My friends know I love to entertain. Whether it is a large boisterous party or a simple group of friends I find it immensely satisfying to gather folks together and bond over good food, games and great conversation. I don’t know if there is anything I enjoy more. I love planning menus, designing the perfect decor and making my small dining room into a beautiful spread. Often people will come to my parties and say something like “wow, this must have been a lot of work.” What they don’t understand is the work is what makes it fun.
I will never forget one evening when I was living in a small basement apartment in American Fork with a bar sized kitchen, no counter space, no outlets and no dishwasher. At the time I was unhappy in my work and depressed about my listless life. These feelings were amplified by the end of the year stresses that January brought to our office. It was also bitterly cold and had reached the point in winter where the snow turns gray and sad. It seemed each week I was putting in more hours and becoming more unhappy.
Thankfully my Heavenly Father had foreseen my difficulties and provided me with a rewarding experience the month before- working with the Sub for Santa program in my ward. I have often led Sub for Santa (even in high school I was in charge of running it for my choir). As part of the project, we set up a service auction to raise money to buy gifts. A service auction is like other auctions, but instead of products, bids are made on services such as hair cuts, music lessons, car washes etc. To do my part, I submitted a coupon for ‘three meals of your choice,’ and as I recall it did pretty good- making $50 or $60.
The lucky winner of my meals was a nice, but very indecisive, and kind of boring guy (a tip to guys out there- don’t be like that!). This person was difficult to talk to because he had no opinions on anything and never brought up a topic for discussion. (Thankfully Camille came along for the ride or there wouldn’t have been much conversation at the dinner table!) Of course, I knew getting him to decide on three meals would be next to impossible- so my solution was “I’m going to make whatever I like!” and that’s exactly what I did. I believe I made a soup, and then a chicken dish, for the first two of the meals, but its the third meal which stands out.
As almost an affront to the difficulty of my life I decided to make my favorite food- spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. The recipe is from Ina Garten (my favorite) with some of my own tweaks (I like my sauce a little bit sweet-I know, true Italians are shuttering!). Just purchasing the food for this recipe was difficult, but I was excited and eagerly anticipating the delicious meal. Eventually the long awaited day came, and big surprise I worked late- not arriving home until 6:30 with the guest coming at 7! Nevertheless, I plowed through and made those meatballs, sauce and spaghetti. I don’t think we ate until nearly 9 but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Everything tasted so flavorful, rich and delicious! I remember asking my friends what they thought and being surprised that they didn’t LOVE it like I did. I was relishing that pasta. As I was eating the thought occurred to me “Why isn’t the rest of my life this good? Why isn’t the rest of my life this happy?”
It might sound crazy but it was a big moment. It was a first step in realizing that my happiness matters. While I still had a long journey in 2007, including one major melt-down, I eventually learned to value myself in a new way. I’d always been confident and auspiciously happy, but for some reason felt I could settle for the mundane- not after 2007. Nothing was worth feeling the way I felt. No amount of money, no career, no perks, NOTHING. Thankfully once I was brave enough to quit, God opened one door after another for me. It was incredibly difficult, but a life experience I will always hold sacred, and it all started with a boring dinner party in January…
I guess it is no wonder I love to entertain after such a moment. (Truthfully, I’ve always loved it. Even in college I threw parties and cooked my stresses away!). Today I had another one of my parties and it was a great success. This one was a small dinner party with just a few friends who happened to be free during this busy holiday time. After the decadence of Thanksgiving, I decided to come up with a healthy holiday meal and serve it to my friends. We had herb roasted turkey breast, pomegranate cranberry sauce, Parmesan herb polenta, mushroom gravy (didn’t turn out very well but you’ve got to try new recipes!), cracked wheat rolls with homemade apple butter, and a simple salad. For desert we had pumpkin puddings with vanilla frozen yogurt and homemade granola (provided to me by my sister!). It was delicious! I am so happy to have found a way to make my favorite holiday flavors healthier. It is a vital piece of the healthy lifestyle I am developing for myself. In addition, finding a way to entertain in a calorie-conscious way is a huge victory. I honestly didn’t miss the heavy sauces, crusts, creams or stuffing. Who’d of guessed? Now my next challenge is an Italian food makeover!
Anyway, it was a fun party with wonderful friends, good food, decor (I must say my ‘memory tree’ is pretty this year) and games (boggle- a Wagner tradition!). My only regret is forgetting to take photos. With all the photographers in my family I often forget to take pictures at events. Oh well! Take my word for it, it was fun. Thanks to everyone for your love and support. Wow! This turned in to a long entry. Enjoy.
7 thoughts on “Dinner Parties Make Me Happy”
So fun. And just so you know, my grandma–who was born in Italy–put sugar in her pasta sauce. You have to, to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Sweet pasta sauce is goooood.
Adrienne Rivetti Jensen
I’m really surprised there aren’t more comments on this one. I thought it was one of my most well written essays. Go figure!
Oh Rachel, you make me laugh. And the nice boring and indecisive guy did make conversation difficult, even for me 🙂 I also made homemade meatballs the other night and they were delicious. I don’t cook often but when I get the chance, I love it 🙂
Seriously he was hard to talk too. I wonder what kind of girl he will marry? Maybe someone will be able to drag him out of his shell.
I need a guy who will be up a for a bit of verbal sparing. Who will be as passionate for life as I am.