That title makes it sound like I should have a quiz in this post. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Better Homes and Gardens or Real Simple has created it already! But I don’t have a quiz, just some personal musings.

I’ve always been in awe of the people who are happy to invite people into their home at the spur of the moment, no matter its state and no matter what food makes its way to the table. When it comes to having people over, I’m much more of a planner (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure). I have calmed down a lot as far as the appearance of our apartment (plus it’s always pretty neat), but when it comes to the food I like to put a lot of thought into it. I like to design a meal that “goes” together, even if it’s not fancy, and I like to assemble and/or cook as much as possible ahead of time.

For example, we had some friends over for dinner on Easter. On the Saturday I made the rolls and banana pudding and assembled the broccoli casserole so that on Sunday afternoon all I had to do was cook the ham and then throw the casserole in while it rested! That way I’m free to piddle around, straightening things up and making random display vases of plastic Easter eggs (yeah, that happened), and I’m much more relaxed with my friends than I would be if I were trying to get everything cooked.

On Tuesday of this week, I was scheduled to provide the meal for our church community group. The number of people who come each time varies widely, so I just prepared for an army! On Monday I made a giant batch of potato salad and on Tuesday I threw some chicken breasts in the Crockpot with a barbecue sauce mixture, assembled a salad, and baked an easy cobbler. (Everything came out delicious, by the way.)

I don’t expect or need everything to be perfect, but I like to have a plan. I used to get stressed thinking about feeding a group of people, even though I ultimately enjoy it, but now that I’ve embraced my desire to plan I feel like I’m pretty good at it! I would find it more stressful, I think, if I were winging it at the last minute. But I know a lot of people love entertaining that way! It is definitely a goal of mine to have open doors (so to speak) and be  radically hospitable, but I’m not sure I’ll ever let go of wanting to plan that meal.

One way that I think works great to achieve this is to have certain things on hand all the time that are easy to pull out. My mother-in-law always has grapes, nuts, and good cheese and crackers. My boss was saying yesterday that she and her husband keep an assortment of Trader Joe’s chocolates on hand for an easy share-able dessert. We don’t have much space for that, but I think it’s great to keep in mind as you shop!

I’d say most of what I’ve learned about entertaining came from my dad and my high school roommate’s mom. From my dad I inherited the utter inability to believe you have enough food, leading you to make or buy just one more delicious thing. And from my friend’s mom I learned the beauty of casual Southern entertaining with lots of casseroles. She is wonderfully hospitable, in an easy-going way, and always managed to make for a great Sunday afternoon dinner experience.

So what’s your entertaining style? Do you enjoy having people over?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman