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Posts Tagged ‘entertaining’

A tale of two cookbooks

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, food, life on December 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

I love cooking, and cookbooks and folders filled with recipes clipped from everywhere.

I knew Jose, my husband, was a potential keeper when he had the same 1989 cookbook I’ve used for years, and love, written by American ex-pat Patricia Wells, “Bistro Cooking.”

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We once had friends over for dinner and the recipe — flambeed chicken with mushrooms — contained the unforgettable phrase “Avert your gaze” for the moment when you ignite the bird. (Or singe your eyelashes and eyebrows.)

Two cookbooks I’m getting to know and enjoy are so utterly different. Even their covers and photos are as unalike — as the British would say — as chalk and cheese.

One, Tamasin’s Weekend Food, is written by Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of the British actor Daniel Day-Lewis. I have no idea where I bought it — probably on a visit home to Canada, where it’s much easier to find books by British publishers than here in New York.

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I love everything about this book, from its silver end-papers to the way it’s structured: Friday Night, Saturday morning, Saturday lunch, Tea time, Saturday supper and Sunday lunch.

I love her elegant assumption, (so not true for us), that one has fled the craziness of city life for a weekend spent with kids and dogs in some crumbling 16th century rectory with muddy Wellies in the entryway.

It has a soft red ribbon with which to mark your place.

I love the photos of her — no make-up, lean-limbed, clutching a bunch of carrots in her blue jeans like some Celtic Scarlett O’Hara, long hair askew. Even on the cover, she’s looking down, not smiling and looks tired.

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The recipes, each quirky enough to be interesting, are a mix of humble — home-made bread — and vaguely exotic, like pan bagnat., one of my favorite French things to eat.

I recently — on a weeknight even! — when it was rainy and windy and the night air smelled of woodsmoke, tackled her salmon fishcakes with creme fraiche tartare sauce. All of it made from scratch. She insisted on wild salmon — and, indeed it had a wholly different consistency than the filets we usually buy. The tartar sauce, as promised was “moreish, the sort of thing you have to dip your finger into.” Indeed! It was light, creamy, tart and unlike any gummy, nasty bottled tartar sauce I’ve eaten.

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The other book, “The barefoot contessa back to basics” is very American, from its cover image of jolly, not-thin Ina Garten looking into the camera with its perky lime-green lettering, spine and end-papers to the photo of her gorgeous country house — a mansion in the Hamptons and super-elegant kitchen. It was a wedding gift to us from friends who, like us, love to entertain guests.

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I like that she includes recipes for cocktails, one of which we served at a brunch for friends — mango banana daiquiris.

I like her list of 10 things not to serve at a dinner party, including garlic and raw onions, nuts and two fish courses. (We now make sure to ask every guest if there is any food they loathe, having once made a fantastic salmon dish at which my friend J [sigh] sniffed: “I don’t eat fish.”)

Not the right answer!

The recipes offer a nice range of choices and the color photos are terrific. I’m looking forward to exploring it further even as, (yes, somehow), I try to shed 30+ pounds over the next few months.

Here is a review of 14 cookbooks that came out in 2013, from Time Out New York, and 12 more from The New York Times. (Several books made both lists.) The one I’m most intrigued by is “Ottolenghi”, by the owner of the London restaurant that bears his last name.

Do you have a favorite cookbook or two to recommend?

I Love Dinner Parties!

In behavior, entertainment, family, food, life on December 4, 2011 at 1:25 am
Dinner party at a Mandarin's house.

Image via Wikipedia

When Jose and I started dating, it was a very short time before I put him to the acid test — helping me throw a dinner party.

I love giving dinner parties!

They satisfy many urges: to make people happy, to feed them well, to set a pretty table, (candles, flowers, home-made place cards, linen or cotton napkins, colorful plates, shiny silver), and to create new connections between the people I love.

We had two couples over recently who had never met, but I knew would get along and enjoy one another, (another key to a great dinner party. No random guests!) The two women, even with a 15-year age difference, had both worked in book publishing in Manhattan. Their husbands are quieter, but both have a dry sense of humor. They all love to eat well and everyone loves to laugh.

The menu:

tomato soup (with a touch of gin!)

salmon with tangerine/butter/soy sauce glaze

asparagus

mango rice

chocolate ice cream with my invention, (what I call drunk fruit), served hot on top. (Throw blackberries, raspberries, apple, pear, butter, cloves, cinnamon, maple syrup, lemon or lime juice, scotch and/or Marsala and/or sherry into a heavy pan and boil. Yum!)

The best part was remembering that one of the women had cut a CD a few years ago, a gift from her family. So we all listened to it, and the other woman happily sang along.

We love remembering dinner parties we held a decade ago, like the one that included our minister and his wife (in their 60s), a young photographer and journalist, a Times shooter just back from Afghanistan and my web designer. One couple locked eyes across our table — and married a few years later.

The mix matters!

No boors/bores. No mean jokes. No one smokes. No one drinks to excess. We’re passionate about the news and current affairs. Aggression, whether passive or active, is deeply unwelcome; here’s a sadly accurate blog post about watching three sorts of moribund marriages across the table.

Our friends have generally traveled the world, are educated, read widely and avidly, share enough cultural references we’ve got something in common but enough (civil!) difference of opinion to enjoy talking to one another.

We’ve got it down to a science, helped by the fact I work at home and can easily make time for fussy niceties like ironing a tablecloth and napkins or re-filling the votives. I love settling in with my recipes and cookbooks to plan a meal that’s balanced, interesting and good-looking. Our kitchen is very small, so we do it restaurant-style, with prep work in advance, and plating on the kitchen counter.

I grew up in a family that frequently had friends over for dinner, and Jose’s Mom, as a small-town minister’s wife did often for family and church visitors.

It’s one of the happiest traditions he and I now continue. (I do know that having kids, especially small ones, makes this sort of thing more difficult. We don’t have kids.)

Do you enjoy entertaining?

Come For Dinner

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, food, journalism, life, Style on July 3, 2011 at 11:57 am
Thanksgiving dinner in Canada.

Image via Wikipedia

I love throwing dinner parties. If I were rich, and less busy, I’d have one almost every single week.

They combine all the things I love most:
creating and setting a pretty table; choosing recipes and shopping for good food and wine; cooking; making people happy — and spending quiet, uninterrupted time face to face with people I care about.

I use a collection of antique and colored plates and glasses, new and old linen napkins, and love to sit by candlelight as we all share stories.

As I write this, I’m sitting at our antique farm table, the one I bought in Montreal in 1985 and still use, layered with a blue and white vintage cotton tablecloth.

We sit on a bench my ex-husband made that stores all our hardware and tools, and top with custom-made cushions covered in lime green cotton with cobalt-blue piping. I turn the ugly glass balcony divider into a wall by throwing a pretty coverlet over it and lining up big, soft cushions covered in a variety of fabrics, from a 1930s floral print I found in a Paris flea market to a great blue and green check I found in Fredericksburg, Texas (where else?)

Instant outdoor restaurant!

My friend Tamara, whose fun cookbook is here, holds dinner parties in the backyard of her Queens, NY apartment. I attended the first one two summers ago and was instantly charmed — strangers pay $40 per person and sit at a motley array of tables, set with mismatched china and cutlery, and eat great food and get to know one another. It’s very un-New York to travel from one borough to another, let alone risk an evening with people you don’t know. But Tamara’s crowd is smart and fun and creative: I’ve met everyone from radio reporters to a dentist to attorneys.

I made a new friend there whose career as a singer of 1920s music is rocketing along; if you’re ever in New York, you’ve got to hear the Hot Sardines and Mme. Bougerol. The woman rocks a washboard! (Turned out her mom, also at that first dinner where we met, went to the same school and camp as I did. Small world.)

This is the whole point of dinner parties — unlikely combinations, the germination of new friendships with people you would never have met elsewhere. We held one, midwinter, about eight years ago that included our Maine-born minister and his wife; a war photographer, a British journalist and his girlfriend; an interior designer. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. We ate chili and rice and salad — and a man and woman who met there that night have been happily married for years. Ka-ching!

I grew up in a family that loved to entertain, and eat well, so it all feels like a normal and lovely thing to do. We also don’t have kids, and so it’s easier for us than for those who do, especially little kids or lots of kids.

Here’s a gorgeous new magazine devoted to the art of small dinner parties.

And here’s a very odd French website selling Last Supper placemats with images of all the apostles’ hands.

Do you love to entertain? Tell me about one of your best parties!

