TREATING GUESTS LIKE ROYALTY—EVEN WHEN DINING ALONE!
One of my favorite compliments ever from a dinner guest was, “You’ve made us feel like royalty with this meal!” That’s my heart’s desire as I love poring over recipes and planning menus, preparing the food, and creating a festive table setting with flowers and the best dishes and silver. To offer more than is expected—to delight and surprise. My mother modeled that same extravagant approach to “company meals.”
A special delight has always been to give guests from other countries a taste of Southern cooking—with menu items like country ham, sweet potato biscuits, cheese grits, fried okra, homemade cake and iced tea punch. And to ask them about their favorite foods from their home country. Dinner guests have included a dentist and his family from Brazil, international students at the University of South Carolina, Fulbright scholars from Turkey, Germany and Spain who were at a Vanderbilt conference, and a refugee family from Honduras living in Nashville.
When I was married, we always enjoyed hosting dinners for other graduate students, university professors, authors (including one Pulitzer Prize winner), and friends from church. After my divorce, I more often hosted dinners for other women on their own and their children. As my children grew older, I loved preparing special meals for their friends. Celebrating family gatherings with food, and later “helping” my grandchildren prepare meals for their parents bring great joy. During the 2020-21 pandemic, I’ve prepared occasional meals for others whenever possible. I’ve tried quite a few new recipes and added them to my Quarantine Collection for future reference. And I intentionally have made all of my solitary dinners a special occasion—with candlelight, flowers, good china, a glass of wine, classical music and a carefully prepared meal to savor slowly.
Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast is such a beautiful story. In South Carolina in the 1990s I hosted a movie-dinner party for seven women friends. I prepared a French meal with candlelight and wine—and between each course we moved to the living room to watch a portion of the Babette’s Feast movie with subtitles. Our conversation about the movie always led back to Babette’s extravagant grace in the meal she prepared. As she said, “When I did my very best I could make them perfectly happy.” One can always try!