5 Free Ingredients for Rich Entertaining Experiences

To kick my first week off right, I’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to share their secrets for being a foodie on a budget.  Here, Grace Boyle of Grace(full) Plate shares some of the ingredients that make our shared food experiences rich—without spending an extra dime.

Gathering Over Food

One of the reasons I love food so much is because it is our common thread globally. It ties us together, no matter our beliefs, life path, visions, or location.

In Anna Ciezadlo’s memoir, Day of Honey, she shares the same sentiment:

“In every war zone, there is another battle, a shadow conflict that rages quietly behind the scenes. You don’t see much of it on television or in the movies. This hidden war consists of the slow but relentless destruction of everyday civilian life. The children can’t go to school. The pregnant women can’t give birth at a hospital. The farmer can’t plow his fields. The musician can’t play his guitar. The professor can’t teach her class. For civilians, war becomes a relentless accumulation of cant’s. But no matter what else you can’t do, you still have to eat.

I grew up with my big Italian family, eating food together with our table overflowing with chairs, food, and love.

I can paint the sounds: clicking glasses, forks against deep wooden bowls of fried peppers, garlic and sausage, water boiling on the stove as the pasta drops, plunk, into the water, wine corks popping open, joyous yelling over each other, the scraping of warm butter over freshly baked, down the street ‘taly bread and always laughter. I can hear the full bellies too. Be careful: You’re never allowed to say no to more food.

Since I don’t live near my family, I seek to recreate these moments with friends-like-family. This happens, close to weekly.

My ‘ingredients’ for that special gathering include:

Company: Your guests, of course. Are they close friends? Family? Is it small and intimate, or is it a large gathering? If I’m feeling particularly formal, I might send out invites via punchbowl.com or could even hand-write some for a gathering. Potlucks are a favorite of our friends, because everyone can contribute and there’s not as much pressure on one person.

Music: Melodic tunes set the tone for your gathering over food. Will you go with sultry, instrumental jazz or light acoustic? The music turns on for me as part of the cooking process and entertaining.

Note: Try Drinkify.org: Tell them the music you’re listening to, they’ll pair you a perfect cocktail. I also sometimes like to have guests bring their own playlist for us to plug into our iPod dock.

Libations: My go-to is wine. I love having a nice red available for guests, and if we’re having fish or a lighter dish, I’ll have a bottle of white available too. We also enjoy making paired cocktails. Setting up a mini-bar for guests to enjoy a beverage before the food is served is great.

Note: Denote someone to be the ‘bartender’ making the drinks for guests to-order or even just someone to pour if you’ve made a punch.

Where the dining happens: Sometimes we find ourselves sitting on couches, cross-legged with our plates overflowing with goodies; sometimes we’ll be sitting at a dining table with matching placemats and silverware. For a true gathering over food, it doesn’t matter where you sit. It’s about the food and the people, but it’s nice to have options and understand your guests’ needs. With food in your belly, laughter, and conversation, you may soon forget you’re scrambled across the floor or sitting at a picnic table. The place always sets the ambiance and tone.

Note: For inspiration on spaces, aesthetics and design feel free to peak at my Pinterest board, Hostess With the Mostess.

Memories: You will undoubtedly create memories (cheesy, I know). You will talk about how incredible the food was, discuss serious matters or things that are funny, swap recipes, pour more drinks, hug each other and reminisce about other gatherings you’ve already had. I think sometimes we forget how special even a small gathering can be. Love, decisions, business deals, announcements, and life almost always happen over food.

Note: An idea I recently saw online was to save a large mason jar and fill it with small notecards where your friends/guests have scribble their thoughts and favorite memories. At the end of the year, host a big party (over food of course) and read aloud the memories to feel that nostalgia and gratitude all over again.

To gather over food, you don’t need much. It can be simple or it can be elaborate. As long as you have people you adore by your side, food to fill your belly and a place to gather over, something wonderful will come of it. These are the moments I look forward to most, in my week.

One final note of inspiration is Kinfolk Magazine. They call themselves a “growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We’ve created Kinfolk as our collaborative way of advocating the natural approach to entertaining that we love.” These are folks who know the true value in gathering over food and sharing it visually with videos, blog posts and a glossy magazine.

With that, here’s to eating together, laughing together and always, gathering together.



Grace Boyle lives in Boulder and runs Grace(full) Plate, a food blog that covers her adventures in dining out, recipes, ideas in food and quite often, food news in Boulder and Denver. She is a marketer and sales whiz by day in the startup world and when she’s not indulging in food or working, she finds time for yoga, red wine, blue cheese, nicknames, reading, exchanging smiles with strangers, her boyfriend and puppy, and her big, Italian family. You can find her on Twitter as @gracekboyle or @gracefullplate

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