Here’s a tip: If you do a lot of entertaining, you might benefit from keeping a dining journal.
My dining journal came about by accident. I was out shopping one day and stumbled across a cute, lined notebook. It was, apparently, in the wrong section of the rack, however, because I thought I was getting a really nice notebook for $4.99. Turns out, it was actually something like 3 times as much. For whatever reason, I didn’t argue about the price nor say “actually, I don’t need that.” I bought it. And brought it home.
Seeking a way to get some good mileage out of my notebook investment, I started writing down what I served to guests when we entertained. Each “entry” is basically a list of three things: the date, the names of our guests, and the food we served. If I learned anything during the meal (Alex’s brother loves banana desserts, for instance), I’ll note this in the same entry so I won’t forget. Or, if I made up a sauce or seasoning on the fly, and it was well-liked, I might leave myself some notes in case I ever want to recreate it.
Here are some conversations I like to imagine in my head in which my dining journal plays the role of the shining hero:
Guest: Hey, Jessalyn. What was that delicious meal we had last fall? It had like meat and fruit.
Me: Just a sec, let me check my dining journal. Oh! Was it a pork-apricot skillet? We had it with bacon-scented rice and peas?
Guest: Yeah! That’s it! Can you send me the recipe? I want to make it for my girlfriend.
Alex: Hey babe? Can we make that really yummy Asian salmon for dinner tonight? The one we had when Chris and Jenni came over?
Me: Which one was it? Oh wait, let me check my dining journal…here it is! Sure we can make that.
Guest: We can’t wait to come over for dinner. Are you going to make that fancy meat thing again?
Me: (consults dining journal) Hm, well, I can. But last time you were here we had a chopped salad.
Guest: (dejectedly) Oh, that’s right.
Me: (consults dining journal again) But as I recall, it wasn’t really your favorite. Why don’t I grill up some steak and we’ll have some chimichurri sauce with the mint from the garden?
Guest: Oh, fantastic!
Me: Hey, Alex? Why do I feel like we had BBQ chicken the last time Scott and Nicole were here? (consults dining journal) Oh wait, that’s because we did. Should I make something else? Maybe I’ll make some different sides this time.
I believe that’s a 4-0 record so far. Dining journal for the win!
In truth, keeping track of these kinds of things does help me stay organized. It also helps me plan future meals for repeat guests. (Don’t judge me for being nervous about serving guests the same meal twice).
Anyway. Beyond the fascinating anthropological study that could be performed on our dining/entertaining habits, I hope you can see that keeping a dining journal is simple and can definitely come in handy when entertaining. You might even call it a host’s secret weapon.
The latest entry in my dining journal shows that I served BBQ ribs, a grilled corn salad, and some broiled zucchini that our guests contributed, alongside Alex’s most recent batch of homebrew. And strawberry-basil ice cream for dessert. We all enjoyed it very much. The dining journal says so.
Do you keep a dining journal, either for yourself or for your guests? Do you remember the last meal you served to friends or family? How might keeping a dining journal help you focus on the simple things in life–good conversation, for instance? What else would you record in a dining journal? Do tell.