Category Archives: Insights

Insights about the causes and relief of entertaining anxiety from the experts or my personal experience.

Her Way

A friend of mine is an avid home entertainer but (as she’d be the first to admit) not a cook. She knows exactly where to purchase the best foods and has a genius for table design, so it’s a pleasure to be a guest in her house.

On a recent Sunday, for example, she treated friends to a cozy fireside supper in her charming little cottage. The centerpiece was “the best” chicken pot pie from a local bakery, accompanied by a freshly made green salad.

Instead of trying to produce an elaborate meal, making herself and everyone else nervous, she did it her way. And nothing could nicer!

Delicious Book!

I’m currently reading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (Scribner, 2011) for the second time, because I feel there’s so much more I can learn from it. But even if you’re not a lover of food literature like me or someone who especially enjoys cooking, the book probably is worth your time. Partly a manifesto setting forth restaurant-chef Adler’s philosophy of living (to which eating well is central), it is far from the usual cover to cover receptacle of recipes, but packed with lessons on how to make the most of food.

“This is not a cookbook or a memoir or a story about one person or one thing,” Adler explains in her introduction. “It is a book about eating affordably, responsibly, and well, and because doing so relies on cooking, it is mostly about that.”

Although it’s only dotted with recipes, every chapter is highly instructional. If nothing else, the chapter called, “How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat,” and the Appendix, entitled “Further Fixes,” are priceless. The former includes a quick recipe for “vinegary barbecue sauce” intended as a remedy for dry meats, which I’ve already found useful and now have a batch of in my freezer awaiting future emergencies. The latter offers solutions to such common disasters as over salted rice, over boiled eggs and burned vegetables.

I’ve found the book to be more motivating and mind-changing than all the conventional cookbooks that line my shelves. For instance, after finishing the chapter entitled “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” which expands on Adler’s central idea that “great meals…usually pick up where something else leaves off,” I was motivated to make an omelet and to fill it with a bit of sauteed Swiss chard and mushrooms leftover from the previous night’s dinner. Both the eggs and the vegetable undoubtedly would have been trashed otherwise, but instead made the most surprisingly satisfying luncheon dish.

Last Minute, Less Stress

When I invite people for dinner, I ordinarily allow three days for preparation. That’s the time I need to plan a menu, shop, cook, clean…and worry. But when some neighbors who were stopping by for coffee before leaving town for the winter decided to stay another night due to bad weather and suggested we join them for dinner out, I made an instant decision to invite them to our house instead.

I’ll admit that I’d done some light cleaning, since I was expecting their visit, and I quickly calculated that I had something to feed them. Planning our own dinner, I’d defrosted enough chicken to feed four, with the idea of having leftovers, and already had it marinating in the refrigerator. There were salad fixings, a bean side dish in my freezer, glazed sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving and a box of frozen spinach that I could dress up with sauteed onion, jalapeno pepper, garlic and cheese.

The three or four hours available were sufficient to whip up my favorite salad dressing, set the table, pull out platters and serving utensils, scribble a cooking schedule and be sure we had enough ice. For a moment, I worried that I had nothing to offer as hors d’oeuvres, but soon settled on slices of hard cheese and crackers, what was left of a packaged dip and chips and nuts.

Though I know it sounds counterintuitive, sometimes extending a same-day invitation seems to help reduce the anxiety of home entertaining. There is only time to focus on the essentials and the comfort of knowing that your guests are only expecting potluck. In no time, an ordinary weeknight turns into a party!