Sunday, October 2, 2011

What To Bring or What Not To Bring: Honor Thy Host

Pot lucks or covered dish gatherings seem to be gaining popularity due to our current economic situation. However, there are times when a host wants to truly offer the gift of hospitality and prepare and present the whole process, as Miss Manners points out today. Unfortunately our sense of "giving" has somewhat marred many an event:

The (European) custom (of bringing a small gift of chocolates or flowers) got mixed up with the jolly American tradition of cooperative meals — picnics, covered-dish suppers, family reunions and improvised parties by students. Nothing wrong with those, as long as everyone understands the deal. Now guests entering a gala dinner party look as if they are in the express line at the grocery store, each carrying one item.

How often have I seen this example of missing the intention of an invitation: I spent several hours in the kitchen preparing a superb meal, a three-course meal, including dessert. Then my guests brought a cake which we had to eat for dessert instead of the one I prepared. The Miss Manners response? You should respond: Thank you; I’ve made dinner, so we’ll enjoy this another day. Brilliant!

But as many of us DO have invitations for covered-dish, here are a few of my tips:
  • When you promise to bring a salad, bring one! The hostess might have worked hard to ask for the right balance of dishes.
  • Bring your dish ready to set out. Again, from Miss Manners: One of my guests offered to bring a fruit salad, and commandeered my kitchen for the better part of an hour to wash, slice/dice and arrange her fruit. I was frantically trying to do my last-minute preparations, so the intrusion threw me into a tailspin, and then my guest wondered why I was so frazzled.
This includes doing the last-minutes touches such as whipping up a topping. I remember one time when someone waltzed in and asked for my mixer--that would be my KitchenAid mixer that is so big that I keep it in the storage area. That thing is cumbersome, and I had to haul it out and place it on precious counter space.
  • Consider the presentation. Use glass, pottery, but not a mixing bowl! Touches such as parsley, etc. are nice, too.
  • Bring your serving utensil, one that you could lose. One website suggested going to the dollar store to have a few on hand.
  • Bring your own hot pads -- again, be ready to lose them.
  • If you don't cook, put something together that's EASY, but don't bring a bag of potato chips!! Our favorite easy dish is Allen's Beans that have been simmered in a little olive oil and Italian seasonings. If you really don't cook, visit Kroger, Fresh Market or Earth Fare and be prepared to pay a handsome price for an ample amount from their ready-to-eat section. That might make you think harder about learning to cook.

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