As a new bride, I spent days preparing for a dinner party. Sifting through magazines for the perfect recipe, shopping, cleaning, setting the table, and prepping the meal.
Everything was new back then; marriage, entertaining, dishes, even the towels were new. By the time the big day arrived, I was exhausted, cranky and stressed. And, although everyone seemed to have a good time, I always found those evenings a little disappointing. For all the time and effort, there was little time for me to sit and enjoy my company. I was too busy cooking and serving and clearing dishes.
What I failed to recognize in those early days, was the whole point of entertaining; to spend time with people I enjoy. Back then, entertaining was more about me than my guests. It was about me learning to cook and decorate and plan a party. My inspiration came from Martha Stewart Living and Gourmet Magazine, where everything was done to perfection, with intent to impress.
But, I’m not a person of perfection. I am a person of practicality. I am of the mindset that good enough can be really great if it buys you more time and still meets your needs. So it didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed new inspiration, a new mentor, and a new entertaining philosophy that would sustain both my guests and myself.
My first Barefoot Contessa cookbook was the turning point, and a wake-up call for me. I love Ina Garten’s practical approach. Clearly, she wants to enjoy the fabulous people that she invites into her home. Her cooking is spent before her guests arrive, not during their stay. The recipes are easy to follow, predictable and delicious. The environment she creates is warm and inviting, casual and comfortable. I love that she occasionally puts her guests to work, stirring or mixing. I have, and frequently use, every single cookbook of hers. The recipes are so reliable that I am not afraid to try them for the first time on guests. That’s trust!
Inspired by Ina, I adopted this entertaining philosophy as my own. Today, I worry less about the house and how it looks. The people I invite into my home are people I like, and trust and want to hang out with. I don’t need to impress them because that’s not the type of friends I choose. The food I serve is simple, mostly prepared in advance, and hopefully delicious, although I’ve had my share of misses.
During this season of entertaining, here’s to good friends, good food and good times!