Monday, April 19, 2010

Relaxed hosting

I never told you what I did for Lent this year. I told you what I didn’t do—I didn’t give up sugar or chocolate or coffee (or any of my happy addictions), nor did I commit to getting rid of forty bags of stuff in forty days or any of the other laudable commitments because ... I didn’t want to. (Which isn’t exactly the point of Lent, I know, but there you have it, the cold hard truth.) Furthermore, Lent fell in the middle of our annual spending freeze, and though it certainly wasn’t Lent-inspired, I felt like I was already pushing myself in the Giving Things Up Arena. So for Lent we decided to take on something new—company.

Hosting is a hurdle for me. Let’s be clear about this right from the get-go: this is not the fault of the company. This hosting hurdle thingy is something I’ve erected for my own self to trip over. (I’m kind to myself that way, creating obstacle courses for the heck of watching myself crash and burn.) These hurdles we're talking about now, the hosting kind, consist of semi-ridiculous, self-imposed expectations such as a sparkling clean house, washed hair, and well-balanced, plentiful, and creative meals. Just the thought of jumping through all those hoops is enough to make me quit the race entirely and go strike off on a hike through the woods, figuratively speaking, which is what I do, most times, hosting be damned.

So, Lent came around and I decided it was time for me to grab the bull by the horns. I was going to host me some company and I was going to kick those hurdles right out of the race! Removing self-imposed hurdles is no easy task, but by gum, it was lent and I was going to do it! So as a family we brainstormed together about who we’d like to have over for dinner and then I made the contacts and set up the dates.


My goal was one hosting event per week and my plan To Be Relaxed was three-pronged. First, I'd only cook down-home simple food. (One family got beans, rice, and scrambled eggs while another got pizza and carrot and celery sticks.) Second, I'd try not to clean the house, at least not too much. We'd pick up and vacuum, and I'd spend about half an hour with a wet rag, but that was it. Third, I wouldn’t get showered or dressed (up). I'd allowed myself a quick twirl of the hairbrush and a clean shirt. (Once I even talked myself into staying in my yoga pants. I was so proud of myself, I think I even pointed them out to the guests.)

And you know what? With my imposed relaxation techniques, hosting wasn’t all that bad! My pre-company tizz was zapped, and I was able to enjoy the guests, which was the whole point of hosting in the first place. We spent hours visiting at the table, in chairs by the fire, and in one case, wrapped up in blankets on the candle-lit porch in one of the first sit-outside-and-enjoy-the-sunset evenings of the year. We didn’t have company over every week like I had intended, but as well as the new guests, we hosted family (they don’t count as company) and I had regular visits from girlfriends. We were also the final stop for a youth group progressive supper, but that was just chocolate cupcakes and glasses of cold milk out at the picnic table.


From my little experiment I confirmed two hunches. First, I am the one preventing us from hosting. Second, I like hosting.

It’s true that it is easier to skip the company and just be by our lonesomes, doing chores, reading books, working on personal projects. I’m more tired after an evening of company, the kids get to bed later, there’s a bigger pile of dishes, and personal projects need to be caught up on later.

But! There's something invigorating about spending an evening with people you don’t normally hang with. Conversation is elevated, adrenaline flows, and relationships deepen.

So what keeps me from hosting more often? It takes effort to arrange such meetings. When you live out in the country, guests don’t just magically appear on your doorstep. I’m learning it works best for me to do planning in bulk. When I take a few minutes to make a list of potential guests and then line up a bunch of dinner dates, a lot more hosting gets done. Otherwise, it’s easier to just let everyday life run the show, and while everyday life might be challenging, it's not often very "elevated."


Yesterday was our church’s annual Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner event. We signed up to be hosts and were informed late last week that come Sunday noon, four adults and three children would show up at our door. We were to provide the main course (family number two the salad and bread, and family number three the dessert), so I decided on baked spaghetti (and a kettle of peas to round out the meal). I assembled the casserole on Saturday and then whizzed home after church on Sunday to pop it in the oven (and wash the breakfast dishes) before the guests showed up. The guests came, yummy food in hand, and we ate and visited till late afternoon.

