Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter hostess

I hosted Easter dinner at my house yesterday for 24 members of my family. We usually do potluck for parties, but this time I offered to do all the shopping and cooking and just let them chip in for the groceries. I had a couple of reasons for it:

1, all our parties end up being the same -- they're terrific, I LOVE my family and we all enjoy hanging out together, and there are plenty of excellent cooks in the family -- but I wanted to do a special Easter feast, specifically for Easter (lamb) and specifically for early Spring (asparagus, greens, baby potatoes). I'm far and away the most religious member of the family -- there's nothing special about Easter to many or most of my people -- and I'm also the most hardcore local-seasonal-organic foodie, so if I didn't assume control of that special Easter meal it wasn't going to happen the way I imagined it.

2, I love to cook! Hospitality is something that I have discovered a love for in this past year. I enjoyed creating a welcoming, comfortable space for vacation renters, I had a great time hosting Fr. H's 80th birthday party, and I thought I would enjoy hosting yesterday.

3, I'm playing with the idea of cooking as a post-midlife-crisis career. I wanted to test myself. Fr. H's birthday was a sit-down dinner for 8, and I did well -- could I do a sit-down dinner for 20+?

I learned some lessons. First of all, when I first proposed it I didn't realize how badly I needed a boost in self-confidence. I needed to challenge myself and I needed to rise to the challenge. Since I've been looking for a way to make a living, I've been so conscious of my limitations -- the mental stuff, ADD & PMDD; the fierce moralism (mostly around economics) that makes it so hard for me to imagine working for a company or agency that I perceive as part of the problem instead of the solution. And the problem, as I see it, is so systemic that it's hard to find a way to get paid to oppose it. I was determined never to go back into the kind of bureaucratic number-crunching job I had before, but I'm discovering that I'm not (yet) qualified to get paid for anything I WANT to do. And meanwhile my friends are buying me dinner and slipping me cash to get me through this unemployment, and I am shamed by my helplessness. So I really needed a challenge to rise to, to build up some confidence.

I discovered how much I needed that by my emotional reaction to my mom repeatedly questioning how much I was spending on groceries and how we were going to divvy up the cost. I felt that she either didn't trust me to keep it reasonable or didn't have much confidence in me to pull it off, and it shot me straight into a weepy, dragging depression. My dad has had the same effect on me over the last year, again when I have felt him to be less than 100% supportive. Neither one of them is being overly negative, I'm just needy, I'm at a vulnerable stage in life when I'm trying to reinvent myself, letting go of the past and unclear on the future, it's an insecure place to be. I talked to my brother to get a second opinion on how I was handling the party and whether I was being too much of a control freak, or spending too much money, or whatever, and he reassured me. Finally, I told Mom that my feelings were hurt. She did a reality check with the same brother, and came back and apologized to me for "channeling [her] mother".... She said "I seem to be doing what drove me crazy when my mom did it." And, "I truly do trust you and am excited about the way you’re planning this whole thing." So we kissed and made up, and I felt better, and then too, it was happy resurrection Easter and not tragic crucifixion Good Friday any more (I really get into the Triduum), and I felt better. When I woke up yesterday morning, after 3.5 hours' sleep (late Easter Vigil mass the night before), I was confident and happy and did great through the morning.

Then Mom arrived, early, with extra folding chairs and tables and hot trays and carving platters, and that's when I totally lost control. Nothing at all to do with the confidence/no confidence issue, just that the presence of another person, asking "what can I do to help", shattered my focus. And the more people showed up, the more the whole thing broke down into chaos. Which leads to the second lesson, this one a more practical forward-building one. At first I thought the lesson was that I do better working alone (well, I already knew that) -- that I would make a better personal chef than caterer, e.g. But when I woke up this morning and pondered it for a while before getting up, I realized that what I should have done differently was to plan to delegate. I know that some guests will arrive early, and I know that they are family and expect to jump in and help, and by that time I've made the point that I am capable of pulling this off. But only if I stay clear on the overall process and don't let it all devolve into chaos. Mom tried to help me stay in charge (for example, trying to prompt me to step back from dishwashing, let someone else do that, and to look around and see what needed to be done next). But mentally, my focus was shattered, because I was not PREPARED to delegate. I had not built that phase of the party into my mental plan, and I was unable to do it on the fly. Now looking back I see what I should have, and could have, done differently. Just now, writing this, it also occurs to me that I (just like my mom!) was so entrenched in the old family-party model that I failed to give my family credit for adapting to this new plan, so I wasn't prepared for them to be ready to take direction, as I guess they pretty much were.

OK ... so anyway, the party was a terrific success. I was far enough along in my preparations by the time Mom showed up that I feel that I rose to the challenge I had set myself. There were leftovers of pretty much everything, but not huge amounts of anything, which means I did well with the shopping (except bread, I totally misjudged that -- luckily I got twice as much as I needed and not half). There was way too much dessert, but I didn't do the desserts, I let Mom and a sister bring those (4 pies and a cake! Yikes!). Family is never shy about divvying up the leftovers, so that's no problem. We didn't run out of anything, the meal was balanced, there were plenty of appetizers (again, just the right amount -- except too much bread). The weather was beautiful, but cool enough that it was SO worth it to take the (major) time and effort to wrap the screened porch with plastic (with T ... T, I love you, man). The lamb was a little more cooked than I would have liked, but flavorful and not at all dry. Sorry I let someone else make the hollandaise sauce, it didn't come out so well, but I still enjoyed it on the asparagus.

And the most important thing: my wonderful, wonderful, loving family enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

Happy Easter!

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