Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bulletproof pie and other thoughts on hospitality

Have you ever had a day in the kitchen when things went 'suspiciously well'? I love those days! Everything turns out perfectly the first time and I am cleaned up and out of the kitchen way before expected!

Yesterday was not one of those days! Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong! Never the less, dinner was ready on time and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. At least I didn't poison anyone - and that's always a good thing! We had the pastor from the church we are attending and his family for the first time - and we looked forward to their visit all week. Since Sundays are crazy busy for them, I figured we'd never be able to have them over for a nice Sunday dinner, so I did Sunday dinner on a Friday night! It was so nice to have them come.

I prepared Cheesy Potatoes and Mandarin Orange Jellied Salad the night before and thawed the chicken for Rolled Chicken Washington . I was hoping it would thaw enough so that The Historian could pound them flat before he headed to work, but they were still pretty frozen! I boiled the beets and made some fresh cranberry sauce before going to bed. In the morning I started Sunday Dinner Rolls and timed it they so that they would come out of the oven just in time to slip in the chicken and potatoes. I was flying through and quite sure I was going to have time to french the green beans and put my feet up for a bit!

The children got going on their schoolwork with just a little instruction from me, and I set to making dessert - and that's where everything began to fall apart! I've never had such a struggle! TWO pie crusts hit the garbage - TWO!!! The final result was a passable Lemon Tart and Cranberry Custard pie, and one bulletproof Chocolate Pie! Too funny! I was ready to get out the chain saw to cut the poor pitiful thing, but thankfully my trusty knife finally did the job, and the filling was rich and creamy as usual. My tried and true pie crust recipe failed - my error all the way! Well, that and a certain little boy who turns off the timer when I'm not looking! Ahem!

A few years ago such 'disasters' would have devastated me, but it's wonderful to have the perspective of age and the blessing of a more Biblical understanding of hospitality. When we were first married, we used an old set of camping dishes that I dug out of my parents basement for our everyday fare. They were thin black speckled tin and they clinked and clanked in the most cheerful way! They went perfectly with the table that we dug out of the garbage and painted and we had many other young couples over for meals without feeling the least bit embarrassed by our lack of real dishes.

I served our first Thanksgiving Dinner ever to my mother in law on those dishes in our first cavernous apartment. I ran up a $$ phone bill (for my dad) calling my mum in Canada for recipes and advice, but it never occurred to me that preparing a holiday dinner was something to be feared or fussed about. I just copied what I'd seen my mum do 1000 times for Sunday dinners, and it went really well. I thought the borrowed card table that we ate at was going to collapse, but it didn't!

I used to serve thick soup and homemade bread on those same tin dishes to the many folks who traveled the rails behind our parsonage and somehow knew our door was the one to knock on for a hot meal and warm facecloth. They had to stay on the back porch because often my husband wasn't home and the church folks worried about the young pastor's wife. We found a picnic table by the roadside and hauled it home to serve our backporch guests. Our church young people were served on those tin plates too - hundreds of donuts, hot from the fryer. They were cheap and filling, and the kids ate them so fast, I don't think they cared too much about the dinnerware.

Somewhere along the line, we got the 'real' dishes that we had registered for, and the lovely fine bone china set that my Nanny left for me as well. I made matching napkins and learned a few more 'company' dishes to serve. I enjoyed adding extra touches and making everything pretty ... then suddenly, I was no longer content with 'pretty' and became focused on 'perfect'. Instead of being hospitable, we were entertaining.

There is a big difference, to my way of thinking- perhaps you will agree. Entertaining is more about showing off your home, your cooking and decorating skills and pulling off the 'perfect' event. In the heart of entertaining is the desire to impress your guests and gain their approval. Entertaining has it's place - there are times when it is a necessary means to a desired end in the business world. We are not in that type of situation, so entertaining to impress was just that.

Hospitality is about making things pleasant, certainly, but it's more about opening your home to share the blessings of God with others. In the heart of hospitality, the focus is on the comfort and enjoyment of your guests. It's about sharing a laugh, getting to know one another, providing a meal and not turning 6 shades of red when your children lead their new friends in a loud 'hide and seek' game that includes messy closets and dusty cubbyholes as hiding places! It's far more relaxing for both our family, as the host, and our guests - when our 'good enough' is the goal and we don't feel like we need to impress anyone.

The children will agree that I'm still a stickler for cleanliness - and I do get a little tense when they get distracted from their tasks and make more mess than they clean up, but I working on that! We have our 'everyday' clean - they know the standard that we expect for their rooms and they do a decent job of it by keeping up with their daily 'zones'. They know that the next level is 'Grammy Ready' - which is more picked up and tidy than usual, but not perfect. Then there is 'Company Ready' which involves a little more cleaning and the complete removal of the layer of dust that accompanies life in a 1949 home. We keep the bathrooms up pretty much all of the time, so they just require freshening up and new towels before company, and the toys in the yard always need to be picked up and put away.

I don't fret so much about the dust we didn't get too these days - we just do our best and ignore the rest. Or shut the door to the room where all the junk lands! Which doesn't really help when everyone is scrambling to find a hide and seek spot!

We had a great time with our guests last night, and it was a blessing to practice hospitality again. Our children are close in age and share many interests, so that's a blessing too! I've been amazed that I am feeling so well lately - and tremendously grateful. I'm certainly not superwoman, but I seem to be able to do a bit more, and that's just wonderful! I don't know how long it will last this time, but I aim to enjoy it - and share more hospitality, as we are able.

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  1. Now I remember why pie crusts are one of the few areas where I cheat and buy it at the store, hehehe.

    I went through that same progression of hospitality to entertaining and back to hospitality again. What a great post!

  2. Loved this post! It's amazing how life with just very simple things brings fond memories down the road!!! In Scotland I prepared countless, countless meals with one small knife that was duller than anything and I basically just cut all the veggies/meat by force, rather than by knife! Now I just think about all that with happy memories. :)

    I do hope you get to have a Chrsitmas tea!


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