In the fall of 2010, Rachel from Balance and Blueberries and I set out on a mission to cook 101 recipes in 1001 days. Then I moved, started a new job, met Mark, finished grad school, planned a wedding, quit my job, got married, and started freelancing full time.
Rachel has experienced basically all of the same life events in pretty much the same window of time. She also quit her job, moved, started a new one, married a great guy (who happens to ALSO be an engineer) 8 months before our wedding, and started freelancing full time.
She is just a miracle worker and so, in that same amount of time, also managed to finish her 101 in 1001 recipe list while I abandoned mine. She crossed the finish line this week, hitting 101 recipes, and her accomplishment has inspired me to think about trying again.
I realized, the other day, that, although I cook all of the time, very few of my recipes are written down on this blog. This is, in part, probably because I consider few of them particularly unique. I use a lot of recipes from Bona Vita (my mom who happens to be a pretty amazing in the kitchen) and Epicurious, tweaking and experimenting a bit with each, but not creating anything particularly new.
I realize though, that most recipes in this life are a twist on someone else’s idea. The unique magic in the kitchen happens not in the execution of one recipe, but around the recipe, as you combine it, dish it,serve it, and build a story around it, turning someone else’s recipe into a memory of your own.
Mark and I love to have friends over for dinner. I plan the menu, he tells funny stories, I serve the food, he helps out with the dishes. It’s a pretty good deal.
Entertaining can be scary though. There’s a difference between following one recipe and building an entire meal. It’s a little like performing and there is an intimidating void between one recipe and an entire meal served in your personal space to a bunch of expectant, hungry guests.
The barriers between you and hosting are many. The kitchen is small, the dining room table is covered with papers from grad school (or maybe there is no table), schedules are full, and the living room is crowded (or maybe you live in a studio and the living room is filled with a bed).
The void is so intimidating that, in fact, many people simply forego the entertainment part and either never entertain at all, stick to only having very good friends over (who will overlook an imperfect or simple meal on paper plates), or just meet up at a restaurant.
And a good restaurant has its charm. But the satisfaction of entertaining people in your home is unmatchable. In my circles, we talk a lot about building community, how it’s done and where and why.
Around a table, community is built with stronger, better ties than anywhere else. Over a meal in your home, strangers become friends, ties with acquaintances will grow stronger, and beautiful memories can be made. An anticipated dinner on the calendar is a story waiting to be written.
Our living space is small too. (We share a kitchen with three other guys. And sometimes with their girlfriends. And almost all of us like to cook.) Our dining room doubles as a bike room. I don’t own a tablecloth yet because, for crying out loud, I just figured out how to choose a shower curtain.
But you don’t need a perfect space or a flawlessly executed recipe to entertain. You just need some friends or acquaintances, some ingredients, a dash of color, and a bit of courage.
I realize that I need to be braver about entertaining. Entertaining is an art and an art only gets better with practice, so I’m setting out on a new journey.
I am setting a new goal of 101 meals. 101 meals around our table, 101 evenings of conversation and friendship, 101 chances to make something beautiful.
A culture of food and dining and community can only be built around our tables if our tables are open to the ones we love and the ones we would like to know.
Will you join me?