Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘having house guests’

We have a security system in our house and two of the sensors have low batteries. Which I know because the keypad at which we control the alarm beeps to alert me of the danger. And living with low batteries is really dangerous, according to the keypad, because even though I key in a code that should let it know, “I hear you, I get it, I will call the security company right away,” it feels the need to remind me every two hours on the button. Irritating during the day, but MUCH WORSE in the middle of the night.

And of course the security company can’t send someone out right away. I mean, I GET IT. It’s just low batteries! But they can’t come until THURSDAY and that means THREE NIGHTS of getting up every two hours to key in my code and reassure the system that I AM AWARE OF THE BATTERY SITUATION AND MY IMMINENT DEMISE.

The keypad is in our bedroom. Of course, it does not bother my husband one little bit; he doesn’t even stir when it beeps.

Anyway, I am here to update you on one of my goals/aspirations for the New Year. I have ALREADY had friends over for dinner!

This is a big deal to me. You see, I like having people over to our house. I mean, in theory. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy being friendly. But man, in practiceI find it SUPER difficult.

First, even though I KNOW that it really doesn’t matter, I get all panicky about the state of my house. Is it clean enough? Is it tidy enough? Does our house smell funny? These worries send me into a cleaning frenzy prior to having someone over, which stresses me out. And I start thinking about all the projects that I want to complete – what about our horrible, mostly-destroyed ottoman? and our not-painted baseboards? and the missing kick panels on our kitchen cabinets? – and wondering if I should try to paint the fireplace before people come over and it’s ridiculous and makes me feel out of breath and frazzled.

And then there’s the food. I dither over the meal plan for weeks. (In this most recent case, we only invited people over a few days in advance, so I didn’t have to dither long.) Have I considered all their food restrictions/likes/dislikes? Have I come up with a balanced meal? No one ever seems to EAT salad if I make one, but does it need to be there to give the impression that I care about vegetables? Am I making enoughfood? (This is probably one of my biggest concerns.) Do I have a good variety of drink options?

It’s all ridiculous. When I go to someone else’s house for dinner, all I think about is whether there will be a tomato-free option. I don’t care whether they have Diet Coke or gin or a freaking salad. But for some reason, I am incapable of applying the same standards to myself. I am incapable of seeing my guests (whom I probably like! and likely think are good, easy-going, non-judgmental people!) as people who are more interested in hanging out with me and my husband than in eating a gourmet meal in an immaculate, newly-updated home.

I KNOW it is ridiculous.

And yet.

So we had this family over to dinner. We have wanted to invite them over for a long time; they’ve had us over twice, once for a playdate, once for a meal slash playdate, and it’s high time we reciprocated. And this past weekend, we were all free. I dithered only slightly over even inviting them, but I pressed forward.

I decided I would make chili, which is an easy, make-ahead type of meal (I don’t like having to cook while guests are here; it detracts from the socializing, plus people [nicely! thoughtfully!] want to help and I do not like that). But then almost immediately, I decided to make twokinds of chili – a spicy ground beef chili with a tomato base and a mild white chicken chili– both for sake of variety and in case our guests had differing spice tolerances and meat preferences. I cajoled my husband into making chocolate chip cookies. And then, to make life even more difficult on myself, I made guacamole and salsa, so we could have them (with chips) as appetizers. Before our guests arrives, I prepared a bunch of toppings for the chili (diced onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeno). The white chili was a crockpot option, so I started that early in the day. And the red chili tastes better the longer it cooks, so I started that a couple of hours before our guests arrived.

One of my biggest detractions from having people over is that my husband does not share my same level of preparation anxiety. You might think this would be a good thing, but so far in our marriage, it is not. This is not only because he does not understand how I feel in the days/hours leading up to having people over. It is because we clash on executing the actual preparations, and I end up doing (or at least feeling like I am doing) the bulk of the prep. And that makes me feel overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, frazzled, stressed, and put-upon. And frustrated and grouchy with my husband. Which is not really the mindset you want to have a fun, effervescent evening with friends.

I feel like I am being unfair, here, because my husband does not get a say on this blog. He cannot represent for you his own feelings, or catalog for you all the things he does to prepare. So please understand that you are getting a one-sided view of things.

