Tasty Snacks – Match Made Coffee!

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I love the idea of taste-testing these snacks that came with my Match Made Coffee subscription box, sharing bits and bites with Husband, but that’s not how it ended up happening this week. Instead, since Husband is easing out of Whole30 slower than I am, they became quick breakfasts with my cups of coffee each day, which was lovely and meant that I got to try 3 new sweet treats but without having a whole box of each kind to tempt me!

Walker’s Shortbread with Guatemala Antigua: Shortbread is one of my favorite sweet/salty combinations, so this one would have been a winner regardless. This snack was perfect for the person who cannot stomach cloying sweet treats but who likes a rich addition to a cup of black coffee.

Tunnock’s Real Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafers with Organic French Roast: These caramel wafers have been compared to a Kit-Kat bar with a thick stripe of caramel down the middle – super sweet and perfect with a cup of milky french roast. This combination works well but I wouldn’t sweeten your coffee too much – the snack does that trick well.

Nature’s Bakery Peach Apricot Fig Bar with Espresso Roast: This was the only snack that felt wholesome and healthy (nothing wrong with butter and chocolate, though!) – it includes three kinds of dried fruit with whole-grain crust to make a decadent, more-than-average-fig-newton kind of fruit bar. Unlike the others, this gave me a sustained energy level and tasted delightful alongside another Aeropress coffee cup.

It was nice that the snacks appealed to the sweet tooth, the person who wants a rich but less sweet morsel, and the health side! They were well chosen for dark roasts too; the espresso and french are among the darkest available, and the Guatemala Antigua tasted on the dark side of medium to me. With slight bitter notes in the coffee itself, a selection of sweet notes was the perfect counterbalance!

 

Want to do your own coffee and snacks taste test? Check out Match Made Coffee and see for yourself the fun surprise of treats in the mail!

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Adult Children and Family Holidays

I’ve never “hosted” Thanksgiving – it seems like quite the undertaking, from the outside. There’s food to prepare, spaces to clean, and all the many little things to account for about the guests you have – these are family members, and you know their quirks, and you want them to feel comfortable and at ease. I would probably be preparing for ages before hosting Thanksgiving, and who knows? Someday I might. The closest I’ve come was hosting a pretty family-filled New Years Eve party, and even that comes with very few expectations, food-wise. For Thanksgiving, there are so many iconic foods that folks expect to see!

My husband’s family… so, you know, my family too… is in an interesting spot. All the children are grown, with the youngest in their 20s and married, with parents in their 50s and the grandparents “generation” in their 70s; it’s an entirely adult family. Sure, most of us 20-somethings have friends with babies, but the family itself doesn’t have any yet, and it makes the role of being the “youngest” generation a bit surreal: I’m old enough to be hosting but instead, I’m being hosted by the older generations again.

I want to contribute, though, in a way that I haven’t before: last year, I was in such a tizzy about the wedding (which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving) that I was extremely grateful to leave everything about Thanksgiving to them. However, this year, I’m thankful that I have the space, time, and ability to be (at least a little) helpful. To that end, here are my ways of trying to be a useful daughter/granddaughter-in-law in the yearly Thanksgiving celebrations.

  1. Bring some desserts/breakfast stuff: People don’t love having other people hone in when they are making a dinner masterpiece, but it never hurts for there to be more dessert/breakfast food for the many additional people in the house. It’s also nice for hosts not to have to get up early and figure out some kind of breakfast plan; instead, guests can fend for themselves and everything is more restful for us all.
  2. Bring a game or a fun new activity: This is Husband’s realm; when he and I find out about a cool game or a fun activity to share with family, we try to save it for the next time a ton of us are in the same house. We’ve spent hours in tournaments of backgammon (not a new game, but one that had a heyday with us), downloaded the same trivia app on our phones just to play against people in the same room, and written up our own versions of charades. It keeps everyone who isn’t thrilled about football busy and happy and making memories together.
  3. Bring what you’ll need and make time for yourselves: I try to pack well in general, but I tend to forget things and need to borrow or buy them – I try harder to make sure I’m well-packed when I’m staying as a guest in someone’s home, because it’s one way to make my stay with them less of a burden. I also like to plan, if I’m going to stay for a while, for Husband and I to take a little time for ourselves somewhere in there, just to get out of the hosts’ hair. In this case, our anniversary will always fall around Thanksgiving from here out, and so we’ve got reservations for a nice dinner Saturday night; by then, we’ll have had lots of family time but still have time to reconvene on Sunday morning.

Most of all, noticing when there are opportunities to spend time with someone while helping them out – doing dishes, carrying chairs, setting out silverware. These aren’t fancy and it doesn’t make the work of hosting much easier, but it does give you a time to connect while spending time together.

Eating Together Isn’t Always about the Food

I got really nervous last night before the dinner party – I was lucky that I was running around getting everything ready or I would have probably had a pretty serious anxiety attack. Husband was doing his best to reassure me, but keeping moving was more helpful – Husband on his worst day is less anxious than my best day.

The roots of my worries were two things that made this dinner party different: one was that I was making all the food, not technically having a potluck. So this meant I was making a lot of food just in case anyone brought extra friends. Second was more important, which was all the other people at my dinner parties have been grad school friends – people with a ton of things in common, who were similar ages. For this party, I only invited folks I’d met around town since moving here – all acquaintances, many of whom didn’t know each other. They were all different ages, all different occupations… I didn’t know if anyone would say anything to each other.

All the other parties had some kind of fun dinner-party theme and the focus could be on the food – people did get to know each other, but they mostly talked about the tiny appetizers or the many soups. For this one, front and center was the conversation, with a few plates of enchiladas and a salad for anyone who wanted it.

