It’s been a long time friends. But, I’ve been busy! There have been books and Endow studies and a whole lot of Instagram posts, which are faster and easier to write than blog posts when you only have one free hand and a ginormous toddler sleeping on you. One day, when I have both hands back, I hope to return to writing more in this little corner of the Internet. But, I’m kind of hoping that will be a while! We’re in the process of trying for a second adoption—hopefully a more peaceful process than last time around, but that’s up to God. I did want to pop on here, though, and let my non-Instagram/Facebook followers know about my newest project, an e-cookbook and essay collection, called Around the Catholic Table: 77 Recipes for Easy Hospitality and Everyday Dinners, which I wrote for a very special cause.
Let’s talk housekeeping. Not ordinary housekeeping. Not “Do the Laundry on Wednesday and Clean the Bathrooms on Fridays” housekeeping. But, rather, “Friends are Coming Over Tonight, and We Need to Get the House Ready” housekeeping. What exactly, in that scenario does “get the house ready” mean?
This is an important question, because how you answer it determines: 1) How free you feel to have people over; and 2) How crazy you make yourself and everyone in your household prior to your guests’ arrival.Continue reading
I hosted the first party in my Steubenville home on January 2, 2005. I’d only closed on the house a few hours before, but that didn’t stop me from calling up a half-dozen friends and inviting them to join me for dinner. We ordered Chinese, laid out a blanket on the floor of the empty living room, and ate off paper plates. It was a glorious evening.
I hosted my last party in my Steubenville home this past Friday night. There were too many of us to sit around the table, so we ate in the living room this time too. Only, there’s furniture there now. Life has gotten more comfortable over the past 12 years. The food has gotten better too. For the occasion (introducing my home’s soon-to-be-new-owners to some of my closest friends), I cooked one of my fanciest and easiest pasta dishes. Guests sipped martinis, and we all ate off my pretty English china. It also was a glorious evening, albeit with a touch of melancholy.
Twelve years ago, when we ate Chinese on the living room floor, there was the promise of more parties to come. On Friday, the promise was gone. In its place, however, was gratitude for parties past.
There was gratitude for Thursday Night Dinners—my once weekly dinner parties where children ran wild through the house and dozens of grown-ups found seats wherever there they could—sofas and chairs, basement floors, front porch railings, and garden beds.
Once upon a time, I had visions of Advent activities dancing through my head— visions of Jesse Trees, sweet little wreaths hung from dining room chandeliers, and rows of tiny shoes left out by the fireside for Saint Nicholas to fill. Those visions, however, went hand in hand with visions of a house overflowing with babies. Since the latter visions haven’t come to pass, neither have the former.
As most single Catholic woman will tell you, come Advent, it’s easy to feel left out in the cold. So many of the Church’s loveliest traditions for the domestic church are traditions best enjoyed in the company of children. Or at least another person. So, what’s a liturgically minded gal to do?
Borrow other people’s children, of course.
This is a story about a table. It begins, in the early years of the twentieth century, when a young immigrant couple from Czechoslovakia bought a home in the Duquesne neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The neighborhood was a bustling one then, filled with Catholics from around the world. For six days, the men worked in the steel mills, and on the seventh, they donned their Sunday best to walk with their families to one of Duquesne’s three Catholic churches.
The young Czechoslovakian couple was no different. Their life revolved around the mill, their parish, and their neighborhood. It also revolved around their boys—all five of them. Early in their marriage, recognizing they’d need some place to feed the growing brood, the couple took more than a few of their pennies out of savings and used them to purchase a dining room set made in Lenoir, North Carolina. On the bottom of the chairs, paper tags proclaimed the date they left the wood shop: March 1916. The dining set was beautiful, grand even, far grander than the working class home to which it went. But, it was meant for a grand and noble purpose—to be the locus not just for daily meals of halushki and peroghi, but also for daily conversations, for homework and story telling, family prayers and birthday celebrations, schooling little ones in the virtues and handing on the traditions of their homeland. It was, in a sense, made to be an altar, an altar upon which the sacrament of family life unfolded.
Everyone’s got one: The friend who’s gone Paleo. The son-in-law who won’t touch animal products. The co-worker who swore off nightshade vegetables, canola oil, and foods that start with the letter “B.”
Feeding any one of those people can be a challenge—especially when you have no idea what qualifies as a “nightshade vegetable.” Feeding all three of them together, at a dinner party, is enough to make any sane person swear off entertaining for good.
It didn’t use to be this way. Once upon a time—like five years ago—you could invite a gaggle of friends over for dinner and feel reasonably certain they would all eat the spaghetti and meatballs you put before them. Back then, throwing a dinner party in no way resembled an episode of Iron Chef. Now, it does.
In 2015, at the ripe old age of 39, I have a fancy new stove, a pretty little kitchen, and grown up dinner plates to match. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make the most of those things. But it hasn’t always been this way.
The first two years I lived in my house, I cooked dinner for 20-plus people every week in a kitchen that bore more than a passing resemblance to a crack den. The walls were nothing but bare, unpainted, crumbling concrete. The floor was covered in filth that I couldn’t wash off. Only one side of the sink worked. And from there, it got worse.
Here are some not so pretty detail shots for you.
As for the meals, they were good, but simple. I mean, you try cooking fancy food for 20 people on a decades-old range with only three working burners and an absolute inability to reach an internal temperature higher than 350 degrees. Not surprisingly, we ate mostly soup and pasta.
If Pinterest were to be believed, not a single person should have shown up for those dinner parties. There were no quail eggs laced with truffle oil. People didn’t dine off china plates that I hand-painted myself. No crafty mason jar chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Mostly, there was just construction dust. And a lot of it.
Yet those 20-plus people kept coming back week after week. They didn’t care that the city probably should have condemned my kitchen. Or that none of my silverware and plates matched. All they cared about was that at my home they felt known and loved. The food helped…but really, it was just an excuse to bring people together. It was the means. It wasn’t the end.
Although, admittedly, it was a pretty tasty means.