Sparking Joy-Hosting

I’ve been thinking today about the blog and trying to apply the Marie Kondo technique to my writing, what sparks joy?
Then it hit me; one joy for me has to be, having our family and friends over to enjoy food and each others company, and as much as this is the main enjoyment factor for me I must admit.. I get excited about what I can cook to make them happy.
There is nothing better than to see people with their head down enjoying the food I’ve cooked, I know that sounds big headed but I do not mean to toot my own trumpet, it’s merely a case that, through their enjoyment of the food I have laboured over.. makes me feel whole, complete, just calm.

My hosting schedule (well.. maybe not schedule), timetable tends to start as soon as we’ve invited someone over, the excitement means I can be completely distracted in what I’m supposed to be doing and instead I’m asking Carl to find out the likes and dislikes of our new guests, or for the regulars who visit I go to the “notes” part of my phone where I try and list all the things I’ve cooked for guests and actually what our guests have cooked for us too, I do this so I have a meals which we can rotate between guests.
Then, for the foreseeable future may be up to a week before having our friends or family over I’ve raided all the cookery books, gone through various blogs online until I have that lightbulb moment or something sounds unusual and intrigues me, I do like to challenge myself.. (sometimes a little too much!)
During this process my main focus is on..the people who are visiting, remembering (or at least trying to) who likes to eat what and factoring peoples dietary needs, likes and dislikes.. Bex doesn’t like hummus or avocados, Mike loves any type of meat, My Mum will pretty much eat anything.. although not a great lover of sweet potato, Dave loves a burger, Gabriella can’t eat creamy dishes, Lewis is allergic to coffee, Tamara loves a condiment, My Dad isn’t a great lover of lamb and can no longer eat spicy food, Sarah & Max will try anything!
It’s these types of mental notes which I think are important when deciding what to cook when you are hosting, all those little details are the important ones.

So we’ve picked the main meal, and during this time I also will have quickly decided what side dishes we’ll be enjoying, this is always the easiest part for me as the side, tapas dishes are the ones I enjoy the most!

Mid Week
Usually around 3 or so days before the event, I will head on down to the supermarket armed with a list, this will have everything I can possibly think of, I can’t ever complete a food shop without one, if I ever do forget my list I end up purchasing that a) we do not need or b) things we do not need!
So I’ve got my list; and this will obviously have the groceries we need, but I’ll also have a quick nip around the kitchen making sure I have enough seasoning, herbs, soft drinks, milk- for any warm drinks, coffee capsules, kitchen roll, bin liners and then go and check that we have enough loo roll and the soap container is full for when our guests arrive, I know these things sound silly but it gives me peace of mind knowing, that when Saturday rolls around neither of us have to make a mad dash to the local shops if we’ve run out of the loo roll! (which for us, being in a village arent that local **)

The day before
We have the groceries oh and the loo roll! Now usually the day before, normally a Friday we will have a good look around the house and tidy away items we’ve not managed to during the week (clean laundry, a delivery box, post etc) we’ll vacuum, mop and clean the bathroom. We do have a weekly cleaning schedule but when guests visit we tend to do it toward the end of the week.

The Event
On the day that we have people over, I tried to get up fairly early that way I can prep as much as physically possible. I’ve learned over the years, nobody wants to be around a stressy cook, so I’ve realised for me to be as “zen” as possible I need to have everything organised.
If I think of a party we had in December, we spent the day time organising where the drinks area was going to be, we used a folding table, (like a decorating table) with a table cloth on it (not glamorous at all- as it was in the freezing cold garage) we laid out all the drinks, we made sure there were bins for cans, bottles, and standard rubbish and they were all labeled so that people could easily fend for themselves and the house stayed relatively tidy and no broken bottles.. with a little cat running around this was something I was worried about.
We left the bottle openers, corkscrew and plastic red cups with a sharpie on the table too, so people could write their names on them if they wanted to (preventing those breakables again) and people knew whos cup was whose.
Then it’s just preparing as much of the food as I can, preparing vegetables for a salad and leaving them in a container in the fridge so you just have to assemble things just as the main course is ready. We tend to opt for dishes which are ovenable, as then you have the whole of the hob free to get on with the side dishes.

We like to let people serve up their own food, I really like this idea and both my mum and my in-laws do this when having a joint of meat, or dessert, I just like the relaxed feeling it gives and people can have as much or as little as they like.

My Mums beautiful display of fruit and cake, on a Sunday lunchtime
A little display Mum & I put together when the family home went up for sale.

When we had our dear old kitchen with a tiny hob and oven, and a lack of serving space we bought a really clever little device that one of my clients had in their home, we recently used it at Christmas and it was excellent, all the roast potatoes and trimmings managed to stay lovely and warm in case anyone wanted seconds (I’ve now realised why my jeans are a little tight!)

The dining table will all be laid with cutlery, napkins, glasses and we’ll gather together the serving dishes, serving spoons, gravy boat, salad bowl.. you get the gist, that way when you’re plating up you know which bowl, platter, chopping board you’ll be using.
The candles are lit, the dishwasher is ready to be filled after the meal, the rubbish and recycling bins all emptied, clean tea towels and dishcloths are placed out.
If we are serving hot food, all plates are usually warmed, we do this so that if your side dishes run over a little at least the main course still stays warm!

The Meal
Carl is usually in charge of making sure everyone’s drinks are full, and organises which music we have on in the background- we have lots of Spotify ones which we use.
Now it’s time for us to sit and share a lovely evening with loved ones, over the years we’ve discussed so many things at our dining table and you really get to chat about things that are important to you, to learn about each other and for me personally to be in the moment. I noticed when compiling this blog post, we have very few pictures to convey what I mean, which I think shows that it’s the event which is the most important thing..
(I do have some photographs donated by friends and family- thank you!)
Dishes are cleared whilst everyone continues to chat and this gives a break before dessert is served.
After we’ve enjoyed dessert we usually continue the evening talking or playing games to suit the guests, then throughout the evening just I’m just checking in to see anyone needs their glass refilled or may enjoy a warm drink.

Once we’ve said to goodbye to our lovely guests, we’ll collect up any dishes, glasses pop everything into the dishwasher and head up to bed.
We often send text messages to those who have visited and thank them for their company or recall something funny which may have happened during the evening. (Sloth-dolphin).
As I mentioned at the beginning all of the above Sparks Joy for me, it doesn’t mean that anyone should feel the need to replicate any of the things above, it’s more about sharing what makes me happy and for me to reflect on those things when I’m having a rubbish day I think of Christmas, the party, the dinner we hosted for people and recall the emotions and happiness I felt, treasure the memories. x

**I completely forgot to make a dessert on one occasion!**

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