Affection is the most important motivation for the home cook,
especially when having guests. My mailbag is filled with requests that prove
this is true.
"My father loves-----. Can you help me make it for him?"
"My grandmother always prepared------. Even though she is gone, could you keep
our tradition going?"
"I'm going to have my prospective in-laws as guests. What would be impressive
These are the letters which come each day. It is rare indeed that I am asked for
a recipe that someone wants to make solely for their own enjoyment.
There is hope and family caring in these letters. Most of the time, there is
also an unfortunate element of worry. If a recipe is special enough to merit a
request, it is usually meant for a gala event. Too often we are needlessly
intimidated by an occasion which should be enjoyed. Nothing should be more safe
and comfortable than enjoying the company of those who are dear to us.
With that in mind, I would like to make some comments on entertaining. Nothing
grand or fancy, there are plenty of books out there for those who want to be
impressive. These words are for cooks who want to share their homes and make a
happy time for their loved ones.
When preparing a festive meal, we are in a sense offering our hearts on a
platter filled with hope and caring. It is a lovely gift, and one in which all
should take a pleasure unmarred by nervous jitters.
I am going to offer a few bits of advice for readers who are planning an event,
however small. None of these ideas are unbreakable rules. They are guidelines to
ensure comfort. Do remember that your guests want to have a pleasant time.
1. All that schmutz you are finding will be invisible to your guests. Be neat,
polish mirrors and get rid of obvious dust on furniture. Believe me, NOBODY will
see dust bunnies under the bed or the inside of your oven. White glove
inspections are the stuff of Army nightmares and old MGM movies; real people
don't do that. I promise that a messy drawer will not bring a tour of guard
2. Put a lock on your bedroom door and use it. Your private space is just that,
private. Find another place to stash the coats. The purpose of entertaining is
to share your home, not to surrender it. As host, you define the space for a
party, and don't need to offer anyone a tour. If it would be easier for you to
close the door on a messy office, do it. There is no need to explain why
anything is off limits.
3. Do not leave anything in the bathroom, if you do not want it handled. Even
the nicest people have an unfortunate tendency to open drawers and medicine
chests. Get a box: throw in your pills, personal care items, etc. Then hide them
elsewhere. If the bathroom is neat and clean, you will seem a marvelous
housekeeper, even though the rest of the place is a wreck. Be certain to have
clean towels and dental floss available. For some reason, those who open
medicine chests are always in search of dental floss.
4. Quantity seems to be more important than quality with regard to food for
gatherings. You will notice that restaurants are often praised and patronized
for large portions, even though the menu offerings are third rate. Use as many
serving dishes as possible. If you can put it out on three platters, use nine
and fill some of the space on them with parsley or edible flowers placed around
the edges. Try to cover a buffet table so the cloth is invisible. For example, a
different dish for each crudités, grouped around the one with the dip. Someone
will say that you have made too much, but will be impressed that so many choices
seem to be available.
5. Everything tastes better if there is a paper doily on the serving plate. This
is true, even if the dish is juicy, and the doily is soggy under the food. Every
market sells doilies. You can also become a better cook by decorating the
platters with parsley, decorative kale or fruit slices. Pretty food tastes
6. A bunch of supermarket flowers on the table will make you a master chef. If
you do not have the budget for flowers, fill a container (a rusty dented old pot
or chipped pottery bowl are particularly artistic) with fresh fruit and/or
vegetables, using decorative kale or curly endive for foliage. A large bunch of
grapes, draped over anything else edible, will make your centerpiece look like a
still life painting.
7. Dress, comb your hair, and apply make-up if you wear it: before doing
anything else. When you feel attractive, you will also be more confident and
friendly. If guests arrive early, you can continue with kitchen chores, but you
can't duck out to take your shower. Another word about attractiveness: nobody
looks good when their feet hurt. Wear comfortable shoes and save the high heels
for when you are a guest.
8. Wear an apron. You will not be happy, if the inevitable spots and spills of
the kitchen destroy your clothes. If you are male and feel self-conscious, at
least tuck a towel in your waistband. It is a good idea to wear washable clothes
and have an extra outfit waiting in the closet, just in case you get salad
dressing all over yourself.
9. Never prepare something for guests, if you have not tested the recipe
beforehand. The most seemingly reliable sources may have an error or misprint.
An additional caution: have a backup plan. What will you serve, if you drop the
vegetables or burn the roast? Just knowing that no item is of critical
importance will make everything flow more smoothly.
10. Do remember that you are supposed to have fun. When people are smiling, a
less than perfect dish won't matter at all. If anything goes wrong, have a good
laugh, and just keep going. The love you are offering will be returned in the
gladness of the company.