Taking the Long View in a Life of Hospitality
This article was originally published by Ransom Fellowship.
I have a love/hate relationship with hospitality. That may seem a strange thing to say about a practice that’s necessary and good, highly valued throughout the Old and New Testaments, and deeply woven into the fullness of life. But perhaps you know what I mean. Hospitality can be both beautiful and difficult.
Evolution and Rediscovery — Creating Space for Others and Ourselves
We live in Nashville, Tennessee, a.k.a. Music City, where people are constantly flowing in from other places to make Nashville their home or passing through for songwriting appointments, shows, music business meetings, or just to visit. Since my family and I were once the new kids in town, having migrated from California for my record producer husband to do his work, I know what it’s like to leave all that’s familiar and make a home in a foreign land. I still remember the houses we were invited to in our first year, and how each instance provided a little more connection for four people who’d left family and friends on the other side of the country. But once we were established in Nashville on a property where our home, recording studio, and offices all join together, welcoming friends and strangers became a part of our daily life — the life we continue to tweak as we move from one life season to another.
After long years of living with an extremely open door, I’ve grown tired. Tired of the constancy, the messes to clean up, the lack of privacy, and the frustration of pushing other life-giving work to the side. In response, my husband, Charlie, and I are in a long period of adjustment. We’re learning to be kinder to ourselves, maintaining a welcoming life still, but shifting to one that’s welcoming to us too. We’ve been prone to lose sight of what it means to care for ourselves while caring for others, so that hosting became something to endure rather than enjoy. Even if you possess gifts, skills, and insights that have grown with experience, the satisfaction of caring for people in meaningful ways can turn to burnout, especially when the care overshadows other callings or is lived without boundaries or breaks.
As we course-correct, we’re creating more space around our marriage, as well as opening more time to tend our expanding family, which now includes six grandchildren. In the process of changing things up, I’m rediscovering the parts of hospitality that I love — like imagining a menu, gathering people to the table, and then sending them back home again! In the last year, I’ve cooked for recording sessions, meetings, family gatherings, friends, and strangers who became friends around the table. I find satisfaction and joy in creating food that feeds bodies and relationships.
A few weekends ago, we hosted a dinner with guests from various aspects of the music business — recording artists, songwriters, an actress/singer, a session guitarist, and behind-the-scenes music business folks. Some had lived in town for many years and some were new, three with hometowns and families on other continents. By the time we all said goodbye after a long and lingering dinner, which morphed into a spontaneous dishwashing session and kitchen concert, everyone parted a little more anchored in place and friendships.
A Theology of Love in the Kitchen
When visitors come into the well-supplied kitchen of our home, The Art House, with its 60” Wolf range and side-by-side refrigerators, they often rightly ask, “Do you like to cook?” I almost always stumble over a simple yes or no answer. After living most of my adult life feeding hungry people, I am very interested in food and cooking. But the interest has come alongside the necessity. Cooking has been unavoidable, a skill developed with use. Thankfully, I was inspired early on to see the kitchen as a wholly creative and meaningful place to work, so I have leaned into all the need with an imagination formed by those ideas. There are plenty of times when I can’t keep up with the volume of people coming through our lives and I’m grateful for our local cafés and Nashville restaurants. But when I do cook, I’m driven by something deeper than liking it, as much as I do. A theology of love, nurture, provision, imagination, creativity, and vocation is what inspires my work in the kitchen, along with the simple fact of hunger — my own and other people’s. I love what M. F. K. Fisher wrote in The Gastronomical Me: “I still think one of the most pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
As I continue to encounter one situation after another where food is needed, I’m more aware than ever that learning to cook is not only necessary to daily life, but also a human kindness. There are hundreds of situations across a lifetime where people gather around food or need food brought to them in difficult times. Those who remain cooking-challenged always get a pass when it's time to contribute. In our current market times where so much of our personal life can be outsourced, it's easy to believe we will always be able to purchase what we need. That might not always be so! We never know what adventures await us around the next corner.
Last fall, my daughter Molly and son-in-law Mark spent six weeks in Uganda in the process of adopting their son, Robert. While there, they stayed in a guesthouse — think Ugandan bed and breakfast — with other foreigners who were in Kampala for various reasons. Dinner was provided at an extra cost, but it was also permissible to use the kitchen, which the kids did from time to time, especially as their stay extended past the departure date they’d hoped for. When Thanksgiving rolled around and, soon after that, Molly’s birthday, they took the discouragement and helplessness of waiting and turned it into creativity in the kitchen.
On Thanksgiving, they put together a meal for the whole household, using the more easily obtained chickens instead of turkey, making pumpkin pie by roasting pumpkin and butternut squash, and even creating our family holiday favorite, gratinee of cauliflower. They did all of this and more with a tiny oven that fit one dish at a time and cooked at only one unknown temperature. They guessed at amounts of flour, sugar, salt, and butter because there were no measuring cups or spoons, and they used a pot lid for a pie pan. Even though it took an entire day to cook, with Molly doing the lion’s share because Mark was sick, they were able to give their hosts and their new son the experience of an American Thanksgiving meal, as well as turn a difficult day of homesickness into a better memory. For Molly’s birthday, Mark and Robert made one of her favorites — lemon pudding cake, an old recipe for a pudding that separates into a sponge-like cake on top with lemon custard on the bottom. In both cases, when a celebration was called for, the kids were able to adapt because they both have lots of cooking experience and therefore could be creative in a much different environment.
