Wednesday, September 23, 2009

{hostess of the week}: carol cochran

hen and barley press founding partner Carolyn Streett was supposed to be this week's featured hostess, but we're fairly swamped right now AND this fabulous entry from my dear friend Carol came in, so this week's hostess is Carol!

Carol is an amazing cook and hostess. My family and I visited Carol and her family this weekend, and in the time it would take me to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Carol had whipped up tortillas FROM SCRATCH, with yummy beans and rice to go on top. This is a lady who knows her way around the kitchen. But, what I love about Carol and you will gather from her responses, is that she is a great hostess because her greatest pleasure comes from bringing people together and serving them good food. If the house happens to be sparkling clean and the table decorated, all the better, but those things not being the case does not stop Carol from entertaining, and that is why everyone loves a party at Carol's house. Carol is also the most heartfelt do-gooder I know, so many times her entertaining also does double duty as a fundraiser of some kind. Carol lives give, invite, gather to the fullest!

From Carol:

1) Table:
Long old thing (maybe 10' by 4'?). Not round (which I would love), but at least it accommodates a whole team (e.g., basketball, swim) at once.

2) Chairs:
2 benches, 4 kitchen chairs, and as many of our old wooden folding patio chairs from our time in Vietnam as are still functional (maybe 6?) when needed.

3) Lighting:

Hanging black wrought iron chandelier with CFL bulbs, o' course (but warm white ones!). The window & kitchen are also framed with white twinkle lights (LCD -- we like festive but also know we're overconsuming -- oh, the waffling between guilt and celebration!). Yes, it brings to mind folks who never take their Christmas lights down for some. For me, it brings to mind celebration and good times.

4) Favorite table decor:
We love decorating with flowers or greens from the garden in the months when we can (we live in Wisconsin, after all). If we're having a more "formal" (in quotes because we're never TOO formal) dinner we like to add whatever fun or themed things are around to the table -- ribbon napkin holders, candles, water in some presentation and any knick-knacks that fit the theme.

5) Last time you entertained, you served:
Sausages & burgers (again, we're in Wisconsin!)

6) How many people were there?
About 70

7) Last minute or planned in advance?
Planned in advance

8) Go-to recipe when in a hurry:
Salmon linguini with lemon

9) Favorite cookbook:
Any of the "The Beautiful Cookbooks" (e.g., China: The Beautiful Cookbook)

10) Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed?
Usually printed (even if just from my own computer -- though I would love to be organized enough to invite everyone on Hen & Barley Press gear).

11) Best entertaining tip:
Don't you EVER feel like you can't have people
over until your house is cleaned, in full repair, remodeled, etc. People want and even need to gather these days, and we do it less and less -- we're busy, and, oddly, we're hung up on having the perfectly appointed home. I think Martha Stewart has a lot to answer for -- somehow we've reached a state where we're all competing for the perfect home and perfect party. ??? Isn't the whole idea of gathering and celebrating supposed to be stress relief and an escape from the competition -- gathering with friends you know accept you (or should)? And yet now we're going to stress ourselves out -- and then stress our guests out by making them feel they can't measure up to THIS gathering. Craziness. I have received a whole series of backhanded compliments which I treasure from people enjoying themselves at our house. For a small sampling: "I've always told [Husband] that we couldn't have a dinner party because our house wasn't big enough, but I realized after you had us over that if you can do it, anyone can." And, "I always feel like we can't have people over until everything is spotless. But I was sitting in your bathroom realizing that nothing has to be spotless, people just have to be there." (How's that for -- er -- flattery?) And one friend famously stated, upon entering our home for the first time: "I love your house. It is the antithesis of sterile!"

If you have folks over when you've spent your time with your family and preparing food for your friends, they will enjoy themselves, relax, and have a good time. (The ones who are concerned about the spider webs in the bathroom or checking to see if your laundry is folded are ones you don't mind not providing with a great time!) In today's society, setting people at ease and making them feel like you have taken care to prepare something just for them is an almost magical gift. It allows them to relax -- really relax -- and enjoy. A little tip: inviting them on H&BP stationery might actually impress upon them the care and preparation you are taking -- and they might even rsvp to let you know whether or not they can make it! (Non-rsvp-ers are a pet peeve of mine.)

12) When you're not entertaining, what are you doing, professionally and/or personally?
Being the belay person for my family -- Tim (awesome husband), Tatum (16), and Catriona (15). Staying on the ground to try to enable them to soar. Volunteering various places in an effort to thank the universe for our good health and good luck. And just starting to figure out what course I might want to chart for the next stage of my life.

Below is a shot of Carol's table as it usually looks, full of happy, smiling people eating great food:

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