By Ann Cipperly
On Wednesday mornings the aroma of freshly brewed coffee has drifted through the spacious home of Vondalyn and Dr. Robert Hall for ten years, as members of the On the Porch Bible study group arrive. While the ladies take turns bringing brunch dishes each week, the group recently met with everyone bringing their special brunch dish and the recipes to share.
The dining room table was laden with a variety of scrumptious brunch dishes from savory to sublime sweet. Cheese Dreams and Mini Tomato Tarts were tasty appetizers.
It has been a decade since Vondalyn Hall felt the call to start a Bible study on her sun porch. She felt women needed a connection to each other and to have a solid connection with God.
Reflecting on earlier times as a child, Vondalyn remembered women visiting and sharing with each other on her grandmother’s and mother’s porches. They talked about their families and the issues they were dealing with on a daily basis. She remembered that it was on those porches that women ultimately turned to scripture and prayer for answers to their problems.
She realized that many women today needed a porch experience. They need time, listening ears and each other to help them build their faith.
A former professor at Auburn University, Vondalyn envisioned how she could use her porch and her gifts of teaching and hospitality, along with a love for God and people, to make a difference. After the vision, though, Vondalyn doubted it would work. She rationalized the idea away with many, seemingly, valid excuses, casting aside her dream.
Then suddenly one morning with no prior warning, she woke up with no voice, just a whisper. After no improvement, she consulted with a doctor, who immediately sent her to Kirkland Clinic in Birmingham for an evaluation. She left there after consulting with both a surgeon and a speech pathologist. She received the diagnosis of bi-lateral cysts on her vocal cords, “fixable” only by surgery.
While awaiting an appointment to see a surgeon in Atlanta or Nashville, Vondalyn was sent for speech therapy as a preparatory measure. While in therapy, Vondalyn’s voice started to come back. The initial response was “you must have been misdiagnosed; nodules respond to therapy, cysts do not.”
Then, therapists took another look at the films of Vondalyn’s throat taken at UAB, and there was no denial that the cysts were there, but they had shrunk. On November 6, 2006, Vondalyn was dismissed from speech therapy speaking at 90% resonance. She knew God had touched her voice and given her a second chance.
In 2007, On the Porch Bible Study was birthed, and the rest is history. God provided a porch, created a willing heart, equipped a teacher and filled a porch. Now, women from all walks of life come to the porch and find a safe place, where all are on level ground.
Vondalyn carries on the legacy of her mother and grandmother by providing safety on the porch. Here women gain hope as they experience unconditional love and forgiveness through connecting with God and others.
While Vondalyn is dedicated to her ministry, she is also busy with family. She has three daughters: Betsy Lynne Ledoux and her husband, Nick, live in Mozambique (moving to Nepal in March), Amelia Anne Stehouwer and husband, Seth, live in Opelika, and Katie Elise Hackleman and husband, Jon, live in Houston, TX. She has three grandchildren and two on the way with Katie expecting in March and Betsy in May.
Along with sharing recipes, several members share what the Bible study means to them. “I have only been involved with this wonderful group of ladies for a little over two years,” says member Pat Dakin. “Vondalyn welcomed me into the group, then the ladies were just as welcoming. It is difficult to express my emotions and feelings, as these ladies are my support group and have become my friends.
“God has always been in my life,” adds Pat, “although often not visible to the world, but in my heart and soul. Being able to share His word and His teachings through the Bible and study books has offered me a peace that I needed.”
Lura New also expresses that being a part of the Bible study has meant a lot to her. “Not only for our study of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus,” she says, “but how we apply those teachings to our daily lives. I have also made so many new friends with whom we are all comfortable sharing our problems, whatever they may be, praying together over them, and with the comfort and trust they will not be discussed outside of our group.”
“It is a time for sharing friendships, thoughts, ideas, issues, problems and prayers,” says Emily Smith. “While it is a time for Bible study, most of all it is a time of comfort and joy.”
“I love nature, and it is one of the places I feel God’s presence the most,” says Emily Mullis “I love sitting on the porch listening to the lesson Vondalyn has prepared for us and looking out those huge windows. The trees and lake are so calming, and I can feel my soul relaxing as we study and share together.”
Joanne Woodall feels it is a special place to study the word of God. “We have such inspired lessons taught by our wonderful leader, Vondalyn,” she says. “There is a true bond of friendship between all the ladies on the porch. It is such a blessing to be a member.”
Following are some of the recipes served at the brunch. You will want to clip and save them for assembling a wonderful meal for your family this weekend.
Ann Cipperly can be contacted at email@example.com.
2 cups finely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 large egg
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard, ground red pepper or hot sauce to taste
1 (16-oz.) loaf Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread
Preheat oven to 375. Beat cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Beat in cream and next 5 ingredients.
Cut crusts from bread slices; cut each bread slice into 4 squares. Spread cheese mixture on half of bread squares (about 1 tsp. per square); top each with 1 remaining square. Spread remaining cheese mixture over top and sides of sandwiches. Place sandwiches, 1 inch apart, on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: Can make the day ahead and refrigerate, or can freeze them up to 3 weeks. If frozen, place in the oven straight from the freezer and increase the bake time by 10 minutes.