On this particular day, I made a list of the things we needed to do before our guests arrived at four. We’d gone out the night before, and ended up sleeping in until NINE. Which put me immediately into a panic. My husband started out by saying that we had PLENTY of time, and so I tried to adopt that mindset and chill out a little. I gave him two projects: making the cookies (he’d made the dough the day before, so he just needed to bake the cookies) and making the white chili. And he had to get himself showered/dressed. He also wanted, separately, to go to a store and get something; I forget what, but it was on sale or something and he had to get it that day.

I unloaded the dishwasher while he made himself coffee. I made Carla’s breakfast while he made himself breakfast. I tidied up the kitchen table, which had become cluttered with Stuff. I asked him if he wanted me to dice the vegetables for the white chili and he said yes. I did that. I rinsed Carla’s breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I looked at the clock. The chili was supposed to be cooking for 6 hours, and we were nearing 11:00, so I just made the white chili myself. My husband went upstairs to do… I don’t know. Probably something very important and useful, like paying bills. (This sounds snarky but it is not meant to be; I am honestly trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.)I got Carla dressed. I had made the guacamole and salsa the previous day, so I started dicing and chopping the toppings for the chili while my husband made lunch. I made lunch for Carla and coaxed her into eating it. I cleaned up lunch. I went and took a shower. I came downstairs and noted that I was supposed to make a roux for the white chili, to thicken it. My husband said it wasn’t necessary. I looked at the clock and told my husband he needed to get going. (He and I have VERY different understandings of time.) He went and took a shower. I made the red chili. He left for his errand, which I extended because I wanted him to grab me some flowers for the dinner table. It was an hour and a half until four, when our guests were to arrive. I encouraged Carla to move her toys from the living room to her bedroom. I chopped more things. I realized that we didn’t have enough spoons for dinner, so I ran the dishwasher through a quick cycle. I dried my hair and put on makeup. I cleaned up the kitchen. I ran a load of dish towels. The white chili was very watery. My husband was still gone, so I texted him asking if I should do the roux. Carla was running around asking, every five minutes, when her friend would arrive. I worried about drinks; I didn’t know if this couple drinks alcohol, so I had brought home a six-pack of unobjectionable beer and I had a bottle of wine in the fridge just in case. I worried about the kids – Carla won’t eat chili, but my friend said her kids eat anything… but what if they don’t? I washed some berries and some cherry tomatoes. I texted my husband to also grab some La Croix and a box of macaroni and cheese at the store. I unloaded the dishwasher. My husband texted me pictures of flowers and I picked a bouquet for him to bring home. I put out the salsa, chips, and guacamole. I cleaned out the sink. I fretted over whether I needed to cut some vegetables to put out with the chips. I decided against it. My husband got home with about fifteen minutes to spare. I asked him to choose some music for people to listen to. He said he wanted to put the football game on. I asked him to put music on the Amazon Echo while the game was on mute. I cut and arranged the flowers. I asked about the roux again. My husband looked at the chili and agreed it was watery. He started the roux. I cleaned off the counter. This is the most boring catalog of menial tasks ever. I realized I had failed to brush my teeth at all that day, so I ran upstairs to brush them. Carla shrieked that her friend was here. I snapped at my husband to put some music on like I’d already asked him to. He whisked the roux while Carla and I opened the door and invited our friends in.

I felt like I was busy every single second. (Is this a NORMAL level of busy? Are other people this busy in the day leading up to their dinner for guests?) (I don’t think so. Sometimes we go to dinner at the house of friends who were out at the zoo all day or had a birthday party just prior to having us over or who just said goodbye to week-long houseguests the night before. I COULD NEVER DO THOSE THINGS. I need to have plenty of space between guests, first of all. And then I also need the WHOLE DAY to complete my anxious preparations.)

These most recent dinner guests are newish friends, so we don’t know them super well. So while I was chatting with them and munching on chips, I was worrying about whether they’d like the food, and whether it was weird that I’d planned for us to all sit down at the table together. And I was fretting about timing – I’d planned for the kids to play for an hour or two, and then we’d sit down to eat; but was that making them wait too long? How long would they want to stay? Should we set up Guitar Hero for them to play? Should I try to herd everyone into the living room?

Carla was at Excitement Level 8 Billion, which translated into lots of running and shrieking and leaping off furniture. So I was also fretting about whether I was being too restrictive of the kids or not restrictive enough. Was it okay that we kind of shuttled the kids into the basement and all the grown ups stayed upstairs? Would they have preferred if we interacted with the kids more?

