So I think I’ve figured out this whole entertaining thing. This week we hosted nineteen people for Thanksgiving and two nights later had another family over for dinner. We didn’t have any help of any kind–did all the cooking and serving and cleaning up ourselves (with some help from our guests)–and both evenings were totally mellow and easy.
Now, nothing was perfect and nothing was particularly elegant. If you want perfect and elegant, stop reading this stupid little blog post and go pick up a copy of Martha Stewart’s magazine.
Say hi to Martha for me.
Okay, now that it’s just us mellow folk here, I’ll share with you MY ten secrets for entertaining frequently, easily, and happily (and, admittedly, sloppily). I am, of course, an expert on the subject. (You know I’m an expert on entertaining because I have a blog about writing.) Anyway, listen and learn:
1. Say yes to any guest’s offer to bring something. The answer to, “Would you like us to bring a dessert?” should always be, “Sure!” And the answer to “What can we bring?” should always be, “What would you like to bring?” I never ASK guests to bring something, by the way. I’m fine if they don’t. But if they offer, I’m going to say yes.
2. Same things goes for any offer of help from anyone who happens to wander into your house while you’re prepping for a meal. A friend dropped by to visit my son on Thanksgiving; I got them to chop all of the celery for the stuffing while they were chatting.
3. Don’t worry about impressing people by making something exotic and restaurant-worthy. Food needs to taste good and there needs to be enough of it. Period.
4. Don’t stress about how your house looks. So long as it’s not disgustingly filthy, who cares if books are piled up everywhere? (Actually, my husband cares, so he cleans up before guests come, which is fine with me. But I wouldn’t care all that much if he didn’t.)
5. Put on good music while you’re cooking.
6. If time runs out and you haven’t set the table, throw out a big pile of plates and stick some silverware in a jar. I promise you, people can figure it all out. They’ve eaten before.
7. Make brownies. The house will smell great and no one leaves a meal unhappy when it ends with brownies. If you want to be more adult about it, make a flourless chocolate cake, which is essentially a large round brownie that discards the one ingredient no one actually cares about.
8. Serve family style whenever possible. People can eat more of what they like and avoid what they don’t like and go back for seconds without having to ask. Plus you get the food to the table faster. Plus you don’t have to stand at the counter serving everyone. Plus you can pick the good stuff out of the salad bowl and nibble on it all night long without getting up from your seat.
9. Spend time with your guests. Make food that will be all done by the time you’re sitting down to dinner, or, even better, by the time your guests arrive. They’re there because they want to hang out with you. If they wanted someone slaving in the kitchen to make them a perfect meal, they’d have gone to a restaurant.
10. Only invite people you actually like, people who won’t turn their noses up at chipped plates and mismatched glasses. People like my friend who, when I apologized for serving hot dogs, said, “Are you kidding? We love hot dogs. And that means we don’t have to do anything fancy the next time you come over to our house.” Those are the kind of friends you want to have over.
But if for some reason you have to invite people who might be picky and/or rude (like, say, relatives), and you see them raising their eyebrows at your casual, inelegant meal, then just turn your back on them and pour yourself another glass of wine. Sneak an extra brownie too, while you’re at it. Why should they ruin your fun?