My Style of Entertaining, And Where I Got It From

Recently, Mistress and I attended one of my family’s gatherings.

As I watched my cousin, one of the hosts, cook entirely too much delicious food, and the other host, her husband, diligently clean up a step behind her, I thought about my own style of entertaining and where I get it from.

Other than the aforementioned couple, it was mostly my great-aunt or her daughter who hosted family gatherings as I was growing up.  There was also always entirely too much delicious food from that part of the family, though it happened more in courses—light appetizers in wicker baskets scattered around before you sat down to salad and soup, then a course offering the option of many tempting entrees and sides, usually very drawn out before the cleaning up started, people wandering around, leading into the placement of assorted light desserts.

At my cousin’s house, however, it was more like a constant wandering, and many light and heavier appetizers on the large kitchen island, then a large variety of appealing entrees, sides, and heavier desserts added to that island, much closer together in time.  Cleanup got done as it was needed, closely following whatever was getting cooked up at the time.

Aside from family gatherings, the parties I went to during my more formative years that I remember best were the parties thrown by the very wealthy families of kids I went to middle school with for the first two years.  As someone new to that private school and there on scholarships, it was like a whole new world.

These were parties of hundreds of people of varying relation in fancy but uncomfortable looking clothes, with very loud music from a DJ and elaborate but dim lighting, sitting down at round tables so big you could barely read the place card of the person across from you, the table covered in fine linens, and waiters bringing delicately plated food you had ordered on your RSVP card so long ago you forgot what you ordered or what the options even were.  People gave speeches and after dinner, there were activities and lots of dancing.

I think of what I’m like as a host now and can see bits of all of those hosts in me.  I hosted a weekly event at home with Mistress for almost a year and a half, having rarely less than six and rarely more than twelve people over for food, chitchat with kinky company, and occasional play or swimming.  In that event, I can see bits of all of the above events.

I always erred on the side of too much food, and my skills at cleaning and cooking at the same time improved over time, though there was always more cleanup to do after all was done (and cleaning up before people even arrived).  I tended to have the “light appetizers scattered around in cute baskets” style (cut down later on due to the unhealthy tendencies of those “appetizers”). Then there would be a more buffet style entree serving later (as cooking finished), with maybe a light side or two, usually fairly closely followed by a dessert.  People were free to wander around with their food.

Though some of the formality of the large parties appeals to me, I would rather fall on the guests being comfortable side of it, like my family.  We never had a dress code of any sort (and clothes sometimes came off anyway), we tried to keep the sensory experience of the house calmer, focused on interaction with the other people, not the environment, since that’s what they were there for.

Food was customizable with request, and I often felt out people on the general food options as little as a day in advance.  

I liked a more personalized feel.  There’s the great service of going to a famed five-star restaurant, and there’s the great service of going to the mom and pop cafe you frequent.  The five-star restaurant might have dishes with names in the romance languages, but the mom and pop cafe knows you want extra potatoes and no whipped cream on your drink.  I liked the latter style.

Yes, the brand name store-bought cookies look pretty in the package and have a health code stamp on them, but you don’t get to smell them while they’re in the oven, or see the cloud of flour dust as flour gets added to the bowl, or taste test any of the cookie dough.  Personally, I valued the way the kitchen got crowded as the cookie dough got closer to taste-test ready or as the oven timer got closer to zero, more than I valued a pretty package.  (People descended upon the cookies before they were nearly cooled enough to think about presentation, anyway.)

A main hosting priority for me was also to make everything as intuitive and easy as possible.  I labeled things.  I laid things out in advance.  I didn’t blast music so loud people couldn’t hear each other, or dim the lights so low they couldn’t see each other.  I tried to offer options on things that would work for everyone, and let people choose for themselves.  Fancy was cool, but I didn’t want it at the cost of confused guests who felt shoved into a box. 

If it wouldn’t disrupt the guest experience, I still liked keeping things nicer; even just using real, non-disposable silverware, plates, napkins, and bowls for the occasion easily gave it a more upscale feel.  (Hosting a lot, you have to start to think about your environmental impact anyway.)

Personally, I had a great guest experience at the house of my cousin and her husband recently, and I have had many great experiences with them and with the other hosts of my family, and many of those massive parties of kids at school were a blast, too.  People can definitely enjoy more than one kind of event.

It was interesting to think back on those experiences and how they formed my general hosting style and values—and thinking deeper into different types.

List: Some Services S-Types Can Offer

Cleaning

  • Make beds.
  • Collect and take out trash and recycling, manage containers for them, and handle trash and recycling services.
  • Collect, wash, dry, put away, and care for dishes.
  • Disinfect surfaces.
  • Wash mirrors and windows.
  • Clean toilets, showers, and baths.
  • Manage clutter, tidy up, and organize things.
  • Clean, vacuum, sweep, and mop floors.
  • Keep anything desired well stocked.

