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Archive for April, 2011

Try the Soup

By Mel

Part of going to a party is knowing how to eat the food they serve. For normal people this isn’t usually a problem because one of the things most of us learn as children is how to use eating utensils. I’m sure my parents tried their best, but apparently not everything they taught me stuck to my gray matter.

For one thing, Laurie is forever having to remind me to put my fork into my mouth right side up — in the carrying position — rather than turning it over to dump the food into my mouth. I know she is right because doing it my way, some of the food will inevitably escape, especially if it is in any way granular or slimy. I am always washing my shirts.

Which reminds me of a Talmudic joke I once heard. It is Talmudic because supposedly it has a deeper and more universal meaning than the obvious surface meaning. I don’t know what that meaning is. All I know is that this joke is about silverware and it always makes me laugh:

Every Friday for many years a man named Morris visits the same restaurant before he goes to temple. And every Friday he has the same food delivered to his table by the same waiter.
One Friday the waiter brings the soup to Morris as always, but he has not taken two steps away from the table when Morris calls him back. “Try the soup,” Morris says.
“What do you mean?” the waiter asks.
“Try the soup,” Morris suggests more strongly.
“You’ve been coming her for fifteen years. It’s the same soup.”
“Try. The. Soup.”
Disgusted but willing to go along with a crazy customer, the waiter nods. “All right,” he says. “Where’s the spoon?”
“Aha!” Morris cries.

Ya see, Morris can’t just come out and ask for a spoon because that wouldn’t be Talmudic — the story would just be a joke. But being a Talmudic story, we are allowed to ponder on what we learned from it.

Perhaps it will remind me to use my fork right side up.

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How many servings are in that jug of rum? That bottle of zinfandel?

You know your guests, so you know if they are serious drinkers or will merely have a glass of white wine to be polite. At an Armenian wedding reception Hazel attended, for instance, every table for eight had on it a fifth of vodka, a fifth of whiskey and bottles of red and white wine—in addition to the full bar and the waiters carrying trays of drinks around the room. On the other hand, I’ve been to parties at which 25 people barely touched the alcohol and went through four gallons of punch and numerous bottles of water.

But there are ways of arriving at a general estimate.

Wine
Caterers figure amounts based on a four-ounce pour. (Ever wonder how much a serving is for calorie-counting purposes? Four ounces.) Modern glasses, however, tend to be large. A four-ounce pour in a 16-ounce glass looks stingy. So figure a five- or six-ounce pour unless you are using small glasses. That means a 750-mil. bottle of wine will give you four or possibly five servings. I generally estimate a half bottle per person, knowing that some guests will drink more, some none at all. It’s always better to have too much than not enough.
1 750-mil. bottle = four or five servings
1 case of wine (12 bottles) = 48 – 60 glasses
1 bottle of champagne = six flutes (four ounces, which looks right in a flute)
1 case of champagne (12 bottles) = 72 flutes

Spirits
1 liter = 33.8 ounces, or 22 1½-ounce drinks (40 drinks per 1.75-liter jug)

Punch
1 gallon = roughly 20 servings (six-ounce servings)

If you have bottles of water (yes, I know it’s ecologically wrong, but it’s a great convenience for a host—and for guests too; as the host at least you can make sure those bottles are recycled), figure two bottles per person.

Laurie

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It’s Easter and I’m going to someone else’s house this year. I had several yummy options – one for a seder on Saturday night – but I was already booked with my niece and the symphony. And I had several for Sunday too. I chose dinner with my sweetie’s folks; his sis is doing the cooking and I’m contributing dessert and flowers.

I used to cook Easter dinner each year for sisters and friends who didn’t have other family they were committed to going to. You know holidays — if you’re married, with or without kids, there’s always some negotiation about whose family gets which holidays. But Easter would often find me on my own, so for a while, I had a tradition of making Easter dinner for single and unattached friends and relatives, while those with husbands and kids made new traditions.

Anyone who knows me knows that procrastinators call me “your majesty.” I am the queen. I will put off many things for as long as possible. Sometimes it’s because I’m worn out, sometimes work gets in the way, and sometimes I’m just lazy.

I’m always tempted to wait until the last possible moment to shop for a holiday meal. After all, you want to be sure that your veggies are fresh! I say to myself, If I get up really early on H-day, I can beat the crowds and still get everything done. Usually. One year I was working nine hours a day and commuting four hours a day, five days a week; I was exhausted by the time I got home. So I delayed just a wee bit too long to do my Easter grocery shopping. But I wasn’t concerned. I had carefully noted that Lucky Market was open Easter day, so I on Sunday morning I dashed out to go grocery shopping. There was a sign on the door, stating that it would be open Easter day – but it wasn’t. It was no consolation that many others stood outside the un-sliding doors looking as bewildered as I was. We finally drifted off; the other customers were, I’m sure, looking for the one item they hadn’t picked up the day before.

I, however, needed almost a complete dinner. I had acquired a few of the items on my list during the previous week, but the main item, the traditional Easter ham, was sorely missing from my refrigerator, as were dessert and many other essentials. I lived in suburbia; there were many available supermarkets. I drove from closed market to another closed market, each locked door making me more desperate. I had invited a mere six guests, but I’m fairly sure they were expecting to be fed.

I found a Mexican market open and picked up some sad but serviceable veggies, Marie Callendar’s yielded my traditional lemon meringue pie…but still no ham. Finally (just before I had made up my mind to drive to downtown LA (where something must be open for god’s sake) I drove by a liquor store. I ran in to purchase wine (enough wine and my pals will forgive the most egregious of faux pas) and lo! a canned ham. Tiny by any standards but my guest list was too. I bought it, dressed it up with pineapple purchased on my travels, dotted it with cloves as my mom had taught me and threw it on to bake.

