Hostess for a day

Have you ever wished you could be a professional, full-time, home-dinner-party-hostess, just for a month or two? That each morning involved waking up, taking stock of your refrigerator and pantry, and planning a menu, a guest list, and decor?

There would be chores involved, certainly. Silver gets tarnished, flowers need refreshing, and dusting when you live in a home with a woodstove seems like the never-ending song of tasks. And of course if being a hostess was the only thing to think about, ever, I suppose you might eventually get bored. But I think it would take me a very, very long time. Because home dinner parties are really my absolute favorite thing.

For starters, there's the fact that you get to spend the morning pouring over cookbooks. You get to pull out a butternut squash, or a container of frozen rhubarb, or a pork shoulder and wonder, what on earth will I do with this? That, in my opinion, is the best part, because no matter what you have, there is always an excellent menu to be made. It simply takes a bit of imagination, and lots of time with those books. Which are some of my favorite inanimate objects to spend a day with. They're more fun than some people and can be awfully talkative, I find.

Then there's the cooking, and the whirlwind of friends and hugs and babies and drinks, and the sitting down to a meal you are offering up to feed the people you love. I really like that part, the food. But the part where I'm afraid I start to sound a bit crazy is right now, when I announce that I like dinner parties so much that I don't even really mind cleaning up. In fact, truth be told, I kind of like the routine. There are always a few women in the kitchen, and between the washing and the drying and the gossiping and the sense of tidiness that ensues, there's something awfully satisfying about that time, too.

I have no idea whether or not this weekend will offer that chance. But if it does, I know exactly what I'll make. Here's an early March menu, in case you find yourself in the lucky seat of host or hostess for a day. You might have to make a trip to the library, of course, but that's the whole fun.

— cocktail hour —

The Old Fashioned, to show off bourbon's charms
from The Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff and featured in Gourmet, March 2009

Cracker stacks with Brad's Bread and Butter Pickles and Great Hill Blue Cheese

— dinner —

Butternut Squash in Cream and Cinnamon
from The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones

Cod baked in foil with leeks and carrots
from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2009

— dessert —

Tinky's Cozy Apple-Maple Pudding
from Yankee, March/April 2009


Diane Warren said...

Cooks Illustrated requires a subscription to view the cod recipe. I googled it and found it here.


I plan to make it on Sunday.

I'll let you know.

Elspeth said...

Let me know how it turns out! It sounds so, so good.

And thanks for giving me the heads up about Cooks! I must have been already logged in...

Happy cooking,

Unknown said...

Made the cod. My first attempt at matchsticks looked more like fire wood, but I worked at it. Anyway, my husband thought it was very good, which is a real compliment since he usually won't eat anything unless it's fried or breaded. I used dried thyme which I think was not a good idea since it turned the butter a sickly brownish green, but the taste was great. I used dry vermouth. I will definitely make this again.

Elspeth said...


I'm so glad you tried it. Cutting matchsticks is certainly tricky, but it gets easier with practice or with the help of a mandolin, which will make the initial slices very thin.

As for the thyme, I think you're right—fresh thyme is generally best for this sort of thing. It's expensive at the store, ($4 for a few sprigs!?) but you can easily grow your own in a pot inside in a sunny place (then move it outdoors in the summer). It makes a huge difference and smells absolutely wonderful.

All the best,

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