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Playing Host at a Restaurant

Playing Host at a Restaurant

There have been many occasions when, instead of hosting a dinner party at home, my husband and I have taken people out to eat. There are some obvious incentives, not the least of which is less prep on my part.

We usually pick somewhere we’ve been before. We are fortunate that Richmond is in a restaurant renaissance. That may sound pretentious…until you go to one of the amazing eateries popping up like yummy mushrooms and try the chef’s take on soft- shell crab, fried green tomatoes, or tres leche cake. Then you’ll say, “That’s not pretentious, that’s delicious!”

When hosting we make it clear it’s our treat. If the guest offers to pick up a round of drinks or the tip, I think it’s OK to accept graciously. If they don’t, that’s OK too. Guests should not feel obligated. The only thing I absolutely cannot abide is a tussle over the bill. My husband’s family has mastered this sport. One relative literally ripped a bill in half trying to wrestle it from my husband. Frankly, I would have given it to her gladly! And I’m not talking about the bill. But I digress.

I think hosts should offer to drive and be mindful of their alcohol intake. If a guest has a compelling reason to drive, I think that’s all right too and the offer should be gratefully accepted. It’s a funny thing, when people hear I’m supposed to drive they become very keen on providing the transportation themselves. I’ve been known to back into things.

If possible, we make reservations to prevent a wait. Needless to say, everyone should do their best to be on time. There is nothing more stressful than chasing a reservation at a popular place because your guest wasn’t ready. If there is no emergency, there is only one reason for keeping people waiting. And that is because you’re a jerk.

I often see complaints in etiquette columns from hosts whose guests have ordered expensive entrees. I don’t quite get this. I assume that if my hosts have invited me to a restaurant, they can afford to feed me. I don’t think it would be polite to order a take home meal for the babysitter, but if it’s on the menu it’s fair game. No pun intended. Same for drinks and various courses.

Unfortunately we have hosted guests at restaurants where the service is bad. Although the host has no control over this variable, I always feel awkward about bad service, as if I were the one holding things up. What does one do? You don’t want to bring attention, but it gets to that awkward point when everyone is hungry. It’s like an elephant in the room that you wish were on your plate. On one occasion when the drinks hadn’t shown up after 45 minutes, we got up and left. I think the arrival of drinks is a pretty good gauge. Besides, after a round of drinks you don’t care as much. Another telling sign is if very few diners have food in front of them.

If the actual food is not up to a guest’s standards, I think they should just grin, chew, and bear it. After all, you can’t beat the price. I feel it’s rude to criticize a free meal. That’s happened to me several times and I’m always taken aback by it. To me it’s the same as criticizing a gift. It’s all right to politely send something back that’s the wrong order or woefully undercooked. But to compare food unfavorably to other restaurants, or even home-cooked meals, is insulting to the hosts. What’s the point? Keep it to yourself, or better yet find something you can complement, like the company.

What finishes off the meal best is a heartfelt thank you; from the guests for the meal, and from the hosts, for the fellowship. Even if everything sucked, at least you didn’t have to shop, cook, or clean. That is something to be thankful for.

Thank you for visiting.

The Super Cook and the Monte Cristo Sandwich

The Super Cook and the Monte Cristo Sandwich

I spent this past weekend as a guest in the home of a Super Cook. This is someone who was trained by

his grandma, has been cooking most of his life, AND is enthusiastic about trying new recipes and cooking

styles. This means he does comfort food, hoity toity gastro, and combinations of both with delicious


This weekend he introduced me to the Monte Cristo Sandwich. Have you heard of this? It sounded

vaguely familiar to me, but I had not had the pleasure of eating one until Sunday. It looks like a Dagwood

sandwich had a baby with a grilled cheese sandwich and then it rolled in jelly. I don’t know why it’s

named after a character in a French novel, because it was created in the US (according to Google).

Maybe it’s an American way of saying “Hey Chief Pepe! You think you frenchies can cook? Check out this

orgasmic sandwich.” Just a guess.

Here’s the basic recipe as I understand it:

Sliced bread



Cooked sliced ham (lots)

Cooked sliced turkey (lots)

Sliced cheese (even more)


Milk (Use whole milk. At this point, what difference does it make.)

Various spices (Whatever and wherever you see fit; cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla in the egg/milk mixture,

fancy mayonnaise, etc.)


Jam or jelly

You make a sandwich with the bread, mayo, mustard, cheese, and meats, then dunk the whole thing

in egg/milk mixture, then fry it with lots of butter and serve it with a splop of your favorite jam or jelly.