They left fairly early (seven thirty?), which of course made me worry that they weren’t having fun. But… it also seems like a reasonable amount of time for people to stay? I don’t know.

And the wife helped me clean everything up which makes me very uncomfortable. But she was very swift and practiced at it, so I didn’t even really have a chance to protest.

I think the dinner went okay? We had plenty to talk about, people ate the food, the kids had a raucous time which I think likely translates into fun. But man.

I really need to find some way to make it less stressful.

Some people think the way to make it less stressful is to not stress about it  but that is really terrible advice coming, I suspect, from people like my husband who are naturally low-stress people. I cannot help it. My mind begins whirring and if I don’t address the whirring it grows louder until it drowns out all other functions.

Some people might think I should just do it more often. But the anxiety around hosting happens even with people who come over ALL THE TIME – like my parents and in-laws, who come over several times a year between them, and with family friends that we have over for dinner four or five times a year or so (we swap houses every couple of months, so they are hosting us just as often). I am telling you, IT DOES NOT GET EASIER WITH PRACTICE. (The only thing that gets easier is that I worry less about the state of my home with frequent guests, because they have already seen it.)

The techniques I’ve tried, with, as you see, little success are:

  • Make things as simple as possible. (I need to work on keepingthem as simple as possible.)
  • Do as many things in advance as possible.
  • Enlist family members to help – and assign them specific tasks. (Possibly I need to also assign specific times, too.)
  • Try to only address things that are reasonable to address (i.e. NOT painting my fireplace).
  • Remind myself over and over that as a guest at other people’s homes, I don’t care about half the things I worry about people caring about.

We met a new couple a few weeks ago and I promptly asked the wife for her number so I could ask them to dinner and then actually followed up. They are coming for dinner in a few weeks. Which gives me AMPLE TIME to stress…. Or to come up with some real techniques for NOT stressing.

What do you do, to ensure that you are low-stress when you have guests over? What are your techniques for keeping things simple and fun? Should I just never invite people over again? That last one seems good, except for the dinner that’s already on the books. And I might as well TRY to overcome this Preparation Anxiety, because I inevitably start wishing I could throw a dinner party or something. WHY DOES MY BRAIN HAVE TO BE THE WAY THAT IT IS?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

This is the first year that we’ll have Christmas just the three of us. I am rather enjoying the quiet coziness of it all. We are all still in pajamas. There is lots of lounging going on. I tried to win Carla over to the joys of Home Alone, but it turns out it’s a bit old for her yet. Elf is on the agenda for later. My only job today – aside from copious cuddling, and perhaps finishing my book – is to make some rolls for dinner Friday; I will freeze them after I make them.

Family arrives on the 26th. We are not doing a special dinner because we will all have already had a big Christmas supper the night before. Thursday we go out to celebrate a birthday. And Saturday half of the family leaves, so the rest of us will either get take out or munch on leftovers. Sunday, the rest of the family leaves, which means that I will probably head to the store or scrape together some sort of Franken-meal from what we have on hand.

Still! There are meals to plan and make, so the post will go up!

Dinners (and Assorted Other Meals) for the Week of December 24-December 29

Christmas Eve: Avgolemono from America’s Test Kitchen (paywall)

Note: We have never eaten this before, much less tried to make it. I admit that I am deeply suspicious of a soup with egg in it, as I am no fan of eggs. But neither of us much wanted to make Mulligatawny soup, which was my Christmas Eve tradition growing up, and it would be fun to have our own soup tradition. We’ll see. It may end up that my husband eats it and Carla and I eat bagels or chicken nuggets. I mean, Carla has never once eaten soup as it is, so I’m not holding out much hope that tonight will be the night.

Follow up: This was NOT good. I can’t pinpoint why; maybe because it tasted heavily of chicken? Maybe because the lemony egg mixture you add to the soup gave the whole thing an unpleasant lemon-curd-with-chicken taste? In any case, I am not a fan. Even my husband, who eats pretty much anything, could not give this a thumbs up. I made a few of the rolls I prepared and ended up turning one into an impromptu pepperoni sandwich for my Christmas Eve meal.

