Wherever you live and whatever your political persuasions may be, I think we can all agree that our world held its moments of profound sadness in 2017. I have no great ideas for how big things can shift and change, but I leave 2017 convinced that we all have work to do in our communities and neighborhoods. We have people to love, we have walls that need to be rebuilt around the vulnerable, and this starts at our tables.
Your table matters.
The work of hospitality is the first brick in the work of rebuilding, it is the center from where everything else flows. But for those of us who long for this, I know the things that get in the way: Busy schedules, insecurities about our homes, the keeping of bedtimes, our own inadequacies in the kitchen, financial constraints, and the list can go on. We all have our reasons for not having people in our homes, but when I get tired of fighting my desire and give in to it, I realize again how much joy is in our home when we cultivate a culture of hospitality.
Here are a few things we tried at home this year that helped us keep our home open to others.
Ask for help
I was making shaksuka and started browning onions and spices before realizing I was out of canned tomatoes. I messaged our neighbor while she was at the store. One thing led to another, and she and her husband ended up coming over for a spontaneous, simple dinner. They brought an Indian-spiced rice, and the shaksuka melted on top. It was perfect. But I would have missed it (and had a bad dinner) if I didn’t ask for a can of tomatoes.
We often think of asking people to bring food when we’ve invited them (and if you don’t, please do, it is an easy way to help people feel at home). But I didn’t realize the way I open the door for hospitality when I reach out to others and ask for help first.
Plan for time alone after
I’m an introvert, and I need major downtime after big events or busy weekends. Even if it’s just a simple dinner with another couple, I usually need some quiet time after that. It’s been good for me to leave margins on either side of times we have people in our home. It also keeps me full so that I’m able to have people over more often.
Keep bacon in the fridge. At all times.
This was probably my most helpful food trick of the year. Anytime I didn’t know what to make for dinner, I fried bacon. The kids love it with eggs and frozen peas. It’s a great base for a quick sauce. Stuff pieces of it into an omelette. If someone stops by and their visit goes into lunch, a quick BLT or a B-and-whatever-else-you-have-around is an easy way to feed a few people. Having some key items in the pantry and fridge go a long way when it comes to the spontaneous hospitality moments. For me that’s pasta, eggs, rice, milk, some kind of veggie (mushrooms most of the time for us), potatoes, bacon of course, and basically anything you can stretch to feed many.
One of the quick dinners I made this year for my hubby and I came together in the time it takes to cook pasta. None of these ingredients are must haves except for maybe the bacon, it was literally what was in our almost-empty fridge.
- Half a white onion, diced small
- bacon, diced (maybe 2-3 ounces, 50-100 grams)
- Sliced mushrooms (5 ounces, 150 grams)
- 1 stalk spring onion (sliced, white and green parts)
- 3 Tbsp heavy cream
- Put a pot of salted water on to boil for your pasta and cook the pasta according to package instructions.
- While the water is boiling, put a splash of EVOO in the pan and when itâ€™s warm, add the onions and bacon. Stir until it starts to get some colour then add the mushrooms. (If you're not pressed for time, I insist that onions browned for a long time taste divine, but that's entirely your call.)
- When it's almost cooked to your liking, season well with salt and pepper and add in the spring onions, and keep stirring until they get a bit soft.
- Turn off the heat and stir through the cream. Depending on how you like your sauce, feel free to add liquid. If you like it saucier, add more cream or even chicken or vegetable stock.
- Toss through with whatever pasta you have around, finish with a squeeze of lemon, a crack of pepper or a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
- I've left the quantities vague for this because you really cannot get it wrong. The idea is basically whatever you have around, thrown into a pan with salt and pepper.