I’d like to introduce you all to my friend Jane.
One of my earliest memories of Jane is of a conversation we had just after taking over the lease to her apartment. Jane not only remembered the names of everyone living in the building, but had obviously spent time getting to know different people. She’ll be embarrassed I’m sharing this, but that conversation goes to show the kind of warm person Jane is, and the love she has for all sorts of people.
I was pretty excited when Jane decided to launch a blog filled with recipes aimed at cooking for others. Hospitality in the home is a rare thing these days. While we’re used to the concept of entertaining or throwing a party, the simple act of opening up your house to friends and strangers is fast becoming a lost art. Jane’s blog, Food that Serves, revives hospitality into a practice that is achievable despite a busy lifestyle and tight budget. I can vouch for this personally; I made the passionfruit slice for a brunch the other week in under 20 minutes and it tasted great.
I asked Jane a few questions about the blog and what hospitality means to her (I’d also love fountainside readers to help Jane with her project. See the end of this post for more details).
Soph: What inspired you to start Food That Serves?
Jane: A few years ago, I had an idea of putting together a cook book for the purpose of Christian hospitality. At the time I’d been feeling bored with my repertoire of favourite recipes that fitted the bill: the cheap, easy and yummy ones that didn’t stress me out when having people over. But the idea failed to launch because I quickly realised how much effort was involved and life got busy. That was until about a month ago when another blogging friend of mine made a comment on facebook about ‘niche blogs’ and their value in the digital world. I realised my quaint little idea might captivate a certain audience and her comment sparked my the reformatting of my idea – not a book – but a blog.
Soph: What does hospitality mean to you?
Jane: I was raised in one of those (often chaotic) homes that thrives on having lots of people in it, by parents who were always inviting people over for one reason or another. As a kid I really enjoyed all the action and the company of all our visitors. Now that I’m all grown up, I still enjoy having people in my home, but I now see that hospitality is also a key part of my belief in Jesus. As one of his followers, I’ve been forgiven by God for all my failures of every kind. And this, I realise, is what hospitality is about. God forgave me, his enemy and now seats me at his family table, calling me his daughter. It’s humbling to know that I didn’t contribute to this – it’s all because Jesus died for me. So to me, hospitality is all about my fumbling efforts to open my heart, home and time to others in the same way God has for me.
Soph: How do you come up with the recipes featured on the site?
Jane: So far, the blog has mostly featured my commonly used recipes that I’ve collected over the years. But one of the reasons I was keen to put a resource like this together in the first place was that I’d been feeling a little bored with my usual repertoire. So I’m enjoying the way writing this blog has me researching new recipes and then trying them out in my own kitchen. However, I’m keen for people to know that if they have recipes that fit the criteria of easy-yummy-affordable, then I’d love to receive them at foodthatserves (at) gmail.com. Some of the recipes on the blog have come from others and I’m keen for this to continue.
Soph: In a typical week, who do you cook for?
Jane: Typically, I cook for my family, the university students my husband and I work amongst, friends who need meals and the freezer for when life spins out of control. I do lots of double-ups, making enough of one recipe for more than one purpose. I love cooking, but don’t have much time to fluff about with it.
Soph: How do you plan for meals when it comes to hospitality? Do you have a meal plan? A budget? A constantly stocked pantry?
Jane: I make sure I’ve got certain things in stock all the time - baking supplies, muffin cases, frozen berries, cream, tinned tomatoes and plenty of powdered stock. This just means it’s not too hard to whip up something like muffins scones or soup at shorter notice. I do sit down with the calendar and look at the week ahead, balancing up the cost of the meals planned so that having people over doesn’t cost the earth. I also choose what I’m going to cook depending on who I’m cooking for and how many people are involved (uni students don’t mind a dessert of waffle cones with ice magic, but I’d probably choose something different for my Bible study group!). When it comes to main meals, it has to be something I can cook ahead of time or something that literally only takes a few minutes to make just before being served. I try to stick closely to a self-imposed rule that if the cooking of food is going to take me away from enjoying the people I’m cooking for, then I’ll choose a different recipe.
Soph: How do you find the time to cook and practice hospitality?
Jane: First of all, I try to be positive about it, remembering how much hospitality God has shown me in Jesus. Add to that, I just use lots of tricks I’ve collected over the years, such as: planning the weeks meals on Sunday night before the week starts; allowing people to bring desserts and drinks when they offer; deliberately keeping the bar low rather than making hospitality something that satisfies my ‘inner foodie’; sticking to the simple things when choosing recipes; cooking for more than one purpose at a time (5.5L of Beef Stroganoff, pictured left, in the slow cooker can be dinner that night, a meal to give away and two more for the freezer when life is busy). Also, I try to remember that even if there’s a disaster with the food, people will never mind if we end up dialing for a pizza. The self-talk in my head says over and over again, “The food serves the people, it’s not the main thing, the people are the main thing”.
Soph: Tell us about any mistakes you’ve learnt from.
Jane: Don’t try new things on large crowds! I once did this when attempting to make my own pizza dough and it didn’t work, resulting in undercooked pizza base and an inedible dinner. Try to be as organised as possible before people arrive so you can enjoy your guests. If the meal you’re making is ‘interactive’ like rice paper rolls, tacos or burritos, make them in advance for any children you have with you, that way the adults can eat and not just referee the whole time.
Soph: What’s the best piece of advice you can give when it comes to hospitality?
Jane: Focus on your guests and love them well. Serving them good food might be part of that, but it’s not the main game. Pick a menu that is achievable for you and don’t worry about trying to be a Masterchef. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and life. Caring for people, getting to know them and asking them good questions can happen over the simplest of meals, so don’t stress about the food. Keep it simple.
Jane is after new recipes to try, so I thought readers of this blog could help her out with their suggestions. What is your favourite fuss-free, budget friendly and tasty recipe when cooking for others?