A Starting Place
Everyone has to start somewhere when learning to cook. Years ago when I had a young family and was just becoming interested in food, I gleaned from friends. I browsed their cookbooks and card files and wrote down recipes on scraps of paper. Later when I could afford it, I began buying cookbooks of my own. These recipes collected over many years have been my tools, my inspiration, and my teachers. Now, with the plethora of internet cooking sites, it’s easier than ever to find good recipes, but I suspect that for a cooking newbie it’s also overwhelming. So in the interest of starting somewhere or perhaps adding to your repertoire, I offer two of my most frequently used recipes, roast chicken and Art House Granola.
They both originate from Ina Garten’s first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I have used these two recipes more times than I could ever count and have tweaked each one slightly so they’ve now become my own.
The roast chicken truly is perfect every time. I’ve only had one failure, and that was due to buying free-range chickens from a local farmer where the chickens had had a bit too much freedom! There was hardly any meat on the bone, and cooking them resulted in shreds of dry meat. But that was an anomaly — both for free-range chickens and for the recipe. Every other time, the chicken has been just right — a wonderful, succulent centerpiece to any meal, whether in fall, winter, spring, or summer. I made roast chicken for our recent eleven-person music business dinner, I make it when there’s no one home but my husband and me, and it’s the recipe my kids used in Africa on Thanksgiving. It’s very adaptable!
If I’m making dinner for two to four people, I cook one chicken. Any more than that and I begin to multiply. Two chickens for four to eight, and so on. If the chickens are smaller — 3 to 3 1/2 pounds — I cook one per two people. I use a half-sheet pan when roasting more than one.
Roast Chicken (adapted from Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken)
Serves 3 to 4
1 (4- to 5-pound) roasting chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh rosemary or thyme (Other fresh herbs work well too — oregano, Italian parsley, sage . . . it’s hard to go wrong.)
1 lemon, halved
1 or 2 heads garlic (Cut one in half crosswise to stuff in the chicken, and if you’re a garlic fan, keep one whole with the root end cut off to cook in the roasting pan.)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of rosemary or thyme, both halves of lemon, and 2 halves of the garlic (don’t peel). Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the sliced onions in the bottom of the roasting pan, and put the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1½ hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. (If cooking smaller chickens, you may need a little less cooking time.) Put the whole garlic in the pan when there is one hour left to go. When chicken is finished cooking, remove the pan and cover chicken loosely with aluminum foil for 10 minutes, allowing the juices to collect in the meat. Slice the chicken onto a platter and pour the pan juices on top. Serve with the whole roasted garlic.
Bonus Chicken Stock
After dinner, take the chicken carcass with the lemon, garlic, and herbs still inside and place it in a pot with water just covering. Scrape whatever is left from the roasting pan into the pot — the cooked onions and the juices. Add salt. Gently simmer for two or three hours. If it’s late, let the whole thing cool in the fridge until morning. Then scrape the fat off the top, and using a colander or sieve, pour the stock into another pot, catching the bones in the colander. Pour the stock into several smallish (pint or quart) storage containers, and, voilá, chicken stock! Freeze the containers until needed for making soups or stews. There are different ways to make stock starting with an uncooked bird, but this one is a handy way to use up the entire chicken or chickens and receive the blessing of yet another meal possibility.
* * *
My second go-to recipe is granola. Many of our houseguests over the years have been twenty-something musicians who work nights in the studio with my husband and sleep late in the morning. House-made granola is my answer to breakfast provision. I can put it on the table along with some bowls and spoons with fresh fruit, milk (soy, almond, or coconut milk when needed), and yogurt await them in the fridge. I’m free to go to my office knowing that whenever our guests get their beauty rest and come to the kitchen, they have something tasty and homemade to eat, but I don’t have to wait to start my day until they appear.
Art House Granola (adapted from Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola)
Yields 12 cups (This recipe is easily doubled — a good idea because it goes fast! If doubled, I bake in two pans.)
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (I get the unsweetened variety whenever I can.)
2 cups sliced almonds or a combination of coarsely chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds, or walnuts
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup good honey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss the oats, coconut, nuts, and a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon together in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the oats and nuts are coated. Pour onto a half sheet pan or cookie sheet with sides. Bake, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even, golden brown—about 30 minutes.
Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool. About 5 minutes out of the oven, use a spatula to scrape the granola from the bottom of the pan and move it around before it gets a chance to stick. It will be much easier to get out of the pan once it’s cooled completely. Store the cooled granola in an airtight container.
* * *
Hospitality, simply put, is a lifestyle of sharing. It’s big enough to extend across a lifetime, and small enough to elevate a simple cup of tea and conversation into something important. The needs we come across, including our own, will guide us. Whether sharing a meal, an afternoon, or a bed for the night, there’s a time for everything. A time to offer and a time to rest, a time for family and a time for strangers, a time to refresh others and a time to be refreshed.
Andi Ashworth lives in a century-old renovated country church with her musical husband, Charlie Peacock, where she cooks, writes, reads, and tends to people and place. Andi is the author of Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring and editor-in-chief of the Art House America Blog.