Entertaining · Gail's Nest

Authentic Entertaining

“Sorry, I will never have you over to my house”, said my new friend who took me out for lunch after we moved into the area. She was a sweetheart to host a lunch out, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was a part of  her that I would never be allowed to know. I’m sure my friend thought I’d think less of her if I saw her home.

Let’s face it. Our homes are the places where we can be real. This is where we love, fight, play, do our hobbies, show our heritage, rest, read, eat, relate, etc. When we want to open ourselves to someone new, perhaps to help them, befriend them, share our lives with them then that means being real. It means that everything isn’t perfect but that we’re willing to trust our family, friends, and guests to love us or at least accept us “as is”.

That also means that we must never judge our hosts’ efforts, but receive their gifts of hospitality graciously. I learned this lesson in China.

Back in April of 2012, my husband and I along with our daughter, Anna traveled to China to vist all the wonderful people we had met while they had been at Cornell University, located in our home town of Ithaca, NY. One of our hosts took us to a hotel in a rural Naxi village northwest of Lijiang, close to the Tibet border. It was of very traditional construction, set in a courtyard style. My American hyper-clean, germophobic self was initially appalled by the room that we were ushered into. The sewer pipe was exposed and gave off a horrendous odor. Our sheets were moldy. The rickety ladder to the loft where Anna would sleep wasn’t attached. “Lord,” I prayed, “I can’t complain or I will insult my host. Help me to get over this.”

I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the most amazing three days of our whole trip. We really felt like we had a real experience, living like the Naxi people. Every morning the hotel owner greeted us with an invitation to join him for a traditional tea pour. And as we drank tea we chatted. Anna discovered he had a dog who just had puppies. She was in love. We learned his family lived far away and he hoped to soon have enough money saved to bring them to live with him. The air was so fresh and the sky so blue – quite a change from the smog in Shanghai and Bejing. I cringe when I think how close I came to missing this amazing treasure on the other side of the world!

leg 3 lijiang (29)leg 3 lijiang (31)


So… here are my tips for easy authentic entertaining.

  • Keep your living area generally picked up. I never have to go to great lengths to clean my house before company comes because I spend a little time each day keeping up with the clutter.
  • Plan on a simple meal so you can focus on your guests. Plan ahead!
  • Use paper plates for easy clean up (use your china for your family!)
  • If anyone asks you, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Always say, “Yes”, and put them to work.
  • Remember that you don’t have to clean your whole house, nor do you have to have fresh paint and everything looking like the HGTV channel. When people come to your home they want to be with YOU, and usually they don’t care about the state of your house.
  • Avoid fussing about stuff when your guests arrive. They will feel like they are an imposition if you are too busy to enjoy them.



Entertaining · Family Activities · Gail's Nest

Dinner Party Idea- Chopped Competition

Have you seen the cooking show Chopped? Four chefs are given mystery ingredients and have to create meals with them. One person is eliminated after each round. The winner takes home $10,000. We have taken the basic idea and turned it into a fun evening for family and guests. You may have seen an earlier blog post describing how we did it with our family, when our adult children were home for Christmas. Well, this time we did it as a dinner party with guests.


When I called my guests to extend the invitation I asked if they would bring a mystery ingredient.  I asked one couple to bring something  unusual from the produce dept. of our local grocery. Another couple was to bring something unusual from the dairy dept. and the third couple was to bring an odd flavor of soda. I provided the meat.

My husband and son were the chefs. They were surprised to see beef cutlets, parsnips, plain yogurt and goat cheese, and two different sodas – one was cherry tarragon,and the other was guarana. I told them they had to use all of these ingredients (but only one of the sodas – their choice), and they could use whatever else was available to them in our fridge and pantry. They had one hour to cook us an entree.

What do I make with this??

The guys scrambled around the kitchen. It was quite entertaining! The guests loved watching, and added to the fun with their friendly banter.


One hour was a good amount of time. We’re just not as fast as the experienced chefs on the actual cooking show who only get 30 minutes. But an hour is enough time to sip some wine and visit while dinner is prepared.


Then it was time to plate the food. Each guest got 2 entrees.


This was Steve’s entree – braised pepper steak with mock scallop potatoes au gratin with sauteed beans and parsnips.
And Ben’s entree was stuffed beef roulade with cherry-tarragon-yogurt sauce, served with julienned beans and parsnips and buttered new potatoes.

The fun part, of course, was eating together and chatting over what we might have done differently and how delicious it all was. Then we rated each entree 1 to 5 (1 being terrible and 5 being excellent) in 3 categories: taste, presentation, and creative use of ingredients. Scores were calculated and the winner announced. Ben was the chopped champion.

Everyone raved over how much fun it all was! I served chocolate cake for dessert, as we weren’t about to wait around another hour for a dessert round! All in all, it was a nice evening with friends and family. I highly recommend trying it. Let me know your result!