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The Single Life: Showing Souper Hospitality

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • 2009 15 Oct
The Single Life:  Showing Souper Hospitality

I don't know about you, but I love having people over to my place for dinner.

For one thing, having company on a regular basis is the best way I know to make sure my home stays really clean. (Sadly, I must confess that my standards have a tendency to slip when the cats and I are the only ones with a view of the mess.) Beyond that, there's a sense of satisfaction in bringing people together for good food and conversation. But there's another reason to host social gatherings ...

We have a biblical mandate to show hospitality. Paul tells us straight up in Romans 12:13, "Practice hospitality." Peter expands on that idea in 1 Peter 4:9, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." Without grumbling, eh? I'm thinking there's a story behind that one. Peter seems to have been prone to inviting people over without much forethought—remember when he brought Jesus and the boys home for dinner the day his mother-in-law was sick in bed? I can imagine Mrs. Peter had a few choice words to say about that! However, since Jesus promptly healed her mom (clearly HE understood the stress Mrs. P was under, even if her husband was clueless), it all worked out in the end. But it does make me wonder if the "without grumbling" part was directed to anyone in particular.

Should you host a dinner party? Why not? It's good practice for your social skills. It's a great way to get on the invite list for other people's parties. If you're like me, it will prompt you to clean house just a little more carefully than usual. It's also a good way to introduce separate sets of friends to each other, celebrate a milestone, or get to know people better.

Beyond that, having people over is a way to show the people who matter to you that they matter to you. It's a tangible form of appreciation. Yes, it's more trouble than eating takeout alone in front of the TV or meeting your friends at the local coffee shop. That's the point. Going out of your way for someone shows you care. It says, "You are worth the trouble." Who among us—especially those of us who are single—doesn't long to be worthy of at least a little extra effort on someone's part? (And how many of us secretly believe we're not?)

If you're a naturally gregarious sort, you don't really need encouragement to throw a little party. But if you have a more retiring nature, or you just don't know where to begin, don't worry. I'm here to help—and despite that earlier talk about "trouble" and "effort" it can be a whole lot easier than you think.

You can plan a party around any excuse or no excuse at all. I once threw a "Poverty Party" for those of us who couldn't afford our church's singles' retreat. The rule was you had to wear old clothes and bring food you had already paid for, which made for quite the eclectic menu. For years I held an annual birthday party for Sherlock Holmes. (He never showed, but he was in his 150's and it's a long flight from London to Texas.) Choose a random holiday like World Food Day (October 16) or National Chocolates Day (October 28) or celebrate that the sun rose that morning. You don't even need a reason—just do it!

Here's an easy, budget-friendly party idea:  host a soup supper. It is officially fall now, so soup is in season. It's a relatively inexpensive entrée, doesn't require fancy presentation, and leftovers freeze beautifully for lunches later. Besides, it's fairly difficult to really mess up soup, so even if your culinary skills are not of Iron Chef caliber you can pull this off. I've included a couple of favorite recipes at the end of this article to get you started. On the other hand, if you want to pick up soup from the grocery store (many carry excellent varieties in the deli section) there is no shame in that. Hospitality has much more to do with attitude than it does with food.

Now, about serving dishes:  Do you have a set of Royal Doulton with hand-painted periwinkles? Fabulous, haul it out. If not, don't sweat it. You can pick up a set of cute disposable bowls and spoons at the party store or make it a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bowl) affair. Depending on your guest list and personal inclination, you can serve one soup or a selection. Add a simple salad—set out ingredients for a do-it-yourself salad bar if you have room—and some crusty rolls and/or crackers, and you're all set.

Whether you go high-style or laid-back, there is one thing you must remember to do:  Relax! It's not an international summit on the Middle East peace process, it's just dinner. When you're relaxed, your guests are more comfortable. Maya Angelou says, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." Make your guests feel welcome, accepted, and valuable. Then, no matter what else happens, your dinner party will be a success.

This soup, a chunky, chili-esque affair, once sparked a bidding war at a church auction. We were raising money for new choir robes, so I ended up donating two batches for the cause.

6 Chicken breasts
3 (10 ounce) cans tomato puree
1 can corn, drained
6 corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
1 cup onion, pureed
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoons Cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons Cumin
Salt to taste

Boil chicken breasts in about 2 quarts of water until well done.  (Add garlic salt, pepper, and a little cilantro for extra flavor if desired.) Remove chicken from broth, cool for 20-30 minutes, then de-bone and tear into strips.  Retain broth.

In a Dutch oven (aka big pot), heat approximately 1 Tablespoon oil. Add garlic, onion, and chopped tortillas and cook only until tortillas are soft.  Add the remaining ingredients (except chicken and corn) and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add chicken and corn and simmer for 15-20 minutes more (can simmer longer if necessary—it just keeps getting better).

Serve with a choice of toppings like grated cheese, chopped avocado, chopped black olives, sour cream, and crispy tortilla strips. Makes approximately 1 gallon.

CRISPY TORTILLA STRIPS:  Cut tortilla into thin strips (kitchen shears do this easily).  Spray nonstick baking spray onto baking sheet.  Lay tortilla strips on sheet in a single layer; liberally spray them, as well.  Bake at 400 until golden brown and crispy.

OK, it's not a soup. It's custard. Technically, it's an early American pie. But it doesn't look like a pie ... plus it's actually cooked in the pumpkin, so it's perfect for fall dinners, and the bottom line is I just wanted you to have the recipe. Pop that pumpkin on a plate, circle it with decorative leaves, and your guests will think you're a regular Martha Stewart.

1 5-to-7 pound pumpkin 
½ teaspoon nutmeg
6 eggs    
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups whipping cream  
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ cup brown sugar  
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 Tablespoons butter

Cut the lid of the pumpkin (as if making a jack-o-lantern.)  Save lid.  Clean out fibers and seeds. Set butter aside; mix together all other ingredients and pour into pumpkin.  Do not fill to the top-the custard will expand while baking.   Top mixture with butter. Cover with pumpkin lid, using wooden toothpicks to keep it from falling into custard as it bakes.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1 ½ hours, or until mixture inside pumpkin has set like custard.  If mixture has not set after 1 hour, try removing the lid for the last 30 minutes of baking.

Serve from the pumpkin, scraping some meat from the pumpkin sides with each serving. A dollop of whipped cream is always a nice addition. Serves 8.

Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at