As people arrived, I saw easy introductions made and got people drinks, and like magic… they all talked about dogs. Dogs! Husband and I don’t have one or want one, but everyone else at our party had dog stories to share. From there, I eventually pulled the food out of the oven and got everything situated, but we all wandered through the house in different groups, some playing foosball and some just sitting. I got to talk to everyone a little, and people who didn’t know each other well before bonded.

It was hands down my favorite dinner experience so far. I would definitely say it’s not for the faint of heart – my resolution is to save these kind of conversation-driven parties for friends I know well and try to have an activity (movie night or game night) if lots of folks are new to me. Still, I’m pretty thrilled. I did a brave thing, and while it was a small brave thing, I’ve already had two messages today from people who enjoyed themselves; it really did happen!

Meal Planning for a Non-Potluck Dinner Party!

I am really excited about tomorrow’s dinner party for two reasons: one, it’s mostly people that haven’t been to my house (I’ve only seen them at public events around town, so now I’m really having ‘strangers’ into my home!). The other is that instead of making it potluck, I am making all the food – or at least enough food, with any things the guests bring as extra.

Planning a meal like this is delicate – I’m not a fancy person, and I cannot even pretend to be effectively, so I’m having to keep it simple. I think I might have a vegetarian or two, so I’m hoping to do some black bean and sweet potato enchiladas, black bean and shredded chicken enchiladas, and some tomato-and-onion rice as a side. We made some snack-y foods this week in preparation for the event, and I’ll throw together a salad with green peppers, mushrooms and carrots the day of… I might make a pound cake for dessert, just to top it all off! This way, we’ve got a dinner that is a little customizable (add sour cream? add avocado? Be my guest!) and hearty, but not fancy or overwhelming. It’s just having people over for Mexican food, pretty much.

The meal planning is only part of it, though, when I think about having total strangers over. Husband is certainly going to want to have a fire in the fireplace and maybe take folks on a tour of the house – I hope he can convince someone to play on our mostly-neglected foosball table. I hope that we can get folks talking about subjects that bring them joy rather than just talking about things they liked and disliked about the recent Presidential election; part of my mental planning is wondering how we’ll handle people getting heated on such subjects. I even have to plan for chairs – there are going to be about 10 of us (!!!) and that’s just slightly too much to fit around our table.

In all of this, I’m trying to remember that it is important to bring people into your home and make them feel welcome. It’s worth it even if I feel like my house is imperfect and the food will be simple and the conversation could get odd. It’ll be a good party, and I’ll have completed 4 this year!

 

You Can Do it, Dinner Party Newbie.

There are so many easy reasons not to have dinner parties. Restaurants are prettier, cooking by yourself is cheaper, seeing your friends when you see them is more convenient, planning nothing at all is less stressful, but let me tell you: I’m ready to advocate the dinner party, even after the messiness, the expense, the lack of convenience, and the stress. I have good reasons too.

  1. Doing hard things builds character

I have now had three dinner parties this year, but at least two other potential parties I chickened out of throwing because I worried the people wouldn’t get along or wouldn’t like the food. Every time I go through with it, though, I think I get a little more convinced that it’s worth it to try something a little against-the-grain and have people into your home. It’s quite the act of trust, but it seems to pay such good dividends.

2. If you love cooking, you will never have a better excuse to make LOTS of food

3. People you would never imagine liking each other will manage to make it work over a big plate of food.

4. People feel more connected to you, even if they don’t know you well, if they’ve spent the evening sitting by your fireplace and chatting.

5. We’ve lost the art of in-person conversation as a main form of entertainment, and it needs to come back: it’s free, it’s fascinating, and it makes us better at all kinds of other things!

6. People notice so many fewer of the things you see as imperfect in your house and notice so much more of the detailed touches of architecture or decoration than you’d expect – they take in the good and tend to ignore the bad (we all have it, so it’s less interesting!).

7. Your board games need a chance to come out and play.

I know I won’t convince everyone, but I think trying it once is worth it – if you discover I’m wrong on every count, at least now you have the worst-dinner-party-ever story to tell at… well, some event. I don’t think you’ll regret it though!

Relaxation: the final product of continual potlucks

I had my third potluck of the year last night; while a couple of new friends and N’s boyfriend came for the first time, the core of the group had all been to my house before and new the drill: we fill our giant dining room table with food, you help yourself to drinks and pile plates high, and we mingle between rooms and the back porch all evening. Nearly everyone knew where the bathroom was, and no one seemed shy about raiding the fridge.

I had anticipated, as I moved from crockpot to oven to stove with the various foods I was cooking, some nerves or butterflies or just general anxiety about the party. However, it really never arrived; around 7 I put on some background music and people began arriving. It felt comfortable: a couple of my more shy friends sat on the back porch where it was quieter, and Husband started a fire in our firepit and talked heat transfer with a couple coworkers. We played one silly party game, but it was mostly to make each other laugh, not because there was nothing to talk about.

As for food… soup and bread turned out to be a wonderful theme! We had tomato soup, butternut squash soup, Indian mulligatawny, chili, gumbo, a sweet red bean soup from China, golden curry, and potato leek soup. For breads, we had roti, naan, fluffy peasant bread, crusty artisan bread, sesame seed bread from the farmer’s market, cornbread casserole, and smores bites for dessert! I also made some gingerbread cookies, which I’m happy to see have survived to the second day. 🙂

I include this picture of N putting away a pile of spilled toothpicks because she is grinning, and because it makes me smile too; parties aren’t perfect, just like spilled toothpicks are no fun to pick up, but if you get to know people and spend time eating with them and sharing life stories with them, you will eventually find a comfy rhythm that can actually look like being relaxed, not like being a stressed host.