AN INVITATION TO VISIT NEIGHBOR’S TABLE

Sarah Harmeyer – the woman who’s story of loving people around her backyard table for twenty inspired mine – has launched a website for her “Love Mission”.  

And it. is. amazing.  

Neighborstable.com offers motivation, stories, and an online store.  You can even order a custom table for your backyard!

If you have a passion for hospitality, community, and sharing meals – then please accept this invitation to visit Sarah’s beautiful site.  

A HELPFUL LINK FOR PRACTICING AFFIRMATION

A significant part of what I do in practicing hospitality with a community of twenty-somethings is sending them with blessing into the next chapter of their story.

Every time someone who attends our community dinners moves away – we go around the circle at our table and everyone speaks an affirmation over the beloved member who is leaving. It is always a beautiful and meaningful time.

It’s isn’t easy for everyone to articulate how they have been blessed by knowing another person, and so many kind thoughts go unspoken.  Which is why I love Lyn Johnson’s recent post on her website, Heartistry: the art of welcome.

Click on this link: “10 Tips for Writing a Meaningful Affirmation” for very practical suggestions on how to express your thoughts of blessing to the people in your community.

A HELPFUL LINK FOR TEACHING KIDS TO COOK

Yesterday was a school holiday. A few of Riley’s friends signed up for a kids cooking class at Sur la Table, where I work part-time as a Kitchen Assistant.  I wasn’t scheduled to work, and for a quick second I considered signing Riley up for the class.  But decided that I should probably work there longer than a month before I turn Riley (in the company of buddies who encourage his 12-year-old sense of adventure) loose in a cooking class lead by my boss.

So instead I found a free online kids baking class at craftsy.com, and taught Riley and his bestie how to make homemade bread in my kitchen.

The class was fantastic!  It included video instruction, a printable workbook, and recipes.

The boys watched the video, which was broken up into several short segments that showed them what to do and expect before attempting the skills on their own.  And then I coached them while they completed each step in bread-making.

The combination of watching the teaching videos and reading the printed instructions in the workbook, enabled them to easily understand and apply my hands-on teaching as they were learning the process of bread making.

The end result was fabulous.  Tasty bread, fresh from the oven.  And two 12-year-old boys who were very proud of what they had created.

THE POWER OF A DINNER TABLE

It is inspiring to learn about the powerful connections happening at other people’s dinner tables.  A good friend recently sent this article to me that was published in “The Opinion Pages” of The New York Times last month.

It a joy to pass the link on to you.

“The Power of a Dinner Table”, by David Brooks

If you have a story to share about the meaningful connections being made at your table, email it to me at wendy@wendykessler.com.

MY FACEBOOK PAGE

Do you know that I have a Facebook Page??? It’s www.facebook.com/mycommunitytable.

This page is exclusively about my passions for hospitality, community, and cooking.  I publish links to articles and videos about what other people are saying on these topics.  As well as links to what’s new on my website and photos of my community.

Of course, I still have a personal Facebook Timeline (https://www.facebook.com/wendy.johnsonkessler) to post about my family, friends, and experiences that are so life-giving to me.

I’d love for you to follow one or both!

ARTICLE ON CHANGING THE WORLD WITH HOSPITALITY

This article by Kathy Chapman Sharp is written to my Christian brothers and sisters, but her main points about hospitality are true regardless of your religious beliefs:

  • You don’t have to be great at hosting extravagant social events, to be good at making guests feel special in your home.
  • People will actually prefer coming to your home to be loved, rather than to be entertained
  • Practicing hospitality makes a significant difference in your corner of the world.

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD WITH CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITY

I hope you invite someone to your table this weekend.

TO EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO BE A BETTER COOK, AND TO THOSE WHO DON’T

The question I am most often asked about my weekly community dinners is “What do you cook???”  And my answer is always, “The same things that I cook for my family.  I just make more.”

It seems that one of the biggest hurdles for people to overcome when they are considering opening their home and gathering people at their table, is getting over the fear that their cooking is not good enough.

Our foodie culture has raised the bar so high for home cooking that many people feel intimidated or unequipped to cook for anyone except their immediate family.  It takes a courage and vulnerability to put your heart and time into cooking something that may or may not turn out exactly how you want it to, and then serve it – regardless of how it turns out – to the smiling faces and hungry bellies sitting around your table waiting to eat.

The amazing culinary creations proudly displayed on cooking shows, cooking magazines, food blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram can feel intimidating as we stand in our own kitchen wondering what to cook for the company we’ve invited to our table.  For some that daunting feeling can be enough of a reason to not invite anyone into our homes to share a meal.  Ever.

It is so unfortunate that the cooking resources that are supposed to inspire and help us, often have the opposite effect.  Making us feel like we are not – and never will be – good enough to share our home cooked food with other people.

And yet, I think most of us feel a deep sense of satisfaction and care when we are fed by someone who took the time to create a meal for us.

