How I Host: Inspired by Family Memories
Once when I was a child, we went on a trip with my uncle and aunt’s family to Provence. Every morning, my uncle would bring an arm load of fresh baguettes home from the boulangerie and we’d rip off a piece of baguette, press our thumbs through the crusty layer to open it like a book, spread on just the right amount of butter, and dunk the bread into a wide mug of hot chocolate. No matter how hard I tried, there were always crumbs around my mug and small drips of hot chocolate running down my forearm.
A classic story in my family from that trip is that my aunt wanted us all to indulge in the abundance of olive varieties available in the South of France. So she went to the market and got several varieties to try. She put them beautifully on the table for our first course of dinner, and my sisters and parents and I looked at each other with tiny grimaces on our faces. We don’t eat olives in our family. But we also like to think we have open-minded palettes. So it was this awful, cringing moment of “dang it. You picked the one thing.” My parents tried a few politely and embarrassedly. In the end though, we just don’t enjoy olives.
My mom and my aunt went back to the kitchen to bring out the second course. I don’t remember what it was. Probably some sort of salad. I just remember we had a third course with meat and then we had a dessert course too. It was my very first multi-course dinner and I thought it was the best way I had ever eaten. I was only six or seven, but even so, I felt how special the occasion was, maybe even more so, since in my experience, children weren't invited to four-course meals.
As the meal progressed, we turned to my dad’s favorite thing to do over a nice dinner: go around the circle. He always wants everyone to feel heard and appreciated, especially those who don’t have the loudest voices and laughs that usually garner attention. We turned our attention to each person around the table: me, my four sisters, my three cousins, my aunt, uncle, mom, and dad and we all shared a highlight from the trip (we opted not to do my uncle’s idea of sharing lowlights as well). As each person shared, I felt a little surprised at what were other people’s highlights. Some of theirs were boring (like reading outside). Others were the same as me--swimming and playing in the backyard of the house. But I left feeling important, understood, and loved.
This memory stays in my mind as I prepare for gatherings even now. As I set tables and as I invite people over and as I cook for them. Even though I don’t entertain as much as I want to, I still like to foster these open conversations around delicious food.
These feelings were the inspiration behind our brunch captured in these images. We wanted everyone to feel welcomed, loved, appreciated and heard. Especially when welcomed by a gracious host like Alisa. I wanted to demonstrate that even when we often feel the fears that come from outside ourselves or even inside ourselves, sitting around a table can create a whole new space in a way that nothing else can. And maybe you don’t have perfect dishes and flowers ready to go. In all honesty, that doesn’t really matter. It can help set the tone for something special. It can open your senses and your mind to feeling a bit more curiosity. But it’s all secondary to creating this: a new space for understanding, discovery, safety, love, and wonder.