Archive for November 1st, 2010

STOP ENTERTAINING!

Have you felt it yet? Halloween is barely over but I've already experienced that pinched feeling in my gut reminding me that the holidays are right around the corner. I noticed it the other day when I went to the grocery store to pick up a can of pumpkin to bake a pie for my grandson's birthday.

I had to ask a clerk to help me find it, which I thought was a little weird since I'd already tripped over several displays of Christmas products.

She pointed me towards aisle one, bottom shelf, where I found just five cans. OMG – is there a pumpkin shortage again? Should I buy all five in case I can't find them four weeks from now? What will Thanksgiving be without the pumpkin pie?

The holidays will do that to you – turn your normally sane mind into a bowl of quivering cranberry sauce.

Do I love the holidays? Yes.

It's the anxiety producing expectations that drive me nuts, all because somehow I'm convinced that if I just try hard enough, I can attain the illusion of the Southern Living brand of Holiday Happiness. You know – the one where in any respectable Southern household, there will be a trio of homemade coconut cakes on the sideboard, displayed on vintage milk glass cake stands of varying heights? Surrounded by fresh holly leaves and heirloom polished pewter candlesticks? Just sitting around for show, gathering dust?

I have a confession to make – somewhere in my files of IMPORTANT STUFF, I have a picture of the above scenario that I ripped out of a holiday magazine. God help me, but I would kill to have three coconut cakes sitting around on my sideboard, just in case, you know, company drops by. Then I'd be READY! 

In the book, "Making Room," one couple, with years of experience offering hospitality to countless people every day, commented, "When hospitality is viewed as entertainment, the house is never ready."

What a breath of fresh air that statement is to all of us who strive and strain for perfection. It makes me want to throw open the front door and invite the world in, regardless of my empty, dusty sideboard. And yet it's so tempting to give all my attention to devouring yet another article on how to prepare the perfect holiday buffet.

Here's my little secret: I have twenty years worth of holiday issues of Bon Apetit, Food and Wine and Gourmet magazines stashed away in my sideboard. There are some great recipes in there; the ones I've tried, all three of them, have become staples: chicken liver pate, chocolate mousse cake and Brussels sprouts with pecans.

I've made those dishes dozens of times over the years and must say they do create a dazzling display on my sideboard, but that's not what motivates me these days. I want to gather people around my table – friends, loved ones, strangers – and create family. I want to share my table and I want to share life. Sharing – that's what hospitality is really about.

As they say on TV, "That's Entertainment."

THE LAST COURSE:

When we put the emphasis on making sure the house is immaculate and on preparing extravagant menus for which we lack the time, energy or expertise, we set ourselves up for a load of stress and tension that alienates us from our guests. That makes it hard to share anything.

This year before you sit down with your cookbooks to plan your holiday feast, take some time and visualize the day in your mind. What could you do that would make you more relaxed, more present? Do you need to tone down the meal or tone down your expectations? Maybe you could ask people to contribute a dish instead of trying to do it all yourself. Picture yourself enjoying the day and interacting with your guests; make that the priority then plan your menu accordingly.