By Kerri Conan
When house guests first arrive the kitchen is filled with promise. I’ve shopped, baked, and gardened. The over-stuffed pantry is mapped in my mind, and select jars of homemade canned treats have been moved to the fridge to chill along with the wine.
These preparations—which undoubtedly include advance menu planning via email—are a lot more fun than changing the sheets and scrubbing the bathrooms. But their thrill is just as fleeting. Before you know it, the suitcases are lined up by the door and we’re all gathered around the table for the farewell meal.
My dad and his wife were just here. They came through Kansas after a whirlwind weekend with family in Chicago. The weather was rainy and the peas and radishes from our garden were peaking, so I stocked up with lots of fun groceries in case we decided to just hunker down for a few days. Good thing, too: We wound up eating nine of our 10 meals together at home.
After such a delightful visit, it’s tough not to tinge the last luncheon with melancholy. Maybe more cooking would help; somehow that bon-voyage meal tends to default into a mish mash of leftovers—a summary of the visit told in food—akin to packing every morsel in the luggage as souvenirs. If I was to run across something in the fridge a few days later, would the memory make me even sadder?
A farewell feast based on leftovers also accommodates independent eating, a chance for guests to transition back to their own habits as they prepare to return home and leave you to yours. One person has a chicken sandwich while someone else fixes a bowl of lentil salad. There are cold cooked vegetables and bits of aged cheese to pick at, or not. Maybe we all share an avocado. It’s the meal that gently acknowledges the tender places where our lives intersect before we promise to visit again soon.