We arrived home from our whirlwind trip to Sydney to find that our freezer had inadvertently been switched off. I am a big believer in bulk cooking and have an entire freezer devoted to extra meals, fruit, meat, sauce bases, cakes, roasted and frozen vegetables and rice. When I opened the top drawer to find the meat sitting in a puddle of icy water there were more than a few expletives.
After a little freak out we went into action mode. “Who can we invite over to help us eat all this food?” It was a day filled with back and forth messages, cleaning out icy drawers, salvaging the still frozen food and sectioning out what needed to be used. I had the equivalent of at least two full chickens, some roast pumpkin, multiple bags of frozen rice, a huge bag of mango, a sweet and sour sausage meal and the filling for an apple pie.
Before long the kitchen was filled with the aromas of spices, garlic, sizzling onions. I tossed in the chicken, chickpeas and cans of tomatoes, added in the roast pumpkin and some spinach and set it to simmer in my slow cooker. In the meantime, I concocted a smoothie for the kids with the mango, adding in some strawberries and mandarin and orange juice.
When people began stepping through the door it was as if we had planned the party all along. One family came armed with homemade punch, another with incredible Persian bread that we have since fallen in love with, and another with a bunch of fiery tulips. Friends and neighbours gathering together at the last minute to share food and life together. Our first impromptu ‘neighbour’s table’.
The kids swarmed together through the new living spaces, traipsing through the playroom, the newly formed garage rumpus room and shooting hoops under the gabled roof of the pergola. Conversation and laughter swirled around the table and friends from different circles got to meet people they had only heard of. Everyone pitched in – helping out around the kitchen, finding their way around cupboards and drawers with ease.
I’m a big fan of being in control. Having all the parameters around me adjusted so that I can respond as my best self, carefully planning and strategising. When curveballs hit, it throws me. I stress out, rage, find it difficult to see past the problem. Recently, however, I’m starting to see myself recover more quickly. Bouncing back after minutes instead of hours, stepping back into observer mode and figuring out how to make the best of the situation.
If our freezer had not been switched off, we would never have had the gathering that night. We certainly were not in pique entertaining mode, having only just stepped back through our front door at 10pm the previous night. But we would have missed the opportunity for connection, for laughter and fun. It strikes me that these opportunities are really only ever a text message away.
An idea that has resonated through our community recently is that of ‘scruffy hospitality‘. It is the idea that you don’t need to get your house in order to have people step into it. That you don’t have to coordinate a menu and place cards and background music before putting out the call. Actually, some of the best moments happen when people just drop round and end up hanging out over a meal. Crazy hour dinner, we call it.
It certainly wasn’t a gathering that would find its place on any magazine cover. Simply a group of ordinary people hanging out over a meal together. I didn’t even get a chance to take many photos (or any good ones, let’s say). But sometimes the best memories are those when you forget to pull out the camera because you are too caught up in the moment. I’m not wishing for any more curveballs, but I guess I’m not as anxious about them either. Here’s hoping we will find more ordinary opportunities for scruffy hospitality within the everyday hum of mundane life.
Oh and if you want the recipe for the Moroccan Chicken Curry, just let me know. It is one of our family favourites and so easy to throw together.