As Thanksgiving Nears, Ten Ways To Be A Gracious Host

In business, food, parenting, travel on November 22, 2010 at 1:32 am
New welcome mat from my parents

Image via Wikipedia

Being invited to someone’s home — as many of us will soon be for the holidays, whether for a party, a meal or a few days — is supposed to be a wonderful thing, a gesture of affection and hospitality. As we all know, it can also lead to sulks, sighs, flounces, shouts or worse.

Herewith a few rules for the host:

Make it fun. Really. Too many people stress themselves out to create Martha Stewart-esque perfection, determined to get it right, or else. I love to entertain in style, with candles and linen napkins, but if my guests aren’t having a good time, there’s not much point. Great music and soft lighting help. Delegate as many tasks as possible and allow plenty of time between the house-cleaning, food shopping, prep and cooking — and your meal or party. A pooped-out host(ess) is no fun!

Offer a wide array of beverage choices. Pellegrino, lots of lime and lemon slices, fresh ice, freshly-squeezed orange juice, V-8 juice and brewed tea make a nice break from sugary sodas or liquor. (Most fruit juices contain way too much sugar for those trying to lose weight.) If you’re serving tea or coffee, it’s great to have half-and-half and skim milk available as well.

Determine food allergies — but set your limits. This is really tricky in an age of vegans, gluten-free adherents and people choosing to follow any number of exotic diets. I once prepared a great salmon dish to have my 25-year-old guests sniff “I don’t eat fish.” Yes, we made them something else, but they haven’t been invited back since.

Be clear about your expectations. If the cat will rush into busy traffic if a door is opened, make that known. If you won’t tolerate anyone else disciplining your children, say so. If the apartment door must be double-bolted upon exiting to be secure, tell your houseguests, preferably a few times.

Write stuff down. If you have guests with you for a while, a written list of tips can’t hurt — where to find the coffee, whether you compost or recycle, the location of the nearest pharmacy or grocery store. Most people hate to snoop or nag, and everyone runs their household a little differently.

Anticipate disaster. If you really don’t want a red wine stain anywhere, don’t serve it. If your best crystal is irreplaceable, don’t put it within anyone’s reach.

Stock your medicine cabinet. No one wants to come unprepared, but emergencies happen — aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, bandages, sanitary supplies, extra razors or toothbrushes are all very much appreciated by needy guests.

Don’t assume your guests know how to (safely) operate any of your technology. Explain clearly anything they might find confusing. This might be anything from your remote to your coffee-maker to your music system.

Let your guests know it’s OK to do their laundry (if it is) and have extra soap on hand. If they’ve been on the road for a while, or have little kids or work out often, it’s a relief to be able to keep up.

Make houseguests truly feel at home. Nice towels, a few new magazines, a box of chocolates, a pitcher of ice water and some pretty fresh flowers in their room will make them feel pampered. If you really don’t want people around, don’t invite them, or limit their stay. They can feel it. Fake or forced hospitality is a misery for everyone.

It’s Tuesday. And You’re Happy?

In animals, antiques, art, behavior, business, cars, culture, design, entertainment, Fashion, food, Health, sports, Style, travel, women, work on October 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

 

alcoholic drinks - minibottles

It can come in very small bottles, too...Image by jekert gwapo via Flickr

 

The London School of Economics has started a new study to link happiness to physical location, time of day and other factors.

If it’s Tuesday, they’ve discovered, people are least happy — and at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, they’re feeling their best.

Another new study says six things make most people happy:

It turns out that you can be happy — without worrying — as long as you get enough sleep, spend quality time with your family and get home from work at a decent hour.

According to a new study, it’s the simple things in life that make us content: home-cooked meals, trips abroad, a night out once in a while. As for money, well, The Beatles said it “can’t buy me love,” and it doesn’t seem to do much for happiness, either.

On the list citing the keys to contentment, cash didn’t even make the cut.

Experts doing a study for Yeo Valley, a British dairy company, quizzed 4,000 adults on their lifestyles and asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5 — 5 being perpetually happy exercise guru Richard Simmons and 1 being Oscar the Grouch. The result was a formula that includes one night out a week with a partner or friends and a 20-minute commute to work.

