Southern hospitality made easy

Sprigs of greenery and small satin ribbons spruce up place settings, with no napkin-folding expertise required. Greg DuPree for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Sprigs of greenery and small satin ribbons spruce up place settings, with no napkin-folding expertise required. Greg DuPree for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Author offers tips for making home entertaining simple, memorable

One thing those months of lockdown and quarantines taught us is that time spent with people we care about is more precious than we may have realized.

In these uncertain times, it’s up to us to create opportunities for satisfying our hunger for human connection, whenever and wherever it feels safe. Yet, many of us stress at the mere thought of inviting people into our homes.

Rebecca Lang aims to cure us of those inhibitions. “So many people want to get prettier plates or more glasses or a new rug before people come over,” the Athens-based food writer said. “But, if you wait until everything in your home is perfect, you’ll never entertain. Your guests don’t care about what you own. They just want to spend time with you.”

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"Y'all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With New Recipes, Heirloom Treasures, and True Hospitality" by Rebecca Lang (Rizzoli, $45).

Credit: handout

"Y'all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With New Recipes, Heirloom Treasures, and True Hospitality" by Rebecca Lang (Rizzoli, $45).

Credit: handout

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"Y'all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With New Recipes, Heirloom Treasures, and True Hospitality" by Rebecca Lang (Rizzoli, $45).

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Lang emphasizes this point in the latest of her eight cookbooks, “Y’all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With New Recipes, Heirloom Treasures, and True Southern Hospitality” (Rizzoli, $45).

A ninth-generation Southerner, Lang grew up in South Georgia, “where hospitality was just a way of life, not necessarily a concept, that defined who I am in the way that I entertain and care for others.”

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Rebecca Lang keeps a stash a small, inexpensive gifts on hand (luxury soap, homemade preserves) to take to parties as tokens of thanks. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: handout

Rebecca Lang keeps a stash a small, inexpensive gifts on hand (luxury soap, homemade preserves) to take to parties as tokens of thanks. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: handout

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Rebecca Lang keeps a stash a small, inexpensive gifts on hand (luxury soap, homemade preserves) to take to parties as tokens of thanks. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

She offered these tips for those of us who could use some guidance in making our own home gatherings more relaxing, festive — and frequent!

Don’t feel obligated to cook. Set up a basic bar with snacks — maybe something simple you make yourself, like roasted pecans or cheese wafers (see recipe below) — and serve takeout for everything else.

Make the most of small spaces. A coffee table with cushions can serve as a dining table. “Handled trays make any lap an instant table,” she said. “A folding TV tray is one of the best small-space entertaining tools you can have. It can become anything ... a serving piece, a bar, or an intimate table for two.”

Don’t fret if your house isn’t spotless. Focus on the places where untidiness likely will be most noticeable: the bathroom and the kitchen. “Wipe down the kitchen counters, clean as you cook, and take out the trash,” Lang said, “but don’t wash dishes once the party starts — guests will think they need to help.”

Arrange serving pieces for a buffet the night before. Label them with tags, to help you remember which recipes go with each. Set two stacks of plates at one end of the table as a visual cue to indicate two lines for serving. Place flatware rolled in napkins at the end of the line for easy grabbing. Serve drinks separate from the food, so guests won’t have to manage their glasses while they fix their plates.

Candles add a lovely glow, but ... avoid scented ones that might compete with the aroma of the food or cause problems for guests with allergies. At the dinner table, choose candles that aren’t directly at eye level, so the light isn’t shining in guests’ eyes.

Be a gracious guest. Thank the host with a bottle of wine, or one of Lang’s favorite alternatives: luxury soap, pretty dish towels, outdoor insect-repellent candles, coffee beans, or homemade preserves or pickles. And, she added, be sure to send a thank-you note afterward — preferably handwritten on stationery.


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Rebecca Lang likes to serve two-pepper blue cheese wafers with drinks on the porch. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Rebecca Lang likes to serve two-pepper blue cheese wafers with drinks on the porch. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

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Rebecca Lang likes to serve two-pepper blue cheese wafers with drinks on the porch. Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Lang

TWO-PEPPER BLUE CHEESE WAFERS

Cocktail hour always needs a little bite of something cheesy and crispy. Gorgonzola, black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper make for a fun twist on a classic Southern cheese straw. Make the dough the day before, and bake the wafers the morning of the party.

Two-Pepper Blue Cheese Wafers
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 7 ounces Gorgonzola blue cheese, crumbled, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for sprinkling
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Combine the butter, blue cheese, black and cayenne peppers and flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until the mixture forms a dough.
  • Shape the dough into a log about 12 inches long. Wrap it in plastic wrap; chill 3 to 24 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the log into ⅓-inch-thick slices. Place them 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with additional black pepper.
  • Bake, in batches, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. Makes about 32 wafers.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per wafer: 73 calories (percent of calories from fat, 62), 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 12 milligrams cholesterol, 72 milligrams sodium

Recipe from “Y’all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With New Recipes, Heirloom Treasures, and True Southern Hospitality.”

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