Breaking Bread

Happy New Year!

It's the time to make New Year's Resolutions. So how about having people over more often this year?

Many of you have seen the Panera Bread ad. It's an open letter to all kinds of people in conflict--serious, humorous, and even fantasy conflict--from Panera Bread. The letter itself is only two words for these warring factions:

Break Bread.

(Click on the ad to so you can read who it was addressed to.)

There is something healing about breaking bread. And yet, fewer and fewer people entertain in the home anymore. According to the book Bowling Alone in the 1970s Americans entertained people in their homes 14-15 times a year, a little over once a month. In the late 1990s that number had dropped to eight times a year, a decline of 45%. I'm sure this trend has continued over the last decade.

But there are glimmers of hope. The movie Julia & Julia made entertaining in the home seem hip. Obama held a beer summit. So maybe we can all break bread or share a pint a little more often this year.

In light of this, please surf over to read Sara Dickerman's wonderful article Tuesday Night Dinner Party: 16 Key Lessons Learned From Slapdash Entertainment. Dickerman set herself the goal to entertain at home every week on Tuesday. Her goal was Walden Pond-esque:

My goal with Tuesday was to see whether I could strip entertaining down to its hospitable essence and stop worrying about all the things that were imperfect about my home, my cooking, and my behavior.
After eight months of this practice the lessons and advice Dickerman shares is both helpful and inspirational. Here are some of my favorite lessons and advice:
2) Don’t forget Julia Child’s adage “Never apologize.” Much of this year has been about reducing the line between “company food” and “food” as we eat it from day to day. As much fun as cooking is, it’s important to remember that dinner parties should also be about making a connection with friends, even if the food isn’t that polished. That means that it’s OK to serve your friends a bowl of chili, or a grilled cheese sandwich, or even order out for pizza if everything else is just too much.

3) Chaos is OK. This is the great humbling lesson, of course, of parenthood—not everything can be controlled. If you invite families into your house for dinner, bedtimes will be stretched, toys will be snatched, and popsicles will occasionally make an unholy mess. I learned that it’s more important to check in with our friends over dinner than it is to have a perfectly timed meal, or impeccably sourced organic carrots, or an uncluttered dining room table.

15) Say yes to help. You don’t have to make it a potluck, but willing friends can make it easier for you to entertain. It’s in their interest. So say yes to the proffered wine, or dessert, or best of all, dishwashing help.

16) And the most important thing I’ve learned this year is to carry on. I started entertaining on Tuesdays, admittedly because it is an inconvenient day, but in a funny way, it’s often less complicated to get people to commit to a weeknight dinner party—there are fewer out-of-town trips and conflicting events. No matter what day you plan to have people over, do it ever so slightly more often than is convenient. Entertaining definitely gets easier with practice.
You can find more of Sara's writing at her blog.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking Bread”

  1. Beautifully said! I've been thinking about this for years, but I've had a lot of, work was busy. I'm wondering if this staying home all the time has anything to do with our increasing polarization. It's good for us to be with people who are different and to get more comfortable with that. To mix it up more often. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I've struggled for years against the tide of "no entertaining" that seems endemic among our aquaintance. In my parents day the "dinner party" for grown ups was a well understood phenomenon, as well as "open houses" and cocktails or bridge (my in laws certainly did that.)

    But a number of things have changed. First of all--both adults are usually working, and quite late. My own father worked until nine or ten at night, but on his own schedule so he could come home for a dinner party if there was one. My father in law kept a routine buisnessman's schedule that was tied to the train home to the suburbs and he came home punctually at 6:00 every night.

    Most middle class people that I know keep very late work hours. No professional is done before six or seven and then they need time to transit home. Getting out after that for dinner is highly problematic. Many people also work through the weekends.

    Most people I know had children late in life--I had my first child at 35 and my second at 38. Among the families that I know this is quite the norm since we generally know people whose children go to school with our children. Children's activities are more varied than they were when I was growing up, and more professionalized. Its the case that most of the families I know with the flexibility to do so are rushing children from one thing to another--although I didn't have so much as an afterschool music class my own children do ballet, jazz, classical indian dance, fencing, and now guitar as well as some serious singing/performing with a repertory company. That's *seven days a week*.

    In my parents day no one socialized *with* their children. We were given children's meals at five thirty and bed by seven. That left acres of time for a grown up dinner. Our children tend to eat with us, family style, every night--even as some of our meals are late, at 7:30, after a dance class and others are early, at 5:30 before some other class.

    Given this complexity of schedules its incredibly hard to get a group of married with children people out to anything: they all expect to bring their children, because babysitting is so difficult to arrange, and the children's schedules, like their parents, are incredibly complex and exhausting.

    I love to entertain and am a great and pretty relaxed cook but for all the parties and dinners and brunches I give we know only one family that ever reciprocates: they hold a big new year's day brunch once a year. People just can't figure out how to do it. And worse, they don't have time to do it.


  3. I guess I've had it lucky because if we've tried to make it a point to invite friends (new and old) over a lot for dinner.

    If anything, most of our friends now have kids close to our age (3.5) and everybody benefits: The kids get to run around in the back yard, the adults get to enjoy some "civilized" conversation, and everybody gets to enjoy burgers or something simple along those lines.

    Plus they understand the added "chaos" of having little ones, so they don't mind if a cup gets spilled or one walks out with spaghetti all over the wall, we don't either.

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