Kitchen Performance Anxiety

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I think I'm suffering from hostophobia, or fear of being an incompetent host (I know, it's not really a word, but maybe it'll make it onto the Schott's Vocabulary blog). My fiancé and I are throwing a housewarming party in a couple of days, and it will be the first time we have been responsible for feeding so many people. Puzzling over what to serve, and whether our mostly untested antique appliances (the house we bought has a kitchen that was last renovated in the 1950s) will function properly, is keeping me up at night.

Our first mistake was scheduling the soirée for the weekend after we moved into the house. We were so excited about finally having our own party-friendly place after years of living in tiny apartments we neglected to consider whether we would have enough time to unpack.

But the real source of anxiety is the food. My confidence in my cooking abilities is inversely proportional to the number of people I am serving. Memories of past failures loom large: In graduate school my roommate and I threw a small Middle Eastern-themed dinner party. We were a little too liberal with the rose water in the rice pudding we served for dessert, and our guests—who politely ate it anyway—left feeling like they had gargled their grandmothers' perfume. Then there was the edamame and radish salad I brought to a barbeque. It tasted good when I first prepared it, but when I opened the Tupperware lid at the party, the room filled with a powerful smell of flatulence. No one ate it.

And what to serve? Some of our friends are vegetarians, while others won't touch a vegetable (unless you count potatoes). How do we please both the epicures and the unadventurous in the crowd?

I found some reassurance in a blog post at the Atlantic Food Channel called "7 Lessons in Southern Hospitality." Southern chef Regina Charboneau writes that "opening your home is gift enough." In other words, your guests are there to enjoy your company and have a good time, not to have a gastronomic epiphany.

Her seven entertaining tips for the insecure host include developing a signature dish that people will look forward to whenever they come over; preparing as much as possible in advance so you aren't frantic as your guests arrive; and buying some things already prepared rather than insisting on making everything from scratch, down to salad dressing.

With these tips in mind, I have altered my game plan. I've scrapped my original idea, to make a complicated dish I once saw prepared at a cooking class. Instead I'm going to stick with a recipe for chili that I've made successfully before, plus lots of finger foods, and, for a seasonal touch, caramel fondue with chunks of local apple for dipping.

My favorite piece of advice from Charboneau, and one I plan to take to heart: make it easy on yourself—don't be a martyr.

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