"If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality," wrote Henri Nouwen in his 1975 book "Reaching Out." As a young couple on a budget, my husband, Mason, and I have sought to weave this notion of hospitality into our lives without over-spending.
Entertaining can lead to a good deal of pressure on hosts and hostesses. As much as I love Martha Stewart and Design*Sponge, I have to ask, "Who has time or money to decorate such sumptuous tables?" Yet, I'm not willing to put off hospitality until I have the means to present a gorgeously decorated home and a dinner of filet mignon to a dozen guests. My goal is to open my home and share my life with friends, whatever my income. A simple meal at home is merely a vehicle for the true purpose of developing community.
To achieve this goal, we have developed several strategies for hospitality that don't involve high costs.
Use the grill. We received a basic charcoal grill for Christmas last year, and it has become our main resource when it comes to spring and summer entertaining. Many foods that can be grilled tend to be fairly inexpensive, and often they require only simple seasonings.
Hamburgers and chicken are the obvious choices, but you can prepare all kinds of dishes on the grill, including fish, veggies and fruit. The grill also frees up my small kitchen so I can more easily prepare side dishes.
Go vegetarian. Without meat, your meal becomes cheaper and can still be just as tasty. Veggie kabobs, fruit, hummus with pita bread, and cheese quesadillas with sour cream and guacamole are all inexpensive options for serving to company.
Invite friends to participate. We hosted a "bring your own meat" birthday party where we fired up the grill and asked guests to bring their choice of meat to put on the grill. I purchased chips and dip and made plenty of potato salad. We were able to host around 30 guests at minimal cost to us. For smaller gatherings, potlucks and supper clubs also work well for budget hosting.
Preserve the memory. Buy a guestbook and ask your guests to sign it. Take pictures of the food and your guests. You'll treasure the community long after the meal has been forgotten.
Last Sunday night, we hosted friends for dinner. Below is our simple menu, which cost little and led to an evening of fun and fellowship.
$10 for 2.5 pounds
Seasoned with cumin, salt & pepper, then buttered, wrapped in foil and grilled
$1 for high-quality Japanese rice for six; cooked in the rice cooker
Squash and zucchini, 88 cents a pound; sautéed on the stove with garlic, onions and olive oil
A half-gallon of Edy's on sale for $2.99.
Total: Less than $20.