Monday, January 30, 2012

House Guest Mambo #5

"If it were not for guests all houses would be graves." ~Kahlil Gibran

Growing up and spending the better part of my adult life in California, I rarely had the chance to entertain house guests or travel a whole lot. When I moved to Texas that all changed and my family and friends from California started to come to visit on a regular basis. I can safely say that I have had my share of unique house guests. Some picky and quirky, some easy and low maintinance. All equally enjoyable whether coming or going. It's because of these frequent visitors that I have been able to collect ideas and tricks along the way that insure a happy guest. Now before you start rolling those eyes and thinking "Not another Martha, trying to make me feel guilty," give me a minute to explain! I've stayed at some very nice 4-star resorts, some quaint little bed & breakfasts, motels, hotels and a few friend's couches now and again. From each, I have carefully tried to find "the little touches" that made my stay there so wonderful and incorporate them into my hosting. I'm not going to tell you to go purchase Egyptian sheets and install a room service bell in your guest room - heck, you might not even have a guest room (I didn't for many years). What I will share is that it's the little personal touches that make a guest feel welcome. So if you take "A little bit of Martha on your tv", "A little bit of hotel memories", "A little bit of friends with good ideas", "A little bit of B&B history", "A little bit of books & pinterest"... then you too will be doing the House Guest Mambo in no time. I'm jus' sayin'!

Here are a few tricks I've learned along the way that have helped me keep a house guest happy, without breaking your bank account or stressed with guilt.

"We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Homework - If you get the chance to have your guest give you a heads-up that they are coming, that's the best. You can ask them if they have any dietary needs. (Remember, it's a lot easier for you to supply the soy milk then for them to have to buy it when they get there or bring there own.) Don't stop at dietary. Weave into your conversations that you like to snack at night and ask them if they do and if so, what kind - sweet or savory? This way you can make sure you have a few of their favorites on-hand. I also like to use this opportunity to introduce some local snacks too. Don't have that "heads-up" as they just called the night before? No worries! Read on.

Stock Up - Stock up your pantry with non-perishables that you can "go to" in a pinch. Cereals, grains, and pastas. I keep a shelf always ready with tapas ingredients. On this shelf I keep jars of salsa, chips, tapenades, pickles, olives and crackers. Having these items ahead of time will save you money from having to purchase a ton of last minute gourmet and besides, you have other things to do like making cocktails! In the fridge I like to keep enough produce to throw a big salad together or small side salads. I don't like to go crazy here because in case we decide to eat out I don't like to have my produce "expire" if you know what I mean.

Breads - For some reason this has been the one thing that I go through a lot of when hosting. Bagels are great for a "fix it yourself" kind of breakfast but I have also been known to slice them thin in a pinch, dabble with olive oil and bake crisp for an afternoon tapas plate. Plus, bagels freeze well and lets face it - if we can freeze stuff for later it makes life a whole lot easier. Tortillas are another great bread. I always have corn and flour on hand in the fridge (longer shelf life). I use them for breakfast tacos, quesadillas, fried or baked into chips and wraps for lunches or filled and sauced as enchiladas for dinner. Very versatile! Having several loaves of bread provides me with many options from toast to sandwiches to french toast to garlic toast to turning day old left-overs into a bread pudding or bread crumbs. The idea is to think how many uses you can get out of one item if it does not end up being the item you intended on when you first purchased it.

Cheese - I have had to cut back for my own sake but when guests come to town, I like to have a few cheeses available to munch on in between meals. No need to go crazy buying expensive cheeses, just a few different varieties is all that's needed. I like to have something to spread, something to slice and one or two that I can cube.

Beverages - This is the most important - you want to make sure your guests are always hydrated. I drink water that is tap to filter ready. However, I have noticed over the years that tap water tastes quite a bit different in other cities, states, etc. So along with my Brita pitcher, I purchase a couple cases of water bottles when guests come. This way they can grab a bottle when headed out to site-see, or I can place bottles by their bed (so they are not stumbling in the middle of the night to take care of that dry mouth). It's an inexpensive little touch and this is what it's all about. Now in this house we have the opportunity to have a second fridge (I know this is not the norm and I do consider it a luxury). However with that said, our "hospitality fridge" is famous for hosting many guests if you know what I mean. The spring and the SXSW music festival tend to bring many guests to our house. We take pride in stocking this fridge with every cold beverage we can find, from local beers and sodas to fresh juice and sports drinks. It's one of the first things we tell our house guests about. Trust me, if you stock it they will come!

Coffee - A must-have when hosting guests. Over the years I have tried several ideas at trying to find the quintessential way to make a coffee bar both easy for me and the guests. I have a small kitchen, not much counter space but lots of cabinets. After moving my coffee machine around in all kinds of places I found that putting it on the counter at the entrance of the kitchen allows the guests to come freely to pick up their coffee without crowding you from cooking breakfast. I also made it a "station" if you will. The cabinet right above the coffee stores coffee and tea cups as well as juice pitchers and juice cups. Easy to pull out when the guests are here as well as they know where to go to help themselves. *HINT: Setting up the coffee bar by putting out the sugar and spoons and having the machine ready at a push of the button or on a timer the night before will make your life so much easier in the morning, trust me. Oh, and those early risers? No worries! Tell them they can push the button (if you don't have a timer on your machine) and it's ready to go.

Breakfast Spread - Think you might need to put on a whole champagne brunch? Oh heck no! Take the one thing you like to make for breakfast and just make it a little more fancy. I mean, if you like cereal, offer a couple varieties. Stack bowls and spoons and milk out with maybe some fresh fruit to sprinkle on top. You will not be going through that much more trouble but your guests will think cereal never tasted so good. *HINT: Don't forget to put a bright table cloth down at the breakfast table. Nothing fancy, just something vintage from your grandma or a local thrift store works perfect. It will make that breakfast table look oh so inviting!

"The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it." ~Author Unknown

I like breakfast casseroles. I can whip them together the night before and just throw them in the oven in the morning and you can custom make them for tastes and quantities. Here is a link for some great ideas. My daughter got a donut maker for Christmas and she loves making them. In the above pic, I let her make the donuts and I just made the sides. When you use that pretty glassware or mis-matched china and put out linens, I promise your breakfast table will make your guests feel like they are eating in the cutest little B&B and they will want to sit and have that second cup. *if you get the daily paper, bring it in and have it on or near the table as guests are always interested in local news!

Make sure that whether your guests are sleeping in the guest room, on a couch, or on an air mattress, that they have a small basket nearby with fresh towels, a box of kleenex and a water bottle or two. I like to add a little mason jar either with one of there favorite chocolates or snacks in case they get that midnight hunger pang. During SXSW I like to add local magazines and highlight areas of interest. Many guests come with a laptop, Give them some great sites that they can get local info about what's going on in town. Here is the one I'm using this year for my SXSW guests. Also, if your just wanting to visit the food scene here in Austin, check out these sites as they offer a wealth of inside info and I'm proud to call them local friends.

And for some lovely ideas on setting a warm hearth for your guests may I suggest

Remember, it's the little touches that make your guests remember their stay. Keep them fed and relaxed and the rest shall come easy.

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action. ~Mother Teresa