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
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).
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.
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