In the Bible, few dine alone.
Small wonder that Christians and Jews see sharing a meal with family, guests and strangers as a form of spiritual nourishment and hospitality as valuable as the bread passed around the table.
Although the holiday season's family feasts are fast approaching, many say it's the weekly family meal that matters most across time.
Those dinners after Sunday church or around the Sabbath Friday night table are where the richest memories, deepest traditions and most treasured values are shared. Now, these family meals have inspired two new books, packed with stories and recipes from Christian and Jewish traditions.
Every person Diane Cowen told about her book, "Sunday Dinners: Food, Family and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors," "immediately began to tell me about the family dinners of their memories and the dishes their mothers and grandmothers made."
Cowen, religion and food editor for the Houston Chronicle, said families are "enriched by both faith and food â¦ one meal and one prayer at a time."
She consulted experts from sociology, psychology, and specialists in treating substance abuse. Their studies confirm that family meals bless more than the food. They knit generations together with experiences of love, solace, laughter and gratitude.
"Sunday Dinners" adds a fillip of celebrity: It highlights 13 megachurch preachers (and their spouses who often do the cooking) including Bishop T.D. and Serita Jakes who duel for the most decadent banana pudding his mother's recipe, which he would not share, or his wife's recipe, which is in the book.
Meals for the family of the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, lean toward healthy fare but when the call goes out for comfort food, he heads to the kitchen to bake rich macaroni and cheese.
Most people know George Foreman as the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world who became a pitchman for an electric grill. But today, he's the Rev. George Foreman, pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.
Sunday dinners with the family involve "mountains of food," often including his favorite salad with berries, nuts and lemon vinaigrette. After the meal, the Foremans go back to church for an evening service. He tells Cowen, "I'm afraid they're going to fall asleep during my sermon because they're so full of food."
Just as valuable as dining together is cooking together, said author and cooking instructor Tina Wasserman in her book, "Entree to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations with Children."
"The kitchen and the table are the spiritual center of any home. It's here where people open up, where they give of themselves, where they connect," said Wasserman.
"And if some food at the table is great grandma's famous custard or your great aunt's recipe from Greece, that's how we tie past and future."
Wasserman has an idea for tying up a menu for November when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah collide on the calendar, endangering treasured Jewish family menus for both holidays.
Wasserman counseled, "Don't panic. Just take traditions from both."
"If your family wants candied sweets with marshmallows on top, don't substitute it with a new dish, just try adding something close like the sweet potato cazuela rich in spicy flavor.
"The key is to add but never subtract," said Wasserman.
That way, with food as with family, you never lose.
The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell's "Old-Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese"
8 ounces large elbow macaroni
Â½ cup (1 stick) butter
Â¼ cup chopped fresh chives
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon salt
16 ounces shredded mild Cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 3-quart baking dish.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and a sprinkle of olive oil. Cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the chives, evaporated milk, and salt and stir well.
Place half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish. Cover with half of the cheese.
Layer with the remaining macaroni and top with the remaining cheese. Pour the milk mixture over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the milk mixture is absorbed. Turn on the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to brown the top of the cheese.
Serves • 12
From "Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith From Our Favorite Pastors" by Diane Cowen, Andrews McMeel Publishing George Foreman's berry-nut salad with lemon vinaigrette
Â¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil
Â½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
8 cups mixed baby salad greens
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup blackberries or blueberries
Â½ cup walnuts
Â½ cup green grapes
8 green olives, pitted and sliced
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl or shaker bottle, combine the vinaigrette ingredients. Stir or shake until combined. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the salad: Wash the salad greens and place them into a large salad bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes, sliced in half if they're larger, berries, nuts, grapes, and olives. Top with the vinaigrette, toss, and serve.
Serves • 6 to 8
From "Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors" by Diane Cowen/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2013 Serita Jake's homemade banana pudding
3 large egg whites
Â¼ cup sugar
3 cups vanilla wafers
3 bananas, cut into Â¼ -inch slices
Â¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 Â¼ cups sugar
2 cups milk
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Make the meringue: Using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the egg whites in a large glass or metal bowl until they are foamy. Then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the whites are stiff. Set aside.
Make the pudding: Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate with a layer of the vanilla wafers. Top with a layer of the banana slices. Set aside.
In a medium-size saucepan, whisk together the flour and sugar. Stir in 1 cup of the milk and turn on the heat to low.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks, and then whisk them into the cooking milk mixture. Add the remaining cup of milk and the butter.
Cook over low heat until the pudding is thickened, stirring frequently with a whisk, about 15 minutes. Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour half of the pudding over the vanilla wafers and bananas while it is still hot. Top the pudding with the remaining vanilla wafers and banana slices. Pour the remaining pudding over the top of the second layer of vanilla wafers and banana slices.
Spread the meringue on top of the banana pudding in the pie pan, making sure to completely cover the pudding layer.
Bake for 15 minutes, just until the meringue is browned. Allow to cool, then chill before serving.
Serves • 6 to 8
From "Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith From Our Favorite Pastors" by Diane Cowen/Andrews McMeel Publishing
Tina Wasserman's sweet potato pumpkin cazuela
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Â½ teaspoon salt
1 (5.6-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk (about 2/3 cup) (see note)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling) or 1 small sugar pie pumpkin (see note)
1 (29-ounce) can of yams in light syrup, drained, or 3 large baked sweet potatoes
1/3 cup water
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 inch piece of stick cinnamon broken into pieces
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 whole cloves
Place the butter in a 2-quart Pyrex bowl and microwave for 45 seconds.
Whisk the sugars, flour and salt into the butter to combine.
Whisk the coconut milk and eggs into the mixture until thoroughly blended.
Puree the sweet potatoes and pumpkin in a processor work bowl until smooth. Add this mixture to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and whisk until a smooth batter is formed.
Combine the water with the spices in a small glass cup and microwave for 1 Â½ minutes. Strain the spiced water through a fine mesh strainer into the pumpkin -potato mixture and stir to incorporate.
Butter a 2 quart casserole and pour the mixture into the prepared dish.
Bake covered in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Serve.
Serves • 8-10
Note • Sugar pie pumpkins are about 1 Â½ pounds and very rounded. Always use them when a recipe calls for cooked pumpkin. Larger pumpkins are more watery. Coconut milk is not milk or dairy. It is the liquid formed from ground, fresh, hydrated coconut.