Bless Your Spoon: Hotel to the stars and 5-star dining

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Back in the ’70s, I had stars in my eyes when working at the newly built and upscale Spence Manor Motor Hotel. Located on Music Row in Nashville, Spence Manor was the only 5-diamond hotel at the time. The hotel was the hottest new option on the block — the best thing going for guests looking for private, ultra-luxurious accommodations.

You’d expect such a hotel to have an opulent appearance. Not so, just plain, white concrete block formed the box-like exterior. The hotel was quick to brag about its progressive mid-century modern style. That’s a style you didn’t see much of back in those days. It was quite a juxtaposition to the country folk who patronized Spence Manor. How and why the large, guitar-shaped pool was installed next door and later acquired by the hotel — is a long story. But if you go to Nashville, it’s worth driving past to snap a picture of it. Way cool.

Now about the food — the entire menu catered to celebrities and others in the music industry. When these folks traveled, they relished their privacy. The hotel also boasted the only 5-star dining in town, but it was in-room service only. Deluxe service and gourmet food, delivered directly to your private suite. There was no public restaurant.

The room service menu was a star-studded array of chef-prepared, elegant main dishes with twists on gourmet, fresh vegetable dishes. Desserts stole the show with classic favorites — scratch-made, beloved, and nothing but southern confections. Now that’s a mouthful, as was each morsel of sweet deliciousness. I’ve tried for years to find a copy of the hotel’s menu online to no avail.

Spence Manor’s now closed, and the suites were sold as condominiums. But celebrity ghosts still wander the halls of the historic hotel and now and again, they cross my mind. Just having a tiny piece of that hotel’s history entwined with mine warms my heart. I’m grateful for the small servings of my country music heritage.

Being a teen, I was mesmerized by the star-studded guest list, dazzled by a glimpse of the rich and famous. And I learned about celebrity status. Status isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and neither are people. While the lives of some might appear glamorous, they’re usually not and certainly not by God’s standards.

I hadn’t long been on the job to realize most people aren’t any different from you and me — certainly no better and, in some ways, worse. By the look of their disheveled hotel rooms, they didn’t necessarily live any better, either. What a mess people live in. And now, where are they? Status is fleeting and doesn’t endure. Many celebrities who stayed at Spence Manor, like Elvis and others, have passed and gone. Families now strive to keep their memories alive.

But don’t we still get twinkles in our eyes, sometimes mesmerized by people, places and things? I know I do. But then we discover the truth. That person you held in such high regard isn’t the loyal friend you believed she was. That once-in-a-lifetime trip failed to live up to your expectations. And all the fancy renovations you paid for and new possessions you recently purchased failed to satisfy.

What a “mess of greens” we all are! A green-broke horse is not completely broken or trained. We’re like that horse — still green and learning. But there’s hope for each one of us. To trust God with all your heart is made clear in scripture. Humans aren’t perfect, putting our trust in them will lead to disappointment. Even the people we least expect will let us down.

Psalm 118:8-9 reads, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

We can carefully plan trips to exotic destinations — hoping to see all the attractions and eat all that good food. But in the end, we return home — our money spent, yet, nothing tasted good. We’re still hungry and dissatisfied. We often resist God’s leadership, wanting to live life our way and do and go where we want to. But it’s not our plan — it’s God’s plan for us.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9.

Instead of focusing on material goods and things money can buy, when we invest in God’s work, we invest in heaven — seeking and finding fulfillment from God’s purposes in all we do.

Jesus taught about money, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6: 18-21.

Well-known Biblical scholar and theologian John Piper put it this way, “If you don’t see the greatness of God, then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can’t see the sun, you will be impressed with a street light. If you’ve never felt thunder and lightning, you’ll be impressed with fireworks. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God, you’ll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures.”

We’d all do well to stay focused on His majesty.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Consomme

• 1 pint fresh strawberries

• 1 2/3 cup fresh cut rhubarb

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 stick cinnamon

• 2 cups water

• 1½ cup burgundy wine

• ½ cup soda water

• Sour cream

• Fresh mint

Cut up strawberries, reserving 6 whole berries for garnish. In a saucepan, add strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon stick and water (use any strawberry or rhubarb juice and add to water to make the 2 cups). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until rhubarb is tender. Pour into a strainer, press out and reserve all juice. There should be about 3 cups. Add burgundy wine and soda to the juice. Slice remaining 6 berries. You can serve hot or chilled. Garnish with a few strawberry slices floating. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream that clings to the side of bowl with a sprig of fresh mint.

