cooking for company

i’ll be humming today. most of the day. for i have one main mission: i’m cooking for company.

oh, no one’s ringing the bell till tomorrow night. and when the bell rings it will be old, dear friends. friends we grew up with, all of us with jewish-catholic kids, all of us finding our way. among the crowd will be the woman who took my breath away long, long ago, when we sat down to a table at the very first meeting of our little interfaith school, and she looked up and down both sides of that table and announced: “we’re here, because one or both of you (among the pairs learning their way in the raising of jewish and catholic children) is passionate about your religion.” a finer reason to be at a table, i’d not encountered, not lately.

that particular woman, and her particular husband, rose to hero status in my mind, when one rosh hashanah we sat down at their table, a whole ring of good souls seated there, and the doorbell rang. and a disheveled but beautiful woman stepped into the room. her name was “lovie,” and she was homeless. but she knew, because she’d been ushered in so many times, that if she climbed the steps of the front stoop on berwyn avenue, she would always find a place at the table, and endless plates of food. but more than that, she would find the richest, most curious company.

no wonder i call this crowd my lights along the way.

our children are grown now, the ones who together reached for the crayons and drew pictures of God, the ones who traced the histories of judaism and catholicism. who read the stories of clashes and wars and injustice, sometimes, heartbreakingly sadly, under the banner of God.

each one of the couples who will come to my table tomorrow, we’ve all just deposited a child — or in one case, three children — far away at a college — or colleges, in the case of the triplets. where the growing goes on, far far away from all of us.

and because i love each and every one of these someones, i am cooking my heart out.

for a minute or two, i considered ordering in. calling up the middle eastern place with the fabulous kifta and shawarma and baba ganoush, reeling off my plea for oversized aluminum pans filled to the brim with deliciousness.

but i changed my mind.

these are great good souls i want to cook for. i want to chop and stir and saute. i want to hear the red wine glugging into the pot. want to hear the chicken sizzle when it hits the olive oil, the garlic.

i want the house to fill with the savory song of coq au vin cooking.

i want to put a bit of my heart in that pot. i want to have labored.

because, call me crazy, i think you can taste it.

i think when you cook for company, when you cook for people you love, it always comes out in the broth, in the essence. could that be the reason we sometimes lick plates?

it’s the same with setting a table. it’s as if you wedge open a space in your heart. you lay down forks and butter knives and old chipped china with a mix of charm and occasion. you lay down layers of story: those plates found in the cupboard when you moved into the house you bought from the two guys who took the time to find out you loved blue, and figured you were a wiser option than the resale store, where those old willow plates would have been headed had you not fallen in love, with the house, yes, but, too, with the guys who were selling it.

it’s why i’ll be out in the chilly cold garden today, clippers in hand, bringing in heads of hydrangea and rosehips to tuck in a vase, to make it all beautiful. layers of beauty, i’ve found, gild conversation. make words sparkle. stories tumble and spill, like jewels from a bag.

it’s all part of the alchemy, the gift and the joy of inviting in company. of taking the time to clear out a date, to anticipate, to imagine the words and the faces crowded there in the kitchen.

there is nothing i love quite so much as a crowd in my kitchen. i love the snippets of words, of one someone’s story mixed with another’s. sometimes, i step off to the side. i soak it all in. i memorize the moment.

and then, when everyone’s deeply absorbed, i might lift the lid on my old red dutch oven. the hint of the wine and the garlic will rise.

deep down, someone might notice, might realize, might get it: she cooked for the whole of us. she didn’t take short cuts.

in a world of instant and virtual, she did the real thing. she cooked from her heart. she pulled out a table of beautiful somethings.

she set the stage. and company came.

xoxo from my house to yours. what’s your go-to company recipe? and what fuss do you make in setting the stage? i am utterly taken by the fine art of hospitality, of those good-hearted, generous souls who understand the magic of gathering company and making it last long after the last of the sparkling cleaned dishes is tucked back on the shelf. spill your dinner party secrets and stories, if you please….