Greeted with Open Arms
We had been driving all day and arrived at the cabin just before dinner. What greeted us was beyond the scope of our imagination. My sister, Margit, and brother-in-law, Bill, had been working for two days to create a feast for us. Not any old feast, a Chinese feast.
They had been preparing Peking duck with all the trimmings and accompaniments. Peking duck is basically an extremely delicious Chinese duck soft taco. It is almost impossible to find in the United States because it takes so long to prepare. Yet at a little cabin deep in the rugged wilderness of Montana, they had made this amazing meal for us. The emanating aromas pulled us inside. If you have ever been on the receiving end of a labor of love, you know it warms your being with a sense of belonging.
Another time we were welcomed to their home with a meal of slow roasted cassoulet. This is also a meal that is two days in the making. And then it was grilled seafood paella. Then it was fish tacos using rock fish they had just brought back from a fishing excursion on Puget Sand. We would regularly wake up to French press coffee and hot-from-the-grill sourdough pancakes (another multi-day affair). Bill’s homemade Worcestershire sauce goes on everything. The list continues.
Margit and Bill have not only set an impossibly high bar for exquisitely crafted meals, but they have modeled for me the increasingly rare gift of hospitality. To be welcomed with a glass of perfectly aged Willamette Valley Pinot and creamy country pâté is a treat rarely enjoyed these days.
It is a privilege to say that I have not had to go far to find culinary inspiration or knowledge. A phone call always produces an answer. “Bill, tell me where I can find duck pâté.” “How do I perfectly roast a standing rib roast?” “Do you have a good recipe for chimichurri?” “How about a made-from-scratch horseradish sauce?” “Demi-glace, would you ever share the recipe?” Questions asked. Questions answered.
Apart from the technical side of cooking, there is the more nuanced rhythm of entertaining. Margit is a fantastic cook, but also she is a master at the presentation and flow of an evening. It starts at the curb with beautiful landscaping and flowers spilling from planters. One is guided inside, accompanied by string quartet music and burning candles. Vases of daffodils and ranunculus, a tray of tasty hors d’oeuvres, perfectly decanted red wine, an inspirational atmosphere; this is how one embarks on the evening.
To receive guests, whether friends, family, or stranger, with a warmth and generosity of spirit, a table spread with lovingly-made dishes, and delightful conversation; those are the lessons I have learned from my sister and brother-in-law.
The Quintessence of Grace
It takes a certain selfless grace to master the gift of hospitality. It requires you to slow down and look outside yourself to find how you can create a welcoming and genial event. The meal and accompaniments can be simple; it is the thoughtfulness to create a special time and space that speaks. Margit and Bill have developed this into an art form.
My final meal with Bill exemplifies this. It was a warm August evening in Montana. A dinner of short beef ribs, slowly baked in a tawny red wine, eaten outside under a grape-laden pergola. Strands of Edison bulbs and chunky candles provided the lighting. A warm plum galette serving as the capstone. This poignant night is forever etched in my memories. Selfless grace. A fine-tuned culinary wisdom camouflaged by an ease of service. Craftsmanship belied by hospitality.
These two culinary and hospitality muses have been right beside me along my life journey. They have gifted me with not only heartwarming memories but also an appreciation for what makes life truly sublime.