When I think about hospitality, what it is, what it requires, I think about holiday dinners at my parents’ house. It seems, obvious, I know, to wax nostalgic about Midwestern childhood dishes and their inevitable companions (ice! Fireplaces! Piles of leaves and hot apple cider!), but this is not one of those posts.
My parents always hosted the extended family Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in Oklahoma. As soon as you can hold a spoon, you’re old enough to contribute, whether constructing the relish tray, or mashing the potatoes while the Macy’s parade trundles through its menagerie of marching bands and Snoopy balloons.
After I went away to college in Central New York, it made more sense for me to spend Thanksgiving with family on the East coast, and as the holiday drew close during my freshman year, I fielded many phone calls from my father. His voice raised to a nervous octave when considering the many ways a turkey could go wrong; cooked to sawdust, undercooked and marinating on the table like a salmonella time bomb. I suggested that he “leave it to the professionals” and order the turkey from a local restaurant.
Little did I know, then, that I was creating the truck– well, turkey– that would run me over…
It began with ordering just the Turkey from Ingrid’s Kitchen (www.ingridskitchen.com) at Thanksgiving. By the time I arrived for Christmas break, we were outsourcing the turkey, the gravy (it’s only natural that bird and gravy should come from the same place), the mashed potatoes, and two pies (because where can you find a good mincemeat pie anymore?).
There is certainly an air of camaraderie, milling around Ingrid’s wooden tabled dining room, steaming up the windows with other celebrants in the early morning hours of November 25th. By now, my father has been doing this for 10 years, so the woman behind the counter smiles and adds “I saved the best mincemeat pie for you!”, because she knows it is his favorite.
Tucking this bounty in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler, though, feels slightly… off. I should be relieved that the brunt of the cooking can be checked off the list, but I can’t shake the idea that something has been lost.
I want to pull out the silver serving ware from it’s buttery wooden chest, to select one of the Good China sets that have permanent residency in the china press in the dining room, shake out the tablecloths, polish the crystal stemware, set my sister to working out an elegant napkin fold… All this while the turkey roasts low and slow, and the cranberries burble and pop on the gas range.
In it’s truest form, that is hospitality. It allows us to be our best self; the self who foraged for the sweetest smelling Gala apples, who discovered This Perfectly Curved Glass to bring out the bouquet of the wine, measured the time and the flour, the self who passed over myriad other options to present to her guests the Best Things. Seeing someone else delight in those things—the plate simply arranged, the filigree of baby birds in the china pattern, the faint scent of cinnamon lingering in the air after the pie comes out of the oven—is intoxicating. Hospitality is knowing what is good and making a meal out of others’ enjoyment, whether it is a holiday dinner, or another night of service at the restaurant.
So, in this blog, I endeavor to unpack all those elements of hospitality from discovering the best food, wine, and venues to share with others, to being a great hostess, a good guest, and all around Enjoyer of Things.
Working in restaurants over the past five years, I have become one of the “professionals,” I advised my father to seek assistance from. To my friends in Los Angeles I am a considerable cook and hostess, but as is the struggle of one’s 20’s, my credentials are revoked once I am back home.
The holidays are mere weeks away, and I will be going back home, where my father will order the turkey from Ingrid’s, and probably a pie or two. So I’ll just have to find some other inspirational item to go alongside… something like slow roasted ribs and the perfect bottle of wine…