My host served his Monte Cristo sandwiches with bacon, home-fried potatoes, and fruit on the side.

Good Lord, I was food drunk for several hours. I decided not to even attempt figuring the calories

because my calculator doesn’t go that high. But, yeah, it was worth it.

Thank you for visiting.


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The Barbeque and Other Social Conundrums

The Barbeque and Other Social Conundrums

I recently attended the birthday party of a neighbor held outside on their lawn. The set up was perfect; tables and chairs under a large tent that provided some much-needed shade. The meal was catered by a barbeque outfit, the kind that pulls right onto the venue with a big old cooker that looks like a huge black barrel on its side. They provided appetizers, main dishes, fixins’, and sides. Delicious! A gorgeous dessert table was set up just inside the kitchen of the 1790’s era home. I felt like I was on the set of Steel Magnolias.

The host and hostess were extremely gracious and managed to make each of the guests feel welcome and comfortable. This was quite a feat considering attendees ranged from close relatives and friends to church members to new neighbors. There was also a wide range of ages from about 18-months-old to over 80. Most of these folks were delightful and I’d like to think I’ve made some new friends. I also learned a lot about my new neighborhood. For instance, did you know there is an insurance designation called an “attractive nuisance?” This is something on your property, like…oh I don’t know…say an old mill on a stream that is no longer functional but adds to the beauty and ambiance of the neighborhood. Cool huh?

Whenever I go to an event like this, or any party or celebration, I am always left with the question, “What is the individual guest’s responsibility in terms of socializing?” Is it enough to simply show up, or is there an obligation to interact with other guests including those you don’t know?

I was trained up to be an active participant in social situations regardless of my reason for being there or my mood at the time. This includes making conversation with people and being an active listener. It was part of what a friend of mine calls “Home learning,” and is right up there with saying please and thank
you. I don’t care how old you are or why you attended, I think it’s actively impolite to sit around at a social function looking overtly bored or spending all your time communicating with people who aren’t there. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a sparkling conversationalist all the time. Lord knows I would fall waaaay short of that goal. I’m talking about really basic stuff like introducing yourself, putting a damn smile on your face, asking appropriate questions, and at least faking interest in the answers. Here are some examples:
“How do you know our hosts?”
“Are you from out of town or local?”
“This barbeque is really good. Are you a fan of the Virginia or North Carolina variety?”
“I see you’re wearing a UVA tie, my condolences.”
It’s not that difficult. Even if you’re shy or socially awkward you can at least try to look pleasant and approachable and teach your children to do the same.

But perhaps I’ve got it all wrong? Do we owe our hosts anything more than our presence? Do we have an obligation to instill some basic social skills in our children and make sure they get some practice before we release them into the wild? Thoughts?

Thank you for visiting.


Photo attribution:

Being a Guest on Fourth of July

Being a Guest on Fourth of July

I was fortunate to spend my Fourth of July weekend as the guest of a couple who live in a lovely home on Chesapeake Bay. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, about two hours before my hosts’ annual Fourth of July celebration began. I had been asked to arrive early, get settled, and help with a few chores.

Our hosts provide crabs and corn while everyone else brings a side and their beverage of choice. This leads me to a hosting issue which I hear frequently. When hosting such an event is it better to assign sides or let the chips (and dips) fall where they may? If it’s a large event such as this, I like the free-form event. Folks get to make their specialties and if someone doesn’t show up, there isn’t a hole at the table that the hostess may feel obligated to fill at the last minute. But I know it bothers some folks to have too much of one thing and not enough of another. In this case we had a lot of pasta salad and one guest was heard to remark, “With a little planning this wouldn’t have happened.” I guess my thought is, who cares? Thoughts?

Several couples spent the night and I was in charge of breakfast Sunday morning. As usual we had an assortment of diets including vegetarian, pescitarian, and pregnant. With the help of another guest I made a huge load of bacon, pancakes, homemade blackberry syrup, fruit salad, and watermelon salad. For future reference, that combination seemed to work really well. Two of the couples peeled off to go home and the remaining six people spent a relaxing day puddling around in the water and eating leftovers.

On Monday we gave our hosts a break and went to Calvert Cliffs along with the other remaining guest couple. I almost hate to promote it, but this is an amazing 4 mile hike along a shaded path through forest and bordering several different ecosystems. You end up at a small swimming beach on the Bay with an amazing view of the cliffs. It’s also dog friendly, and our Boston Terrier swam for the first time. We headed about seven miles down Route 2 to Soloman’s Island for lunch. Again, found a dog friendly restaurant with shade and really good sandwiches. That night we took our hosts out to dinner. Really nice day.

