Let’s suppose you have guests coming tomorrow night for dinner. Maybe now you’ve looked around your home and in your cupboards and you’re wondering what made you think you wanted to have dinner guests. You’re not going to call and cancel, right?
Hooray for you to inviting guests. Too few entertain at home. Sure you might have to fuss a little, but mealtimes are a wonderful way to create or nurture friendships. Have you noticed that it’s so much easier to remember the names of people once you’ve eaten a meal with them? Don’t get upset with yourself for stepping out and inviting company over for a meal. You are investing in others and the benefits for the years ahead may amaze you. Using your kitchen and table is at least as effective as social media interactions, right?
Two questions will probably arise for most who choose to host others for a meal at home. Either question can be a priority: How do you get ready for guests and what do you serve once the guests arrive?
Of course, if possible, before guests arrive we’d want to get a few things picked up. I have a theory that very few people live in “company-ready” houses. Why? Houses turn into homes when we really live there. We remember how pristine the place we call home looked before we moved our things in — lots of bare spaces and spotlessness. Now that we’re here, with maybe others we call family, the space just isn’t the same. That’s okay. I think it was Tony Evans who said in a sermon something like, my paraphrase: “When we invite people over and say, ‘Make yourself at home,’ we really just mean, ‘Don’t go around opening doors and looking in drawers. Just stay in the specified rooms.'”
Either because of work away from the house or because those of us who live inside the house aren’t perfect about keeping everything in its designated place, we probably need a good half hour to get ready for company. I say, or at least I used to say, I could get a few guest areas presentable in half an hour if I worked at heart-attack speed. One tip I learned from a good housekeeper included having a couple “catch-alls” for items that defy order. Attractive baskets or similar spots can “temporarily home” the books we’re reading or the projects we’ve spread around. Life’s not always perfect — no, hold on. Life’s not always orderly, but it might be a lot closer to perfect than we think. I’m glad I do most of the things I do…I just create a little chaos as I do life. How about you?
But before you and I get carried away by cleaning, there’s something else vying for our attention. Even though clutter needs to be gathered, the floor needs going over, and the dishwasher needs to run so guests can have clean plates and silverware when you set the table before the guests arrive, might anxiety be a distraction as we dash here and there? Why? Because we must take a little time to plan the dinner menu. Do we even have items we need to create the total menu?
“De-caff” a minute for a quick jaunt down Memory Lane. Remember when food tasted, well, different? When almost all the food that came to the table left telltale traces of flour dust on a counter rather than cellophane or small cardboard boxes? For some, the journey has to go back one generation; for others, the aproned women who really knew their way around the kitchen labored without many of our conveniences in generations two or three before we began our puttering. What if you could bring back great meals because someone coached you step-by-step?
An option for individuals trying to get comfortable in the kitchen so they can prepare a whole meal that is healthy for family and guests is now available in a newly published cookbook. Cathey Cook grew up in the South and knows her way around the garden as well as her kitchen, some of which she’s helped her husband build from the foundation upward. (Our family was able to help a little with one of those when we lived near each other in Texas.)
Cathey’s Simple Cooking recipe book provides the complete instructions for twelve different dinner menus. If you buy her book, you practically have your grocery list in order because she has planned the complete meal, start to finish. I’ve looked the book over, and better yet, I’ve eaten at her table, so I know these are going to be helpful for years to come. You’ll also pick up “down home” tips from her website when you stop by there. Did you know, for example, that not all teaspoons of salt are the same? Click here to go to Cathey’s website and learn more about her cooking.
One final tip: Before you take time to purchase or arrange to have the food delivered to your home, I’d suggest you politely ask your guests if any of them have a food allergy or require a special diet. Years ago, I never asked, “Are there foods you need to avoid?” Now I almost always ask. So many today not only have food preferences, they have foods they cannot digest or that are strictly forbidden by their physicians. Asking if there are foods they can’t eat may seem a little awkward but actually you are showing respect for them and politely asking them to compensate with respect for you. Knowing foods to avoid saves them embarrassment and your time and money. The conversations will flow more easily if someone isn’t breaking out in hives or trying to make a plate look complete without food. I also often serve a platter with ample thin slice meats and narrow slices of rich desserts. Meats and desserts are generally my most expensive parts of the meal. I can offer seconds much more comfortably than watching fixed-income dollars being scraped into my trashcan or disposal. At our home, we find some leftovers age very well.
So, bottom line, if you’re having guests, remember why you wanted to have them in your home. You want to show another person honor. You want to know your guests better. Perhaps you want to thank them for past thoughtfulness. Meals are one way to give a blessing (Oh, by the way, saying a blessing at your meal is a great idea, too. Think a little about the prayer you might offer. If you plan to ask one of your guests to ask the “blessing” before the meal, it’s polite to quietly tip that guest ahead of time.)
We have been guests in many homes, and we’ve had many guests in our home for meals, too. Sometimes that meal builds a framework for years of back and forth friendships. When I taught second grade, we were invited to the home of one of my students whose mother helped occasionally in my classroom. They had come to the United States from Lebanon and I felt so honored to be invited to their home. The day of the dinner, I became horribly ill with a rapid onset of bronchitis and I had to leave school before classes were over. Consequently we had to cancel the evening meal with them. When we rescheduled for a couple weeks later (I couldn’t teach for a few days because I was so ill), I learned the student’s father had taken off work to help prepare the meal we did not eat. On the way to the home where we were going to eat, I said to my husband, “I don’t want to offend our hostess, so if I really can’t make myself eat some strange dish, I’m going to say I am so full and will you finish it up for me?” (Sometime I might tell the story about how I know my husband will eat just about anything.) He agreed to be ready in case we were served something I couldn’t finish. I cleaned up my plate that evening. All four in our family loved all they served, including spinach pies and cabbage rolls which I’ve since served numerous times. We have such good memories of that evening around their table.
The best part of the dinner invitation, though, happened because that night our two families began a long-term friendship. The hostess taught me to make several Lebanese dishes and long after the daughter left second grade, our families enjoyed activities together. One of the nicest compliments we ever received was when they called one Saturday morning to see if we’d be willing to come for leftovers from a dinner they’d hosted the night before. Friends can do that, and their leftovers were superb!
Eventually both of our families moved out of Texas. It’s now thirty years later, and we’ve been in touch again through social media even though at times we’ve lived, literally, half a world apart. Many Christmas Eve’s when ministry kept us from gathering with my Swedish relatives, our little family opted for “Middle Eastern food” because we liked thinking that maybe we were eating a little bit like families ate in the culture into which our Savior was born.
Inviting guests for a meal may do far more than you expect. Enjoy your guests!