I'm tired and I hate everything.
That's kind of my natural state.
I say "kind of" because like anyone, I have my soft spots- two, actually. One is this time of year, the waking of a Souther Summer, humid and humming, smelling of hard pine and honeysuckle, of wet sandstone and cold dew. The dappled light coming through my windows by way of the newly leafy sweet gum tree in my back yard practically has the same effect on me as laughing gas; one minute I'm sitting at my desk, grumpy and grumbly as ever, and next thing I know, I'm giggling on the floor, loving forgiving of all creatures, a person I do not know or recognize.
That's who I wish I was, really, instead of this modern day Sisyphus, pushing around the dead weight rock of fear and pity and guilt. On the floor, laughing, it's obvious that all the things the rock is made of amount to worry, which as we all know, but tend to forget, is a misuse of the imagination. How good it feels to let go, to be weightless, if only temporarily.
Using my imagination properly is how I discovered my second soft spot: feeding other people. Two years ago, I had an ongoing surplus of food leftover from various photoshoots and I wanted to save it from the trash can. I'm not gonna lie to y'all- it didn't go great at first. Most soup kitchens won't take food that has been opened or that has been sitting out all day. And most friends don't want to take something ridiculous like five pounds of pea tendrils off your hands on a whim. So the obvious options were out. Then I tried this thing, this amazing thing: I wrote on my personal social media outlets "I'm making [insert dish] on [insert day] at [insert time]. Any and all are welcome. Invite yourself in the comments."
Worry whispered to me that I was making more work for myself, more dishes, more trouble overall. I'd have to figure out what to make, drive to the store, spend extra money on supplemental items, cook, do dishes, clean my house, try to keep my dog from humping any pretty brunette guests, TALK TO PEOPLE!, do more dishes, and of course, lay awake all night wondering if my guests were disgusted by my house or my jokes or my cooking. Worse yet, it whispered, maybe no one will come at all. And I'm not sure how, but there in the middle of a whirlwind of worrisome whispers, I found the eye of the storm, the place where I reminded myself that none of this had actually happened. What if I decide to feed other people and don't look for a reason not to, I wondered? What if all of these annoying things do happen, and I still find joy?
And I did. Again and again.
For practical reasons and because I grew up reading Southern Living and Martha Stewart articles with lists about how to throw a great dinner party, I do have a few recommendations for implementing your own "Invite Yourself to Dinner:"
Clean your house enough so that there is no visible mold, sticky gunk, or tumbleweeds of human or pet hair (this is how you wanted to live anyway, right?)
Make something cheap in one pot (ahem, like lentil salad with asparagus)
Ask at least one guest to bring at least one thing*
Ask at least one guest to help with at least one thing
SIT DOWN DURING DINNER
Play fun music!
Have boundaries; decide on a set time you want to kick people out and have a polite line ready to let them know the party is over
*People do suck though, so the one thing should be simple. Think, like bread or beer.
Spring Lentil Salad
-serves 6 as a main dish, 12 as a side
Can be made up to a week ahead; blanch and add asparagus right before serving to keep it verdant.
2 cups French lentils or lentils du puy
4 cups good chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
2 large shallots
a couple Tablespoons butter and grapeseed oil
2 heaping Tablespoons capers
zest of one preserved lemon, finely chopped*
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 cup roughly chopped dill
1 cup parsley leaves (about half a bunch)
1 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
bread, olive oil, flaky salt and soft boiled eggs to serve
medium sized pot with a lid (4ish quarts)
1. Cut tough ends off of asparagus. Roughly chop the tender parts and blanch them in salted, boiling water for one minute. Place them directly into ice water to cool, then drain well.
2. Pour most of the water out of the pot and bring it to a boil. Insert a steamer basket into the bottom, fill it with large eggs and place the lid tightly on. Steam eggs for 7 minutes, then put them directly into an ice bath as well.
3. Dump the all water from the pot and replace it with chicken stock, wine, lentils and a very, very large pinch of salt. Bring the liquid to a hearty simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone and the lentils are starting to soften to your liking. Drain excess liquid.
4. Melt one Tablespoon of butter with one Tablespoon grapeseed oil over medium low heat. Thinly slice shallots into little half moons and cook slowly with a little bit of salt until nicely caramelized.
5. In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, vinegar, and olive oil. Add capers, herbs, lemon zest, asparagus and cooked lentils. When shallots have cooled, add them too.
6. Reserve any oil leftover from the shallots and add another pat or two of butter. Fry bread in it.
7. To peel the eggs, crack on the bottom, the top and then gently roll them under your palm so that they are cracked all over. Begin peeling on the fat end and use running water to help separate the shell from the egg. Cut over a plate using a wire tied to a cabinet handle.
*I made my own preserved lemons using Meyer lemons and this recipe. They are also available pre-made at many grocers, but they vary in levels of saltiness and sourness, so please add with caution. If you can't find them, just use lemon zest and a little extra salt.