Why do we shy away from inviting a group-any size, really- of people to eat at our table (or sit on the floor) and warm their hearts with us? What stops us? Larger parties just put people to shaking their heads and sort of pulling their lower lips to one side, gritting teeth, thinking about the need to paint the house, clean the carpet, re-do the bathroom, install new lighting fixtures, buy all new dishes, pots and pans and wine glasses, and, as my husband says, “alphabetize the spices.” In other words, we want to do everything that ever needed to be done (preferably in one week/day? or less) in the last five years. (Above and below photos-favorite family/friends come visit for the chicken salad taco party in honor our our daughter’s college graduation.)
Once, many years ago now, we were having our good friends, Susan and Charles (with kids) over for a Christmas night buffet.
Early that afternoon, my lovely guy decided it was time to pull apart the kitchen chairs and re-glue them. Oh, boy. (I did stop him.)
We suffer from the perfection-for-company gene and, if we’re not careful, we tire ourselves out with that worry. We may easily not enjoy the special day we planned for our friends and loved ones or, even, worse, we’ll give up and either not have the party or we’ll throw in the dishrag and pay through the nose for a restaurant event. I have one friend who says, “I can’t even get the house clean, much less cook for anyone.” And that’s the story of our busy lives. I have one question. With what are we so busy that we have no time to spend with those we love? Why are we so worried about the cleanliness of our house or the tidiness of the yard or our own cooking skills? I truly don’t believe anyone cares about the state of our abode or the perfect food preparation, but they really do care about being together. People, all of us, feel the pain of isolation in our hurry-hurry lives and wonder why they’re not invited for dinner.
To have time to eat together requires a little planning, a little shopping, a little work.
Not so much more than you do anyway. Spending more time at the table has rewards much greater than a full stomach or an evening out; it fosters learning about others’ lives and sharing in the good, bad and indifferent if done on a regular basis. It warms up the laughter that has cooled in our hearts and takes it out on the breeze where it can flap around and do some good for everyone. We are meant to be together and, just as there are no atheists in fox holes, there are few (I can’t say none!) enemies around a table, loved ones.
If you are a practicing Christian (and even if you aren’t), take a look at what Jesus did the night before he knew he was going to die. He called his friends together to eat and told them to keep on eating together and… to love one another. I’m almost sure he didn’t re-carpet or worry about his china matching. His prescription was one we can look at for an example. He had no home; he had no church. He had hospitality of the heart.
So look at this plan for a grilled chicken taco supper party for 25 that you can use anytime. We put it together for our daughter Emily’s college graduation party, but you can have it for any weekend or the Fourth of July, even. The key, here, folks, to an enjoyable afternoon or evening is absolute simplicity of menu. One starter, two at the outside, (store-bought), two drinks (one alcoholic, one not), one main course, a pre-made dessert and coffee ready to go in the big pot you borrowed from your cousin Tess. The fewer decisions you give your guests, the less work you have and the more space you have in which to serve eat and enjoy.
Before I give you the menu, a few words of advice about getting your abode and the party itself ready:
1. No huge household projects that month.
2. Take an afternoon off the day before and get the serving dishes out (and cleaned) and set up everything you can ahead. (Hire someone to clean or give a kid a few bucks to help.)
3. Give yourself time to breathe and enjoy the journey of preparation; you’re doing something wonderful for people you care about. Smile and actually plan on having fun yourself. Think of the example of hospitality you’ll be setting for your children, friends and family.
4. Use disposable items if your conscience can bear it. (Or hire your kids to do the dishes)

Time to visit, catch up…
Time to learn, be close..
Even laugh!

MENU
*2 lb Manchego cheese served on a large platter with Quince paste and crackers
*Tortilla chips and salsa (you’re buying these ingredients for the tacos, buy extra for the starters with no extra work)
*Sangria (I offer a recipe; you can also buy it)
*Iced Tea (premade in bottles in cooler)
*Water (same story as tea)
*Chicken Taco Salad (Start a day ahead for marinating chicken)
*3 loaves best local bakery French bread, garlic bread or tortillas (with butter)
*Chocolate Chip Cookies (or have two neighbors each make a gallon of ice cream) Make ahead and freeze. Cookie recipe is next blog…

Sangria
(Start day before)
4 bottles red wine of any sort (I like Rioja, a med.-bodied rough Spanish red, but also
use the bottles people give us that we don’t adore)
4 lemons cut into wedges
4 limes ditto
4 oranges ditto
1 c simple syrup (boil equal amts. water and white sugar together briefly and cool)
1 qt. orange juice
4 shots triple sec
2 bottles seltzer water or low-sodium club soda
Ice

Macerate cut up fruit in wine only overnight (let fruit soak up wine.) Add simple syrup to taste to desired sweetness (you may not want it all). Put ¼ of mixture into a large pitcher or punch bowl and add ¼ of the juice, triple sec and seltzer. Repeat process as necessary when sangria runs low. Serve over lots of ice.

Chicken Taco Salad Bar for 25
(need to begin a day before serving)


Marinade:
2 jars (7 oz) canned chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
¼ c canola oil
¼ c olive oil
6 t garlic minced
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
3/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
5 T smoky paprika
5 t cumin
5t chili powder
3 t Kosher salt

25 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (Don’t marinate 2-3 pieces)

3 10 oz containers mixed greens
2 c grape tomatoes
1 large onion, slivered, divided
3 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large sweet peppers, one red, one yellow, chopped and divided
1T olive oil
Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper
Tabasco sauce
2pounds shredded Vermont cheddar
16 oz container low-fat sour cream
2 jars Litehouse ranch (light) dressing (comes cold in produce section)
1 jar (16 oz) Jardine’s 7J Ranch Campfire roasted medium salsa

4 c pre-made (or homemade if time) guacamole
4 c crushed tortilla chips (or left whole if you prefer)

Mix the marinade ingredients in a large bowl or process in the food processor. (You might save a little of this out for folks who would appreciate a very spicy dressing on their salad.) Place all but 2-3 chicken breasts (for folks who can’t do spicy) in gallon freezer bags, cover with marinade evenly and close bags securely. Mush the bags in order to make sure all chicken is covered. Put the chicken you did NOT marinade in a separate bag. Place all bags in refrigerator overnight or at least eight hours before cooking.

Mix ranch dressing with salsa and refrigerate in covered medium pitcher.

Place 1 T olive oil in medium saucepan, add 2T slivered onion and 2/ c chopped sweet peppers (some of each color) and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add black beans and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Place in small crock-pot and set dial to warm or low.

Place greens, tomatoes, remaining onions, remaining peppers, cheddar, sour cream, guacamole and tortilla chips each in separate serving containers and place on table or counter to create taco bar. Plug in pot of beans on bar or nearby. Remove chipotle-ranch dressing pitcher from frig. If you saved a bit of the marinade, place it in a small pitcher, labeled, on bar.

Grill chicken on grill about 6 minutes on each side. Slice each breast into 6 or so pieces and place chicken in warm dish at bar. Cook and serve unmarinated chicken breasts separately. Let folks build their own salads on large, strong paper plates. Serve with big chunks of great French bread and butter,

enjoy smile laugh eat drink be merry be one together dance sing open eyes see….
Sing a new song,
Alyce
In memoriam…

Our sweet love and cooking companion, Fiona (11 1/2) had to be euthanized last Friday. She would eat nearly anything I cooked and was the essence of unconditional love in our house and kitchen. We will miss her forever.