A Tribute to Entertaining
Entertaining always seemed natural to me, a matter of taking something very appealing to me -- a favorite dish, a holiday, an activity -- and making it bigger, to include others.
On a small scale or a large scale, the rewards of entertaining are many. Think of the pleasure of treating yourself to a favorite meal; multiply this by a guest list and you begin to calculate the pleasures of entertaining.
How, where, and when we entertain are questions that will always be centered in our personal tastes and style. Therein lies the fascination of the subject of entertaining, for it is as diverse as any subject one can imagine.
I wanted to write this book before I had a professional kitchen so that I could illustrate honestly the many different kinds of parties that, with thought and planning, can be accomplished in an everyday space.
Even if you are not interested in special effects, it is essential to make sure a room is properly lit -- neither dingy nor harsh.
Good entertaining must take into account the many disparate, yet related, elements, and bring them all together into an understandable and cohesive whole.
The cocktail party is probably America's greatest contribution to the world of entertaining.
Recipes are like folktales, small parcels of culture.
To entertain at home is both a relief and a rediscovery -- of rooms and settings, of your favorite things, and particularly of your own tastes and ideas.
The kitchen is my favorite place to entertain for family and small groups of friends. The kitchen makes everyone feel comfortable and warm.
The table can establish or augment a mood, for it is in fact a stage set and should be so considered.
Place cards (store-bought or handmade, inscribed with your best writing) are necessary for a dinner of more than 12, for a host cannot direct that many people to their places gracefully.
Glasses are an important consideration, for they are a large part of the decor, particularly at a cocktail party.
Above all, be kind to guests. Think about who would be comfortable with whom and who should get to know whom; match the extroverts with the introverts and, unless they are inseparable, separate spouses.
Entertaining -- good entertaining -- always involves the input, the encouragement, and the enthusiasm of others -- relatives, friends, and associates.
I hope to show that there are many ways of entertaining and that each ultimately depends not on pomp or show or elaborate technique, but on thought, effort, and caring -- much like friendship itself.
Finding an appropriate place for a party, or creating it, calls for looking at familiar spaces with a fresh eye.
The senses collaborate in the appreciation of food, and a well-composed plate is, for a moment, as satisfying as a Cezanne still life.
Contrasts are good and diversity is energizing, for the object of a cocktail party is to create a comfortable situation, with drinks to relax and food to fortify, in which people mix.
A table is an empty space, and filling it is a gesture of thoughtfulness.
I love collecting dishes and think it is fun to eat off a different set of plates once in a while.
Decorative innovations add interest to the setting, supply potential material for conversation, and heighten the whole tone of an event.
The guest list is a personal matter, an idiosyncratic mix of the people you think will make an interesting ensemble.
A cocktail party is a very adaptable form of entertaining. It can be a small gathering -- six or eight friends enjoying an hour together before a concert or theater -- or a large extenuated bash. It can be as simple or elaborate as suits you, and it can all be prepared in advance for relatively little expense.
The most common form of at-home entertaining is the sit-down dinner. Whether small or large, impromptu or formal, it is a figurative extension of the large family table. This is my own personal favorite, for a sit-down dinner is a leisurely occasion, where there is time to savor and appreciate food, to have deep, old-fashioned conversations, to establish friendships.
As a guided principle, simplicity should rule.
Giving a cocktail party offers an opportunity to create a very special social scene.
Any form of entertaining involves expanding a private world to include others.
As for conversation, a hostess cannot guarantee its flow single-handedly, but she can choose guests with both compatible and conflicting interests, to support at least general controversy, which is more lively than unspoken accord.
Entertaining is an opportunity to be individualistic, to express your own ideas about what constitutes a good party.
It is important to me to have something around to attract attention, and sometimes this is accomplished by simply altering the expected proportions or a common arrangement -- filling a giant basket with gypsophila, or setting one tree peony in a central bowl or one tulip before each place.
You must make your own ideas and style patently clear, or you may end up with a party that, however fashionable or smooth, has nothing to do with you.
There are as many good formulas as there are personalities. And invariably it is the evidence of a unique personality at work that makes an event special.
Entertaining well demands more than presenting a lovely situation. Entertaining, by its very nature, is an expansive gesture, and demands an expansive state of mind in charge.
For a sit-down meal, you must have (or rent) dishes, flatware, glassware appropriate to the type of meal and the number of courses, linens, sufficient seating, serving pieces (mix and match; borrow or rent to fill in).
Keep in mind that a table should be harmonious, and buy things that go with your home that have age or inherent charm or utility, not cachet.
I've never been afraid of quantity; on the contrary, I'm comfortable with profusion. My first "catered" party was a breakfast of heroic proportions for the Nutley High School football team.
One of the most important moments on which to expend extra effort is the beginning of a party, often an awkward time, when guests feel tentative and insecure. This is particularly true at a large buffet or cocktail party, when you will find guests fixing their eyes on the door in anticipation of other guests, or maybe an early escape.
Music can help establish and sustain an easy mood.
Entertaining provides a good excuse to put things in order (polish solver, wash forgotten dishes, wax floors, paint a flaking windowsill) and, sometimes, to be more fanciful or dramatic with details than usual.
One of the easiest ways to change the look of a table is to change linens.
The cocktail party is curiously and distinctively American; it suits the national informality, ingenuity, and love of snacks.
In England, a proper dessert consists of fruit and nuts; in France, fruit and cheese. But in America, dessert is a grand finale, a reward for good behavior, and, above all, a fanciful sweet.
A good party is never for one. It is for everyone engaged in its planning, its preparation, and its execution. It is to be enjoyed, and the individual parts are to be savored, tasted, and experienced, much like a glass of fine wine.