Creamy Peanut Soup

• 3 cups chicken broth

• 1 cup Peter Pan peanut butter

• 1/8 tsp. sugar

• 1/8 tsp. onion salt

• 1/8 tsp. celery salt

• 1 1/3 cup half and half

• Chopped roasted peanuts

In a saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil. Reduce heat and stir in peanut butter until smooth. Stir in sugar and salts to season. Stir in cream. You can substitute 13 oz. of evaporated milk if preferred. Heat but do not boil. Serve warm with chopped peanuts.

Cantaloupe Salad

• 2 cantaloupes

• 2 cut medium tomatoes

• 1 diced green pepper

• 3 green onions

• ½ cup oil/vinegar, French-style dressing

Cut 2 cantaloupes in half crosswise, remove seeds. Scoop into balls or chunk cut melon into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. In a bowl, cut tomatoes into small, thin wedges. Add ½ diced green pepper. Cut the green onion tops and bottoms into thin slices. Combine the tomatoes, green pepper, and green onions with melon balls. Pour the dressing over top and gently stir. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours.

Linguini with Shrimp

• ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 3 lb. raw shrimp

• 1½ chopped onion

• 3 tsp. chopped fresh garlic

• 1½ tsp. oregano

• 1½ tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• ¾ cup white wine

• 9 cups fresh tomato sauce

• Hot buttered linguini

In a pan, heat olive oil. Add onion, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and shrimp. Sauté shrimp until pink/red and onions are browned. Pour in wine and tomato sauce and cook 5 minutes. Serve over hot cooked linguini or angel hair pasta.

Chicken China with Nuts

• 5 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

• 1 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

• 6 egg whites

• 2 cups Wesson vegetable oil

• 4 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 3 Tbsp. Wesson vegetable oil

• ¼ cup sliced water chestnuts

• ¼ cup diced bamboo shoots

• ¾ cup chicken broth

• ¼ cup thawed, frozen green peas

• ½ cup roasted peanuts

• ¾ cup chicken broth

• ½ tsp. sugar

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. dried, crushed hot pepper

• 1 tsp. hot sauce

• ½ tsp. sesame oil

• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

• Cold water

Prepare chicken by slicing it into 1-inch slices. In a bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. oil, egg whites and cornstarch. Mix well. Pour over chicken and marinate for 1 hour. In saucepan, heat 2 cups oil until very hot or 365 degrees. In batches, using slotted spoon to drain, lift chicken and fry 2 minutes in the hot oil, drain and set aside. Repeat frying all chicken. In another skillet, heat 3 Tbsp. oil until very hot. Add vegetables and peanuts and fry for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and cooked chicken. Bring to a boil. Add sugar, salt, hot pepper, hot sauce and sesame oil. Combine cornstarch with a little cold water and add to boiling mixture. Continue to simmer while constantly stirring until thickened. Serve over rice.

Deep Dish Crab Quiche

• 6 beaten eggs

• 2 cups heavy cream

• 1 cup chopped Swiss cheese

• 1 cup chunk/shredded premium crabmeat

• ½ cup chopped green onion tops

• 1 tsp. onion salt

• ½ tsp. seasoned salt

• 1 deep dish pie crust

Line pie pan with pie crust. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Beat in cream and mix well. Add cheese, crabmeat, onions, onion salt and seasoned salt. Pour into pie shell. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until center tests done. You can use chopped shrimp instead of crab, as well. Cut into small triangles and serve alongside a hearty entrée. Top with a fresh fruit conserve.

Pork Roast with Cranberry Glaze

• 2-4 lb. boneless pork rib-end roast

• 2 tsp. cornstarch

• 1/8 tsp. cinnamon

• 1/8 tsp. salt

• 5 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

• 1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

In a saucepan, combine cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Stir in orange juice and cranberry sauce. Cook while stirring over medium heat until thickened. Set aside. In a shallow pan, place pork. Spoon ½ cup of sauce over meat. Roast in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes-1 hour or until meat thermometer reads 155-160 degrees. Baste with additional sauce while cooking. Allow to rest 10 minutes before carving. Serve with additional cranberry sauce. Great with any pork dish.

Tomato Herb Bread Pudding

• ½ lb. torn stale bread

• 1 lb. sliced ripe garden tomatoes

• 2 minced cloves garlic

• 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

• 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

• 2 oz. grated Swiss cheese

• 1 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese

• 4 large eggs

• 2 cups whole milk

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Tear stale bread into ½-inch slices. Layer half bread in a butter-greased 2-quart baking dish. Lay half the tomato slices over bread. Sprinkle half of garlic and herbs over tomatoes. Combine Swiss and parmesan cheeses and sprinkle half over tomatoes. Salt and pepper the top. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients as done before. Salt and pepper the top. In a mixer bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Add ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Pour over bread layers. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until golden and puffy.

