Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring

Spring has (finally) begun to show its face here in the mountains.  If you measure a winter based on snowfall, like skiers tend to do, we’ve had a good year.  Our visitors, like the weather, were just as forecasted.  Over the last 17 weeks, we entertained a total of 19 guests for an average of 3 days each.  We only ate dinner out twice.  If you’re doing the math with me, it means that we served 24 dinners plus enough breakfasts and lunches to keep everyone fed.  While there were moments when it felt like all we were doing was flipping beds, what we really got out of it were countless memories that, according to a well-known ad campaign, are priceless.

The question we always get is, how do you do it?  Here’s a glimpse into our Entertaining 101 Battle Plan.  It’s all pretty basic stuff and can be applied to most entertaining situations, whether it’s a dinner party for 8 or, as in our case, a house full of guests for the weekend.  

First, we come up with a plan.  I make a meal plan for each round of visitors.  For repeat visitors, I use my guest/meal diary to see what we served them before so that we don’t serve the same meals again, unless of course they request it.  For first time guests, I check with each one to make sure we are aware of any food restrictions.  (And there were some.  With one round of guests, salmon and beef were both off the table — pun intended — because of various dislikes and convictions.) 

Then, we get realistic.  I look at the calendar and get a good, and honest, sense of how much prep time we’ll have between visitors and how much time we realistically can spend preparing for each meal while people are here.  Unlike a dinner party, where guests arrive just before dinner is served and you can do much of the prep ahead of time, when guests are in your house all weekend you are doing the prep with an audience.  And contrary to what it feels like at times, we aren’t running a bed and breakfast.  We are hosting friends and family and want to enjoy their company rather than spend all day in the kitchen preparing for a meal.

Since I don’t ever want us to be those crazy host people, we stick with simple and basic.  Basic for us is something we’ve made before, because it requires less concentration and creates less stress for us.  Truly, one of the nice things about having a new set of guests show up every few days is we can repeat menus.  The Smiths don’t know that we served the same thing to the Jones’ last week.  I experiment with new recipes when time, and personalities, permit.  The beef stroganoff was one of our experiments and I’m happy to report it’s now a great addition to our list of favorite things to make and serve.  But for the most part, we rely on our tried and true favorites.

After the meal plans are complete, each week I put together shopping lists of what we’ll need.  We make sure the bar and wine cellar are stocked.  Then we make the house guest-ready.  We fluff the pillows.  We stock each bathroom with toiletries and clean towels.  We clean toilets, because apparently Mom was right:  Toilets do not clean themselves.  When guests are coming, we don’t usually get too carried away with a manic cleaning routine.  But I do think bathrooms should be clean.  It’s one place where one may sit, or stand, for a minute or so and anything other than clean might be noticed.  And we usually chase away the dust bunnies as well.  At least the obvious ones that move when someone walks by.  

While this winter has provided more fond memories than can be recounted here, from an entertaining perspective, one of my favorite moments was when we served Caesar salad with poached eggs.  This is a favorite with guests, and while not a complicated recipe, there are several things that need to happen as the salad is assembled (bread has to be toasted, eggs have to be poached, lettuce has to be tossed with the dressing, cheese has to be grated), so there’s a lot of last minute work that goes into them.  Normally I’m happiest when my kitchen isn’t crowded with well-meaning guests who want to help, but in this case, I loved (and needed) the help.  The scene was something out of a friends movie with lettuce flying, music playing, and several of us carefully working our own piece of the salad.  I guess what they say is true.  Food really does bring people together.

Some samples of what we served over the last few weeks:

Mac and Cheese
Marinated Flank Steak
Chicken Potpies
Beef Stroganoff

Happy entertaining!

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