Christmas Day:

Note: Neither of us has ever made a frittata. And, let’s be honest, it’s really for my breakfast-loving husband’s benefit. I don’t really like breakfast food, so I tend to defer to him. Usually for Christmas Day breakfast we make the Pioneer Woman’s overnight French toast. Last year we also made a savory strata. But that’s when there are more people at the breakfast table than the three of us. Carla will eat the sweet stuff, but nothing savory. So probably we’ll end up making her pancakes as per usual and my husband will end up eating most of the frittata and we’ll come up with something else for next year.

Follow up: This was delicious! I don’t normally like eggs, but this was very egg-light, with plenty of other tasty things. Our only complaint was that it seemed very salty. My husband and I agreed that next time we make it, we’ll add an extra potato, reduce the salt by at least 2/3s, and decrease the amount of bacon.

Note: Carla sometimes eats steak, so we are hoping that she’ll at least have a few bites of this Christmas dinner. When I grew up, our family tradition for Christmas dinner was a porterhouse spice roast, homemade Caesar salad, and lemony steamed broccoli. I LOVE that dinner. But a porterhouse roast seems overly ambitious for a group of three. Also, no one makes Caesar dressing like my dad, so I don’t really even want to try. Instead, we got a baby tenderloin and some mushrooms and we’ll be trying a new recipe. Who knows? Maybe it will become a family favorite!

Follow up: The beef tenderloin was wonderful — and super easy! You just smear it with some mustard and herbs and throw it in the oven. It cooks low and slow for a long time and then it is perfectly cooked and butter tender. We will definitely do this again. My mom’s mashed potatoes were, of course, amazing. And we ended up skipping anything green because we couldn’t agree on how to cook the beans.

Note: My husband loves dessert, and he is always super interested in the desserts featured on the Great British Baking Show. So we are trying a British-style dessert this year, just for fun.

Follow up: THIS WAS SO GOOD.

Wednesday:

  • Brunch: Bagels & Lox

Note: With cream cheese, capers, lemons, and onions. And fruit for the kiddos.

Note: Someone at my husband’s office has brought in this cranberry salsa a few times, and my husband is in love with it. I am deeply suspicious but I’m willing to try it.

Follow up: This was actually quite delicious! It’s super weird — a combo of flavors that don’t seem like they would work. But they DO and I found myself unable to stop. We ate this with Stacy’s pita chips, which are delicious in and of themselves.

  • Dinner: Tacos

Note: Easy and delicious. So what if it’s not typical Christmas fare? (For us. I don’t know your magical taco-eating life.) If my mother-in-law and husband hadn’t insisted on simplicity over fanciness, I would have made this pork roast from Food & Wine and possibly Ina Garten’s chocolate creme brûlée. Well, there’s always next time.

Thursday:

  • Breakfast: Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, leftover frittata – whatever we can scrape together.
  • Lunch: Cold cuts and leftover smoked salmon
  • Dinner: Out

Friday:

Note: The BBQ pork is one of my all-time favorite SUPER EASY recipes. I throw a pork tenderloin, a roughly chopped white onion, and a minced garlic clove or two in the crockpot, then douse with my favorite BBQ sauce and a few healthy squeezes of Sriracha. Cook for 4 hours, shred, and eat. I eat my pork with a potato (which I liberally drench in sauce), but my husband prefers making little sandwiches, hence the rolls and coleslaw.

Follow up: The dinner rolls were easy to make and froze nicely. But they are NOT Parker House rolls, which is kind of what I was expecting. They are denser and… squishier than I anticipated. Still good though. Would definitely make these again.

Saturday:

  • This is where I completely give up on the pretense of cooking, not that I’ve been doing much of it. I can promise I’ll have been doing a lot of dishes anyway.

Follow up: Three loads of dishes EVERY DAY our guests were here. How is that even possible…?

Sunday:

  • Takeout????

If you’re bored this Christmas week, let me know what your traditional Holiday Meals include.

It’s beginning to snow – hooray! Happiest Christmas, Internet!

IMG_2504.jpg

Read Full Post »

It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

Read Full Post »

The other day my mind was wandering from topic to topic as minds do, and somehow ended up back in summer of 2000 when I decided I was destined to become a lawyer and my mother (a lawyer) decided that I needed some intervention more data points. So she sent me to California to spend some time with my aunt and uncle (both lawyers) to get a sense of whether or not it was the right field for me.