Sweet Potato-Pineapple Puff

• 17 oz. drained sweet potatoes

• ¼ cup chopped dates

• ¼ cup brown raisins

• 6 slices pineapple, juice reserved

• 4 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• ¼ cup brown sugar

• 2 Tbsp. honey

• 2 Tbsp. pineapple juice

• ¼ cup dates

For potato balls, begin by mashing cooked, well-drained sweet potatoes. Add dates and raisins. Shape into 6 balls. Set aside. Drain pineapple well and reserve juice. In a skillet, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, honey, pineapple juice and dates. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Place pineapple slices into the syrup. Top each pineapple slice with a sweet potato ball. Cover skillet and bring to a simmer for 10-12 minutes. While simmering, occasionally spoon syrup over potatoes.

Asparagus With Lemon-Tarragon Sauce

• 2 lbs. trimmed asparagus spears

• ½ cup premium mayonnaise

• ½ cup sour cream or yogurt plain

• 1 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon

• 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

• ½ tsp. Dijon mustard

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Simmer asparagus spears in salted water for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool under running cold water. Drain again. In a bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, tarragon, lemon juice, lemon zest, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate sauce.

Brussel Sprouts With Walnuts

• ½ cup toasted walnuts

• 1 lb. prepared Brussel sprouts

• 4 cups boiling water

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

• ¼ cup minced red onion

• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary or basil

• 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

• Salt and pepper to taste

Toast walnuts and set aside. Trim Brussel sprouts and add to boiling water. Cook for 8 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine oil, vinegar, red onion, choice herbs and parsley. Drain hot Brussel sprouts and toss in the oil mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in toasted walnuts. Serve room temperature.

Sicilian Pears

• 1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds

• 1 Tbsp. melted salted butter

• 2 drops almond extract

• 4 halved, cored, large fresh pears

• ¾ cup sherry

For the filling, in a bowl, combine almonds, butter and almond extract. Fill pear cavities with filling. Place pear halves in a glass baking dish. Pour sherry over the pears. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Peach Cream Pie

• 1 piecrust

• 1 cup sugar

• 2 Tbsp. corn starch

• Fresh medium sliced peaches

• ½ pint half n half

• 1 lattice piecrust

Line a deep dish pie plate with a pastry and flute edges. In a bowl combine sugar and cornstarch and mix well. Place ¼ of sugar mix and spread evenly over crust. Arrange sliced peaches close together on top of sugar mixture. Then sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture. Pour cream on top of all. Cut piecrust in strips and arrange on top in lattice-work fashion. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375-degrees and bake for 50 minutes. Tent top with foil to prevent burning.

Pineapple Apricot Bars

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1½ cups crushed pineapple

• 1½ tsp. cornstarch

• 3 tsp. apricot jam


• 1½ cups uncooked regular oats

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 1½ cups all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp. soda

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¾ cup Crisco shortening

For the filling, in a saucepan, add sugar, pineapple, cornstarch and jam. Cook over low heat until thickened. Cool completely before adding top crust. For the crust, in a mixer bowl, combine oatmeal and brown sugar. Mix well. Add sifted flour, soda, and salt. Mix well. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. In a 9-inch square pan, spread half the crust mixture. Then spread and press filling on top. Top with remaining crust mixture to form a top crust. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes. Cool and refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars and serve warm, topped with whipped cream/ice cream.

Blueberries With Cornmeal Topping

• ½ cup sugar

• ½ cup water

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• ½ tsp. grated lemon peeling

• 1 quart fresh blueberries


• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• ½ cup enriched yellow corn meal

• 5 Tbsp. sugar

• 2 tsp. baking powder

• ¼ tsp. salt

• ¼ cup Crisco shortening

• 1 beaten egg

• ¾ cup whole milk

• Large sugar granules

In a saucepan, add sugar, water, lemon juice, peel and blueberries. Bring to a simmer for 1 minute or until blueberries are softened. Pour into a well-greased 9-inch baking dish. For the topping, in a mixer bowl, combine sifted flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until it resembles a coarse meal. Add beaten egg and milk. Mix well. Spread over blueberries. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden. Brush with milk and sprinkle with large sugar granules. Serve warm in a bowl of cream or topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.