Now Lent is over and my calendar is blank with no dinner guests on the foreseeable horizon. I think it's time I go make a new list. Should I pencil you in?

Baked Spaghetti

This is supposed to be a way to use up leftover spaghetti, but seeing as we almost never have any leftovers (of consequence) when I make spaghetti, I make this meal straight up, purchasing fresh ingredients for the sole purpose of creating this dish. It’s a good one to take to potlucks and homebound folks, or to make ahead for yourselves or some Sunday dinner guests.

Feel free to omit the meat, change around the proportions (less egg or butter, or more), add more veggies, use different cheeses, etc. Make it to suit you and yours.

1 pound spaghetti
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the dry, pre-grated kind, or fine-grated yourself)
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
4 cups spaghetti sauce (I used a quart of this)
2-3 cups cottage cheese
2-3 cups mozzarella cheese, grated

Brown the beef with the onion and pepper. Set aside.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions and drain. Cool the spaghetti to room temperature, roughly cut it up with a kitchen shears, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Stir together the melted butter, Parmesan cheese, eggs, salt, and pepper, and add the mixture to the cooled spaghetti, tossing to coat.

Put the spaghetti in a 9x13 pan. (This amount makes a very full pan, so either keep a little spaghetti out, or else use an even bigger pan.) Top with the cottage cheese, followed by the ground beef and then the spaghetti sauce. (At this point you can refrigerate or freeze the casserole, tightly covered.)

Bake the casserole at 375 degrees till hot and bubbly, about thirty minutes. Remove from the oven, top with the grated mozzarella cheese, and return to the oven for another ten minutes till the cheese is toasty-melted. Let the casserole stand at room temperature for about ten minutes before serving.

About one year ago: A poem for poetry month.

7 comments:

  1. I love it that you share recipes (and with the stories behind them)...I've copied this one and plan to make it soon. Sounds so yummy! Thanks!

    AND...I made the banana cake and it was a success...thanks for that one too! :)

    Blessings,
    Camille

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  2. As one of those guests during Lent, I can say heartily that 1) we enjoyed the simple, bountiful meal (esp. considering my pregnancy blahs when it comes to cooking), 2) the conversation was varied and the kids funny, and 3) we didn't notice the cleanliness of your house/hair/children, so it's good you didn't spend any more time on those things! Thank you! --VA

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  3. JJ... I love you. This is just the post I needed. I almost booked a ticket to VA last Thursday for a Fri-Sun visit...but chickened out at the last minute. I thought... I'll just email JJ & ThyHand and tell them I'll be there in a few hours for dinner... NOW... I know that's what I'm going to do. I'm mean really... who want's to worry for weeks and weeks that someone is coming for dinner... It's just too much anxiety if you ask me.

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  4. oooh, I forgot about the "Guess Who" Sunday mixer - I love that one! I'm going to suggest it the fellowship committee this very night.

    I agree with you about the relaxed hosting. I had to overcome my hurdles too. I'm taking a while to get back into it since having children.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading about your Lenten experience. What struck me was that you normally give something up, but decided to add something instead this year. I did just the opposite--I gave up something, whereas I normally add a meaningful activity. How very appropriate that you decided to practice hospitality during Lent. Good for you, and I hope the habit spills over and becomes part of your daily life!

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  6. i cant wait to buy a new mixer to try out all those stuff..

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  7. I was reading the post, nodding my head. That's me. I stress out sooo much about having company. My family dreads it, too, because they know I'll be screaming at them to "work, work, work" to get the house ready, and then we all have to pretend to be relaxed and happy when the company comes. And my dinner invariably goes wrong because I try to hard.

    Since you've got the knack of it down now, can I come over and observe?

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