Entertaining on the Fly by Ashley English

Ashley bio photo_credit Tim RobisonLast night, without much planning, my husband and I hosted eight adults and four children for a potluck dinner. Three other couples gathered at our home, each with a child in tow, and we collectively created an Indian food-themed meal of epic proportions. We made a huge mess in the kitchen (which we later all cleaned) while whipping up mango lassis, naan, tandooris, chutneys, kormas, paneers, and curries, listening to bhangra beats on a portable radio all the while. Each guest pitched in, and the sum being greater than its parts, we retired to the patio to feast and watch fireflies and listen to the children giggle and the conversation flow with ease.

Once upon a time, my inclination to plan with a heavy hand every aspect of my daily goings-on, let alone entertain guests in my home on such short notice, would’ve prevented such a spontaneous event from occurring. Fortunately, I met Glenn, my husband. His mantra could very well be “on the fly.” He’s ready for whatever life throws his way, at any time, especially if it involves a cutting board, a knife, a stovetop, and a group of loved ones gathered around a table.

Nowadays, our meals and get-togethers are based on who’s free to come over and what’s in season at the market or in the garden. For this Indian meal, late spring potatoes and early summer squashes composed the korma, while the chutneys were made from peaches put up last summer and rhubarb brought in from the garden a few weeks ago. The tandoori shrimp was wild caught along North Carolina’s coast, and the paneer utilized kale from a friend’s garden.

As we were all cooking, and the music was blaring, and the lassis were flowing (along with the beer and wine and herb-infused cocktails!), and the children were dressing up in costumes and running around looking for toads outside, my enthusiasm and happiness just bubbled up to the surface, and then overflowed. “I’m so happy!” I announced to our friends, my arms outstretched skyward, a huge, satisfied grin on my face. They smiled and laughed knowingly in return.

Here’s the thing. So many people (my former self included) have this false idea about entertaining. For them, in order for it to be done well, it must be cumbersome and exhausting and expensive. I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. If you follow the rhythm of the seasons, gather those you love, harvest food at its peak of ripeness and flavor, and allow a bit of collaborative cooking to occur, magic happens. Everyone is invested, the workload and cost are shared, and the host gets to enjoy the event just as much as the guests. And if that gathering happens to get planned just a few hours before it transpires, that’s OK, too. You’re the only one, really, who notices if the floor has been mopped or the laundry put away. What everyone will remember at the end of the day is the food, the fellowship, and the love.


written by Ashley English, author of Quench and Handmade Gatherings.