My weekly column for your reading pleasure (hopefully):
What do you think of when you hear the words “French cooking?” Complicated sauces? Elaborate cuisine? The Queen Bee of cooking—Julia Child—who, if given her rightful place, brought French cooking to the masses? French cooking, according to an article on the Real Simple website by Sara Gauchat is not “fancy or snobby. It’s all about layering flavours, mastering basic techniques, and savouring every bite.”
Gauchat says that while French cooking “may seem sophisticated…it’s not rocket science.” It is, she says, “a way of life” and the typical meal consists of three courses—a simple starter (soup perhaps), a main dish (which could be as basic as a quick chicken recipe), and then cheese and fruit for dessert. Admittedly this is the “simple” version of French cooking, where “it’s about the pleasure of sitting down, enjoying family, company, and food” and you “put your elbows on the table and let the meal flow.”
This leads me to the real subject at hand— the “crappy dinner party”. This type of entertainment was introduced to writer Lauren Rothman and is something she waxed colloquially about in her article “What France Taught Me About Dinner Parties.” Rothman says that she “likes to host dinner parties as often as I can” but that in France she learned “that there is only one way for me to hold true to being a frequent hostess” and that is to adhere to the rules of the “crappy dinner party”.
I embrace this philosophy as I am reluctant to host dinner parties for a myriad of reasons:
- I was taught that if you invited people over, the house should be immaculate (my house has not been immaculate since I had children—the first of which was born over 30 years ago).
- I am not a confident cook. I generally turn out pretty good meals—but I always think that disaster is right around the corner.
Okay, maybe only two reasons, but they are two big reasons. I like it when people just drop by because then if my house is a mess they cannot take as an affront to their sensibilities that I was too lazy to clean up for them. And if it is near mealtime and I have enough food, I am happy to share it. There are no expectations. Crappy dining has few expectations and thus is something I think we should all support. Unless you can afford a caterer or have hired help, then you can just ignore this and go on your happy way. But, if you are like me, I suggest that you sort of plan on having some crappy dinner parties. They do not take a lot of planning other than having something to eat and drink, and being willing to share it with your friends and family.
So here are Rothman’s (somewhat edited) rules for a crappy dinner party:
- Embrace the one pot meal.
- Buy your dessert.
- Go on the premise that everyone loves cheap wine, or if that is not in your budget…
- Drink iced water.
- Keep clean-up easy and use paper plates.
- Be casual with your seating. This means you do not necessarily have to sit at a table or as Rothman advises: “…let your pals plop where they will.”
- Tablescape? What tablescape? Only things allowed—a bright bouquet or colourful napkins.
- Accept all offers to assist from setting the table, to pouring the wine, to divvying up the dessert. (My addition: help cleaning up)
I have a few more rules to add:
- Make sure your house is wade worthy—at least make a path to the food.
- Spray the air with Pledge.
- Fold a towel by the bathroom sink for guests—preferably not a torn or bleach spotted one.
- Take pleasure in the food and people at the table or on the floor or perched on your couch. After all—these are the most important elements in any get-together.
- Laugh. A lot.