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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Trying to Create a Dinner Party Renaissance

Dinner party.

The term brings up images of "Mad Men" - sport coats, cocktails and well set tables.

I love dinner parties sans all the above... well, I do enjoy a good cocktail.

About 8 years ago I had tried to get into the habit of "having people over for dinner"-- I would invite an mix of people that I knew and serve something really simple.  It would look far more impressive because most people don't cook apparently.  And the nights would be fun.  More than a few times my "mix" of people inspired great conversations.  And a couple times, well, the descriptor was more uncomfortable.

What I always took away from these parties-- or more get together than party- was that people enjoyed them.  It was more relaxed than going to a restaurant.  No rush, no pressure.  The focus was the conversation-- you could hear each other speak. 

As hosts, it was easy to put together and we had a system to clean up quickly.  Well the system is my husband does it while I serve dessert, but it IS a system.  I always joke that I make dinner every night so it's really not a big deal to throw on a few more servings.  Because, no joke, it's true.

At the end of the night people usually left smiling and saying how we needed to do it again.

After I had my daughter, we stopped having them regularly then it seemed like they stopped entirely.

So last Saturday we had some friends over.  People that we enjoy.  Of different ages, different walks of life-- good stuff!!  The common theme was that they were all amazing activists.  Or as I like to say - people who get shit done while everyone else bitches about it.

The kids helped set up.  They met everyone.  They were excited to see the people-- they had met everyone at some point and were trying to put together the guest list from what they remembered. 

My cooking was a little off- I decided to grill and didn't plan it well, but I think it all turned out okay.  The wine and dessert that everyone brought were fantastic.

We drank a little wine in the kitchen while we finished the final touches, the conversation flowed.  We laughed, we joked.  We discussed serious issues. The young ones-- in their 20s-- I don't think were sure what to expect-- it was cute.  I'm not hip (they are) and I love that these amazing young people would choose to spend an evening with me and the hubby.

We sat down, ate, conversed, laughed and laughed some more.  My kids popped in with their commentaries from time to time.

It wasn't rushed.  It was pressured.  It was just some friends sitting around having a meal.  Because again, I'd be doing it anyhow.  Might as well invite some friends over.

We all have inside jokes now that include the phrases the perfect Hanukkah gifts, El Toro and Salsa de Manzana.  Inside jokes that we will all laugh at at stuffy black tie functions for years to come.

We all learned a little bit more about each other.  Everyone already knew each other, so it was nice to get the one step closer to really knowing each other.

One of my favorite things when we have friends over-- and was definitely the case last Saturday- is when my kids hang out at the top of the stairs listening.  Not because I want them to hear us talking, but because I want them to see that we have friends and interests apart from them.  We are not just Mom and Dad but rather Shane and Lori.  I want them to see that friendships-- old and new-- are important.  I want them to know that you can always learn something, no matter your age. I want them to know that life is meant to be enjoyed not endured-- because we sometimes can get bogged down in the day to day aspects of life that we forget to really relax and have fun.  I want them to see that people still talk and connect.  It's not all texting and Facebooking.

It was nice. 

So the next time your friends say "Hey, let's get together" don't schedule a dinner out that is going to be part of a rushed day- plan a simple dinner (I recommend roasting something-- far easier), have them bring a bottle of wine, a nice dessert and just come hang out. Don't plan it weeks into the future, either because it will never work.  Don't pick "sometime" pick next week.  And don't make it a stressful Martha Stewart Perfect Party.  Make it a Mama Bean Meal- place cards and centerpieces and courses aren't why people come- they come for the connection.

We'll be doing it more often.  Because it was fun.  Because slowing down and talking is important.  Because my friends are incredibly important to me-- I learn so much from them and I have so much respect for them.  Because I like an excuse to cook.  Because I like an excuse to have some wine... okay, any day that ends in "y" works... but you know what I mean. 

Someday when I'm old (which will always be a few days after tomorrow since I've decided to not get old), I will look back and remember my friends and the fun we've had.  I won't remember the computer crashing, the lost library book, the run in my tights.. because they don't matter.  The laughter around the table did.

My old roommate posted the best compliment I've ever received.  He wrote on a comment on one of my wedding pictures "Why is that whenever I think of you, I always remember laughing?"

Call some friends.  Invite them over.  Don't wait.  Don't overthink it. 

A meatloaf shared amongst friends is so much more than a meatloaf.

Eat.  Drink.  Laugh.

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