When the winter winds have set in and everyone is inside, how better to lift spirits than by sharing a meal and song with friends? First inspired by a scene in the movie Once, we have hosted a “Sing for your Supper” with many groups of friends, and we love the way the shared nourishment, laughter and music revives us deep down. A little bit of vulnerability, a little bit of humor, a lot of togetherness and a whole lot of beauty—we never fail to leave truly in-spired, in-spirited.
The way it works is this: The host provides a simple, delicious meal, sets a cozy atmosphere with candles and Christmas lights, and comes up with a few songs as icebreakers. Everyone else, in lieu of contributing to the meal, is asked to prepare a song, a joke, a poem, or even a (short) story to share — as families, solo, duets, or whatever grouping is desired. And of course, no one is forced to participate—particularly the children—but everyone is encouraged. Generally, when the adults are willing to put themselves out there, and when the sharing is done simply around a table rather than up on a “stage,” children are more than willing to share something of their own.
Like to host your own? Here are a few tips we’ve gleaned over the years:
:: Keep the meal simple in preparation, serving, and eating. Fewer dishes means less stress for everyone, less clean up, and more focus on simply being together. Our favorite meal for sharing is a bean and sausage soup, homemade bread, and hearty salad (recipes below). We then clear the table, serve some dessert (generally a spice cake or tea bread) and fresh fruit, and linger over drinks and song.
:: A round is a great way to break the ice and get everyone warmed up. Find a couple of confident voices to be the leaders, let each group sing their part a few times, then have at it. Some simple choices include Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, and Kookaburra. The book Rise Up Singing has more ideas. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep a copy handy, just to stir up ideas or for word references.
:: Invite people who play guitar or other instruments and are comfortable with improvisation and accompanying others. You might also have some shakers handy for little ones to use.
:: Encourage little ones to sing any songs they know, even Jingle Bells or Wheels on the Bus. Participation breeds participation!
:: When we first starting hosting these parties, we were scared no one would volunteer to sing. So we devised a number system, and had those who wanted to participate draw numbered pieces of paper out of a cup, then go in the order of the numbers. That works fine, and does help avoid any awkwardness between songs. But honestly, as long as you have a few brave souls who are willing to get things started (you included!), others will jump in there and keep it going. But you can have a few jokes and poems ready as well, to help fill any space and keep people laughing.
:: Covering the table with butcher paper, restaurant-style, and providing a few crayons will go a long way towards keeping little ones at the table after the meal. You can also provide some quiet toys for use under the table or around the room if necessary.
:: You might want to provide a song sheet with words to a few songs that can be sung together. You are My Sunshine, If I had a Hammer, Amazing Grace and Peace Like a River are just a few ideas for commonly known songs. Outside of religious services, we don’t often get to sing with people, but it’s a wonderful thing — all that breathing together and shared creation of something beautiful. And it shouldn’t just be left to the professionals or those with “good” voices. Singing belongs to everyone!
Sausage and Bean Soup
This can be made vegetarian by simply using water or vegetable stock and leaving out the sausage. It will still have a nice smoky flavor from the chipotle pepper, an idea I got from Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family.
3 cups white beans (navy or Great Northern) soaked overnight and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 dried chipotle pepper, soaked 10 minutes in water (You can find these in the “international” section of many grocery stores. It can be omitted, but really adds nice flavor, and not too much spice.)
8 cups water or vegetable stock or chicken stock, or mixture thereof
2-3 teaspoons sea salt (This depends on how salty your stock is, and if you add sausage or not. Use less to start, and add more if necessary.)
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1-2 pounds smoked kielbasa or other sausage, sliced
Heat oil in large soup pot, and saute onion, carrot and celery until soft. Add garlic, drained beans, pepper and water or stock. Bring to a simmer, then let cook, just barely simmering, for an hour, or until beans are tender. (If your beans are old, it could take up to two hours!) Add the sausage about halfway through the cooking, and taste to make sure the broth isn’t getting spicier than you want. If so, remove the chili now. Otherwise, let it stay in as long as the beans are cooking. When they are tender, remove chipotle pepper, add salt, vinegar and taste for seasoning.
No-Knead Harvest Bread
makes 4 round loaves
6 ½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (bread is preferable, but all-purpose will do fine too)
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoon yeast
3 1/2-4 cups cool water
1 ½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup raisins
2 cups chopped nuts, pecans or walnuts
Stir together the flours, salt, yeast and water until you have a cohesive, moist dough. (This will be way too wet to knead.) Stir in dried fruit and nuts, then let sit overnight, or for at least 8 hours. The next morning, sprinkle flour around the edges of the bowl, then turn dough out onto a floured board. A dough scraper is very helpful in this. Divide into four sections, and form into round loaves. Don’t worry too much about the shape. Place loaves on parchment-covered baking pans (two per pan), drape with a towel and let rise another 2 hours. Bake at 450°F for 30-45 minutes, until the the bottom sounds hollow when knocked or the internal temperature reaches at least 200°F. The crust will get dark, which improves flavor, but if it is getting too dark, just cover lightly with foil. Let cool on cooling rack before slicing.
Autumn River Salad
3 large apples, your favorite variety, sliced thinly
4 oz crumbled cheese–blue is our favorite, but feta or cheddar is good too. Anything you like with apples!
4 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
2 heads romaine, washed, trimmed and cut into salad-sized pieces
2 bunches watercress, arugula, or other spicy greens, washed and trimmed if necessary
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
½ cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon dill
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
A few twists of freshly ground pepper
⅓ cup olive oil
Combine mustard, vinegar, dill, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add oil slowly, whisking constantly. Stir again vigorously before using.
In a small bowl, mix apples, cheese, nuts and 4 tablespoons vinaigrette. Refrigerate 4-6 hours. Place greens in a large bowl, and toss with apple-nut mixture and more dressing, if desired, before serving.
Monte Peterson writes, bakes and tends her family in Ohio. Find more at Notes From An Escalator.