I have this awkward habit of inviting people over and then cooking something I’ve never cooked before.
Cooking in general isn’t one of my talents. Let’s just say I set a pot on fire a few months ago making noodles.
But I don’t let that stop me!
… Maybe I should.
Well, anyway, last weekend I invited my coworkers and friends to enjoy a home cooked cuban meal. The main attraction for the night was congri, a rice cooked in black beans so it turns out kind of grey. Really it’s delicious…. except I’d never made it before. So I spent the night experiment… it wasn’t unlike a mad scientist… and after three pots of it, one of which was inedible, I had made something that even my grandma would approve of.
I also fried up some yucca, shredded some rotisserie chicken, and made a salad (with the help of a friend).
And I loved every second of it! Having people over is scary. We feel a need for perfection—perfect food, perfect setting and perfect us.
But, especially for a new graduate making a community in a new place, hospitality is key to connecting with new people.
So, in the hopes of encouraging someone out there to take that step and invite a group of people over, here are some things I learned from my first time entertaining a large group of people.
- Perfection is a myth. And, it’s the imperfection that will add charm to your gathering. My apartment fits about 6 people comfortably, and I have enough seating for four. On Friday night 11 people squeezed into my apartment. My boss brought a table with some chairs, a couple people shared chairs, and we made it work! It was tight quarters, but everyone laughed and had a great time and nobody stormed off in a huff because of the lack of elbow room.
- You’re busy, so don’t stress about cooking everything. Obviously you’re inviting people over for some good ol’ home cookin’. But it doesn’t mean everything has to be home cooked. I had a busy week, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to make the chicken without driving myself crazier than I already am, so I bought a couple chickens and shredded them up. No one judged me, at least not to my face, and I saved myself loads of stress.
- Be organized. This is something I should have done that I didn’t. I knew what I was going to make, but I wasn’t organized about my grocery shopping or cooking schedule, and it added undue stress. When making a lot of food for a lot of people during a busy work week, make a schedule. Don’t plan on cooking everything on the day of.
- If your house is clean, you’ll be fine. I was definitely a little stressed about the ambiance of my place. I pictured pinterest flower arrangements and perfect music playing in the background when everyone walked in, with a beautiful display of food on my tiny table. Reality was wildly different. My coworkers and I rushed over from a late video session where we were playing fake football. So when I got home, at the same time as some of my guests, I had crazy braids in, a tank top and yoga pants. Aaaaaaand I probably smelled like sweat. I still had to cook some things up so I put on some Pandora (Celia Cruz… Azucah!) and got right to it. One of my friends offered to cut up the salad, and 45 minutes later we were eating. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fun! and everyone was so curious about the yucca I was frying, people kept peering over my shoulder asking over and over again what yucca is, how to pronounce, what it tastes like (it’s like a starchy potato, btw).
- Take photos. I didn’t do this, I was so rushed and taking photos is never my first instinct. But it’s always fun to have these memories, so make sure you have a camera set up near by, ready to take some snapshots of a crazy fun night.
Don’t worry about how picturesque everything you do is. You set the mood in your house, if you’re relaxed and having fun, everyone else will be too. So don’t hesitate to have people over!
And, here are some pics of food (Thanks to the people who take them) 🙂