Time for “Company”

September 28, 20128 Comments

This summer, entertaining went the way of endurance running for me – something I used to do when I was younger and had more time.  And my knees? Oh, the knees could take a lot more back then. Now they’re creaky and unpredictable, so most of the time I just don’t bother. But getting back to the entertaining…and the fact that I’ve not done much of it in months. Make that any. Whatsoever. When you find your kitchen a deathtrap of exposed wires and raw, jagged floorboards – covered evenly in a fine layer of dust – and your backyard a colossal mud pit, it’s hard to conjure the hosting spirit. It’s not only uncomfortable, it’s a liability.

Now that my home is safer and increasingly livable as the final 10 percent of this project plays out, I’ve once again been entertaining the idea of…um…entertaining. Or as my mother would say, “having company.” Aside from the guilt of having spent much of my summer freeloading meals at friends’ (while my children made messes in their playrooms and depleted their supply of ice cream bars), I actually just want to enjoy being in my house again and having our friends enjoy it right along with us. Besides, I am probably owed a few sets of dirty fingerprints on my freshly painted walls and maybe a broken toy or two (apologies to all we’ve offended).

I love putting together menus. But I don’t want to make myself crazy in preparation. I try to keep it simple by making some items ahead of time, which allows me to enjoy our friends when they arrive instead of rushing around like an aproned fool. I typically ask someone to bring dessert because 1) I don’t like to make dessert, but I do like to eat it and 2) it makes people feel happy to be able to bring something over, especially if it’s the sweet finale. I don’t care whether it’s store-bought or homemade, I’m just glad not to make it. I sometimes ask people to bring over a loaf of bread or a salad. I can typically cover the rest.

This week, I’ve put together an early fall entertaining menu using tried-and-true seasonal recipes. I’ve listed all the elements here, but typically I’d recommend you pick and choose a few recipes then farm out the rest. I’m leaving it to you to decide what you want to make. If I were going to have a get-together this weekend, this is what I would make. Of course, this would assume there are actually screens on my soon-to-be-screened porch. And there are not. Instead, there is a rude eight-foot drop to a hard stone patio below. I digress.

{Doorbell rings} Your guests have arrived! Complete a round of air kisses, then pop open a bottle of chilled prosecco and let friends nibble on spiced mixed nuts and/or party popcorn.

{Everyone makes a beeline to the kitchen, where they will stay. Why does everyone always hang out in the kitchen? This is one reason we removed a major wall in ours – more space for the kitchen lurkers. People will ask if you need help. You will refuse, while emanating a casual, calm attitude. All under control! Nothing to see here, folks. Turn on the oven to pop in the bread, wrapped in foil, that someone has brought.}

On the stove, you have a pot of gingered sweet potato carrot soup kept covered and warm.  Leave it there while you fire up the grill. Sitting on the counter at room temperature is your tomato party, a fantastic use for the last tomatoes of the season. And in the fridge, you’ve already tossed together autumn salad, though you’ll cut the apples and pears when the balsamic marinated flank steak, which has been bathing in an aromatic marinade since yesterday, is on the grill.

{Guests continue to ask if they can help. You let someone cut up the apple and pear for the salad. You have someone else shake the dressing. You order one of the guys to open some wine. I always like a pinot noir with this steak. The table is already set and once the steak is done, you’ll be ready to go.}

What I like about this menu is that if you are hosting a mix of carnivores and vegetarians, you have enough offerings to make a meal for anyone even without the steak. Remove the steak from the grill. While it rests covered in foil, serve the soup as a first course. Once soup dishes are cleared, slice the steak thinly across the grain, and place the tomato dish and green salad on the table. Remove bread from oven and serve. Make conversation. Laugh. Fiddle with your necklace. Enjoy yourself and be happy to have friends in your home. Admire the paint color you chose in your dining room and wonder why you didn’t change it sooner.

{Oohs and aahs all around. “This is delicious.” “Can I get the recipe?” You plug Weekly Greens and tell them to visit the site. And comment about how much they liked the food. And subscribe, too. Or, you smile coyly and act like you made these recipes up yourself. I won’t tell. Let your guests help clear the plates, digest a bit, then onto dessert.}

If I’ve not asked someone to bring dessert, I sometimes serve squares of very good chocolate. Or ice cream, a universal crowd pleaser. If I’m really trying to channel Martha Stewart, I might make a seasonally-inspired dessert, like salted caramel apple crisp. Or something simple, like chocolate chip banana bread.

{At this point, guests will try to help you load the dishwasher. You will swat them away and scold them for this outrageous behavior. You will tell them to take their ornery children home and to bed, knowing the last time you were at their house you high-tailed it out with squealing , waaaay-past-their-bedtime children before you could so much as push your chair back in from your place at the table. This is a longstanding agreement you’ve made with your friends – we don’t clean up at each others houses – and you your spouse will happily finish the cleanup on your his/her own.}

P.S. Disclaimer: The lovely garden scene above is not my house. You probably already knew that based on the lush garden since I’ve mentioned once or eighteen times that I don’t garden. I snapped this shot using Instagram (follow me there if you’d like: @aliciasokol) just before my lovely friend Suzanne served a gorgeous meal at the home of our mutual friend Anna. Next time I have “company,” I’ll snap a shot for you, but it won’t look remotely like this.

8 responses to “Time for “Company””

  1. Laurie Barr Shepherd says:

    Alicia, I am SO GLAD you are back with us! I missed opening my email and seeing you.
    . I LOVE LOVE LOVE your website…it’s my favorite one, (and I check out a lot of them)…not just because we’re distant cousins.
    This latest column comes at the very best time for us b/c several of Larry’s friends from his residency are in town next weekend for an alumni function. Tomorrow was my day to figure things out, and thanks to you and Weekly Greens I won’t be stressing so much! Only wish I could import you into my kitchen to fix it all and make it look so pretty!
    Hope all is well with you and your family!

    • Alicia says:

      Thanks, Laurie! It feels good to be writing (and cooking) again. I recall putting together a little menu for you a while back, right? I hope you are well, too. And thanks for being such a loyal reader!

  2. Laura says:

    This makes me want to have a party! I, too, am baffled by kitchen lurkers at a party. I love that your solution is to make more room for them rather than shoo them out.

  3. Lynda says:

    Welcome back – I’ll come to dinner any time!

  4. anna says:

    So funny, Alicia, I just this week pinned a bunch of pictures from that wonderful spring dinner, too! (http://pinterest.com/propertopper/wondrous-tables/ ) This nice weather makes me want to do it again. And I was just last weekend trying to do the Reject-Offers-of-Help-While-Emanating-Calm dance, but I ended up snapping just before everyone sat down for dinner! Yikes. Everyone will always lurk, though, so planning around it is brilliant.

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