While I was there – touring their offices and going to court with my aunt’s brother (uncle in-law?) – I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house in Beverly Hills. The guest room turned out to serve double duty as a TV-watching room for my three cousins. I have no idea how old they were at the time; whatever ages are known for Peak Rambunctiousness. But I remember very clearly that it caused me a great deal of angst to have them eating snacks and jumping around on my bed.

I am a very private person with a strong sense of personal boundaries, not to mention an introvert who needs – NEEDS – time alone to recover and recharge. And being around virtual strangers all day, learning about The Law in It’s Various Forms (my aunt did some sort of real estate law, my uncle did tax law, my uncle-in-law did litigation – I think; it didn’t really stick; clearly The Law was not my jam), away from home/college/familiar territory and routines meant that I was in severe need of my own space. So trying to grab a few minutes alone in my room, only to be bombarded by three noisy humans clambering all over one another was not especially fun. Not to mention feeling like my sheets would be full of goldfish crumbs or whatever they were snacking on/throwing at each other. Blech.

That experience really defined for me one of my personal Key Principles of Hosting: that your guest should have his/her own space. If I have a guest over, I will not for any reason go into the guest room. This is simple, because our guest room really has no purpose outside of baby clothing repository clean laundry dumping ground Guest Room. On the rare occasions during which we have guests, I want them to feel like they truly have a place to call their own.

(Sidebar: Other people don’t feel this way, I acknowledge. I have been a guest in a home where the guest room has a Working Closet, and the hostess feels comfortable coming in to retrieve clothing from that closet whenever she needs to. Which I get! It is her house! But it still makes me uncomfortable. [However, I also come from a place of not wanting people to be in my bedroom EVER, and this woman is comfortable popping into my bedroom to look in the full-length mirror or to borrow my hairdryer from my personal bathroom without asking.] [There is a hairdryer IN THE GUEST BATHROOM!] [Also, many people BRING THEIR OWN HAIRDRYERS when they travel!!!] [People have different comfort levels and different boundaries and different expectations.] [My blood pressure is rising. Kittens. Birds bathing in puddles. Gentle rain. Babies sleeping with their rears in the air.])

The problem is that we have two bathrooms. I mean, this is great, right? One bathroom for me and my husband, one for our guest. But… the non-master bathroom is Carla’s bathroom.

When we have guests, I have tried to be conscious of the Shared Bathroom issue. Instead of leaving Carla’s foam letters and numbers all over the tub as we do on a normal night, I would put them away in the closet. But our guests were still sharing a bathroom with her.

And maybe that’s… not in line with my Hosting Philosophy? Maybe we should have Carla share OUR bathroom the next time guests stay here (which, at the rate we host people, could be in five years)?

I guess this question just popped out at me when I was thinking back with such displeasure at having to share my bedroom with my cousins. Have I been making guests feel uncomfortable by having them share a bathroom with Carla?

Of course, it probably depends a great deal on the guest. But I think if it were ME, staying at someone else’s house, I would want my own space.

This is why I plan to mainly stay at hotels. But the topic of hotels is a whole different post. (Sometimes it is not practical. At my parents’ house, for instance, where the nearest hotel is many miles away. Or at my in-laws’ house, where they have an entire separate WING for guests and the nearest hotel costs $500 a night.)

I would be very interested in how other people approach hosting and guesting. Where do you stow guests at your house? What’s the bathroom situation like? What kind of expectations do YOU have for your situation when you stay with someone else?

And I have Strong Feelings about other aspects of hosting/guesting, but for now I am trying to stick very closely to Issues of Personal Space.

Sigh. I feel like I should qualify things – like I need to say, “Of course, I know this all sounds spoiled and picky! And if someone is kind enough to open her home to me, I should be gracious and grateful for whatever the accommodations are!” And YES. Of COURSE. My dear friend Ilse has invited me and Carla and my husband to her house this summer, and we are going. But Ilse has no guest room, so we’d end up either displacing one of her daughters or on the floor of the living room, and there’s only one bathroom. That situation would make me so uncomfortable, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. So we already have our hotel BOOKED.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that MY hosting/guesting philosophies are purely a result of MY personality. And I am DEEPLY INTERESTED in how other types of people see and handle the same kinds of situations.

Read Full Post »