That was the last year I baked a ham. My tradition the following year was grilled salmon, asparagus and scalloped potatoes. And it has stayed my Easter meal when I cook. Only now I call it my vernal equinox meal. And I’ve never, ever waited too long to shop since then. I am still known as the queen of Lucy Plans, and I still procrastinate, but some things are too Lucy even for me!

Hazel

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Here’s the invitation to the seder Mel and I will attend this Saturday. You can see exactly how serious an event it will be–just in case the fact that it will take place long after the first two nights of Passover doesn’t tip you off.

It's an invitation to a Passover seder AND a tribute to Michigan J. Frog.

We will be bringing our own plagues. I was wondering how to represent the plague of blood that befell Egypt–but, thanks to the popularity of Twilight, it was easy. Yes, my local Party City carries a product clearly marked Bottle of Blood. Whew! It’s an ill wind…

Laurie

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Making your own chocolate-covered matzo is so easy, I can't imagine why anybody would pay the truly remarkable prices supermarkets charge for it.


Traditionally the first two nights of Passover are celebrated with an elaborate, symbol-laden seder. But Passover continues for seven days, and for the observant, that means seven days without leavened bread. Or leavened cake. Or cookies. A dessert lover could start to feel a bit deprived.

Fortunately, nothing could be easier than making chocolate-covered matzo. Melt your favorite bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler, along with some butter or margarine (you all might know that I think margarine is one of the vilest concoctions ever inflicted on woman, but if dietary restrictions preclude using the real thing, try Earth Balance).

Cover a bread board with waxed paper. Lay the sheets of matzo out on the paper and spread the chocolate over them with an offset spatula. Let one side firm up, then turn the matzo over and spread chocolate on the second side. Chill. Serve.

You want some amounts?

8 ounces of good quality bittersweet
2 or 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine

This should cover four or five sheets of matzo fairly generously. I personally think the chocolate should be just as thick as the matzo, because matzo is, basically, pretty boring in terms of flavor. I think it ought to just be a crispy platform for good chocolate. I’m going to try candied orange peel on some of it, for variety. Maybe crystallized ginger? Candied walnuts might be pretty good too….

Laurie

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A teapot arrangement for a larger table

Tea’s simple– or it can be. At one time tea consisted of bread, butter and jam, and tea. It became more elaborate in the early 1800s when it developed into a late-afternoon meal intended to tide ladies over until dinner was served sometime after nine o’clock. “Low” tea–often called a cream tea in the south of England–is taken in parlors, preferably served by the staff to ladies chatting in their armchairs. High tea is served on dining tables, hence the “high” part.

My Wisteria Tea generally turns out to be a substantial meal, though many of the items on the table come from the cream tea tradition. I lay a buffet on my dining table and set up small tables on both my front and back patios. Laurie and I own lots of 30-inch round tables because, well, we throw lots of parties. We share them for events, and we buy them on sale whenever we see them (usually at Big Lots; you know us – we love a bargain!). You never know what might happen to them -– I once came out of the kitchen during a party just in time to catch one young niece photographing another niece artfully posed on a rapidly collapsing table normally reserved for three seated at, not on the table. Panic ensued as they spotted me and hastily tried to put the table back together–in vain. Those nieces are lovely young ladies now and would never do anything quite so undignified these days – at least not in front of me.

Our nieces have helped assemble flowers at my last couple of teas. Both this year and last, I was in the kitchen while the fabulous table arrangements were magically produced by my floral genius sis, Hellen, and the nieces. This year Hellen had our niece Norah at the flower mart at 6:00 a.m. and back designing at my house before 7:00. We’ve done lots of arrangements in teacups, but this time they chose from my large collection of antique creamers.

Here are some of the results, arrangements so easy an 11-year-old can make them (with some expert advice from one of the best designers in the business!).

Just grab a few of your favorite flowers -– if they’re larger (roses, lilies, ranunculus), it really only takes five or six stems for a small arrangement. If the flowers are smaller (baby roses, sweet peas, daffodils), it will take a few more. Start with three in your hand (think of a triangle) and add a few more on each side. Finish with an edge of something green (three ferns, a couple stems of ivy or three or four sprigs of rosemary –- your own yard may provide endless possibilities). You can wrap them together with a pipe cleaner to hold the shape you’ve created, but if your vase neck is small enough, it will do the job without a pipe cleaner.

Make one for each small table. If you’ve got five tables (for 15 to 20 guests), make five adorable little arrangements. Plan to buy (or, if you’ve got a great garden, cut) 25 to 30 larger flowers, plus some smaller ones for filling in gaps. Hellen used sweet peas to fill in, along with herbs from the garden. That’s it for your small centerpieces – how easy can it get?

Hazel

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Seasonal Item: Chocolate

I think that those milk chocolate bunnies you get at the supermarket are a vile deception inflicted on unwitting children. I mean, they’re hollow. And they’re milk chocolate. I don’t know which is worse.

Real chocolate eggs for real chocolate lovers from Wine Country Chocolates!

On the other hand, if you want to order some great–and unusual–chocolates for your Easter baskets, you can go to the Wine Country Chocolates site and treat yourself to something worth the calories. I just got their April update, and they’ve added some seasonal items to their list. That means you can get chocolate eggs in some of their fabulous flavors. (Okay, you can count me out when it comes to a peanut butter and marshmallow cream egg–but chocolate raspberry? oh yeah!)

Order now. Maybe you’ll still have some left by Easter–if they don’t arrive before, oh, Good Friday.

Laurie

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