I'm starting this week conducting a couple interviews in southern Maine, so I spent Monday morning driving across New England on the waning side of peak foliage season, through hills that are just turning from fire to sunset. Dinnertime saw me snag a corner table at Bob's Clam Hut and cheerfully chow down on the world's best clam strips and tartar sauce (also fries and pickles, as tradition dictates). That is, after all, what one does when one passes through Kittery.
But the best part of the day was the middle, sitting at a cozy, plastic-covered kitchen table chatting with the subject of my interview. Her hospitality autopilot kicked in when I walked through the door, and she laughed her way through an entire conversation while assembling platters of green grapes, sesame-rice crackers and pepper-jack cheese, dates, and various forms of sugar and honey suitable for nibbling with tea. The bergamot freshness of Earl Grey brightened up the whole room.
I'm not obsessed with the food, despite the tone of this post. I am enchanted by the welcome. It's not something that comes naturally to me. I'm intent on getting everything just perfectly taken care of and arranged ahead of time, on the best dishes available, with all the handles turned evenly and the silverware equally spaced at each setting. That's the New England influence, which leads to no one eating any cookies because single-cookie removal will upset the elaborate display. And then I have massive quantities of cookies in my possession, which is a very bad situation indeed.
Or I veer quite far the other direction and welcome people to rummage through the kitchen and sort themselves out. That's the West Coast influence, which might at one point have led to a friend just off a flight from Colombia blearily cooking himself eggs and hulling strawberries in my kitchen while I sat at the table and scrolled through photos of his trip. Suffice it to say the task of effortlessly chopping, washing, cooking, boiling, or serving while maintaining human interaction short-circuits my brain.
I do not do dinner parties unaided. In fact, while I've cooked for a friend here or there over the years, I think I've hosted precisely one full meal for multiple people who are not my parents, and that was a team effort involving the simplest dishes I could think of, none of which came out exactly as intended, and all of which were heartily enjoyed anyway. I eventually recovered.
So, why do my kitchen twitches matter? Because a home should be a welcoming place. `Abdu'l-Bahá described it like this, and I like the picture it paints in my head: "My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whosoever enters through the portals of this home, must go out with gladsome heart."
Maybe I need to stock up on dates. I'm all set on tea.