According to the study, happy people have four alcoholic drinks a week. They also eat four portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Here are some of the things guaranteed to leave me grinning, no matter what the day:
Road trip! It can be almost anywhere

Travel, preferably overseas. Preferably Paris or Corsica. OK, anywhere in France! Using my passport makes me really happy

Hanging out with a dear friend over a great meal (or cold beer)

Cold beer — Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, Grolsch, St. Ambroise, Griffon…

An authoritative G & T made with original recipe Tanqueray

A very good pedicure

Scoring a treasure at a flea market or antique show

Watching the red hawks soaring over our balcony

Setting a pretty table and serving dinner to friends

Getting a book finished and into production

Patting a friendly dog

Looking at gorgeous art and well-made objects in a museum or gallery

Hitting to the outfield

Wearing cashmere

A cuddle with the sweetie

A very ripe peach, mango or strawberry

The smells of dried, sun-warmed pine needles, Oeillet-Mignardise or Hesperides soap; horse; ocean; leather; “First” perfume; old stone

The sounds of a halyard clanging against a sailboat mast; water lapping against rocks; wind in the trees; laughter

Here’s one blogger’s list of the things that make her happy.

How about you?

It's A Dinner Invitation — Not A Diner Menu!

In food on November 22, 2009 at 5:43 pm
Dinner party with Synne and Mike

Image by Elin B via Flickr

Great New York Times rant today about the total PITA that some spoiled guests have turned into these days. If you’re someone who loves to cook and to entertain, there are few things more annoying and depressing than the hand-flapping dictum “We don’t eat…”, preceding a princess-y list some people now subject their hosts to before deigning to eat a free meal lovingly prepared.

A few months ago, which really put us off our game for a while afterward, we prepared a terrific salmon recipe from Gourmet. “We don’t eat fish,” the 30-ish married couple, she a friend since she was once of my students years earlier, announced as they sat down. Um, well, that’s actually what’s for dinner. Eat more vegetables and bread, slurp down a little extra wine, and deal.

Your host/ess has worked long and hard, happily, to make an evening s/he hopes will be pleasant and convivial. Turning up your nose at those efforts is just plain rude.

We had a slightly older couple over for dinner this weekend for the first time, always a slightly nervous endeavor these days in light of such fussiness.  I asked my standard question before planning the menu about their food allergies or really strong food dislikes. “We eat everything,” she said. And, bless ‘em, including seconds, they did.

Is The Dinner Party Dead? Not At Our House

In food on October 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm
The Dinner Party, by Henry Sargent, ca. 1821.

Image via Wikipedia

Say it ain’t so! Entertaining remains one of my favorite activities. I’d have people to dinner every week if we could afford it. Last Saturday we had three guests for dinner: oysters (a splurge), home-made curried cauliflower soup, roast chicken, ice cream with fruit. The guests (bless ‘em!) brought Champagne and two lovely bars of soap as a hostess gift. They even wrote a thank-you note, on paper, delivered the next day.

We don’t have kids, so entertaining is easy enough and it combines all my favorite things: great food, lively conversation, a leisurely chance to get to know friends better, the chance to set a pretty table and try some new recipes or turn to a trusted stand-by. Lots of candles, fresh flowers, pretty linens. Heaven.

Apparently, not for many others — who have given up entirely, find the whole thing too much work/time/money/intimidating.

Is the dinner party dead? A panel of Guardian foodies weighs in.

Dinner With 19 Strangers in Astoria. Yum!

In entertainment, women on July 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm
Winsor McCay sketching Gertie the Dinosaur at ...

Image via Wikipedia

So the whole idea is pretty funky.

Go to someone’s backyard in Astoria, Queens, (one of the five boroughs of New York City), and eat a meal chosen and prepared by two women you don’t know with 19 people you’ve never met. This is New York, where the style tribes mark their territories with psychic razor wire. Going to a party where you know no one, even in your best mood and wearing your prettiest dress, can send you home in misery as everyone eyes you with disdain for showing up in the wrong clothes/haircut/industry/attitude. So you have to be a little bit brave.

I drove in *&^$#@ circles for 30 minutes around Queens’ barren industrial precincts, running out of gas, trying to read my five-borough atlas at the red lights, wondering if I should just give up and just go home, before I finally found the place. Down a long, really narrow alley and into a postage-stamp cement backyard were 19 strangers gathered for a Saturday evening dinner party. A jam-jar of rose, a piece of homemade tomato tart and a fun woman in an emerald-green wrap jersey top helped calm me down. I was 45 minutes late, but the sun was just setting and the meal had not yet begun. It felt cosy and welcoming, the circular black metal staircase to their second-floor apartment reminding me of Montreal. Read the rest of this entry »

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