh-baked bread. A side benefit for us is that anytime it’s our turn to provide the soup/bread combo, we always overestimate how much is needed, resulting in a few day’s worth of good eats at home, too.
The company at all these gatherings is pretty good, too. I especially like the way those church ladies always seem to insist I double up on dessert.
Ahhh...dessert. That’s yet another highlight of those meals I love. Imagine choosing between three or four different kinds of pie. Or imagine not choosing at all, but trying each and every one of them. And while we’re talking sweet tooths, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Galva’s top two seasonal treats: Messiah Lutheran’s spritz cookies at Christmastime (I always buy an extra box as my personal stash) and the First United Methodist hand-made chocolate Easter eggs (today’s the still my heart.)
So here’s the deal. If I could just find the time and organizational skills to get on the full-time meal circuit, I’d probably be a happier guy, though somewhat larger, as well. Not long ago, we scored a “2-fer,” as we enjoyed pancakes at one church in the morning, then soup, bread and dessert at another that evening. But I’m holding out for the ultimate...a veritable trifecta of overindulgence...breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one day, at three different places. It’ll probably never happen, but, hey, you gotta have faith.
After all, it’s church.

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