Relaxed dinner is the point of getting together

This is sooooo me (us)!!! Though I don't know what I do with a house that I could *fit* a 9-foot dining room table in. Definitely have more people over, I mean, that is the point of entertaining and hospitality. I like this one because I spent most of the day cleaning. Not that you can tell after my kids have "relaxed", but at least I'm not the only one!

The day before Pam was to arrive, I realized what I'd done: invited a nationally recognized entertaining expert to my house on a crazy work day that allowed no time to prep ahead and, more significantly, no time to clean up the house.

Many people assume that if you're good at one domestic art, you're good at all of them, especially if your name is Martha and you're from Connecticut. But in my case, all the chips seem to have landed in the 'she cooks!' basket and none in the basket marked 'she cleans!' (Don't even peer into the empty void marked 'she folds laundry!')

I am an astoundingly bad housekeeper, a fact that has taken me this long to come to terms with. My mother's and sisters' houses were and are graciously comfortable and immaculate, so what happened with me? Of course, I married a kindred slob (who actually does 50 percent of whatever housework gets done) and, contrary to our avid hopes, this trait didn't skip a generation with our daughter. So we are a household of three people who don't know how to put the lid back on the peanut butter jar.

I had a choice: In the hour and a half before Pam came, I could try to manufacture a clean, clutter-free, chic domain (hey, they do it in less time than that on the TV shows, staple guns a-smokin'). Or I could cook. I didn't think moving the remaining 27 packing boxes still on the first floor, hemming the fabric draped from my dining room curtain rods and finding a home for six months of found objects destined to become Halloween costumes was going to happen. Instead, I pushed the detritus of our life to one end of our 9-foot dining table, set out pretty mats and napkins and a couple of votives from Target and set to cooking.

We didn't bother with a first course that night, other than some olives, because it was a school night for us all. I put Pam to work on a walnut-oil vinaigrette (she wisely made a big batch that I used all week) while I prepared an herb crust for a rack of lamb. While the rack roasted, we drank wine and I fried some tiny-diced Yellow Finn potatoes. We all sat together and ate rack of lamb and garlicky fried potatoes, followed by a salad of greens, walnuts, juicy pears and dollops of Rogue River blue cheese.

That was it, and it was perfect.