Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dinner Parties and Elegant Home Cooking

I love having people over to dinner or lunch. I probably have little eating parties about once a week, often for my friend Sam when our spouses are out of town and regularly for four or six of us. Once the number gets bigger than six, I move into a different mind set that is more like catering than having folks over for dinner. I prefer small.

When I started out, I would spend days getting ready for a graduate student dinner party, finding just the right menu of things that we could afford on my tiny University of California at Berkeley secretary salary and my husband’s graduate student stipend. I wanted to wow and dazzle our friends. But mostly I befuddled them. Aspic, who cares about aspic, even though it took me days of preparation. I wanted effusive compliments for my efforts and invitations to come to their houses for dinner. I got neither—or at least not as many as I wanted.

I had set up a situation in which our friends were intimidated and scared to reciprocate. Who wants that? With a thunk on the side of my head, I realized that I could cook a nice borscht (Coop Low Cost Cookbook) or lentil soup (Pellaprat’s Modern French Culinary Art) with fresh bread, a crisp salad, a brownie (Better Homes and Gardens) for dessert and everyone, including me, had a better time. And so my version of elegant home cooking was born.

On Thursday, dear friends, Rivka and her daughter, Aden, drove up to Sonoma for lunch. We had mushroom pâté (see below) with slices of bread; spicy cauliflower soup (modified from The Art of Simple Food); beet, goat cheese and watercress salad; strawberries and store-bought oatmeal cookies (Whole Foods). It was really tasty and definitely not intimidating. Elegant home cooking. I made the soup and the pâté the day before and did the rest in the morning. It was fun to cook for them, to share a meal, to celebrate Aden’s graduation from Brown, to walk with Rivka to my favorite store on the plaza, Bram. Keeping it easy and enjoying myself.

1 comment:

Karyn Ott Smith said...

My husband and I were so fortunate to be the recent guests at one of Katharine's small, elegant dinners this past week. I am returning to real cooking after almost a year in exile from the kitchen. Our dinner was a delicious reminder to me of both what I've missed and what is possible now that I have more time. We're having friends over tomorrow night and I will make the Moroccan Chicken and Couscous Salad. I have had such a fun morning reading the blog! I can't wait for the next installment.