An Anglican priest in Knoxville, TN has a great exhortation to offer scruffy hospitality to friends, instead of keeping your doors closed until you can be a startlingly excellent host.
Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.
So I begin to ask this question, a good question: what does it look like to welcome people into my humility rather than my standard of excellence? The playroom may not be tidy. Our kids, who are lovely and enjoyable, may become noisy and cranky around 7pm. Dinners may be sponsored entirely by Trader Joe’s frozen section rather than a handmade Jamie Oliver recipe. I might serve Crane Lake wine. Well, maybe not. Pepperwood Grove is still a low budget wine for a few bucks more and so much better. But why would I withhold an invitation simply because I can’t make dinner from scratch?
I host a group of 20-30 Christian friends every month for BenOp dinners, as well as running monthly debates (with snacks) and sundry movie nights and play readings. And I’ve always held to scruffy hospitality (or to use a phrase I picked up from the Bay Area: minimum shippable product hosting). Everything just needs to be good enough to happen, and should never be so good as to put me off of hosting in the future.
It’s definitely fine for scruffy hospitality to involve ordering pizza, defrosting store food, etc. but I do have a few very very easy recipes to recommend, if you’d like to do some scruffy hosting of your own.
NOTE: One thing to keep in mind is that some recipes are terrible for large groups. Smitten Kitchen’s herbed summer squash bake is delicious, but I really regretted making if for a 30 person group. Making butternut squash mac n cheese doesn’t have too many steps that get more difficult when the recipe is scaled up (the worst of it is cutting up the squash), but the herbed bake involved slicing squash into thin slices, and then sauteing them in a single layer and flipping each slice to brown on both sides.
At the scale intended, this probably involves one or two rounds of sauteing. For me, it was the major factor in being up til 2a the night before the party. NEVER AGAIN.
So, here are a few much more forgiving recipes that I’ve found I can depend on when offering scruffy hospitality.
This scales easily (just grab a bigger pot) and it’s only a little longer to slice more tomatoes and onions. The best part is that all the labor is front loaded, so, with just a little bit of free time before your guests arrive, you can get everything into the pot to just be simmering for 30 minutes, with no further work from you.
I’ve never actually made this with farro (my grocery store doesn’t have it) but quinoa’s worked fine. And, as usual, I double the onions.
Ok, this one lacks the virtue of the one-pan farro — once you start, you’re working on it the whole time, so I’m usually making this while welcoming people as they arrive. But! All the steps are very easy, none require much attention, and the recipe has that delightful property where all the work fits into fallow time as something else is cooking, so it really takes no more total time than just boiling water and making pasta.
I 1.5x to 2x both the cheese and the lemons.
These pastas are both pretty to look at, which I think always buys some bonus good will (and you can fake pretty by buying multicolored penne, or those vegetable infused spaghettis that are a more exciting color than usual).
I also serve my dinners in disposable dishes (I don’t own enough plates for 10+ people!) and tend to pick small bowls over plates to encourage people to take a smaller first serving and go back for seconds, which tends to mean less uneaten food on plates and less extra food I need to cook to no purpose.
When it comes to dessert, my go to lazy but excellent solution is:
It’s a giant cookie in a skillet! You can make it while people are watching (they tend to be excited) and it’s a good last minute dessert. I always make sure I have the ingredients for a skillet cookie in the house.
It’s pretty forgiving, too — I had a way scruffier than usual skillet cookie this weekend at my Sense and Sensibility watch party when it turned out I didn’t actually have enough flour for the recipe. (“It’s a chocolate chip cookie/pudding hybrid!” I exclaimed, and, reader, they ate it up).
I add more chocolate chips than the recipe suggests and sprinkle sea salt on top before it goes in the oven. I’ve also almost always doubled the recipe when I’ve used it.
Any of you have good, lazy recipes to share?