The entire time my daughter's darling friends were at our house, I was worrying: are they having a good time? Are they bored? Do they feel comfortable here? ARE THEY HAPPY?????
Because the truth is that this is what hospitality is all about: making other people happy in your home. I fully understand that being a hostess is not a matter of impressing people but rather welcoming them. But why do you welcome people into your house if not to make them happy while they're there? And this is where things get tricky for me.
If you are a guest at my house, I am always concerned about whether you are content and pleased. You, of course, are not at all judgmental or demanding. But while you are talking, sharing, eating, conversing, listening, and observing, I am wondering if you are enjoying yourself. Are you warm enough? Cool enough? Is the couch comfortable? Do you like the people you're with? Are you bored? Do you feel relaxed? Did I, the hostess, do enough in advance to make you feel your visit was special? At the same time, am I now carefree, attentive, witty, unhurried, and unflappable? (Unlikely, since I am never carefree, attentive, witty, unhurried, or unflappable.)
I am also nervous about your reaction to your surroundings and to the food I serve you. Do you like our house, the furniture and its arrangement, the decor? And do you like what I've made you to eat?
And if you don't like anything, be it the casserole or the couch, I am worried you will be unconsciously, and on the most benign of levels, unhappy with me. I know you will not be unhappy with my husband, because for one thing, almost no one is ever displeased with my husband, one of the world's most truly likeable people. Also, there is no chance that he will have cooked the meal. So you might be displeased with me, the hostess--which, to a pleaser personality, is a fate almost worse than death. The mere thought that someone could be in my house and be unhappy about anything that could be construed as "my fault" is troubling.
Obviously, I do not feel this sort of "pleaser pressure" on a regular basis with my little family. My husband and daughters are certainly unhappy with me on a regular basis and sometimes do not like the food I make for them. But they also know that the alternative to me cooking and cleaning and managing the place is that they would have to do it. As such, I am daily given the benefit of the doubt, motivated by their gratitude that at least there is clean laundry. Also, my secret-recipe chocolate-chip cookies cover a multitude of sins.
I know all this inhospitable-ness makes me sound wildly self-absorbed, as if I think everything is all about me. But that's the point: if I invite you over, our time must and should be all about you! And what if you don't enjoy yourself? WHAT IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY?!
I'm thankful there are so many gracious, relaxed hostesses out there who are gifted at extending hospitality. I'm just not one of them. I do not have that gift. But I do have the gift of my Aunt Jennie's fabulous meatball recipe, which I gladly share with you here. Serve these when you host guests in your home, and I believe they will be very happy indeed.
Special Company Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 TB minced fresh onion
1/3 cup ketchup
2 TB brown sugar
1 TB lemon juice
1 (16-ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
1 (12-ounce) bottle chili sauce
2 TB water
In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients (beef through onion) gently with a fork just until bread crumbs are incorporated. Form mixture into about 30 meatballs and set aside. In a separate medium-sized bowl, using a fork or, ideally, a potato masher, combine the remaining ingredients
(I pour the water into the nearly empty chili sauce bottle, replace the lid, and shake it around to glean the remaining sauce from the bottle).
Coat the insert of a slow cooker lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon or ladle about 1 cup of the sauce mixture into the bottom of the insert. Gently place half the meatballs on top of the sauce in the insert. Spoon or ladle about half the remaining sauce over the first layer of meatballs. Add the remaining meatballs to the pot, and top with the remaining sauce. Cover with lid and cook on low for 7-9 hours, depending on how hot your slow cooker runs. Serves about 8.