Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leave it to the Experts

Three weeks ago, guest blogger Linda Landreth Phelps talked about having the spiritual gift of hospitality. Unfortunately, I was not so gifted.

I want to be hospitable. I want to be welcoming. But I'm too much of a perfectionist to enjoy the process, particularly since cooking skills do not come naturally to me.

Some time ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. Being teachers, one of the first things we did was make plans to feed her. While I happily (and with great relief) contributed to gift certificates, I put off signing up to make a meal, blaming the craziness of the school year. Besides, what would I make? I don't have a signature dish, and unlike my friends who like to cook, my forays into experimentation sometimes led to dubious results.

When summer arrived, I arranged to go to lunch with my friend. During lunch, we discussed the many meals she'd received, and I was amazed by the simple solutions that had completely eluded me. I can do that, I thought.

And so a few weeks later, I signed up to bring dinner. Something simple, with a purchased side dish and brownies for dessert. I could do this.

Then the day of reckoning - and, worse yet - cooking! - arrived.

First, I ruined the brownies. Okay, they weren't completely ruined, but despite my cooking limitations, one thing I do well is brownies. Not today.

This, of  course, I took to be a sign of impending disaster. The meat dish I'd decided to add to the menu (because my original, simple plan suddenly didn't seem good enough) appeared on the menu for later this week. Worse yet, it was being delivered (in two days) by someone who cooked better than I (at least I assumed this to be the case) and who would almost certainly deliver it in style.

What had made me think I could do this?

Suddenly, a simple act of kindness had become an overwhelming task that I had to do right. I worked myself into a state over the taste, the presentation, and - at the root of it all - living up to my own expectations, particularly as they compared to the skills and talents of others.

Ah, there's the rub.

I knew that whatever I brought my friend would be appreciated. I also knew that it would be tried and true, and although not gourmet, completely edible. I also knew that she's the kind of person who would appreciate it, no matter what.

Didn't matter. Still not good enough.

Fortunately, nothing else appeared to suffer the same, still mysterious, fate as the brownies. Adding store bought peanut butter cookies to the meal as a back-up, I loaded everything into the car and headed over to deliver dinner.

I had a lovely visit with my friend, who was having a good day - or as good as they come for her these days. We talked and laughed and even gossiped a little, and I told her what a kick she'd have gotten out of my cooking neurosis.

When I left, she and her husband were sitting down to the meal I made.

I hope they enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed her company, but next time, I'm bringing a gift certificate.

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