Monday, August 9, 2010

Hostess Guilt and Evolution

I remember the first time I hosted a dinner party in my current apartment. There were hors d'oeuvres with homemade munchies, an appetizer course with little plates/bowls (I forget what I made), a main with two sides, and homemade dessert.  Nice wineglasses, candles, etc. 

Even writing that makes me tired.  I had a great time and I loved hosting, but part of me felt like doing all that was my duty, and if I didn't, I would be a bad hostess.  Over the years, I have pared down the dinner party details for several reasons.  

1. Obviously, less work to prepare and set up.

2. A multi-course meal made me feel too formal, and if I'm getting together with friends I don't feel the need to be that formal.  Sure I can have as much food, but just serve it all at the same time.  What was with me trying to be all dainty.

3.  But one of the biggest reasons is our dishwasher: 

Not the pug. Kevin's our dishwasher.

It is just too much work to both prep and clean up, by HAND, multiple rounds of plates, glasses, silverware, serving bowls, pots, pans, serving utensils, etc. So these are the compromises that I've made:

1.  For hors d'oeuvres, no more homemade stuff.  Just adds another piece of work that may not get the same return (i.e. appreciation) from my guests as the rest of the meal.  Now I just put out a selection of cheese, pickles (like cornichons or my latest fav, pickled okra) and crackers/baguette slices.  If there are omnivores coming over, I also put out one or two types of cured meat.

2.  Consolidate courses.  I don't serve a separate appetizer course. Fuck that. I make a main and two sides. That's it. And we always have leftovers, so I'm assuming that it's been plenty.

3. No more wineglasses.  We tend to break them, plus they're a bitch to clean by hand, and there's hardly any counter space to let them air dry.  One day we'll get these cool wineglasses that Mrs. Penguin blogged about, but until then, we tend to use cute little juice glasses, like from Fishs Eddy.

4.  This is the biggest--we use paper plates and cups.  I know, horrors.  If we're going to have 4 people total (basically me and Kevin with 2 others), we absolutely use "real" plates and glasses. Above 4 people, it depends.  For 5 or 6 people, we'll use real plates and glasses if we don't know them that well and we don't want them to think we're trashy (we'll let them in on that later).  If the 5 or 6 people are our close friends, we'll go with paper plates (but usually still keeping the glasses) because what do they care.  Above 6 people, it's paper goods all the way. If you're not comfortable with the idea of drinking wine from a paper cup, you're not invited.

When I first started using paper goods I went full-out cheezy and bought Barbie plates to show self-awareness that we were using less-than-formal dinnerware and to make it funny.  Since then I have used Winnie the Pooh, Hello Kitty, candy corn and skulls (for Halloween), and other such treasures.  However, last time I went to the party goods store, I realized that except for the star-shaped plates with Miley Cyrus' face on them, I'd pretty much used all the cheezy themes that I wanted to.  And I didn't want to eat with Miley looking up at me.

Luckily, I found some more "serious" patterns that did not look horrendous, as opposed to the ones with big flowers, grapes and vines all over them.  See, they weren't so bad:

5.  We've also had some Friday night dinners recently, which obviously leaves a lot less time for prep.  For the last Friday night dinner, someone graciously brought cake and one of my other friends brought an amazing salad.  At the beginning of my hosting days, there's no way I would have allowed someone to do this.  I was irrational about it.  I thought that if I let other people bring food, I wasn't treating them well and would have felt extremely guilty about slacking on my hosting duties.  

A really stupid part of me also wanted to prove to myself and others that I could host a big dinner all by my big self. Well, after suffering the consequence of "proving it to myself", I've not only pared down but am also willing to let others join in.  Not only did it make it easier, and it SO did, SO SO much, but I think it also helps people feel more involved in the dinner.  Just improves the mood all around, both for me and the guests.

So no more guilt.  I revel in the new ease of things. When we get a dishwasher things might change, but who knows.


  1. Oh god, I'm the old you. I stress and stress about things and want them to be perfect, when really I know my guests don't care about the glasses or plates, or if it's a 4 course meal. But, I can't help it! I need to take your advice and not feel guilt!

  2. Ahh, such a highly evolved hostess. Do you have a dinner table? We don't... so I've never hosted a dinner. But am I just being dumb? I mean, we can eat sitting at the couch, right? Or no. Is that weird. I don't know.

    I appreciate your evolved approach to less-stress hostessing. Bow down.

  3. Hell yeah! No more guilt! I totally can relate to this post. When I first got married I would do the exact same thing -worry, go all out and create a huge mess that would take me forever to clean up.

    Since we moved to NYC two yrs ago, I totally changed it up and decided that my friends aren't going to judge me for my shortcuts and the paper plates. :)

    Dinner parties have become a lot more enjoyable for me and for my friends, who don't have to see me sweat buckets and run around my home like a maniac.

    Pickled okra sounds amazing! Do they sell them in any of the grocery stores in the UWS?

  4. minted: i give you my word that you can do less fuss and you and your guests will still have a fabulous time! although hey your guests love being pampered, i'm sure, which is totally generous of you.

    cathleya: we do have a dining table, but if we have a large enough group we just do sit-around-the-living-room style.

    eugy: yay, another paper plate user! we should unite. i bought the pickled okra at fairway, actually--it's on the bottom shelf where the capers are. yummy!

  5. you're an inspiration. let's all raise a paper cup and toast the guilt-free, amazing hostess!

  6. Since I've moved into my husbands house, I too have no table like Cathleya... so it's just an excuse not to invite over company. Well, unless it's family. I could care less if they sit on the floor like me! Haha Just watch out for the dog. ;)

  7. Bring back the Barbie plates! Bring back the Barbie plates!!