My Perfect Night: 15 Ideas for the Table (Plus a 15 Bean Soup Recipe)

If I could distill my perfect night, it would include being around the dinner table with family and friends, eating something homemade. In homage to a hearty winter 15 Bean Soup that my mom recently served me, here’s 15 things I’ve learned about life around the table. (Recipe provided at the bottom of this post.)

#1 You don’t have to be fancy to have people over. Cook and they will come.

#2 Cook seasonally when you can. Fruits and vegetables that are in season will taste better, potentially provide more nutrition, and disappear more quickly from your guests’ plates. For instance, no one wants 15 Bean Soup in July (except me, maybe). But in sub-freezing temperatures, it hits the mark.

#3 Your house doesn’t have to be perfect. I try to have my house mostly in order when I invite people over so they can unwind in a clear and uncluttered space. But I fight the temptation to have everything perfect. Otherwise, I’d hardly ever entertain.

 #4 You don’t have to spend a lot of money. I love soups specifically for this reason. You can feed a lot of people for a minimal investment. Recipes based on basic staples like pastas, grains, beans, and vegetables can go a long way for a little amount.

#5 Cook what you know. Bring your signature dish or your mom’s specialty from your childhood. People love consuming the food that’s part of your story and tradition.

#6 Invest in a collection of bowls, dishes, and platters (over time). This doesn’t mean you have to collect expensive or fancy items. Just go with a theme you love and build on it. For instance, a few years ago I found some clearance Williams & Sonoma napkins. I use them when I’m serving my nieces and nephews frozen pizzas or setting the table for a fancy dinner party with adult guests. When people see those napkins, they know they’re at my house.

#7 Ask people to bring stuff! People are almost always happy to help. Tell them what you need to take the pressure off… cheese, crackers, drinks, a salad, dessert. Eliminating an item or two will make all the difference for you as the host.

#8 Be intentional. I can’t tell you how many times in a week I have the thought, I really need to have him/her/them over. And then 8 months go by. Put a night on your calendar and make it happen. Even if you have to schedule it 2 months out, it will be here before you know it.

 #9 But know you can be last minute, too. The other day a friend of mine told me I needed to create an app that alerts my community whenever I’ve made a soup so they know to head over. Too bad I have zero tech skills. The point is, you don’t always have to plan a dinner party days out. A last minute invitation can be just the cure for friends experiencing a lonely or quiet night in.

#10 For fancier dinners, decorate classy but inexpensive. A few good Ball Jars filled with fresh cut flowers still does the trick—especially if one of your friends has an eye for arranging. My sister in-law is the best at this, so I always tap her to put the table together for fancier get-togethers. And on my own, even I can’t mess up a fresh flower.

#11 Takeout is allowed (just not all the time). A few weeks ago, I asked my brother’s family over for dinner. I had sublime intentions of making it to the grocery store and spending a couple leisurely hours chopping, sautéing and listening to Frank Sinatra. And then life happened. So I ordered burgers and fries for everyone. And it was altogether lovely.

#12. Cook what’s already in your fridge and pantry. You’d be surprised at what you can put together with that frozen pound of meat in the fridge, half package of pasta with a rubber band around it in the pantry, and that 28 oz. can of tomato sauce in your Lazy Susan. Jump online and Google recipes with the ingredients you already have.

#13. Keep good coffee and tea on hand. Whether someone’s just stopping by or I need something for after dinner, I always keep coffee and tea on hand. I have a tea and sugar set I love, along with an assortment of mugs and stirring spoons I’ve collected over the years. Presentation goes a long way with guests, and it’s easy to execute with a few economical pieces.

#14. Reserve a treat drawer for kids. Okay, I’m stretching here near the end. Right now I’m wishing my mom had made 7 Bean Soup instead of 15. At any rate, I actually do have a little wicker basket that I keep treats, snacks, and candies in for when little ones come to my house. They know right where it is. I keep it at their level. They love me for it.

#15. Learn a new dish in the new year! I tend to fall back on my old standbys, but last year I made an Indian dish in my crockpot and tried it out on some family and friends. It was a hit! I learned how to use spices I don’t normally use like saffron, cardamom and garam masala, and I opened myself up to a host of other recipes I want to try.

15 Bean Soup Recipe

My mom always has something bubbling on the stove or baking in the oven. As a result, she has a lot of kids and grandkids who have become expert grazers. The basic problem for her is that she’s set the bar high and now we expect her to perform. Every. Year. She’s getting a little tired, and we don’t really care. We can’t help it—she’s created food dependents.

This year, she threw together a 15 Bean Soup that we downed like Winter Olympic champions. This soup is easy to make, nourishing, and hearty—if you’re going to serve a soup in the thick of winter, don’t ladle into people’s bowls anything less than hearty. Winter is not the time to go meager on people. Check out the ingredients and steps below.

15 Bean Soup Recipe

Download the recipe here.

As we go into a new year, I’m so thankful that we see calls to hospitality in some of the New Testament letters. I believe cooking, eating, and communing together is near to the heart of Christ. So let’s get cooking.

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  • I love this. This is how I try to entertain. Someone once told me that she enjoyed coming to my house because she didn’t have to worry about breaking anything. My house and my cooking are me. I try to invite friends at least once a month.

  • Ashley Nolan

    I have been back and forth about hosting a Cookbook Club and this was such a great reminder that even if the gathering is small (we just recently moved) and isn’t “perfect” it doesn’t mean it can’t still be a lovely time. Your tips are wonderful because it’s about being together. Period. Although, I’m not sure I would want a treat drawer for kids because I would end up eating the sweet treats! hahaa