Today was one of those Sundays I dread: the ones when I have to cook for visitors. I am working my way through a seemingly endless list of possible ways to mess up a meal. I have done overcooking, undercooking, forgetting to switch on the oven, letting things boil over onto the oven’s element so that the house is permeated with a stench that resembles the burning ash heaps of Cairo (I’ve actually smelled these, so I should know), putting in baking soda instead of salt (they really look similar to me!), mixing ingredients that make each other go yucky (I can’t remember what the home ec teacher calls the process) and my special talent: leaving one dish in the freezer, the microwave oven or the sink and wondering throughout the meal why the spread seems a little bland …

Today had to be an exception. There was no room for error. We hadn’t seen these friends in nearly five years. I had to give them something edible. There was no need to experiment today of all days. It was time to play it super safe. My sanity was to be treasured and defended at all cost. We have less than two weeks before travelling to the States for the book launch tour of (un)Natural Mom. Getting a family of five ready to leave the country for three months while trying to return emails and calls across an eight hour time zone gap, and getting the house ready for a family to rent it while we’re away, has my nerves frizzed like a ponytail over a candle. Partly packed suitcases are strewn throughout the house. I have my random stacks everywhere – battery packs that need charging, vitamins that must be combined into one bottle for easy travelling, single earrings I really want to take along if I can find their friends, the book I always take on the plane but still haven’t read … you get the picture. Messing up this Sunday meal would almost certainly send me over the edge.

So I thought long and hard about the glitch-free meal I miraculously served a month ago for my husband’s birthday. What went wrong with what usually goes wrong to make it all turn out right that day? There was no stress, no crying over the dishes afterwards, no vowing to never ever let anyone eat anything at my house ever again. Only compliments from all the guests … Suddenly, I figured it out. I had the secret!

That is why I made the exact same trusted recipes today: Oven baked butternut filled with a mixture of mushroom, onion, cream cheese and peach chutney; Waldorf salad topped with rooibos tea infused balsamic glazed pecan nuts; olive bread with ginger and fig jam, and the two best dishes of the day: my husband’s Weber smoked chicken and my daughter’s microwave brownies-in-a-mug with ice-cream on top.

Having said goodbye to happy guests, with one eye on the Wimbledon final between Raonic and Murray, I cleared the table with my joy and sanity intact. The Sunday Sanity Secret was simple in the end. I should have it printed on a decorative plaque and hang it on my kitchen wall as my personal Commandment of Cooking: “Never again lay so much as a wooden spoon on a main dish or dessert. Leave them to the gifted ones. Keep yourself hidden among the side dishes. The gourmet gremlins won’t find you there.”

Now to figure out what to pack next. Possibly the needle and thread to fix the dress with the missing button which I love so much but never wear …