When I think of food & community, I think back to all the past times I’ve personally hosted family and friends, mostly for dinner gatherings. The end result was usually great for me, and hopefully for my guests as well. But the preparation was hard. I’m a high-strung, type-A girl that loves to be prepared for everything. Enough food, enough drinks, enough plates, enough chairs. The “perfect” menu. The “perfect” presentation. While preparation helped of course, I can think of a million details I didn’t need to stress over. I could have let people bring more and do more, while I could have done less.
My favorite memories include many family members and friends stuffed into the living room of my tiny 1-bedroom apartment. Usually I was tired by the time my guests started to arrive. You see, I had (and still have) 2 adorable cats that love to be everywhere (kitchen counters and dining room tables included) and in everything (platters of food, bowls of punch, you name it). So preparation for a party usually meant dragging their kitty equipment into my bedroom and locking them in until my last cat-allergy friend said goodbye for the night. After locking my faithful companions away, I set about cleaning up every possible piece of cat hair. Impossible? Yes. Necessary? Also yes. I feel much better with my furry friends far away from the kitchen anyway, but the pressure of hosting allergic guests usually doubled my stress levels.
It addition to all that, I had to deal with my usual worries about the possibility of giving my guests food poisoning. I triple checked expiration dates, made sure my cutting boards and knives rinsed regularly, and kept raw meat far away from all the other ingredients. Oh yea, and let’s not forget washing my hands approximately 1,000 times. The meat thermometer became my best friend. Seriously.
As you can probably guess, once my apartment was spotless and the (properly cooked) food was set up, I usually felt ready to call it a night!
Instead, I threw on my best hostess face and tended to my guests. Did I want everyone to come over? Yes. Could I have taken it easier on myself? Yes, I know better now. After reading about Shauna’s gatherings, I believe the only requirement is to just be together. A meal just means time spent together, whether it’s over pizza and soda or steaks with fancy side dishes and wine. I usually provided the food while my guests brought their own already prepared items or store-bought treats. But now I’m wondering how much more fun it would have been to have everyone preparing foods in my kitchen, making a lovely mess together, to have loved ones be that familiar with the workings of my kitchen.
All this said, during future gatherings I’m sure it will be scary for me to give up control and just let things happen, let people be that comfortable in my home. But hopefully I remember that spending time eating with loved ones is special enough, no matter what issues arise. The fridge will always make more ice, a pizza place will be open in case food runs out. The important thing is bonding and making memories.