Be My Guest

Cissy Mathews shows others how make their home a ‘warm, welcoming place’

Bill and Cissy Mathews.
Apples of Gold students prepare a group feast.
Members of the Sauté Par-tay cooking club are, from left, Steve and Martha Shasteen, Dan and Susan Chamberlin, Cissy and Bill Mathews, Curt and Marcy Howard and Cliff and Terri Smith.
A Sauté Par-tay dessert masterpiece.

Cissy Mathews knows a thing or two about Southern hospitality. The Alpharetta home she shares with husband Bill Mathews is frequently filled with the delicious smells of homemade cooking and the laughter of good friends.

But it wasn’t always this way for Mathews, whose childhood home in North Carolina was not always a happy place to be.

“My mother worked all the time and I had an alcoholic father, so I never brought anyone home and my parents did not have many friends. I longed for a home that was open to friends and family – a warm and welcoming place. I wanted that badly for my own home and family,” she said.

With creativity, determination and faith, Mathews made her dream come true, and today she shares her love of hospitality with others in a variety of ways. But perhaps closest to her heart is the mentoring program she leads for young women on the verge of starting their own families.

Apples of Gold

Through the Apples of Gold mentoring program, Mathews and several ladies from various Christian denominations in the local area host six-week programs for young women, designed to teach Biblically-based lessons in hospitality and homemaking.
“Apples of Gold is dear to me because I can show the young ladies that even if you did not see hospitality modeled in your parents’ home, you can learn and teach it to yourself for your own home,” said Mathews.

The women who attend are usually newlyweds or engaged, in the 22-35 age range.
Mathews explains the program’s mission.

The program’s name comes from Proverbs 25:11, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” she said. And the lessons are based on Titus 2: kindness, loving your husband, loving your children, submission, purity and hospitality.

“Our mission is to encourage young women to make a rich investment in their spiritual lives and give them some new cooking and hospitality ideas to help them feel confident and comfortable in their kitchens and homes,” Mathews said.

“I have a great love for women’s Bible study, so AOG was a ministry that spoke to my heart,” she said. “We’ve been doing this ministry in my home for the past six years and it takes lots of dedicated women to make it happen. I do all of the shopping, assign recipes and set the tables in advance.

“Then ‘kitchen angels’ arrive to prepare part of the meal while our 13 students learn skills in hospitality, cooking and entertaining – things like onion chopping, napkin folding, how to read a recipe, set a table, make a bow, floral arranging, crockpot and casserole cooking, tailgating, and tips for cooking and cleaning,” she said. “It is one action-packed hour.

“Then students and teachers all enjoy a great meal together with a theme that matches the evening’s Bible lesson,” she said. “At the end of the six weeks, we host a celebration dinner where husbands are invited to join in.”

The Apples of Gold program was started 15 years ago by Betty Huizenga and is offered all over the world in various forms. Mathews says her group “really takes it over the top, but we love it that way!”

“My favorite thing to do at Apples of Gold is to stand in the corner of a room and just see all the smiling loving faces of the women God has sent to serve with me, as well as the young ones we nurture and encourage with our life lessons,” she said. “I always tell each class – you can never out-dream God. My life is living proof.”

Sauté Par-tay Gourmet Club

Mathews makes time to practice what she preaches by sharing her culinary talents and fun-loving spirit with friends. Five years ago, Mathews had the idea to start a gourmet cooking club.

“I started Sauté Par-tay with four other couples who love to cook. Well, maybe not all, but they have learned to love cooking as a group. At least one spouse loves cooking and the other comes along to learn,” said Mathews.

The host couple decides on the menu and theme, purchases all the food and two bottles of wine that complement the meal. The hosts also provide appetizers to eat during the cooking process. All couples split the cost of the food.

“We arrive, put on our aprons and start preparing our part of the dinner,” she said. “The host couple prints all the recipes so we have them to take home, and designates which dish each couple prepares. We have so much fun visiting while we chop, sauté, zest and cook.

“We never know till we arrive what the theme will be, so it is always fun to see how creative the host couple will be,” said Mathews. “Some of our themes have been: German, French, Chinese, Italian, Mediterranean, English and a Southern fish fry. Some themes revolve around a certain food item like nuts; with all of the dishes containing nuts.

“When the meal is ready, we sit to eat at a beautifully decorated table and stuff ourselves. Then we evaluate the recipes – how we thought they turned out, how difficult they were or what we might do differently when we prepare them at home for our family and friends,” she said. “Then the sweet memories begin with sitting around getting caught up on each other’s lives and passing the chocolate candy around the table. No worries about cleaning up, we do that all together, which extends the evening to more fun, stories and laughter. We have been known to go until 2 a.m. in the morning because we have such fun.”

Tidbits of Joy Blog

Two years ago, Mathews had another big idea – to share her recipes and hospitality lessons with a broader audience through her own food blog.

Tidbits of Joy was launched in the fall of 2013 after a steep learning curve.

“I knew nothing about having a blog, so I started reading online and subscribing to websites. I learned that the main emphasis was to narrow your blog down to what you love and just write your posts as if writing to someone sitting in the room with you,” Mathews said.

“I blog to encourage women to use their hospitality skills to bless others without looking for a payback,” she said. “If you look at hospitality as what is in it for you, you lose the joy of sharing it. Providing a simple meal around a pretty table allows your guests to sit and enjoy and really have time to fellowship.

“My favorite thing about dinner parties and family meals is the time afterward when we are all stuffed from a good meal (not necessarily a gourmet meal), and we sit and talk and share. Yes, hospitality is a labor of love, but done with the right motive, it is rewarding for you and especially your guests and family.”

Look for a sampling of recipes from Mathews’ blog, ■


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