Kathleen Purvis

What’s the hashtag for ‘do the best you can’?

Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps
Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps

Oh, the shame. Expectations were high, and my hands were empty.

It was time for one of those annual gatherings that dot everyone’s year – the church-retreat weekend, the family reunion, the big party with the people you see once a year and need to leave with an impression good enough to last 11 months.

When it comes to food occasions, I can recite the Martha Stewart Canon of the Perfect Person from heart:

▪ Thou shalt keep thy freezer stocked for all occasions.

▪ Thou shalt always have a three-ingredient, takes-no-time recipe in thy hip pocket.

▪ Thou shalt bring a well-chosen store-bought dish only if it’s decorated with ribbon you wove yourself from locks of your children’s own hair.

But bless me, Martha, for I had sinned: I had hit the beginning of the fall-occasion season with a picked-over freezer and a calendar so overloaded, even Siri had to suppress a giggle. I had a weekend event with two “everybody bring something” occasions and no time to even open a cake mix.

All I could do was run through Trader Joe’s the night before with hair still wet from water aerobics, desperately looking for something, anything, I could toss on the goodie table. I lunged for flaxseed chips and the most exotic salsa in the refrigerator case, grabbed a tub of those really spicy Triple Ginger Snaps and, and, and … a jar of lemon curd to put out as a cookie dip.

I should have known better. Within 15 minutes of the first party, I had smiled weakly past three “And what did you brings” and slunk into a corner to lick my wounds from a “You brought store-bought?” joke. There was from-scratch baklava and cured salmon, for heaven’s sake. These people play kitchen hardball.

It used to be easier to ignore the Canon. We could refuse to give the perfect-life magazines even a glance in the doctor’s waiting room. We could flip past the perfect-life channel on the remote.

Then came Pinterest and Instagram, Facebook feeds and Twitter links. Every expectation has been ratcheted up to command performance, every occasion now requires us to look effortlessly lovely in natural-light filters. In the land of the food selfie, no cookie crumbles, no pie crust slumps.

Removing my untouched offering from the second goodie table of the weekend, though, I took a good look: There were homemade cakes with only a few slices taken from them. Even the baklava reached the second night with a few syrupy triangles still in the pan.

We had all been too busy talking and laughing to make more than a dent in even the good stuff.

On the second night, I looked away from the party and spotted a glowing orange-and-blue sunset over the lake. I left my camera firmly in my pocket, knowing no selfie could do it justice. There is no filter for “just fine the way it is.”

Maybe I’m learning.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis