We had no idea we'd be up for hosting a dinner for the Jewish New Year until 10 days before. We'd stopped hosting dinners -- something we loved to do -- six weeks ago. Frankly, we were out of practice. Summer entertaining is something we look forward to -- my husband Bill is the grill master and I am the mistress of greens and confection. We both know how to pick wines and set a table and we love having friends at our home. Summer entertaining just seems more relaxed than any other time of year, and it's one of our favorite ways to catch up with our friends -- and even meet new ones.
But this summer, because of Bill's bike accident, we closed up shop. Free and easy expansive menus and multiple guests were replaced by healing soups and tea for two. And, as Bill's healing began to take hold, we ventured out as much as possible, our friends were fabulous -- inviting us over for dinners and excusing us before the plate cleaning and dish washing needed to be done. Our go-to at-home August dinner: farm-fresh poached eggs, avocado, lemons and sweet melon.
Each of us secretly had been hoping we could put a meal on the table for friends before summer was over. It didn't happen. So, when it turned out family would be around for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hoshana, we spent a good deal of time deciding if we were up to "hosting" the meal at our house.
Our religion is food-focused and as such, whenever there's some praying to be done, we open our recipe books way more enthusiastically than we do our prayer books.
There's some good eating around the Jewish New Year, as we celebrate new beginnings and gratitude for all we have -- and that means FOOD. So, Bill and I decided, ready or not, we needed to buck up and offer a meal to our friends and family. And so we did.
What was incredible was, we learned something new in the process. In search of the perfect chicken recipe for 20 people, that would taste great and not require my grill master to slave over his grill castle -- I started emailing my foodie friends for other options. Guess what name was emailed to me the most often? Ina Garten! Yup, Ina. Her name popped up time and again as having the best chicken recipes -- but everyone had modified Ina's recipes. When my friend Debra emailed me her special version of Ina's Lemon Chicken without the lemon, it became clear that creating one's own personalized "Ina" brand of chicken was de rigueur.
So, at midnight -- only a breakfast and lunch away from our celebratory dinner -- it was time to pick a recipe -- a bit of trusty Googling landed me on Ina's Lemon Chick recipe. As I read through the ingredients, the time to prepare and the cooking process I was pleased that I wasn't going to need to make another run to the market. However, I was really bummed that I needed to chop 32 cloves of garlic (I was quadrupling the recipe) and countless fresh sprigs of thyme (I'd never done that) to prep for this recipe. It seemed like it would take forever and didn't sound fun at all.
Frustrated, I was about to start searching yet again for an easier option and then I spied a link to "video." Genius!! I could actually watch Ina make this very recipe. I could learn quick chopping techniques and wouldn't have to call my Auntie for instructions. I had no idea I could learn to cook in bed at midnight from the very master herself -- Ina -- and that her video was an easy click positioned next to the recipe.
I nudged Bill awake and replayed the chopping portion of the video -- he was awed by Ina too. Suddenly, I felt braver -- I could do this chore -- it looked like a no-brainer -- Ina was opening new gateways for me. Clearly, I don't watch cooking shows, or this would not have been a breakthrough experience. But hey, although I'm late to the video cooking school experience, it's never too late to learn. I watched Ina brush the sprigs of the fresh thyme off their stems with her thumb and index finger -- effortless -- plus the thyme flakes barely needed chopping. I honestly had thought the entire stem was part of the chopping process -- I have served many a twig of thyme in my day -- but no longer. And Ina showed me how not to burn the garlic that was being sautéed in oil. I had never before mastered that.
Bill was back to sleep, I was watching the video for the third time, (I usually reread recipes at least five times while cooking so this seemed natural... but more fun). Come morning, I had my Ina visual embedded and strutted to the kitchen and began.
Exhausted but content, we hugged the last guest goodnight and wiped down the kitchen counters. We lingered for a moment -- we were beyond proud. We had taken the next healing step, stepped over the threshold and opened our door just a little wider into the world, and seeing our guests sated and happy was our reward. We welcomed back our routine of entertaining and began to think, Who should we have over next?
Thank you Ina, thank you, Google, and Happy New Year to all!
Read more from Better After 50:
Goodbye, and Thank You Bubbe
Religion And Humor: Funny You Should Ask
One Girl's Cupcake Is Another Girl's Crack Cocaine