Friday, November 11, 2005

Inexpensive Hospitality

Magazines and media make such a fuss over hospitality that it can seem to amount to oodles of trouble and leave the hostess discouraged and exhausted. Sometimes the thought of the preparation and expense of having someone over, just takes the enthusiasm and fun out of it.

In the process of showing hospitality, remember that it is the spirit, or attitude of the thing that is the most important. You love your guest and you want to do something special for her. She senses that in your warm greeting and the lack of awkwardness in showing her a place to sit and making her comfortable. "I'll be heating the tea water for a minute. Why don't you just have a look at some of these magazines and I'll be right back."

You can have a pile of the most exciting and inspiring books or magazines you can find, that will entertain her while you get last minute things done, or you can invite her to sit in the kitchen and keep you company. It is nice to talk to someone while you are doing repetitive jobs, anyway. I met one lady who kept a rocking chair in her kitchen just for that reason.

Once, I invited someone over, and my husband took off with the car before I could get everything I needed to complete the meal, so I really had to scramble to come up with something in a hurry. My guest said nothing while she was there, but after wards, sent me a gift certificate to a grocery store for some free food. That was so embarrassing. So, in trying to show hospitality "on the cheap" you have to be careful not to give any impression of poverty, or else they will feel sorry for you and turn down further invitations.

Another lady called my son and offered to buy me a heater, because she was cold when she came to visit. I had been so busy that I'd gotten rather warm, and hadn't thought that maybe she was cold, and did not turn on the heat. I was extremely embarrassed, and did all I could to convince her that I didn't need a heater, and didn't need help with my heating bill, but to this day I'm sure she thinks we are cold and starving.

So, in your attempts at hospitality on a budget, here are some of my suggestions. You have to make the table LOOK rich, with certain elements that appear to be swanky--such as anything that shines, is glittery (I've got a saying: "all that glitters is good."). Don't put frayed napkins on the table, and if you are going to splurge on one expensive item, get really nice napkins. Even the dollar store has better napkins than some discount stores. A rich looking centerpiece helps, also.

The menu can be rich, but you don't have to get the foods at an expensive store. Have one very expensive looking food--maybe the dessert can be the richest chocolate or vanilla concoction you can make, and then they won't notice that the rest is rather plain. The arrangement and the presentation is part of the expression of elegance. A mixture of long grain and wild rice can be displayed on a bed of fresh green lettuce leaves. Color contrast is important. Tablecloths and centerpieces give elegance, if they have an artistic or creative look. Look at the way food is displayed in pictures, and you can get some good ideas. For example, sometimes flowers can be put on the plate of sandwiches or scones, just to give it some color and interest.

We were invited to a woman's home who lived above a store, in a poorer area of the country, and all we had was a pizza made with a biscuit mix, but with her candles and placemats, and comfortable seating arrangment, it was an elegant meal and one of the best evenings we've ever experienced.

While I've had people over for dinners and main meals, I prefer to entertain Tea Party style, for the reason that the foods don't all have to be kept warm or gotten on the table all at the same time. You can serve anything at a tea party, only the food is usually presented in bite-style serving sizes.
People who don't drink caffeinated beverages can still enjoy tea parties, because there are no so many delicious herbal teas on the market, called "infusions" which can be anything from raspberry to lemon or mint.

The idea is to give the impression of being able to entertain, without making your guests guess that you've done it on a budget. Don't say things like:

"I would have served sauce on that dessert, but couldn't afford it. I'm on a budget." (Never admit you are poor--people might think you are mis-managing your money)

"I don't turn on the heat because I don't want to pay the high bill."

"Thanks for the compliment on the tablecloth and centerpiece. I bought them at the dollar store."

"I hope there are some leftovers for my husband when he gets home. I used up everything in the house to make this meal for you."

"I've been preparing food all day. I'm exhausted."

If you make remarks like these, your guests will feel guilty they are even eating and will put you on a list to receive food from the county food bank at Christmas.

To make your menu look rich, put gold or silver doilies on the plates on which to place their tea sandwiches and dessert tarts. Light voltives in cut-glass cups (both which come from dollar stores), which give the party a look of abundance -- but don't tell them that.

Out here in Oregon, people always offer to bring something. This is a good chance to say, "Oh that would be great. I forgot to buy the milk for the tea," or, "I just love your chocolate chip coookies. Would there be time for you to make some?" Be careful about being excessive in this, as people might say "Do you ever notice that Jill never supplies any of her own food at her lunches?" I prefer not to accept their offers, but have, on occasion, gone ahead and allowed them to bring their favorite dessert or hot dish.

The cleanliness and neatness and tasteful arrangements of accessories in the house go a long way to giving the appearance of being well supported. Be careful not to indicate poorness in any way, or intimate that your husband isn't a good provider. This is bad press for your family.

You can make little favors and gifts for your guests, but don't tell them you used the leftover paper seconds from your husband's office. The main thing is to appear to be well enough off to have people over. I'm sure the Pioneers invited people into their camp at night to enjoy what little they had, just for the fellowship and companionship that was mutually beneficial, rather than making excuses for the poor fare served.

Countryside Magazine (Nov.-Dec. 2005) has an amusing article you might get a kick out of:
"Principles of Successful Country Freeloading." It is available to read here

Menus to follow, so check back.


PeacefulLady said...

Two thumbs up for your thought- provoking article and some good suggestions.

side note- i do think it is good to admit our need, but like you said, not when we are the hostess.

HomeSchooling4Jesus said...

Just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading this blog...great job ladies! =O)

Anonymous said...

