Just a few weeks into this and I’ve learned what all bloggers already know. Life is busy, and I didn’t need a new writing outlet to help me reaffirm that. I spent the weekend at my cousin’s cabin in the Wisconsin woods, enjoying the newly orange leaves and eating more than token amounts of food. We hiked, posed for impromptu photo shoots, and roosted at the local bar called the Eagle’s Nest for a wax-paper-in-a-basket type of feast. Back at the cabin, I served up a casual mix of food I prepared for the weekend. Pear, apple, butternut squash dip with gorgonzola cheese. Chicken salad with fresh herbs and grapes. Wilted spinach wraps with portobello, peppers, and parmesan cheese darkened slightly on the grill. It was the ideal weekend spread, paired perfectly with wine and friends.
Now it’s midweek, or at least nearly so, and Angela and I are busy preparing for our Ghetto Gourmet this weekend. We’re comparing our recipe designs, counting the guests, and gathering enough tables and chairs to make the whole thing work. It looks like we’ll have about 15 people, both old and new, and we’re really happy with that. Who are we to think our kitchens can accommodate any more than that, anyway? And do we have enough utensils to move food from stove to table and table to mouth? And how will everyone fit in her small house?
Beyond the usual list of questions, we’re still tinkering with the food, of course. Always with the food. We’re thinking about cioppino for the main course, but should we pair a tomato-based stew with our fall menu? Will the squash, pear, gorgonzola dip (an intended re-do from the cabin) taste OK with tomato-y mussels and fish? I love these questions and I consider myself a happy slave to detail for the sake of a convivial experience. However, I still know that it’s always best to come back to one main question: Does all this fuss really matter? With entertaining, as with most things in life, perfect decorum is not where it’s at.
If in doubt, look to the experts. Last Thursday, I went to see Lynne Rossetto Kasper at Room & Board in Edina at an event showcasing her new book, How to Eat Supper. One of the first things LRK mentioned is that her famous cooking broadcast The Splendid Table is all about one main ingredient: irreverent people. Bless her. She and Sally Swift, her producer, proceeded to inspire us with sound clips and their own commentary by and about a whole series of irreverent muses.
Nora Ephron, author of many books who Sally Swift called “a lusty food person,” reminisced about fabulous New York City dinner parties with Lee Bailey, a cooking and photography expert. When asked her tips about making a dinner party swing, Ephron said, “Booze. A well-oiled group always has more fun.” She also said, “Never serve fish. It’s too easy to eat,” and because of it, the whole dinner ends too quickly. Instead, serve something guests have to cut. Make them work and your party will be the better for it.
Josh Wesson, a then-young sommelier who wrote Red Wine with Fish: The New Art of Matching Wine with Food, broke all the wine-pairing rules and offered a new perspective that is not bound by tradition. Not only might he say it’s OK to pair our herb squash dip with cioppino, he might suggest a wine to go with it.
Isaac Mizrahi, style guy and author of the forthcoming How to Have Style, bookends his dinner parties by making sure the drinks and desserts are fabulous. “Just like hair and shoes,” he said. “If the drinks and desserts work, everything else will, too.”
Amy Sedaris, author of I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, says you really have to “cast” your party. That means don’t invite anyone who might been seen as an anchor. “It’s OK if you want to entertain a barnacle on a one-on-one basis, but don’t invite any to your party.”
The event was quite brilliant, in fact. The series of sound clips mimicked a bawdy group of “well-oiled” guests at a super cool dinner party, and like a good host with a mischievous twist, LRK dished up the best of their irreverent wisdom. I could really like these people.