Do you know the difference between a dinner party and a dinner? Between entertaining and having friends over? I think it’s candlelight.
I’ve never been one to call it entertaining. It sounds like an ill-fitting shoe for me, like you’ll need a ticket when you arrive, and perhaps valet, and here, can I take your coat?
It sounds like a night in which I can’t serve baby carrots.
For years, this kept me from inviting anyone over. The thought of a dinner party, of “entertaining” – the place settings, the flowers, the china gravy boat from my grandmother’s wedding – it all felt overwhelming and stiff, just out of my reach.
But candles, I can do.
Last week, we had friends over for “entertaining” (the-baby-carrots-by-candlelight-kind). I cut up veggies and meat and cheese and we snacked while the kids built an obstacle course out of the sunroom furniture. It was the night after the Daylight Savings switch – I’ve never been one for good timing – and our eyelids grew heavy before we could even think of a euchre round.
Before our friends arrived, I pursued a Great! Idea! – a grand gesture in which I would mix a spiked cider to which I had no recipe for. I had cinnamon sticks on hand, and they’d make the perfect tiny little individual drink stirs, and we had apple cider and rum, and what else could I throw into a pitcher?
A mixologist I am not, and well, cinnamon cream rum is not a great idea here. It coagulates and gets kind of cottage cheesy and although the taste is lovely, the texture is enough to make your husband shake his head, pat you on the shoulder and begin offering everyone chardonnay.
(I drank mine. I liked the challenge.)
But there was love and laughter and good stories of my favorite security guard in L.A. (Hi, Eton!) and the candles did the rest of the heavy lifting. The night was a great one.
I used to dread the winter. I used to dread the bundling up, the bitter cold, the darkened evenings.
I don’t anymore.
Maybe it’s the candles.
This season has been a tricky one for my community. Some relationships are bending, others are breaking. We’re all on fire a bit – new jobs, new babies, new relationships, new complications – and I’m watching the heat melt away our insecurities and fears and doubts, leaving a whole new waxy set in its place.
We’re on the cusp of something and I can feel it, and it’s the eleventh hour and I’m walking around mixing ciders, hoping they’ll take.
After the dishes were done and the kids’ sunroom obstacle course was complete and we waved to our friends in the driveway, I looked at the wasted pitcher of not-quite-cider and contemplated pouring it down the sink with the soap suds.
But we didn’t.
Last night, I blended it with coconut milk and ice, and it turns out a botched cider makes for a lovely bowl of evening ice cream.
Nothing’s really botched completely anyway.
Even burned-out candles melt into something new.
This essay was written for MoMA, one of my favorite artsy nonprofits. If you’d like, you can shop my favorites from the new MoMA Design Store x HAY collection here: Lup Candleholder, Playing Cards, Kaleido Large Tray, Kaleido Medium Tray, Kaleido Small Tray, Paper Porcelain Mugs, Paper Porcelain Small Plates, Ori Grinder, Hay Tea Towels.
p.s. Edit – great news! If you visit the Soho MoMA Design Store (81 Spring Street in NYC!) and mention Design for Mankind, you get 10% off all HAY products. Lucky ducks!