Food that I am served that was made by someone else specifically for me – not by a chef in a restaurant, but by a family member, friend, or neighbor who cooked for me because they care about me – ALWAYS tastes better to me than something I made for myself.  Because when I eat my own food, I taste with a very critical palate.  I don’t do that when I’m served something that a loved one made for me.  I just enjoy it.  Every time.

So why do I sometimes feel anxiety that everyone at my table is critiquing my food???  I really shouldn’t, because they’re not.  They are just feeling cared for.  And food that is shared at our tables, in love and friendship, truly nourishes bodies and souls.  Your guests will feel that too regardless of what you make for dinner.

THAT is what we need to remember when we’re standing in our kitchens wondering what to cook, after we’ve had the courage to invite someone to share a meal and good conversation at our table.

If you don’t really enjoy cooking, or feel like you are very good at it, but you still want to engage in meaningful conversation and authentic relationships with other people around your table – then I encourage you to invite someone to your home for dinner anyways.  Set your table with your everyday dishes and cloth napkins.  Boil up some pasta noodles according to package directions, and warm a jar of quality sauce on the stove.  Toss some salad greens with a good vinaigrette.  And serve your meal with a small bowl of pre-grated Parmesan cheese, and a loaf of fresh bread (purchased from the bakery section of your local grocery store) with a small dish of softened butter.  Light some candles on your table, and open a bottle of good wine or fill a pitcher with chilled carbonated water and fresh limes or cucumber.  And then sit down at your table to eat, laugh, and share life with your guests.

(If you or your guests are gluten free, then purchase a rotisserie chicken from your grocery’s deli and serve it sliced on a platter, instead of the pasta.  And of course you’ll have to skip the bread and butter.)

As a culture we have over-complicated hospitality, and it really can be this simple.  And this wonderful.

So being a great or even a good cook is not a prerequisite for practicing authentic hospitality.  But if you like to cook and developing your culinary skills brings you joy – then here are three resources for learning how to be a better cook at home that have worked well for me:

  1. AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN: ESSENTIAL RECIPES
  2. CRAFTSY ONLINE COOKING CLASSES
  3. TASTEMADE

AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN is my favorite cooking magazine.  Every recipe they print has been tested by dozens of test cooks.  They perfect how to cook a dish, as well as how to guide the home cook through the instructions.  Their recipes includes an explanation of the cooking science behind every dish, and they tell you why you can’t leave out certain steps (a common mistake I make when I’m cooking in a rush!).  For several weeks I have been using the “Essential Recipes” bookazine that I purchased at a grocery store this summer for $12.95.  (This is expensive for a magazine, but it is relatively inexpensive for a cookbook, and this publication really is somewhere in between.)  I have made many of these recipes from multiple sections and they have all turned out great.  My favorite sections are “Top 5 Recipes for the Reluctant Cook” and “Top 5 Recipes for the Tired Cook”.  There is also a tear out advertisement in the magazine to order a cookbook of a similar title, “100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials” for $24.  I’m sure it is just as great, but I haven’t seen or used an actual copy.

CRAFTSY.COM is an amazing resource for online cooking classes.  I discovered this site after I took my first cooking class at Sur La Table.  Craftsy “provides education and tools to help you bring your creativity to life…Offering hundreds of classes in quilting, sewing, knitting, cake decorating, art, photography, cooking and many more categories, bring the world’s best instructors to you. Learn at your pace with easy-to-follow HD video lessons you can access on your computer and mobile device anytime, anytime, anywhere, forever.”  I have ordered several of their cooking courses, and have been so pleased with all of them.  The courses are easy to use; include step by step teaching videos, printable recipes, ingredient shopping lists; and your access to your purchased courses never expires.  The cost for each cooking course ranges from Free to $40.  But once you start using the site, you’ll begin receiving emails that alert you to classes that are on sale, or offers for half-priced classes.  A great way to use this resource is to purchase a course and invite one or two friends over to watch the videos, practice the techniques, and sample the food together in your kitchen.  Because combining cooking and community is THE best!

TASTEMADE is “a video network by and for people who are passionate about food and cooking”.  You can download an app to your phone, or follow them on social media.  Their cooking videos are time-lapsed, so you can see all the stages of cooking a recipe in just a few seconds.  Some of the videos are set to fun music, and they make me feel like I can cook anything!  Other videos are made with step by step instruction from a professional chef.  And all of the videos include a link to the printed recipe that you can open or screen shot so that you can recreate the dish in your own kitchen.  On the app there is a search feature where you can type in any ingredient and several cooking videos will pop up that you can try.  If you enjoy sweets, I suggest doing a search on “Nutella”.  The Nutella Braided Bread is amazing and fairly simple to make if you enjoy bread making.  You also can “favorite recipes” by tapping the heart at the bottom of the video screen, and the app will store the recipes you like in your online recipe box.  It’s wonderful!

If you try one of these resources, please let me know it went in the comment section.  And share resources with us as well that have helped you be a better home cook.

So now it’s time to gather your people around your table and enjoy serving something fabulous to people that you love!

