Archive for December 2008

How to Have Guests – And Enjoy Them

December 16, 2008

My family lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and not only is it home to the one and only, world famous Zingerman’s family of businesses, loved by foodies one and all, but it also has a really fantastic public library. Once a year at least (I’m not sure, I don’t live there anymore) they have a book sale at the library made up of, I’m assuming, books that were donated to them. They charge next to nothing for the books, but all the proceeds go to benefit the library, and you can find a lot of really wonderful treasures, if you’re willing to hunt through the piles. The last time they had one of these sales, I sent my mom and sister there on a mission to pick me up any fun/interesting/useful cookbooks they could find (no surprise there), and boy did they hit the jackpot! I finally got to see what bought when I was recently home for Thanksgiving, so I’m just now working my way through them, but there are some totally fun images and great quotes that you should keep an eye out here for in future.

I thought I would start you off with a little quote from one of three Betty Crocker cookbooks that I got. This one was published in 1959 and is entitled Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests – And Enjoy Them.
Jack Spratt

From a section called:
What do you do about guests with special diet problems?
“The thoughtful guest who is on such an extremely restricted diet as a salt-free one, for example, does best to regret an invitation to a meal. It is not kind to ask a hostess, who has her hands full anyway, to prepare an entirely separate meal for one. It is even more unkind to refuse the party dishes she has gone to such trouble to prepare. In this case it is better to say, “We are not dining out at all while Bob is on a limited diet, but we’d love to join you anytime you’re planning an after-dinner party.” This gives the hostess a chance to say, “We’ll miss you – but will you join us after dinner?” Or, if late-comers do not suit her plans, “I’m so sorry. We’ll plan an evening together soon.”” (17)

My reaction:

Can you imagine if this were the protocol in this day and age? I mean with all the “special diets” and dietary restrictions that we are all constantly navigating, whether by choice or for health-related issues, if we went by the above advice, we’d never get a chance to eat with people who didn’t have the exact same diet as us, unless we went out to a restaurant of course.

I do not see why bringing your own food to a dinner so that the hostess is not put out and you can still attend would be considered in bad form? And if you are to be a shut-in until you have managed to somehow work your way around your “special diet”, then why would anyone ever choose to stick to their diets? If this isn’t a means of marshalling everyone into one generic diet or cuisine, I don’t know what is! Keep in mind that this is during a period when there was also heavy push to find and stick to “American-style” foods, none of that foreign stuff, particularly if you were an immigrant. Think here about the cooking schools that were so popular during the 1950s and all the packaged and processed convenience foods which were supposed to make life easier without the quality suffering (yeah right!).

Part of me has such a hard time getting behind the above advice because I can’t remember ever having attended such a formal dinner party, which just goes to show you how much more informal we’ve become since then. It’s funny to juxtapose this against a comment which was made at the beginning of this same book which states, “The lives of all of us have changed vastly since we watched our parents preparing for the first big party we can remember…. Our clothes and manners are far more casual. And our entertaining is less formal…” It would seem that we are on a downward slope toward casualness when it comes to entertaining, though I’m sure that more formal dinner parties become the norm as one ages. It is much easier to cobble together a bunch of friends and a hodge podge of dishes when you’re a graduate student than when you are more settled and the opportunity to get together isn’t there as often, then expectations are higher and formality tends to go along with those expectations.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the above quote with you all since it made me laugh when I read it, simply imagining how ridiculous it would be if we all followed those instructions today. I don’t think I’d have any friends and I certainly wouldn’t go out half as much. Today we’re much more accommodating (which, Betty acknowledges can be a hassle it’s true), though this seems almost a necessity given the extent to which dietary restrictions and special diets have gained acceptance across society. It’s practically more unusual to find someone who doesn’t have food allergies or special needs. I find it’s always good to look back into the past to give our present circumstances some perspective, and this certainly has done that for me.

