Because of Martha Stewart, I longed for a room in my future home dedicated to wrapping presents. I dreamt of spools of ribbon neatly organized on a dowel and tucked away in an antique armoire. She made a lush garden feel a necessity, and freshly plucked chicken eggs in hues of greens and blues vital to every kitchen. Because of Martha Stewart my best friend and I published Mini Martha Living–complete with homemade jewelry tutorials, tenderly written articles on keeping a home, and the most rich and luscious brownies one could imagine. We were 7 and 10.
Those childhood fantasies met reality and–try as I might–I still can’t fold a fitted sheet worth a damn. We had chickens, but one flew away and the other two were eaten by raccoons. And my present wrapping room is the hallway where I frantically pluck a few large sheets of parchment paper from the top of the fridge and hurriedly cover the present before running out the door. My napkins are never pressed, the table rarely cleared, and inevitably there are scraps of eaten socks and stuffed animal remnants strewn about the house leftover from our pup Lily’s daily destruction.
This is not necessarily my ideal scene for entertaining, but this is our reality and try as I might to scrub the fingerprints off the walls and scrape the food bits off of the kitchen floor, their persistence is unrelenting. If I waited for perfection in our home our table would always be empty. I choose our ragged, messy imperfection that is flooded with friends and family coming through our doors over a spotless quiet home.
First of all, let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves that the stories we write in our own minds that are based off of very little information are usually not true. Social media and the fact that so much of our lives are lived online have perpetuated this notion because we see the highlights of everyone’s lives and then fill in the cracks thinking that ours doesn’t measure up. I’m guilty of this myself both by writing the stories and feeling inadequate based off that story and often only sharing the meals that I deem worthy of an Instagram and failing to make public the take-out or the late night drive-thru soft serve. We need to be so careful with this peeking into the greener patch of grass and assuming their whole lawn is lush.
I love that there is a bit of a movement around this notion of scruffy entertaining or hosting a crappy dinner party. But both of those terms feel a bit negative, almost as if you are admitting defeat over the state of the home and reluctantly opening your doors anyway. I would love for us to fling open our doors and embrace the mess. To feel confident in our home, in our skin, to say your presence here is more important than that teetering laundry pile in the corner. To truly believe filling the table is more important than the perceived truth that I’ve got everything in order. My friends and family know the truth, and love and embrace me–in spite of it all.
Every other Wednesday for eight years I’ve sat at a table with the same women. They are my village, they are the ones that walk through everyday with me. They’ve wiped tears from my eyes, watched my kids when I needed a break, and brought countless meals to my home throughout sicknesses and the early baby days. As a group we’ve walked and eaten through loss of jobs, seven births, miscarriages, brain tumors, deaths, milestone birthdays, and so much more. We have lived life together and so much of it has happened around the table. If we let something like dishes in the sink, dirty finger stained walls, and piles of clutter keep us from coming to the table we would never see one another.
With this group and so many other friends and family who walk through our doors even the word “entertaining” doesn’t feel right. It’s just simply the act of opening the door and letting people in. Often I will do the cooking, as I so love to do, but other times, like our Wednesday group, it’s a “clean-out-the-fridge potluck”.
If there is a particular recipe someone in the group is eager to try we may center the meal around that. Other times it’s a simple call to bring the things lingering in your fridge that could possibly belong over some salad greens. Every time it’s delicious and not really the point of the evening. Everyone is bringing something to the table so the work never falls too heavy on one person and we never apologize for the state of our house, we all get it, and are grateful to be at the table.
As a 10 year old flipping through Martha Stewart Living magazine while dreaming of fresh flowers filling every room of my home, and wandering through my garden with vintage basket in hand retrieving the day’s bounty from the earth I never thought about how much better reality can be, mess and all.
Recipes for Gathering
I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite recipes to feed a crowd. Some from my site and beyond. Of course there are many more ideas in my new book, Let’s Stay In. It’s from this desire for gathering together at the table that this book was born.
So easy to throw together quickly and a little goes along way for a crowd.
Le Grand Aioli
Love having this be a collaborative meal. Invite people to bring their favorite roasted vegetable or anything else that might be improved with a dip in aioli.
This one is reserved for Super Bowl in our family but I do know that the chili recipe here has won contests.
It’s a salad, it’s a pizza. It’s everything you ever want.
Smokey Mozzarella Pasta
A pasta bake is never a bad idea.
Simple, but never boring. And quite possibly the most comforting of all the foods.
Sheet Pan Chicken and Cauliflower Shwarma
Speaking of roast chicken. I’ve not tried this one yet but that will change real soon.