My mahogany dining room table, now an 84-year-old antique, was owned by my grandmother, Nanny. On that table, amid each place setting of shiny silverware, Nanny served countless gourmet meals to friends and family. She made meals with cherry compote, lobster Newberg, browned butter asparagus, and charlotte russe (an elegant cake with layers of lady fingers, Bavarian cream, and strawberries). She made aspics (made of jelly and stock) that were molded and delicately decorated inside. She made pies laced with bourbon and topped with beautiful patterns of fresh whipped cream. Nanny’s creations were elegant and she was a delightful hostess. I cannot live up to her standards, but I still can enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends gathered around a good meal at the dining room table.
I have the table set up for six people, but if I put in the leaves to extend it, it would comfortably seat twelve and be the way my grandmother had it. I am, unfortunately, not a proficient cook nor a relaxed hostess. The food I prepare is fresh but simple, and the presentation is appealing, but not striking. Instead of easily mingling with my guests, I go back and forth to the kitchen to prepare the food or clean up, or if guests join me in the kitchen, I need to pause from conversation to concentrate. However, once we sit down to eat at the dining room table, I can relax and enjoy the delightful company of family and friends around a decent meal.
As a child and young woman, I completely took for granted the skill of being a hostess. In fact, I thought it was a shallow pursuit, not a productive use of time, but now I understand it completely differently. It takes effort and skill to bring people together, and offering people the opportunity to dine and converse is a gift to one’s company. When the pandemic ends or when we’re all vaccinated, I’ll invite the people I love to a dinner party. If I’m with family, we’ll be sure to give a toast to Nanny.