Writing Samples

The Gift of Home

Walk into Marsha Mason’s home any day of the week and within the first few minutes of conversation, you will have a glass of iced tea or wine in your hand, and some kind of sweet to nibble on. A native of Atlanta, and a 22 year resident of Columbus, Mrs. Mason exudes southern hospitality and charm, and she has a way of making you feel at home whether you are in her kitchen or standing in the grocery store. Beyond her charm and hospitality, Marsha in sincere. She has a genuine love of opening her home to her family and friends, giving the gift of time, of thoughtful preparation, and of home. “I feel like I can get to know people over food”, she explained recently. “I love to feed people. It’s healing. Food is a little gift.” And as she begins to describe one of her intimate dinner parties, it’s easy to see that she means every word (and makes you hopeful for an invitation). With that in mind, I sat down with Marsha for a little one-on-one crash course on How to Throw the Perfect Dinner Party.

MM: There won’t ever be a perfect dinner party. There will never be a perfect home in which to host a dinner party or the perfect time to have people in your home. You simply trust that your guests are there to have a good time and that they are not there to judge your cooking, your table, or the time it takes you to get the meal from the oven to the table.

TGR: So you are saying just go for it?

MM: People are so afraid to entertain nowadays. I hear people say “Well, we can’t host right now because I am waiting on my dining room to be repainted” or “I am getting new drapes.” People don’t care. My baseboards are always chipped. Always. And I always think people are going to notice and judge me. (she laughs) People don’t care.

TGR: Ok, we are past the fear of entertaining, what is your go to meal?

MM: I don’t have one. I don’t believe there is such thing. I cook what’s in season, what sounds good. I do think you should go by the old adage “Don’t Try Something New.” I did that once, about 15 years ago. It was completely inedible. Don’t do that. (she laughs)

TGR: You had a GroundHog Day dinner party, what did you serve?

MM: Well, I started with a mixed green salad with grapefruit, avocado, almonds, and some raspberries. It was very unusual for me to start with a salad. Everyone always starts with a salad, so I make it a habit to start with a soup. But, we had a salad.  Then we had salmon, with roasted rosemary potatoes, and asparagus with sunflower seeds. We finished with a chess pie.

TGR: Sounds delicious! Let’s talk about table setting. What do you suggest?

MM: Setting a table is more like creating an artscape. Take your time. If your party is on Saturday, set your table on Wednesday. For heaven's sake, don’t use paper plates or plastic. There is never an excuse to use paper plates or plastic. Life is too short for that. You are worth more than that and your guests are worth more than that. It is your gift. You don’t have to have fancy china to set a beautiful table. With the internet and Pinterest, there are plenty of ways to dress up your table. Flowers are important. You’ll find flowers in several rooms in my home. Flowers say someone cares. Remember, people eat with their eyes. Place herbs at each place setting. Tie your napkins with rosemary. Take the time to prepare.

TGR: How many people should you invite?

MM: 6-12 is my general number for a small luncheon or dinner party. You can invite as many as can fit around your dining room table or buffet it and invite a few more. I prefer when everyone is able to have a seat. The conversation flows so much better and people aren’t sequestered from each other.

TGR: What is the most important thing to remember when you invite people into your home?

MM: Don’t make it too difficult. Don’t try to put the whole thing together in one day. Set your table one day, go to the grocery store another day, prepare what food you can in advance. If you are entertaining with your husband, make sure that you are working together. One of you is refilling glasses while the other is clearing plates, one of you is putting something in the oven while the other is chatting with guests. Don’t rush, don’t worry that your guests are wondering when you are going to eat. If you are putting the finishing touches on dinner and you can hear laughter in the other room, that is a good sign. If you are having a problem getting people from the living room to the dining room, don’t stress. That is a good problem to have. Enjoy it.

TGR: You are making me want to host a party!

MM: Do it! People don’t invite other people into their homes anymore. The days of coming over and throwing burgers on the grill are not as common as they used to be. Hospitality is a cultural thing. I have lived in other regions and gone back to visit, and there is something impersonal about meeting for a sandwich at a deli versus having someone into your home and serving them a pimento cheese sandwich and mint tea. Hosting people in your home shows them that you care. That they are important enough for you to take the time to prepare for them. They will remember the good time they had with you. It’s the gift of home.

{This article was first published in her magazine, a publication of the Ledger-Enquirer}