Home Maintenance/Repair

  • Fix and install light bulbs and fixtures.
  • Paint walls and hang wallpaper.
  • Fix and install plumbing-related things.
  • Fix and install appliances.
  • Fix, assemble, and make furniture.
  • Do construction, plumbing, and electrical jobs.

Plants/Outdoor

  • Plant, grow, and maintain a lawn.
  • Plant and grow any other desired plants.
  • Clear trash and blockages from exterior areas.
  • Weed an area.
  • Prune plants.
  • Maintain a pool.

Laundry/Sewing/Needlework

  • Collect, sort, wash, dry, and put away laundry.
  • Iron.
  • Remove stains.
  • Mend clothes.
  • Tailor clothes.
  • Design and sew, knit, and crochet projects.
  • Do embroidery and applique.

Culinary

  • Cook everyday and fancier foods for whatever number of people is required.
  • Bake.
  • Create nice food and drink presentation.
  • Serve food and drink gracefully.
  • Make coffee, tea, and cocoa.
  • Set the table for various situations; fold napkins.
  • Match alcohol and make alcoholic drinks.
  • Put together menus, meal plan, keep food inventory, and make shopping lists.
  • Warm or cool plates, cups, and bowls.
  • Handle special diets.
  • Handle food preservation.

Travel/Transportation

  • Pack, especially for air travel.
  • Plan for and use public transportation.
  • Handle arrangements for lodging, meals, and transportation.
  • Find desired shops and services.
  • Navigate with a map or GPS.
  • Handle passport, currency, language, cultural, and legal issues.
  • Handle entertainment, visiting tourist destinations, and going to events.
  • Maintain a valid driver’s license and safe driving skills; drive.
  • Maintain a car: change oil, get fuel, check fluids, change wiper blades, check tire pressure, and change tires.

Errands

  • Shop online and in-store.
  • Manage groceries and basic items.
  • Manage couponing, sale-finding, item comparing, and negotiating.
  • Do product and store research.

Office/Electronic/Financial

  • Handle and answer electronic written communications, calls, mail, papers, and visitors; take messages.
  • Keep a calendar and manage scheduling.
  • Keep records.
  • Fill in paperwork.
  • Give reminders.
  • Give tech support.
  • Design websites.
  • Set up electronics.
  • Budget, track spending, and handle taxes.

Health/Beauty

  • Give massages.
  • Give manicures and pedicures.
  • Help with bathing; run a bath.
  • Wash, dry, brush, style, and cut hair; barber.
  • Help with shaving, waxing, and plucking.
  • Do makeup.
  • Get certified in first aid and CPR.
  • Handle medications.
  • Take vitals.
  • Do caretaking for illness, disability, and injury.

Animals

  • Feed animals and make sure they have water.
  • Train animals.
  • Clean animal habitats and bathrooms.
  • Provide animal health care.
  • Groom animals.
  • Exercise, walk, and play with animals.

Adventures in Becoming a Cooking Slave

Perhaps in my heart if not in my skill, I have always been a cooking slave. Before I lived with Mistress, I lived with two Jewish mothers who live up to the stereotype, and their way of shoving food onto people rubbed off on me. During a brief break in that living situation, I lived in a more communal situation where I learned the best way to make friends was to cook entirely too much of whatever I was making, and walk around offering it to people.

Once, I walked in to the little medical office while the women at the front desk were talking about how “no one comes to see us unless they’re sick”.

“Well, I’m perfectly healthy; would you like a muffin? Just pulled these out of the oven, made a full batch to make measuring the ingredients easier, but I can’t eat ‘em all, y’know?”

Later, someone else: “Man, I have to wait two weeks for my medical center appointment!”

Me, mentally: “Hmm, I’ve always gotten in on the same day. Go figure.”

No one told me that offering to make people food wasn’t how flirting worked, so I used the same technique when I met Mistress, and hey, it worked. Maybe that is how flirting should work?

Well, while we began a 24/7 live-in power dynamic within two months of meeting, I still had cooking to offer. We learned a few things.

Mistress enjoys cooking and is very good at it. My skillset paled in comparison.

As time passed, we discovered that as much as the above was true, there was another fact to consider. We both really liked the idea of meal planning and had tried out various methods. We tried planning meals a week in advance during our weekly check-in, we tried a week-long meal plan that would be the same each week, we tried planning for all meals and just for dinner, we tried more categorical planning and more specific planning, and any combination of those things. We could not seem to stick to it.

Working on another attempt, we realized that we stuck strictly to the meal plan when it was my turn to cook, and that we did not stick to the meal plan when it was her turn to cook.