Mini Tomato Tarts
10 oz. can Rotel tomatoes, drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 3 oz. pkg. real bacon bits (prefer (Oscar Mayer soft ones, not hard ones)
1 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Four 1.9 oz. pkg. mini phyllo shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine tomatoes, mayonnaise, bacon bits, and Swiss cheese.
Fill shells and bake 10-15 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.
2 cans crescent rolls Two 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese 1 cup sugar 1 tsp. vanilla 1 egg 1 egg white 1 cup powdered sugar 3 Tbsp. milk 1 tsp. vanilla Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 9 x 13 pan with Pam nonstick spray. Unroll one can of rolls and lay in bottom of pan. Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and egg until creamy. Spread evenly over rolls, then lay second can of rolls over top. Brush with egg white. Whisk powdered sugar, milk and vanilla for glaze and set aside. Bake 30 minutes until golden brown. Pour glaze over hot Danish and cool for 20 minutes.
Zesty Grits Casserole
1 lb. sausage
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar Cheese
1 stick butter
10 oz. can diced tomatoes with chilies (Rotel)
1 tsp. salt or to taste
Brown sausage until light brown. Cook grits according to package directions. Stir into grits the cheese, butter, tomatoes with green chilies, egg, and salt. Add sausage and stir well.
Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until heated through.
This casserole may be done in advance and heated when ready to serve. Serves 8. Enjoy!
Overnight French Toast with Pecan Topping
1 Tbsp. butter, softened
l6 oz. loaf Italian bread, sliced 1-inch thick
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Maple syrup (optional)
Grease a 3-qt. rectangular baking dish with the 1 Tbsp. butter. Arrange slices of bread in baking dish in two rows with slices overlapping.
In a large bowl lightly beat eggs. Whisk in cream, milk, granulated sugar and vanilla. Evenly pour over bread in dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Let casserole stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Grate the stick of cold butter into a medium bowl. Add brown sugar, pecans, flour and salt. Mix until blended and crumbly. Crumble mixture over bread in dish.
Place baking dish in oven. Place a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below the dish. Bake, uncovered, about 50 minutes or until puffed, browned, and inside is set but soft. Cool slightly. If desired, serve warm with maple syrup.
Makes 12 servings
3-4 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.
1 lb. roll medium or hot sausage 1 bar white sharp cheddar cheese (I like the Kraft in the black wrapper) 3 cups Bisquick Melt cheese over a low heat. Mix in sausage; mix in Bisquick. Roll into small balls, walnut size.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes until brown. Cooking time will depend on ovens. Can be rolled into balls and frozen, then place into plastic bags and bake as needed. Pineapple Casserole
1 (20 oz.) can pineapple chunks
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
40 buttery round crackers (such as Ritz), crushed
1 cup butter, melted
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Drain pineapple chunks, reserving 1/4 cup of the juice.
Combine flour, sugar, cheddar cheese, reserved pineapple juice, pineapple chunks and crushed pineapple in a large bowl. Pour mixture into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish that has been coated with nonstick spray.
Mix cracker crumbs and butter in a small bowl, and then sprinkle over the pineapple mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
This must be made a day ahead!
10 eggs, beaten
1 qt. milk
1 tsp. salt
2/3 tsp. mustard
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1 lb. bacon or 1 lb. sausage
10 pieces bread
2 cups shredded cheese
Mix eggs, milk, salt, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce together in a bowl. Set aside. Fry bacon or sausage, drain, and crumble.
Cut edges off bread and tear into small pieces. Put half of bread pieces in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch casserole dish, add 1 cup cheese, bacon or sausage. Pour half egg mixture over this. Add rest of bread, cheese, and rest of egg mixture.
Cover dish and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 325 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
Judy M. Gingles
1 (20-oz.) can crushed pineapple
1 (3-oz.) box pistachio instant pudding
2 cups small marshmallows
8 oz. Cool Whip
Mix pineapple and pudding well. Add marshmallows and Cool Whip. Mix well. Refrigerate.
Easy Cheesy Salsa Potatoes
8 oz. (2 cups) shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup chunky style salsa
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
½ cup sour cream
10¾ oz. can condensed Cheddar cheese soup
1/2 tsp. pepper
24 oz. pkg. (about 8 cups) frozen hash-brown potatoes, thawed
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13-by-inch (3-quart) baking dish or pan. In a large bowl, combine cheese, salsa, onion, sour cream, soup and pepper; mix well. Add potatoes; mix well. Spread in greased pan.
In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and butter; sprinkle over potatoes. Bake 45 to 60 minutes or until cheese is melted and potatoes are tender.
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 lb. chopped dates
1 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla: beat until fluffy. In a medium bowl sift together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
In a small bowl combine milk and lemon juice. Add flour and milk/lemon juice mixtures to creamed mixture, blending well. Stir in dates and pecans. Drop by teaspoonfuls 1-inch apart on greased cookie sheet.
Flatten each cookie with a fork. Bake at 275 for 20 minutes. Makes 7-8 dozen.
2 cups chopped, fresh spinach
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Dash black pepper
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Miracle Whip
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded carrots
In a 3-or 4-quart glass serving bowl, layer the spinach, eggs, bacon, salt, pepper, sugar, lettuce, peas and green onions, repeating the seasonings after adding green onions.
Mix mayonnaise and Miracle Whip and spread on like icing. Sprinkle cheddar cheese and carrots over top.