Chill Before Serving
I recently caught part of a TV talk show hosted by a famous, down-to-earth, perky chef. Given that cooking ranks only slightly higher than oral surgery in activities I enjoy, I don't routinely watch this show. Her guests were a famous Italian chef and an Academy Award nominated actress. What I learned, other than it is good to drizzle olive oil over everything and have sous-chefs cut up all the ingredients for you, is that how you entertain should reflect how you live rather than how other people live, or how you think other people live. If you love formal china and silver serving pieces, use those with guests. If, on the other hand, you're like me and don't own fancy china or "good silver" (is there "bad silver?"), then that is a-ok, too. There is no need to impress your dinner guests by being anyone other than who you are. Wine isn't the only thing that needs to chill before guests arrive. (Ask me about my 1979 Christmas dinner incident if you want to know what can go wrong when you entertain to impress.)
What is true for entertaining is true for the rest of our lives, too. The talk show host, as it turns out, is friends with the famous Italian chef and has eaten dinner at his home. What did he serve her? Lasagna! Of all the fancy dishes he makes, he chose a yummy, down home recipe. Sure, his lasagna may taste a bit better than mine (I minimize chopping and dicing), but this isn't about taste, it's about being true to ones style. Given that he wore shorts and bright orange Crocs with socks on TV, I'd say his lasagna reflected his way of being.
The Academy Award nominated actress, who always looks gorgeous on red carpets, was dressed simply in jeans and a cute t-shirt on the talk show. As an amateur interior designer, her role was to set a festive table using easy to acquire, inexpensive decor. She succeeded. When an audience member asked her how to use place cards that aren't stuffy, this actress suggested, without missing a beat, that the questioner's kids make them out of index cards or construction paper. She thinks guests would be charmed by the effort, putting smiles on invitees' faces. What could be better than charm and smiles? Apparently this actress leads a very casual lifestyle during the 99.9% of the time she is not attending a movie premier or awards show, and her entertaining style reflects that.
The moral of the story is, as it always is, be true to yourself because [drum roll] that is all you can be. You can admire other styles of entertaining without feeling compelled to copy them. As much as I marvel at the way my dear friend entertains with her beautiful china, silver serving pieces and white lace placemats, that is not me. It is her, however, so in being true to herself, her dinner parties are always fun and interesting. My guest dishes... oh, who am I kidding, I don't have "good" dishes. My everyday dishes are just that--used every day. That one piece of information alone reflects my style.
Wanting to present your best self is healthy, showing you take pride in yourself and your environment. Problems arise when we feel we have to create a persona that is "better" than our best, as if we are fundamentally flawed. The irony is that those around us, including our dinner guests, relax more and have a much better time when we chill. The best and easiest way to create a warm, welcoming climate is to be who we do best: ourselves.
As soon as I finish writing this, I am going to make my shopping list for all the ingredients I need for my lasagna. It will be different from the famous chef's, but yummy nonetheless. Happy eating and authentic living to all. Buon appetito!