Ah, I loved your article this morning, Lydia. Setting a lovely table is my favorite part of getting ready for guests; may I tell you about it? Some years ago I made one of my smartest decisions ever for pretty tables — I bought plain white dishes. At about the same time I found inexpensive (12/$10) stemmed glasses, also very plain, and I bought three boxes for large groups. You can put anything around these two versatile items and have beautiful tables. After some years of watching sales and sewing things, I can set lovely seasonal tables which always look nice. For instance, during the past two weeks I’ve had guests in my house twice for meals. Since it is fall, a brown or gold tablecloth and my pretty fall print napkins (handmade) look so elegant. There was a fall centerpiece bought at Wal-Mart for not much, as well as my amber salt and pepper shakers which were wedding gifts. I also found a lovely rust-colored wired ribbon which was curled and draped around the dessert table. For spring, there is a cream colored tablecloth which I sometimes overdrape at angles with a large, hemmed square of chintz which has big cabbage roses on it. With those cloths there are solid hunter green napkins, also handmade, as is the chintz square. The effect is totally different, not much money has been spent and it’s all beautiful — still using plain white dishes and plain stemmed glasses, of course. I will not bore you with the repetition of all my table settings, but they are distinctive, beautiful and fun. It’s odd, but I have only a half-dozen or so meals I make for company, but I take great pleasure in changing the table to suit the season or the food.

One other entertaining trick I consistently use is to have a smashing-looking dessert, even though it is as humble as chocolate cake or even a brownie mix. On a slice of cake, I place a dollop of whipped topping and then sprinkle either powdered sugar or cocoa powder over all. Powdered sugar and cocoa powder are kept in salt shakers for this exact purpose. Sometimes a few sugared nuts are placed on the plate, or maybe a bright red strawberry. It looks elegant, but in reality, it is nothing more than a good chocolate cake or a square of brownies.

But you know, even with all the emphasis on table settings, etc, the best tip I ever read was to think of your guests and their needs, not your own.



Anonymous said...

Thanks Lydia! This is just what I was looking for. I can't wait to read more!


Kathleen in Illinois said...

Lady Lydia:

I found that 1-1/4 yards of 45" wide material would give me a lovely table topper, so I could shop the sales and make my own seasonable toppers. For those who do not sew, the edges can be turned under and held in place by strips of fusible interfacing.

I too shopped and found lovely glassware and serving dishes, usually at my everything-for-a-dollar store. AND they had lovely candles too! Occasionally they had cup-and-saucer sets too, for tea...

I learned that when you put a pretty "topper" over a plain white cloth (or color cloth for the season), add some candles and a few touches of greenery (purhcased at Wal-Mart for 77 cents each), guests were always commenting on my beautiful table, and most felt so special!

I also learned that just a few chicken drumsticks made an amazing amount of chicken salad for little sandwiches, and a "plain" yellow cake (from a mix) cut into squares and "decorated" with a dollop of canned frosting (enhanced with a bit of vanilla and a small piece of cream cheese or sour cream) made GREAT refreshments to serve my guests........I also learned that a nut bread mix baked in a loaf pan, then sliced and "buttered" was also received very well! and MUFFINS.....even the Jiffy mixes were happily received....

I learned that these mixes can be purchased when on sale (like right after a holiday) and stored in sealed plastic bags (like Zip-Loc) and stay fresh a long time.

Just another tip - when making a chocolae cake or brownie mix, add about a teaspoon of cinnamon or allspice to the dry mix, and replace some of the water with vanilla flavoring (I pour in the vanilla first, then add the water)....makes the mix taste really good and more like homemade...I now do this with nut bread mixes and most muffi mixes too.......

It's so much FUN to explore ways to make everyday food into SPECIAL foods.......

Kathleen in IL

Anonymous said...

Are you interested in recipes? The Honey-Gingered Chicken is pretty as well as tasty. My Spaghetti recipe came to me second or third hand from an Italian lady and is delicious. The Lemon Freeze can be quite low fat, but you would never know it. I recently began using the Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake on the back of the Hersey’s can — it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever eaten and far better than any other chocolate cake recipe I have kicking around. I also have an outstanding Fresh Apple Cake from one of the older ladies at church.

Too, have you thought of suggesting cooking magazines for menus? I think my favorites are the Reiman publications because the recipes come from real people like you and me, not fancy chefs in a big restaurant. Taste of Home and Light & Tasty are two of theirs.



Lydia said...

BlessedMommy--the graphics on your homepage are lovely.

Anonymous said...

"Berry Swirl"-- from an anonymous contributor:

The first sentence in my recipe is: "First you must go to the Dollar Store and buy a large water goblet for one dollar each that has an Emerald green stem....or perhaps you have them at home already or ones with red stems!" ha ha......This has no cooking or baking involved.

Alternating layers of vanilla ice cream, defrosted frozen raspberries and whipped cream in the glasses, top with additional whipped cream and a raspberry. Once glasses are filled put them in the freezer. About 20 minutes before dessert time, take them out. The layers soften and it is scrumptious and looks so beautiful for a Christmas dessert especially!!!

She used Dryer's Slow Churned Rich & Creamy light Vanilla Ice Cream (what a mouthful but it is a delicious, NEW product. It has 1/2 the fat and 1/3rd the calories of regular, so it eases my guilt!

This freezing of it causes it to have a wonderful texture, like a mousse.

She suggested placing the goblet on a pretty square ivory and green china plate and one of those small, gold foil lace doilies for under the goblet, and maybe one tiny, really crisp sugar cookie on the plate for added crunch and texture.