HOW TO INTRODUCE PEOPLE GATHERED AT YOUR TABLE

For someone who is building a vocation around developing community at my table, it might surprise you to know how much I dread introducing myself to a group of my peers.  I never know what to say.  So I usually default to saying something like “I am a stay-at-home mom taking care of my three sons.”

While I am endlessly grateful for my role as a mom, it only captures one aspect of who I am or what I do.  But in our culture, telling people what we do often means summarizing our value to society by our titles and income.

And by that definition, I come up short.

I do a lot of meaningful work every week in addition to caring for my family.  Work that I deeply enjoy.  And I am confident that how I invest my time is significant, even if it cannot be measured by an official title or a paycheck.  I really did make peace with this a long time ago.  The feelings I’m attempting to describe only rear their discouraging head when I am introducing myself in circles of people I don’t know.

Initiating the details of my vocational work into a conversation with professional people I’ve just met feels awkward.  So I often end up saying very little, and instead feel like I seem completely uninteresting in a room full of people with jobs.

I’ve always thought that I wrestle with this tension because I haven’t followed a traditional career path.  My calling has led me to what Sarah Bessey calls “The Ministry of Staying Put”.  Investing 20 years into building a life of love, availability, and service to my neighbors – in my home, in my community, and around my table.

Sometimes we quietly carry burdens that we think are the result of our personal experience, instead of recognizing that many of our doubts and struggles are the shared experience of people around us.  I am 44-years-old and reading this article by Cadence Turpin really is the first time that I realized that feeling uninteresting in a room full of new people is a collective human issue, not my stay-at-home parent issue.

For years I’ve felt isolated in groups of new people because I assume that I’m the only one feeling like I seem uninteresting.  But the reality is that when we go around the circle introducing ourselves to unfamiliar people, most of us are wondering if we seem like we are enough to the people gathered around us.  Because EVERYONE wants to be interesting.  People who have careers and titles and paychecks most likely feel the same way I do.

This realization refreshes my belief in why we all need to be open and vulnerable within a trusted community.  So that we can find strength, confidence, and peace in how our experiences and feelings are similar, even though the details and descriptions of what we do vary wildly.

Today I want to wave Cadence Turpin’s article, “A Better Way to Introduce Your Friends at Parties” like a flag that invites everyone to be known by who they are rather than by what they do.

She is challenging all of us to a better way to engage in community when she writes, “Networking builds an empire, but thoughtful introductions build a community. Where will you lay your bricks?”

I gladly accept her call to something better.  I’m going to begin introducing friends and loved ones gathered at my table by their unique and amazing characteristics.  By the qualities they embody that enrich my life and our relationship, rather than by what they do to pay the bills.

HEARTISTRY – THE ART OF WELCOME

I am in love with HEARTISTRY.

It is a lovely site about inviting people into the beautiful space that we create at our tables so that we can affirm others value and worth.

I feel strongly that you don’t have to decorate your table with magnificent centerpieces or themed designs to host a meaningful gathering.  And I often state that simple spaces are sacred because of the friendship that is shared, not because they are photo-worthy.

A few months ago I featured a post by a young man living in New York City who invites people to gather on his bed and share a potluck, because his apartment is too small to host friends in his living room.  You can read that post HERE.

BUT it is important to clarify that if it brings you joy to invest your time and resources into creating a beautiful space around your table for friends and family, then you should do that!  It’s wonderful to use our gifts and passions to add beauty into other peoples lives.  I think that is something that matters.

I will keep highlighting the ways that simple gatherings can be meaningful, because many people need that encouragement to invite people to their table.  But some people are energized and motivated by creating an amazing aesthetic space that says, “I care about you so much that I created this space and moment as a gift to you”.  That kind of gift is beautiful,  important, amazing, and so different from exhausting ourselves to create a space to impress people.

If creating something beautiful to share with your loved ones is life-giving to you – like it is to me – then you need to check out HEARTISTRY.  The ideas and photos Lyn Johnson shares on her site are inspiring.

Meaningful connections happen in spaces that are simple and spaces that are elaborate.  There is no right or wrong, good or bad.  There is just genuine and authentic, and a finding style of hosting that is the right fit for you.  Invest in the practice of hospitality.  And it is practice.  You may have to try a few different styles to discover YOUR style of hosting that is life-giving to you, as well as to others.

If you are new to welcoming people to your table – and are not quite sure where you are on the continuum of simple to elaborate entertaining – this is my personal rule….Because I find decorating life-giving, I will invest as much energy as I can into creating a beautiful space every time I invite someone to my table.  BUT any time life circumstances are such that the energy required to do that will leave me too exhausted to engage and enjoy the company and conversation of my guests, then I keep all decorating and set up really simple and invite people anyways.

Just don’t let comparison to how other people practice hospitality stop you from knowing the joy of opening your front door wide to inviting people to your table to be loved.  When you find your sweet spot and truly feel the joy of what you are creating at your table – however that looks – people will be drawn to linger there.

And everyone – including you – will leave your table filled up.

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