Monday, June 22, 2009

Thoughts on Hostessing

I had a lot of fun on Thursday having our church's play group over for the day. I always get a little stressed getting ready for these things, but it is always worth it. And truthfully, I get stressed about most things. I think, because of my personality, I need to get stressed though. On Wednesday, I was just piddling around. I couldn't make myself really get to work. I kept getting distracted. Distraction, it's the story of my life... Then, all of the sudden, it was Wednesday night and I had nothing done; I just kicked it into high gear and started cranking out fruit tea and pimento cheese, spiced pecans and salad dressing. Incidentally, this was always the way with me in regard to writing papers for class or articles for the yearbook. I decided that while I did tend to majorly procrastinate, I worked well under pressure, and that I may make a pretty decent journalist because of that. And with that in mind, perhaps I really could pull off being a caterer? Nah. Anyway, I think we ended up with twenty-three kids and seven moms. We had a couple of moms out of town and a couple who couldn't come at the last minute, but it was a nice group. My menu was nothing to rave about, and I have mentioned most of it before. But I am putting it up anyway because I think it helps sometimes to have a menu put together, and I realized that I haven't posted a couple of these recipes before.

First though, I want to share a tip that a wise older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was an idiot. I really did. I was that sophomoric- literally, I was a wise (in my own eyes) fool. But she was right, of course. She told me not to clean before having a bunch of kids over. She said to wait until after the kids come over to clean because you will inevitably have to anyway. And I distinctly remember thinking, "Well, Pam (yep, it was Pam Caldwell), that may be okay for you, but I am not having people over to my house if it isn't perfectly clean." What?! I am sorry, but twenty-four year old Abby needs a serious beat down! First of all, Pam's home always looked lovely, so I had no business thinking she had sub-par standards. Second of all, when and where did I get the idea that I knew better than someone almost twice my age (who was wise beyond her years) in the first place? Thirdly, kids really do make a mess. And they certainly don't care if your floor has been mopped. So, I am really not sure what my rationalization for custom cleaning before they arrived was anyway. I think that my concern was mostly for the good opinion of the mothers who brought them. And I think too that floors really are a slight concern when you are dealing with crawlers. On the other hand, you are also dealing with twenty or so walkers who will dirty the floor anyway!

Let me follow this paragraph by confessing that I did mop on Monday. I did most of the cleaning on Monday and then let it be three days' dirty when everyone arrived. It isn't as good as not doing it at all (though, we all have to clean sometime), but it is way better than cleaning the morning of. After all, I mopped again this morning (only because my shoes kept sticking to the dried spills on the floor!), just as Pam predicted. And I also want to address the impressing other moms issue. If you are reading this, you are probably another mom. And wouldn't you say that it is true that when you go to someone else's home and it isn't perfectly clean, you are relieved rather than repulsed? Of course you are, because you are thinking about how your home is just as messy most of the time and how it is nice that you are not the only imperfect person out there. On the other hand, when you go to someone's home where everything is meticulously clean and uncluttered, do you feel just a twinge of inadequacy? Maybe you don't, but if you find yourself reminding yourself that she doesn't have as many children as you or she has a cleaning lady that comes every week or so or that her kids are older and can help out or clean up after themselves, you probably do feel just a teency bit inadequate. Competition or comparison over these things is so dumb. We all need to remember that. And Martha Stewart can just get over it.

Okay, so in preparation for people coming over, try to remember to just stick to your usual cleaning schedule and not to stress about sparkling floors. No one cares if you haven't vacuumed or if there are spots on the windows (um, do people wash their windows? I think I did once in April...) or if board books are all over the coffee table. Someone will spill Goldfish or Cheerios on the floor, put sticky fingers all over the window, and pull all of the board books out in the first twenty minutes anyway- just like your kids would! Also, accept help and let people contribute. It is hard for me to let people contribute because I get so excited about menu planning and never want to tell someone what to bring specifically. While I usually tell people not to bring anything, when pressed, it's easiest for me to suggest "bread" or "fruit." I need to be more laid back in this regard. Everyone ended up bringing something anyway, and I probably could have saved them some brain work by just delegating the existing menu items. As it was, I just told people what I planned to serve and everyone did an excellent job bringing their own little touches that added a new element to the menu.

For the kids-
PB&J- my poor friend P had to run out and buy more sandwich bread because I grossly underestimated how much bread I needed! Thanks, P!
Annie's Bunny Grahams- a friend brought these for an extra sweet treat. Thanks, C!
Juice Boxes
Watermelon- a friend brought this for all to share. Thanks, M!
Blueberries and strawberries- another friend brought these to help out. Thanks, A!

For the moms- (my focus was more on this because of being a mom myself- I'm selfish like that!)
Tea Sandwiches- cucumber cream cheese and pimento cheese
Baby Blue Salad- this time with peaches and cherries
Tuna salad and water crackers- Thanks to M again for contributing this!
Fruit tea
Sweet tea

Dessert for all- ice cream sandwiches!