We both had no problem eating on the plan. I had no problem cooking on the plan. This led us to a perhaps obvious conclusion: that I should do the cooking. There would be exceptions now and then so she could still cook when she liked, and I had become better at cooking some things, and wanted to learn more (with my limited skillset being an initial reason the cooking was one of few things of the sort that got divided up, alongside Mistress’ enjoying cooking before we realized how much that didn’t apply to a meal plan).

We are still making adjustments.

The nice thing with the categorical planning (including a “free choice”) is it gives me room to learn to cook new things. I like not having every day be categorical because it does cut down on planning time a little, and lets favorites remain.

Each new recipe I try teaches me something—maybe a technique, maybe something about an ingredient, maybe that we both always want double the amount of garlic, etc.

Some new things I’ve made include various chicken breast recipes (though our chicken favorite remains the chicken thigh/drumstick recipe made in the oven), and a pizza-pasta-bake featuring rotini, crumbled hot Italian sausage, pepperoni, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. I’ve been working on “perfecting” the pot roast and the sous-vide tri tip. And old favorites! I’ve also started having healthy smoothies.

I’m having fun cooking and learning (and eating) and most of all, becoming more useful.

I’ve had fun upgrading “the experience” along with the food. We want to be more eco-friendly, so as part of that, we committed to using real, non-disposable silverware, plates, bowls, and napkins. This meant that Mistress acquired us cloth napkins (and while she was at it, new placemats), and learning folding with those has been fun, too. I’ve also noticed more use of the chilled glasses kept stocked in the freezer. Fancier and more eco-friendly, all at once.

Besides those things, I’ve tried to upgrade the service side of culinary skills too. I have started going through some mostly-video courses aimed at the hospitality industry, which have serving tips and also good information for things like table setting, and inspiration for things like our coffee-tea-cocoa station.

Improvements have definitely been made and there are more to come.

Run It Like a Business: Organization in Slavery and the Love of the Process

Re-sorting things in OmniFocus again, I was talking about minor features I wished existed. Habit tracking, automatic sorting by date, Find My Friends integration, sharing, so on…

I got to one, and Mistress, laughing good-naturedly, asked, “What do you need those features for, are you a small business CEO now?”

I’m not a CEO. Far from it, I’m a slave.

(Not that CEOs can’t also be slaves—my point being more that for me, being a slave is my only “occupation”.)

But let’s face it: a job to be done is a job to be done. CEOs and slaves both have things to do.

And while looking back at a job well done is commonly a good feeling, I think that what’s often missing is feeling good before then: the love of the process.

Service is an art and a science both. There’s a lot of data-gathering, through questions and observations and research (and cycles thereof); then there’s the data analysis, and back to the start, a life-long cycle of learning. The art is what you do with the conclusions drawn from that data.

You observe your M-type’s slight smile whenever you properly set the table more nicely for dinner, rather than precariously balancing the silverware on the plate itself. You do some research into not only nice but technically proper table setting, and you start setting the table that way, as much as reasonable, and note a bigger smile. You ask them if anything could make the table setting better. “Yes,” they say, perhaps this other napkin fold. You look up how to fold like that, and start folding the napkins that way. The table setting and the napkin folds are the part that’s considered more of an art.

And honestly, satisfaction is much more short lived in that scenario if it comes from looking at the table set as your M-type likes it, rather than all of the parts involved in getting there.

Now, the “a job to be done is a job to be done” thing—and why I take organization weirdly seriously as a slave. Well, look at that example process. There’s the observations, the research, a stated preference. You might want to keep a table setting or napkin folding reference somewhere, and not somewhere lost forever in the depths of your files—not to mention a note of the preferences you noted or heard.

While pride in slavery might sound contradictory (and it sometimes can be), taking pride in a job well done is an excellent motivator for making sure that job is well organized, and of course, continually well done. Pride in the process itself can be even better.

Basically: the importance of organizational system you believe in cannot be overstated in many situations.

Okay, so if you’re onboard with the theory, what are some practicalities?

The thing is that organization generally should be a very personalized thing. I’ll talk about some of the things I do in as general terms as I can.

In this modern world we live in, organization and productivity apps are everywhere, and there’s something out there for almost everyone.

Personally, we use Google Drive to be able to share things easily—our contract, things related to eating and shopping, my daily slave journal, and things for our weekly check-in meeting. (Speaking of which: a contract for expectations, a journal for “record” keeping, and a routine check-in are all useful organizational tools for us in themselves.) We also have a shared Google Calendar.

I use Evernote for… more things than Evernote is probably meant to be used for. Features it has won me over with include that it syncs between my devices, has tagging abilities, you can hyperlink to a note (think document), and right now, it’s the Web Clipper I love—a browser extension that lets me “clip” webpages into the app, with whatever notebook (think folder), tags, title, or notes that I want.

