Haphazard Hospitality

This post first appeared on Velvet Ashes

Within each of us is the desire to excel at something.  Oftentimes, we have an equally strong fear that if we try it may (and likely will at first) go quite badly?  Mine was hospitality.  11 years ago I couldn’t cook to save my sweet life.  One day I tried making magic bars to take to a church group potluck.  I had eaten them a million times and reasoned it couldn’t be that hard.  Armed with a recipe and a preheated oven, I began.

Hours later, I had an inedible situation on my hands that had permanently fused itself to the helpless pyrex dish.  My roommate walked in to find me crying in a heap on my bed. Yes.  Magic bars had conquered me.  My roommate brought me back to real-life (thanks Karen) and convinced me to take the bars and leave them in the car if I wanted.  I decided to go and I'm glad I did because that was the night I actually started getting to know the wonderful man who is now my husband.  The magic bars were magical after all!  Just kidding.  The magic bars were wholly inedible.

Fast forward a year and we're married.  And that husband of mine happens to be a fantastic cook.  He could win one of those cooking show competitions where they give you fruit loops and a can of tuna fish and tell you to make something gourmet in 3 minutes.  Even so, I still very much wanted to be Paula Dean so I asked my husband if I could take over the cooking.  He agreed.  It was a rough season friends.  The food was bad, the entertaining was bad.  Just very painfully bad.  I am happy to say, however, in the last decade I have learned a thing or two about hospitality that I would love to share with you.

1. Don’t try new recipes out on your guests.  You are having them over because you like them, right? It could totally flop and it will add to your stress.  Make the dish you’ve made 100 times that your family likes and actually tastes good.

2. It doesn’t all have to be homemade!  Hospitality can come from a package if it needs to!

3. Do keep as many little treaty snacks around as possible for when you spontaneously entertain.  We are close with many of our neighbors so I try to keep some cookies in the freezer. You never know who is coming over.

4. If you’re instantly entertaining and you didn’t really mean to be, take my friend Heather's advice and cut something big into little pieces and put it on a pretty plate.  BAM!  Instant H’orderves.  You’re practically in an evening gown at a cotillion at this point.

5. Laugh about the things that go wrong.  Like that time my husband and I invited 20 people over for a BBQ and didn’t realize until they all arrived, steaks in hand, that our grill was broken.  Or that time I tried that huge waterpad thing from pinterest for a birthday party and it had 5 leaks before the guests even arrived.  Or that time I made a shephards’ pie for British guests and dropped it face-down on the ground in the kitchen.  I scooped that joker right up and walked into the dining room like nothing had happened.  Mashed potatoes are very forgiving that way.

6. Remember hospitality is not about you.  It’s about your guests.  The entire point of having them over is to love and care for and serve them.  They don’t care if they are eating shephards pie off the ground (especially if they don’t know they are eating shephards pie off the ground).

7. Perfecting hospitality is a process.  I am a perfectionist in the worst way. Those of you who know me are nodding vigorously. I would get so wrought up when I had guests coming over I would freak out on my family and spend the whole evening trying to make everything seem a certain way so my guests thought I was impressive.  Once time I served carrots that were undercooked and I almost ended the whole night early.  Over CARROTS!  I started to realize, however, the people who most impacted me were my friends who let me see their mess and invited me into their home as it was.

8. And finally, if you struggle with opening your home for the reasons I just listed, I would encourage you to try something that helped change my view on hospitality entirely:  Find some friends and ask them over for dinner.  Tonight.  Not after you’ve had your carpets cleaned, tonight. Ask them to bring some food from their fridge and you pull out what you’ve got in yours.  The rule: don't go to the store.  No.  Not even for milk.  You’ll ruin the whole thing.

This does several things: they are bringing their weird food to join your weird food so everyone feels weird.  For some reason, letting someone peer into your fridge can feel very much like standing in your underwear.  With my brilliant plan, everyone is equally (and very hopefully figuratively) exposed and you can all collectively relax.  Secondly, you have the opportunity to come up with the menu together which ends up being much more fun than you thought it would be.

The result: you get to focus on the real art of hospitality which is simply to warmly and genuinely welcome someone into your home and make them feel loved.  We have done this type of haphazard hospitality for years and it is life-giving. Try it tonight!  I'd love to hear how it goes.