Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dinner Party Daresay

I'm reminded that Mississippi is the Hospitality State every time I return from a trip. Its motto is emblazoned across its welcome sign. I was once told by an Italian that when you are invited to their home for dinner, it's a sincere gesture. It's the same for Southerners. So what's the proper thing to do when you are invited to dinner and told not bring anything? Bring wine or flowers.

One friend, who was a usual guest at my dinner table, always brought either flowers or wine. It was particularly nice when he brought flowers because they were something I considered an indulgence. My roommate and I would drop them in the closest vase, or something vaguely resembling a vase, and the table was set. Another nice touch is something that Alysson often does. Buy flowers from the grocer and dress them up in nice paper. (Even newspaper can look good when tied with a pretty bow.)

Wine is a welcome treat, too, even if it is not intended to be consumed that evening. I've received many a bottle of my favorite wine or port when the table was already full of libations. The gift can be saved for another occasion. The next dinner party they invite you to perhaps.

So why bring anything? Consider the fact that your host/friend has gone out of their way to accommodate you. Even the tidiest of hosts must spend some time freshening up their place. I should know, since I always devote a few hours to cleaning before a dinner party. Meal preparation also requires substantial time (not to mention money) to ensure a scrumptious feast. And don't forget the fun afterwards. While you are crawling into your cozy bed, your host is cleaning up the equivalent of a week's worth of dirty dishes. I'm lucky enough to have friends who linger around for the dishwashing, but I never expect it.

I used to throw dinners on a regular basis, but the cost and time made the experience less than enjoyable. Downsizing and limiting my feasts to simple, managable meals (my boyfriend gets the experimental dishes), has made dinners with friends a reality once again. It would seem that throwing a dinner for friends is a burden, and for some people it is. It also explains why places like Applebees and TGIFs are still in business. If you haven't had friends over in while, invite them over. For me, it feels good to wait on other people, but home is also an intimate place for people to get to know you better.
For an easy gathering with friends, consider brunch. Many of the dishes can be made a day ahead of time so that you can enjoy your friends' company. Also, you can serve a signature drink like Bloody Marys or Mimosas, or be adventurous and invent your own breakfast concoction. With clean up at a minimum, you'll have the afternoon to take a nap!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dog House

(Oscar Mills)

I'm about to foster a dog in my home, a beagle named Emileigh.

The Dog History runs deep and dysfunctional in my family. My twin sister has two Bostons. They're wild and fierce, but at night they are like any tired dog. They sleep. We had dogs growing up. There was Dukes, then Angie, and finally, Bear. All were mutts and when the kids grew tired of feeding them, my parent's surrendered all three to sympathetic friends with larger yards. (In a similar move, my older sister "got rid of" a Papillon mix that "drove her nuts." In a car ride the other day, her two-year-old proclaimed out of nowhere, "No Dogs!", to which her mother chimed in, "Or cats!" Unable to train dogs, she's at least trained her daughter.) Like my older sister, my mom has never been a fan of canines, and I suspect it was my father's persuasion that allowed any dogs to set foot, let alone stay, in our house. Today, they have a miniature Daschund, a runt named Brutus.

Brutus belonged to one of my brothers, but between his yearly sojourn to Switzerland and moves around town, Brutus relocated to my parents' house, and more specifically, my dad's lap. In Mississippi, I had my own dogs for a time. There was Bass, a gentle German Shepard, and Badger, a Lab mix whose name fit his rambunctious personality. For four years, I was a dog owner, sharing the responsibility with a boyfriend. They were clearly his dogs though. Four years later he split and took the dogs with him.

The only dog I was truly fond for the last few years is Oscar, a dog rescued from the rubble of Katrina. He belonged to my friend Alysson, who previously lived in my house. I remember the first time I saw Alysson. She was walking north on Lamar with this handsome, blond dog at the end of a leash. For a moment, I was transported to Paris. (Later I learned that Oscar responded to some commands in French.) The pair was the picture of chic in a small, north Mississippi town and I wanted to know them. We met shortly thereafter, and have remained friends, sharing recipes, glasses of wine, and stories. Oscar, I'm told, is settled into his new digs in Jackson, but when he stops by his old place at Pierce, you can tell he remembers it.