Like with most things in life, exceptional hostessing is an art of fine degrees. Some women have the gift of creating a warm welcoming atmosphere and fine food, all at the same time. Others are willing to get the book and do the work to make it appear they have that touch.
I am neither of those women. In fact, the idea of hosting a large quantity of people, even family, in my home and being responsible for their every comfort sends me into a semi-comatose state. You can find me huddling beneath my covers babbling nonsense.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better at hiding that reaction. Still, it circles like a vulture over the corpse of my first failed attempt at being a hostess.
I was a young wife and younger mother. My husband and I had three other couples over to our 1200 square foot home. I was preparing a fine dinner (and I didn’t even know what that meant).
For weeks, I had combed through recipes in the volumes I owned. (Yes, before the days of Google searches, we thumbed through books). I found an exceptional recipe for an appetizer and a savory sounding meat glaze.
I decided to keep the side dishes simple: baked potatoes and green beans. I needed to focus on these new recipes. I didn’t want to press my luck by overreaching my culinary skills. (I asked the ladies to bring salad or dessert.)
The sweet and sour chicken wings were labor intensive. There was double dipping in egg and flour and basting during the extended oven time. I made them in advance, and was pleased by their appearance. My husband gave the thumbs up after tasting one.
The glaze for the pork chops took some time and effort, but I could taste test it along the way. It seemed appropriately tangy with a little sweetness.
I set the oven to 400 degrees and scrubbed the potatoes. I opened cans of green beans (don’t frown; I sprinkled them with freshly crisped bacon bits and minced onion). All seemed in order.
People arrived. Laughter mingled with the succulent smell of roasting pork. Everyone snacked on the wings, licking their fingers. It boggled my mind: finger-licking good chicken – that I made from scratch.
Dinner time arrived. I set everything on the table. Guests gathered round, passed the dishes and served up their plates.
I picked up my fork and knife to slice open my baked potato. I had all the necessary toppings lined out in pretty crystal bowls: sour cream, butter, chives, bacon bits.
Rather than a rush of steam, resistance and a decided crunch greeted my utensils. I pushed open the clamshell halves and noticed the middle of the potato had a wet sheen. I poked it with my fork without satisfactory results.
Perhaps I was the only one whose potato wasn’t cooked completely. *Shakes head* Such an innocent, still prone to wishful thinking.
The obligatory compliments began as everyone sampled their food. The pork might have been slightly dry, but the flavor was exceptional. Green beans are so much better with bacon. And on and on.
“I like my potatoes crunchy,” one of the men said. To demonstrate his honesty, he sliced off a chunk and popped it in his mouth. What was that sound? Was he eating potato chips?
My appetite fled along with any desire to ever cook for a group of people again. At that moment the idea of eating anything plagued me worse than morning sickness.
Needless to say, I have cooked for people from my husband’s office (nerve-racking to the ultimate), visiting evangelists (you expect preachers to be polite) and large family gatherings.
Every time I experience the same panic beforehand. At least for Thanksgiving dinner this year, I knew what food was on the menu. Of course, my turkey baking skills are mostly limited to turkey breasts, since that is what my husband prefers.
Fortunately with a few keystrokes, I can Google “easy turkey roasting” and find a bevy of step-by-step instructions, complete with photographs. Some of them even have videos.
Being a great hostess is a mite easier these days. I have yet to master the art, however.
I can’t imagine Martha Stewart looking to Google for help. I know my mother in law, hostess extraordinaire of the authentic kind, uses the Internet from time to time, but mostly to add something new to her tried and true.
What I enjoy about Mrs. Hughson is that she can sit and visit with her guests or work them in the kitchen with the confidence of a professional. If something is done early, she never panics. She makes plenty of food (enough for the entire county) so there’s no worry folks will go hungry.
What do you think makes an excellent hostess? Is it the food or the atmosphere that you believe takes the most skill to master?