Entertaining has always stressed me out. From planning to cooking to cleaning and hosting, I worry when things aren't "perfect" and feel guilty if I haven't crafted every bite and sip from scratch. A tendency to make five times more food than necessary magnifies the sense of burden.
The whole enterprise causes so much angst that last year my partner Gregory and I had hardly anyone over. (He, too, is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to housekeeping in our small apartment.) Yet we love our friends and one of our 2014 resolutions is to invite them to our home. I have decided to view at it not as Entertaining with a scary capital E, but as sharing.
A few things led us to this resolution. One, we are paying close attention to our budget and entertaining at home can be less expensive than going out. We also started to consider how our friends have entertained us in their homes. Our fond memories have less to do with the food or décor than the sense of conviviality. Gregory and I are two of the biggest food nerds in our crowd, but we have never scoffed at being served store-bought foods or non-gourmet dishes. We're simply delighted to share a meal with good people. Over the past year I have also been genuinely moved by my friends' thoughtfulness in addressing my food restrictions. Surely no guest is more challenging than I am with my vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet!
So, we are starting small and simple. Two weeks ago we held an easygoing potluck dinner and UNO card game night (so much fun and sure to be repeated!). And then this past week we hosted Sunday brunch for two other couples who brought the bread, meat, and fruit while I made Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted Vegetable Hash, arugula salad, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, and some kumquat marmalade from my pantry. I resisted my inner Martha who really thought I should cook two extra dishes ... and you know what? No one starved, everyone ate well, we were fine.
Only later did it occur to me that I might have been intimidated by the fact that one of our friends is a chef (and apron designer extraordinaire) with experience in LA's finest restaurants. However, it was truly inspiring and educational to watch her fluid, confident movements as she helped prep food in our kitchen.
For those who are nervous about hosting dinner parties, I think brunch is a wonderful alternative. It's naturally less formal and there's something special about starting the day over a shared meal with friends. Brunch potlucks are common among our group so I didn't feel too bad about not cooking everything myself. That said, now that I've gotten my feet wet I'm looking forward to cooking a full brunch now. Gregory and I will certainly work up to dinners at some point but we are actually thinking brunch might be our "thing." It suits our California sunshine-filled apartment and our optimistic outlook for the new year.
(Image credits: Gregory Han; Emily Han)