Embrace your sensualist side

December 13, 2008

So I’ve been playing around a lot recently with the idea of being a sensualist. I can’t exactly remember where I first heard the term now, but I like to think of it as someone who is fully experiencing the moment that they’re in. And this is certainly something to strive for. I know we can all get caught up in thinking / reminiscing about the past and planning / hoping about the future, but imagine how great it is to really be in the present, 100%. I think I’m learning, that there are more and more times in recent months / years in which I’ve been able to achieve this level of presentness. Some of you may be thinking how rather yogic this seems, and it’s true that being here and now is something that we talk a lot about in yoga, but I would like to transition this concept, as always, to the realm of food. And this is how I return to the notion of sensualism. To really have all of your senses turned on, to be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, this can only serve to increase your appreciation (or frustration I suppose) of a situation. When you’re in a good place, having a good time, though, the ability to take it all in is so much more fulfilling. Perhaps something to keep in mind during this unavoidably hectic time of the year…

Everyone I know is getting barbecue sauce for the holidays!

December 2, 2008

Okay, so I have an extreme love of barbecue sauce. Anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, knows this. One of the best gifts I ever got (for Valentine’s Day no less) was a barbecue sauce of the month club (which technically wasn’t every month, but two bottles of sauce every three months, I wasn’t complaining, no siree). Technically speaking barbecue sauce is not that difficult to make. It often has a mustard, ketchup, or vinegar base – this frequently reflecting the area of the country from which the recipe originates. But really, you just throw a bunch of ingredients together in a pot on the stove and boil it for a little while, sometimes you need to puree it, but it’s as easy or easier than making soup (though perhaps a bit less healthy and let’s hope that you eat slightly less – this may not be the case if you like it as much as I do). Maybe I need to start keeping track of my soup to barbecue sauce ratio as a measure of general overall health, an interesting proposition now that I think of it. ☺

Several years ago now I bought a barbecue cookbook at Reading Terminal Market here in Philadelphia called Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe. It’s a great book which has a little on everything you might want to know re barbecue from the history in different parts of the country, to stories about specific barbecue joints, to barbecue competition teams, to recipes for sauces and rubs, meat, sides, and desserts – all you’ll require for a complete barbecue meal. Last winter I fully intended to test out several of the barbecue sauce recipes in the cookbook to keep my fridge stocked with a variety of sauce yumminess, but never quite got around to it. I was recently reminded of said project and reinvigorated with the enthusiasm for trying out several options. I marked out four recipes to try and began compiling all the necessary ingredients (e.g. I have actually, not until this project, purchased a bottle of ketchup since moving to Philadelphia five and a half years ago – barbecue sauce is my ketchup, what can I say?).

Over the last two weeks I’ve managed to find the time to make three out of the four of these recipes (still looking for an ingredient or two on the fourth) and now my fridge is literally bursting with sauce. This last batch was what really put me over the edge. It just goes to show you that it’s best to pay attention to the details when you’re reading through a recipe. I didn’t even stop to consider how much output there’d be for each of these sauces, and the last one I threw together made three quarts! Three quarts, that translates to between four and five bottles of sauce. I mean I love sauce and all, but that is serious loot! Even when I’m really blowing through the stuff because I’m having a particularly barbecue sauce-centric phase, there’s just no way I’d eat that much in less than a one-bottle-a-month sort of rate, and that’s when I really like the sauce. I’m not going to tell you what my current favorite sauce is, since I don’t want to turn into an advertisement here, but I do have strong preferences, and when I buy a new kind I’ve never had before I almost always end up mixing several together or adding in other ingredients to try to create the kind of taste I’m looking for. All of which is to say, “everyone I know is getting barbecue sauce for the holidays” because it is am almost literally leaking it out of my apartment. It’s taking over my refrigerator and I have too many other cooking projects that I will want to use that space for, sorry sauce, I love you an’ all, but…

So, if you’re in my circle of friends, let this be a forewarning to you, prepare yourself, get all of your favorite barbecue recipes together, arm yourself with a litany of options, so when a bottle of the sauce arrives in your house or apartment, you’ll be ready to roll.