My very good friends, Bev and Jason, live less than ten blocks from me. Their apartment is my safe space. They are a comfort to me, and we’ve been through a lot together. Plus Bev is an amazing cook. That aside, they’re both really, really good at hosting.
Hosts do not get enough credit. Hosting even just one person is not an easy thing for me. Chances are that I’ll be fairly stressed the entire time: Does someone need more water? Do they need more alcohol? Are they comfortable in that chair? Should I feel bad that we don’t have a true dining room table? Are they tired of my kid talking about farts? Etc. When I finally do relax, chances are the night is about to come to an end.
I’m sure part of this is Manhattan living and the resulting feeling that we have inadequate space to truly host. But then I wonder if I’d be even more stressed out if we had more space — would there be more pressure to make things magnificent? The thought makes my head hurt. A sprawling dining room table with room for even more appetizers, bespoke cocktails, homemade dips?
Add to the mix here that since I’m Mark’s daughter, people have certain expectations. Not in an obnoxious way, but I think they just assume that my food is gonna be really good.
So until now, I’ve put crazy pressure on myself to come up with a good snacking situation, then a dinner that includes more than just one cooked dish. Which, for someone with my fear of entertaining, is anything but an equation for happiness.
But then last week we had the wonderfully open and funny Delia Ephron on the podcast, and she talked a bunch about the way her sister, Nora — of Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally and Heartburn fame — cooked and entertained. Behold, a revelation:
Okay, this was huge for me. I live in the greatest city in the world (one of the greatest? You decide), with every kind of the best food you can imagine. Buying one really good thing and then making a couple sides to go with it is something I can do … and last weekend, I did. I got fried chicken from the incomparable Charles Pan-Fried Chicken and made a couple sides, and for appetizers I just did some nuts and olives and–okay—cheez doodles, and I actually got to spend some stress-free time with our dear loves Heidi and Bryan. (I was, though, constantly worried about their water intake. Old habits die hard.)
So for all of you who, like me, shrink into oblivion at the thought of hosting, here are some suggestions in this do-it-but-don’t category to inspire you. I’m going with
really good fried chicken,
really good pizza,
and really good bagels.
Simply because these are all things that are tasty. Mix and match and play around with what you have that’s good near you. And if you really want a decadent experience and you don’t happen to live in a ridiculous food playground like New York, you can order pretty much whatever you want on Goldbelly—and make the rest. Treat yourself.
Maybe at some point in the near future I’ll even feel confident enough to have Bev and Jase over here. (But probably not. Winky face.)
Also: Are you a fan of this approach? Let us know in the comments.
Not stressful entertaining situation #1: Buy fried chicken + make mac salad + make collard greens
Sheldon Simeon’s Mac Salad
Serves 4 to 6
8 ounces macaroni
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cups mayonnaise
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
1 medium carrot, grated
Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the macaroni a minute or two longer than the package directions, until very tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place in the refrigerator to cool and further drain for a minimum of 2 hours.
In the same pot, combine the potatoes and fresh water to cover by 1 inch. Salt it well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well.
In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, mayonnaise, garlic salt, pepper, and carrot. Fold in the potatoes and chilled macaroni. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce with a sprinkling of black pepper.
— Recipe from Cook Real Hawai’i
Toya Boudy’s Collard Greens
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons chopped garlic or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper, destemmed, deseeded, and chopped
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
1 (32-ounce) bag triple-washed collard greens
1 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Cajun seasoning or seasoned salt
1 teaspoon lime juice (optional)
1. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
2. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and continue to cook until tender, about 7 minutes.
4. Add the remaining butter and the collards. Sauté until the collards begin to wilt slightly, approximately 10 minutes.
5. Add a cup or two of stock at this stage for more tender greens; simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
6. Begin to season to taste with the Cajun seasoning. Add the lime juice, if using, and remove from heat.
— Recipe from Cooking for the Culture