Hostess with the mostest (…or not!)

Entertaining-focused cookbooks come out twice a year–before summer and for the holidays (even if their party suggestions are not season-sensitive).  I always leaf through the summer ones with the slightly dislocated sense one has when observing a foreign culture.  Twice each summer is my limit, basically, when it comes to entertaining.  The first time is my daughter’s birthday (cookies & tea sandwiches, crafts, princess stuff), followed very shortly by July 4th (fried chicken, sugar snap peas, picnic tables).  After that I surrender to inertia and the weather.

So when I look at a book like Fay Lewis’ Be My Guest, with its elaborate floral centerpieces, bespoke linens, and cascades of shimmering glassware, it is with an anthropological sense of wonder, like Margaret Mead among the Samoans.  Interestingly enough, the recipes look pretty simple (just as well, since it takes time to tie raffia bows around the bread rolls).

Emily Post's Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home

For a little more updated vision of dinner-with-friends plus manners-and-mores, there’s Emily Post’s Great Get-togethers (by great-granddaughters Anna and Lizzie Post). It’s just the thing in case you’re wondering just what “dressy casual” means when you’re going to a tasting party, and how to hold your wineglass.  There’s some recipes too, but they’re mostly an afterthought.

Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food, Luscious Libations, Great Times with Friends

Much more food-forward is Rick Bayless‘ newest book, Fiesta at Rick’s.  Why bother with a floral centerpiece when you can adorn your table with a giant paella or a generously proportioned guacamole with a fleet of garnishes?  I’ve always thought that any one of Bayless’ flavor-saturated Mexican recipes was worth throwing a party for–I guess he’s just come round to my point of view.

But whether you bloom or wilt in summer–whether entertaining relieves your stress or simply increases it–there’s no reason not to enjoy the laziest days of the year.  I hope each of us gets the chance to throw the perfect afternoon party for an audience of one, where the place setting is a hammock, the menu is an icy drink, and the centerpiece a good book.  That’s what I call effortless entertaining.


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