Comment on this article

Successful Entertaining
A Happy Time for All.

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 and fail-safe?"

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 duty.

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 better.

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.

Copyright 2001 Eddy Robey
An excerpt from  .It's Not Just Chicken Soup.
Eddy Robey M.A.
  Author of  It's Not Just Chicken Soup.Like all Jewish mothers, I feed everyone in sight, and have been at work in the kitchen for over 25 years. Correspondence should be addressed to and will be read as soon as the dishes are done. You can find many of my recipes online at Gantseh Megillah Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it, as long as you include my copyright.

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]