A Shared Evening

I am still out of my element in the kitchen. My cooking is basic enough to survive most nights and occasionally downright impressive. I don’t mean to brag, but my pot roast is to die for.

Tonight, I am playing host to 15 men from our leadership team at church. It’s 4:00 and I am feeling a slight tinge of panic. What in the world have I gotten myself into? I’m cooking for a group of guys who eat like a voracious army of grasshoppers. I’ve seen these guys in line at the fellowship meals at church. I’ve personally witnessed what they can do to a table full of food.

On the menu tonight is black-eyed peas, corn, a fruit tray from the store, and a chicken thing I am currently making up as I go along.

I have no idea what to call this chicken dish. I got the idea from my son, who says that he and his sister made it when they shared a rental house together years back. We sampled it a few weeks ago and it was good.

But cooking for two is not the same as cooking for 15.

I’ll call it Cheesy Chicken Crescent Rolls. Sounds good if you say it with a French accent, especially the word ‘Crescent’.

You’ll want to try this. I cubed up about three- and one-half pounds of boneless chicken breasts. Slightly cooked the night before. Small cubes. Now, I’m unfolding 4 cans of crescent rolls, the big ones, eight to a can. On the side is a bowl of mixed shredded cheese. Mozzarella, Provolone, Sharp Cheddar, and Monterey Jack.

I have waxed paper spread out on the kitchen countertop. Makes for an easy clean up, plus I’m not sure how clean my countertop may be. Next, lay out flat two crescent rolls on the wax paper.

Put a helping tablespoon of chicken cubes on the fat end of the crescent roll. Then place a blob of mixed cheese over that. Add a little salt if you like, which I did. Fold the long narrow end of the roll back over the pile of chicken, fold in the sides so that all chicken and cheese is covered and tucked in for the evening.

Pinch and kneed and fold and pinch some more.

You are basically forming a crescent cocoon around each dollop of cheesy chicken. The first ones you try will look like a raccoon made them. By the time you get to number 18 they will start looking more like a reasonably intelligent small child made them. My last three looked pretty darn good.

I used two large aluminum disposable baking pans for this event. Oven preheated to 375°.

While the oven heats up, I’m mixing together three large cans of Cream of Chicken Soup. Add enough milk to make it thin enough to pour from a bowl. I have no idea how much milk to add. I cook by feel and appearance. Don’t make it too soupy.

I am not fit for Martha Stewart.

Once you get the sauce loose and flowable, pour it over all the little chicken cocoons. Fill in the gaps around each one and let it drizzle over the tops. Any extra cheese and chicken cubes can be sprinkled over the top as well. Don’t waste any of it.

Now, here’s the tricky part for me. I’ve never put two pans of anything in the oven at one time. I separate the shelves just enough. Put one in longways on the top rack and the other on the bottom rack. I check my watch. It’s 5:30. Perfect. Serving time is 6:30.

In the meantime, I have a bathtub full of black-eyed peas and corn slow cooking on the stovetop. Two pork strips of streak-of-lean in the pea pot, like Mama used to do. No recipe, just memories.

And, oh yeah, the homemade ice cream is mixed and sitting in the freezer waiting for the ice to arrive and the time to get right.

As a kid, it was always my job to crank the handle on the ice cream churn. Thank God for the modern electric churn. No matter what else happens tonight, this will be my favorite part of the meal. I just hope there’s a little bit left over to put back in the freezer and savor over the rest of the week.

The panic mode is fading. I feel pretty good that my mission is under control at this point. Food cooking. Plastic forks and spoons set out. Milo’s Sweet Tea is on the way. All that is left to do is to wait and watch it happen.

Tonight is also about christening my new back porch. It was built to share and enjoy with friends and family. It’s a big porch with plenty of room.

A little after 6:00 the guys start arriving. The tea shows up. The ice shows up and we get the ice cream going. The fruit tray looks great. The last guy to get here has the plates.

One guy came bearing a gift from the Misses; a banana pudding. I helped them out a while back with a tree issue. She wanted to pay me. I told her no, and jokingly told her that I worked for banana pudding. My payment has arrived.

Like any good host, I gathered everyone into the kitchen right before 6:30 and thanked them for coming. I really like having guests in my house and feel honored to share the time with these men.

The food got blessed and the line started. I stood back and waited until the end. One guy behind me in line. When I got to the black-eyed peas, I could barely scrape up enough to put on my plate. I told you these guys could eat.

My friend behind me in line said, “Don’t worry. I don’t really like them anyway.”

Poor soul.

The thing that makes an evening like this so good is that we all like being together. We enjoy each other’s company, and we share a common thread in our lives. One guy led a short devotion. We sang a song. And we talked into the night about the challenges of our leadership.

All of life is better when shared. It’s what holds us together and keeps some portion of our sanity intact.

My house is mostly quiet these days. But not tonight.

There wasn’t much of anything left over. We cleaned up and put a small Tupperware container of ice cream in the freezer and banana pudding in the fridge. I’ll eat like a king and feel bloated like a frog the rest of the week.

“So,” one guy says. “That chicken dish was really good. What do you call it?”

“I have no idea. It’s a chicken thingy.”

“How do you make it? I might want to try this at home.”

“I’ll tell you about it sometime. Right now, it’s past my bedtime.”

Just one more bowl of ice cream before I go.

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