Let it also be mentioned that another friend M brought a large gift from the abundance of her herb garden! What a treat! I wish I had a digital camera to show y'all how gorgeous! She put little handwritten tags on all of them and wrapped them so prettily. Martha really would have been so proud of her, which may have redeemed her disappointment in me! They will all be enjoyed. I can find plenty of uses for those cute little bundles. And P knows me well enough to come with a 12 pack of Coke classic and a bag of M&M's. She is currently my best friend :)

So, back to the meal, what was great about this is that the moms all said they would have made PB&J anyway. And you know they would have. For a crowd, it's cheap, it's easy, quick, and pretty much sure to please every child. It seems almost too easy and like a cop out, but I am so glad I did it. Maybe we'll roll out homemade pizzas next time, or grill up hot dogs, but the PB&J was very well received. The only reason to serve anything else is just for the sake of "mixing things up!" But I do want to write the post about the homemade pizzas. Coming soon...

So I've told you all before about my ice cream sandwiches. They are just whatever chocolate chip cookie recipe you use baked with M&M's instead of chocolate chips then cooled and done up with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two of them. Wrap them individually in Saran wrap and put them in the freezer until time to serve. It is so easy, but just really fun for kids and adults. Something about them is very happy. I half baked lemon squares and didn't have time to finish the whole recipe. I don't think anyone missed them, but I wanted to post the recipe because I realized I haven't yet. Plus, if you weren't serving any children, you might want something a little more sophisticated and a little less messy for your ladies. I am also posting my pimento cheese recipe that came from a friend in Birmingham. It is way less mayonnaise-y than most pimento cheese, so you may like it if you don't usually care for other pimento cheese. And you'll laugh when you read my fruit tea recipe.

Lemon Squares- this is Marne's recipe, and forever will it live in infamy. Marne often orders birthday cakes and other baked goods from a cute little bakery near her home. Marne also gives very high praise to anyone who makes anything tasty because she is a delightful sweetheart. I took her habit of ordering out and praising me for every cookie and cake to be a sign that Marne does not bake. This is not the case. Marne just also appreciates other people's baking and picks and chooses which baking projects she wants to take on. When I tasted one of Marne's lemon bars (her specialty) for the first time, knowing that she made them, I asked her, rather surprised, if they were from a mix. Well, of course, to the serious baker, a mix is always inferior and my praise completely came out as an insult, because, not only were they made from scratch, I had also implied that Marne didn't know how to bake. It was a double insult! Of course, Marne being who she is, just laughed it off... and then told her husband and they both have mercilessly ridiculed me since. Well, maybe not mercilessly. And besides, I deserved it. They really are unmistakably not from a mix (which is why I was so surprised in thinking they were) and way better even than the ones at Merridees's in Franklin.
2 1/4 c. flour, divided
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1/3 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
-combine 2c. flour, powdered sugar, and butter, and press into 13x9 pan.
-bake 20-25 minutes at 350
-whisk eggs, sugar, and lemon juice together. combine remaining 1/4 c. flour and baking powder and whisk into egg mixture.
-pour egg mixture over crust and bake 25 more minutes at 350.
-cool and sift more powdered sugar over top.

Pimento Cheese- I rarely get these measurements exact, except for the cream cheese (since it's sold in an 8 oz. package)- usually a little more lemon juice, mayo, and cheddar, and I almost never have hot sauce on hand. If you make it ahead of time, you'll want to take it out and let it soften before trying to spread. Since it's mostly cheddar and cream cheese, it gets hard in the fridge like cream cheese.
3 c. grated sharp cheddar
8 oz. light cream cheese
1-2 dashes hot sauce
dash of lemon juice
4 oz. pimentos
1T mayo
salt and pepper to taste (hurray! you get to taste it while you're making it!)

Fruit Tea- I have tried "real" recipes for fruit tea and they are all entirely too sweet or need too much tea to dilute them. My solution is, therefore, one recipe regular sweet tea, and one can of frozen pineapple juice. You could use half orange, half pineapple or half lemonade, half pineapple, or 1/3 each... Anyway, you get the idea, one normal recipe of sweet tea with one (or equivalent) can of frozen juice concentrate. It couldn't be easier, and it's way less expensive than picking up a 2 quart container from Merridees (which, if I remember right, costs about $6), and much more convenient for just about all of us.


Practically Perfect... said...

Yummm, those lemon bars sound so good! I have never made them from scratch, so I may have to give these a shot...

Wright Family said...

I wish I was in your playgroup:) Good words of wisdom on the cleaning issue. That one is REALLY hard for me to let go.

The Rays said...

that sounds like a delicious menu! wish i could've been there to enjoy it!! love fruit tea- will have to fix my grandmother's recipe for you when you come:)

and amen to the not cleaning and letting people help. i am really working on letting people help more and even let someone bring a pasta salad to one of my kids birthdays! that was big for me.

loved chatting with you more lately. will call you after our trip and think fond memories of you while in auburn. :)

Katherine said...

you are right, i did laugh at the fruit tea recipe! what a HUGE play group - amazing! how fun!

jennifer h said...

It all sounds yummy.

I make fruit tea (or tea punch) from my days in Nashville. The recipe I use calls for OJ and frozen lemonade. I'll have to try it with pineapple juice.

katie said...

I've been thinking about those ice cream sandwiches since last Wednesday! I think I know what I want for my birthday ;)

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