If your goal is to make and keep friends, then forget Pinterest perfection. That’s the message food blogger Abby Turner relates in her new book, The Living Table: Recipes and Devotions for Everyday Get Togethers (DaySpring, April 2021).
“Make your home too party perfect and no one will have you over to their place,” she told me last week, when I called to congratulate her on her book. “If you invite people into an authentic home with the mess of life, you aren’t intimidating.”
Well, heck, then come on over!
In 208 deliciously photographed pages (where the food and its presentation look pretty perfect to me), Turner nudges us all toward approachable hospitality, as she doles out oodles of recipes for life’s big and small occasions from game night to bridal brunch — with a heavy helping of Bible lessons on the side.
What drew me to her book, however, was not the recipes nor the devotionals, but rather the philosophy of the table as the heart of the home. Forget the hearth, the table is where we catch up, crack up, open up, dream up, speak up, and eat up.
And it’s where Turner would like more people to gather more often with less stress.
But social media has turned off many would-be hosts, she said. Do the candles really need to match the cocktail napkins? Do the dishes all need to be the same? Do I need to wait to buy a table with a leaf?
No, no and no.
“These misperceptions have scared many away from inviting others into their homes and enjoying the connection that happens when people sit down around the table over food,” Turner says. It’s a sentiment she echoes in her blog, A Table Top Affair, as well as through her popular Instagram and Pinterest posts: Keep gatherings simple, the recipes easy, and the focus on the people not the presentation.
Turner, who is single and 32, and who lives with her two Papillons in Bentonville, Arkansas, where she has a day job working for Walmart in marketing, has figured this out by doing it. Here’s what else she spilled during our conversation:
Marni: What inspired you to become a food blogger and to write The Living Table?
Abby: When I was in my 20s, I moved around a lot for my work in college athletics. While that was a fun experience, I had little time for creating community or friendships. My mom encouraged me to host a dinner party, which I did, even though I only had a table for two. I had friends over, then more friends. That led to my wanting to share my recipes and hosting tips. I figured if I didn’t know how to meet others, that probably others were out there also starving for community.
Marni: I thought I held a record of moving to six houses in four years in the same area. But you lived in six different states in five years. What did that teach you?
Abby: When you move so frequently, you develop a formula to find your people, to find where you fit in. The first couple times were hardest. Then I realized that you don’t have to meet people just like you. Find ones who share an interest, like a love of sports, or museums, that’s enough.
Marni: Talk to me about the table, and why it’s such an elemental part of our homes.
Abby: The pandemic has made us especially aware that we are not designed to do life alone. We realized more than ever that something so powerful happens when we sit at the table with others. It’s where we connect, and share our brokenness and vulnerabilities. Bringing people into your mess is life, and the table is central to that journey. It doesn’t matter whether you eat in the dining room or picnic on the lawn. The power is in coming together and connecting.
Marni: What are some of your favorite hosting tricks?
Abby: One of my go-to tabletop tips is my all-occasion centerpiece. Get a wooden flower box, the kind people hang outside windows. Fill it with a faux boxwood garland or moss, to create a base with structure. Then top it off with small pumpkins in the fall, crayons for back to school, Easter eggs in spring. Another go-to is the wooden board. If you see a charcuterie board on sale, buy it. If it has a lip, buy it even if it’s not on sale. They are so versatile. I use them for serving everything from breakfast items to desserts. They make anything you serve look so cute. I have 25 to 30 charcuterie boards that would rival anyone’s collection.
Marni: Besides concerns about making their homes party perfect, what else prevents people from opening their doors?
Abby: The worry that nobody will come. I used to worry about that, too. Now I say, are you kidding? Here’s the shocker: People want to connect. They want to be invited.
Marni: What do you wish more people knew?
Abby: That you don’t have to be Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray to do this. Lean on your grocery stores. They have so many prepared items ready to go. Don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And don’t worry if your plates don’t match. When everything is matching, you risk giving the impression of perfection. If someone asks me for a coaster, I have done too nice a job.
Photo caption: Drawn to the table — “Stop wasting time waiting for the perfect family, house, or table, and start opening your home, cooking for friends and building your tribe one gathering at a time,” says author Abby Turner. Photo courtesy of Molly Anne Sandefur/The Living Table.