The closest thing I have to a traditional to do list is OmniFocus. Mistress introduced me to OmniFocus the night we met. I loved her and I loved the app and I loved her for showing me the app and all of those are still true. Ha. (I very shortly thereafter received the task of reading the book “Getting Things Done” while kneeling next to her desk where she was working, in comfortable silence. The system described in that book is a basis of OmniFocus).

OmniFocus for me consists of actions, assigned to projects, tags, given due dates, and sometimes a repeating schedule. Each “action” is just a task I have to do—”do dishes”, “clean pool”. Each of those actions is assigned to a project. I have projects (for me, more like lists) called things like “General”, “Daily”, “Maybe”, “Calendar Events” (where I copy those Google Calendar things to), “Meal Plan”, “Shopping List”, “Electronic/Communication”. Each task can also be assigned to any tags I have, which are mostly people or places. Then when I see that person or go to that place, I can look at the tag to see if I should do anything (tags can also be assigned to a location so I get a notification when I’m nearby—like getting a “hey, you wanted to pick up milk” when near the store).

OmniFocus is what I look at when I wake up in the morning; Evernote is what I look at for more information on those tasks. OmniFocus might have “set table” as a task and Evernote might have “table setting reference” as a note.

Yes, being a bit of a productivity/organization geek has helped me in slavery more than I can say.

I’ve experimented a bit with things like bullet journaling and kanban boards, and use things similar when I think they might be beneficial. I recommend trying different systems for different situations and different combinations of them and finding what works.

Like I said: the love of the process.

The love of learning is a huge part of that too. Reading, practicing skills, taking classes, asking questions of those who are experienced.

Because, the way I think about it, the service process, rather than pure service, is something that’s important to a lot of M-types.

Sometimes a sandwich is a sandwich, and someone making you a sandwich is someone making you a sandwich. So why have a slave instead of a Personal Sandwich Maker?

(Okay, so there are some very practical reasons, but bear with me.)

Because a lot of M-types like watching someone put their time, energy, and skills into pleasing them. It might not be about what exactly that final action is. It might not be that the table looking nice is so important to them—but they get something out of knowing that you were watchful enough to notice what they liked, that you put in the time to read up on it, that you cared enough to ask about it, that you were dedicatedly practicing the just-so napkin folds. It is in those details that the difference can be.

So it helps if you love the process too.

And have a well-organized process you can love and be proud of.

Learning in Anticipatory Service, and Some Advice

There’s a lot of learning involved in service, and especially in anticipatory service.

There’s learning the M-type’s preferences and priorities. All of them. Even the ones they’re not consciously aware of, or don’t think to communicate. And learning them to a point where remembering them is automatic. And knowing and understanding the “why” if it matters. And incorporating them whenever possible. And… sometimes preferences and priorities change.

There’s thoroughly learning the “technical skills” you might not have yet. Cleaning, cooking, errands, laundry, yard work, travel, secretarial, personal care. And fine tuning those skills based on those preferences.

There’s (in anticipatory service) learning about their subconscious and sometimes nigh invisible cues. An extra split second of looking at a cup when it’s nearing empty. A ghost of a smile that indicates they like what you just did. It’s knowing what they want that they might not even know they want (at least yet). And those cues can also change. It’s knowing them and their boundaries well enough to know what kind of anticipatory service is acceptable and desirable.

In anticipatory service, my goal is to do the things that Mistress wants before she calls, “Slave!” from across the house.

So how do I determine what those things are in an anticipatory style?

1. Do things they’re going to ask for, before they ask. For example: fix problems. Big problems might be more involved, but there are plenty of small “problems” that can be solved immediately. Like the toilet paper roll ran out, or there’s a spill in the kitchen. Try to address things like that right away, and try to figure out how to prevent future problems or make them easier to solve when they come up (store extra toilet paper in the bathroom, have a towel ready in the kitchen). Basically, don’t wait for them to remind you to treat something as necessary. You can see their glass of water is almost empty or that you’re missing a needed event supply without them saying anything—fill the glass now, acquire the supply now.

2. Do (or offer to do) things they might not think to ask for at all. Regularly think of what you could be doing to make their life easier that they might not think of. It could be a once-off task or a new standing order. If it can reasonably just be done, then you can just do it before they get to it. If you think you should talk to them about it first, then do that. Think of things around holidays (wrapping?), trips (packing?), and things like that. Look at what seems to give them stress or frustration or disruption. If there’s a repeating task you see them getting distracted from more important things by, offer to handle it on the same schedule.

3. Improve their processes and environments. Make things a little more convenient or a little prettier in some way (and, note what they think makes something more convenient or pretty). Organize things around the house. Eliminate nuisances. Do minor redecorating. Get related supplies in one place. Improve the lighting. Automate things.

4. Devote yourself, on your own, to learning those “technical skills”, keeping track of those preferences, and doing your own self-improvement (growth cannot be overstated).

Anticipatory service is a lot of learning, a lot of work—and one of my favorite things.