When I left the farm for college, lo’ these many decades ago, I swore I would never, ever, ever again in my life eat that farm staple: chili.
I’m cracking myself up just writing that. I mean, who doesn’t like chili?? Seriously. Area restaurants are renowned for their chili, for Pete’s sake!
My only excuse for that rash statement has to be my lack of chili comparisons. At the tender, unsophisticated age of 18, I knew nothing about chili verde (pork, tomatillos, Hatch chilies), or chili con carne (Texas red chilies, stewed beef chunks), or Springfield (IL) chilli (two “l’s, ground beef, canned tomato sauce, Tabasco). I most certainly would never have heard the words “white chili” (poultry, white beans, cheese) even whispered in our farm kitchen. And don’t get me started on the crazy idea of throwing in some pasta in the Cincinnati style. Sacrilege!
Yet there I was in a restaurant, in my late-20s, ordering chili. It was an Indiana fall day—leaves changing, temperatures dropping. A co-worker said, “You have to try their chili. It’s killer.” And it just sounded good. It arrived in a heavy bowl, topped with shredded cheese and crackers on the side. I dug in and smiled. It tasted like harvest. It tasted like home.
Since then, I’ve been a loyal taster of restaurant chili. Generally, I like the hearty, meaty, Springfield kind. My husband Jimmy makes a delicious Texas variety. I specialize in a—wait for it—very non-farm white chili. It comes together fast and explodes with comforting flavor. I always serve a side of Jiffy-mix cornbread straight from the oven, slathered in butter.
Now, I’ve kept my youthful vow of never again eating other farm foods—succotash tops the list, followed closely by ketchup-based meatloaf, liver and onions, and vegetable stew. But savvy cooks and clever recipes have changed my mind about pot roast, scalloped potatoes, pork chops and…chili. Turns out, those farm staples just needed a “tweak”!
I hope chili is high on your meal-plan list these days. If it’s not, I encourage you to scan online recipes or take a look at mine on our YouTube channel. Try something simple, something different. Make enough to invite someone over, then turn on a football game and pop open a cold beverage. You really can’t beat a bowl of fall, farm goodness.
My Grandma Schaub was what we called an “everyday” grandma. She was part of her grandchildren’s near-daily lives—card game player, Jiffy muffin mix overseer, Bugle snack supplier, S&H stamp collector, raspberry/blueberry/strawberry picker...and tea party planner. That’s me in the photo above with cousins Kelly and Tina, and three lucky barn cats.
Grandma loved to have just the right dish for every occasion, which is probably where I inherited my dish obsession. She collected all kinds of glassware during winter garage sales in Florida. She never met a large vase she couldn’t fill from her own gardens. And if eBay had been a thing during her lifetime, she would have cleaned up.
She wasn’t precious about her nice things. When the extended family gathered each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we ate on bone china—multiple sets of it with matching serving pieces. She never said, “Now be careful with that…it’s expensive.” She just expected us to respect her things. And we did.
So I suppose that’s why I so enjoy using and loaning out my vast stockpile of beautiful tableware.
Years ago, a local middle school wanted to put on a High Tea, so I packed up every fancy cup, saucer and plate in my cabinets. The moms were nervous, but I assured them, “These kids will elevate their behavior to the beauty of the occasion.” And they did.
My wedding reception went old-school with cake, olives, nuts and a wine buffet. We used every glass luncheon plate I owned. The guests loved it! Not one piece was damaged.
Recently, friends decided to throw a bridal tea for their sister. I volunteered my entire glass, china and linen collection. The ladies stopped by, thoughtfully selected every item they might need, and left with a carload of beauties. Every piece came back in pristine condition.
Now, raise your hand if you were ever the guest or host of a childhood tea party. I see those hands! Weren’t they fun? Didn’t you feel special? Maybe even elegant?
Your delicate lovelies are meant to be enjoyed. Sure, they look great in the cabinets, but why have them if we’re not gonna use them? Yes, that china belonged to your beloved grandmother. I assure you, she wants you to actively enjoy it. I believe that tea set cost a fortune on eBay. Why did you pay that if no one gets to party with it?
Steep the tea! Fill the creamer! Set out the plates! Then call up some people who might need a little dose of loveliness in their lives. They’ll never forget your thoughtfulness and generosity.
I get asked on occasion if there are cardinal rules to hospitality. The answer is: Yes! And no.
Hospitality is a gift. But it’s a learned gift. My hospitality skills started in childhood, improved in young adulthood, and are constantly evolving in mid-life. (See my early-June blogpost “Let those candles burn” for a one-time, legendary C grade in hosting.)
The basic starting point for successful hospitality simply involves friendliness, generosity and an inviting environment for letting the good times roll. After that, we’re just tweaking! Read on for my personal rules to make any guest feel special and any gathering successful.
Rule #1: Get yourself ready looooong before there’s even a chance your first guest will arrive. No one wants to ring your doorbell and be greeted by silence because you’re blow drying your hair upstairs. You can still be prepping in the kitchen, but you must personally be dressed and ready.
Rule #2: If you’re not extremely confident in your cooking (i.e., you don’t cater meals or people don’t rave about your kitchen skills), stick to one of your best main dishes. Ask your guests to bring sides. In fact, when guests say, “What can I bring?” …be ready with suggestions.
Rule #3: Have an appetizer standing by for guests who trickle in. In the mid-South, nothing starts on time. In fact, a starting time is just a “suggestion.” My go-to appetizer is a plate of olives, cheese and crackers—simple!—served with a pre-dinner cocktail. Add in lovely cocktail napkins for extra pizazz.
Rule #4: Dial down the spices. Your family may think “the hotter the better!” …but nothing will stop a party in its tracks like choking guests. Follow the recipe’s spice guidelines and have hotter spices at the table for individual tastes. You can always add spice later, but you cannot take it away.
Rule #5: Unless you’re hosting an outdoor picnic or gathering around the fire pit, use real dishes, silverware and glassware. I cannot stress this rule enough. I had to stop myself just now from using all caps and type-shouting it. Almost 70% of homes in America have a dishwasher—and I’d wager you’re living in one of them. Load it up and let it run!
Rule #6: And while I’m ranting… Use placemats or a tablecloth, and napkins that are not paper towels. Yes—even if your guests will be sitting at the kitchen counter. Yes—even if you’re moving the party to the deck. These affordable items are everywhere—estate/garage sales, discount stores, groceries. And repeat after me: Paper towels are not napkins. Say it again! Paper towels are not napkins. Chant it. Live it.
Rule #7: Unless you want your guests to clear out so you can go to bed, resist the urge to start cleaning up in the midst of the party. This is a tough one for me, but my husband Jimmy is great at reminding me to sit down and enjoy our guests. The dishes will still be there when our company leaves.
So there you have it: 7 basic hospitality rules. I have other, pickier rules—but those are specific to the type of party and guest and season. I guarantee if you follow these rules, every gathering you host will at least start out as a success. I mean, no one can predict what your crazy uncle might blurt out during dinner…am I right?
A Michigan farm girl transplanted to the South offering hospitality hacks.