On Tuesday, one couple went to check out Chesapeake Beach, two of us went to a small-town parade, and two of “us” stayed on the couch all day watching Robocop movies. I love a parade, there’s something about gathering with other people on Main Street America and complaining about their children that I enjoy. That night the other couple treated us all to pizza.

We could see fireworks from different localities from our hosts’ backyard every night. I also love fireworks.

This trip reinforced several of my best practices.
1) When you have a group staying at your house for several days, it’s helpful if people can entertain themselves, at least during the day.
2) It’s OK for people to do different things. Guests shouldn’t be pressured to participate in activities that don’t interest them. When someone on vacation is forced to do something they don’t want….it shows and takes away from the enjoyment of others.
3) Don’t complain or make negative comments about anything. If there is a serious safety or comfort problem, don’t whine about it, suggest a solution. “I know we need some room in the fridge. Mind if I toss this mayonnaise-based salad that was out on the sun for 10 hours?” “I know it’s just me, but do you mind if I turn the AC down just a couple of degrees?” You know stuff like that.
4) If you bring a pet, take responsibility for it! The first night, my bad cat woke everyone up at 5:00 am yowling in the hallway. Once again, my apologies.

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend.

Thank you for visiting.

Ramadan in Kuwait from My Perspective

Ramadan in Kuwait from My Perspective

My trip to Kuwait coincides with Ramadan. I won’t even attempt to explain this observance from a religious or historical perspective because I don’t have the appropriate knowledge. But here’s what it’s like for an American, who is not Muslim, visiting Kuwait during this major religious observance.

Ramadan lasts a full a cycle of the moon, which is about 30 days. Ramadan moves earlier by ten days every year. This means Ramadan is experienced in every season. You cannot eat or drink anything (including water) from sunup to sundown. All restaurants are closed until sundown. There are exceptions to the fasting requirement such as pregnant women, the elderly, the infirm, and children. However, even those with exceptions are expected to eat and drink in private so as not to disrespect those who are fasting. This is also true of people who are not Muslim. No one is going to come after you for eating or drinking in private during Ramadan. However, I met one American woman who was pulled over because an officer saw her drinking water in her car during the day. She was given a strong rebuke and sent on her way.

The fast is broken at sundown with what is called Iftar or Futoor. This is analogous to a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings, but for 30 days straight! So far I’ve been to an extended-family futoor and a futoor that celebrated the birth of a baby. Tonight my hosts celebrate futoor in their home with friends of their own age.

Futoor dishes are both savory and sweet. Spices, and combinations of spices, are as important as the protein, vegetable, or starch on which they ride. You’ll find cardamom, clove, cinnamon, saffron, rose water, allspice, mace, black pepper, white pepper, and bay leaf. Most of these spices are used in both savory and sweet dishes.

Lamb and beef are popular in futoor dishes and fancy rice is ubiquitous. According to the dietary laws of Halal, animals must be raised and killed humanely. I have yet to eat plain white rice in Kuwait, and haven’t missed it. There are a variety of sauces, many of which are yogurt based. Along with olive oil and various vinegars, I’ve also found good old hot sauce on most tables. Regardless of the many explanations I’ve been given, I’m still not sure what goes with what. But it all seems to go together just fine.

There are a number of desserts associated with Ramadan, one of which is Lugaimat; fried dough balls soaked in saffron-sugar syrup. But there is one treat in particular that everyone rhapsodizes about and eagerly anticipates. It’s called Kunafa. Every family has its own recipe, but basically it’s really good soft cheese (think mozzarella), wrapped in sweet thin noodles (think vermicelli), deep fried, sprinkled with pistachios, and drizzled in honey. It is cheesy goodness from heaven, regardless of your religion.

There is also a version of trick-or-treat in Kuwait during Ramadan called Gerggian. Children dress up in traditional costumes and go from door to door in their neighborhoods. They sing songs, beat drums, and are given goo gobs of candy and treats. Remember when you were a kid and there was that one neighbor who gave out full-sized candy bars at Halloween? EVERY house is like that during Gerggian in Kuwait. Kuwaitis are crazy about their kids. Gerggian goes on for two or three consecutive nights. Some families hire a horse and carriage for Gerggian. My hosts’ two-year-old boy has been saying, “BIG WHITE ‘ORSE!” for the past week.

During Ramadan in Kuwait, many of the businesses will be open in the morning, close down about noon, and then re-open after sunset. Kuwait City comes alive at night and it’s a little weird for me to sit in traffic jams after midnight that have nothing to do with a sporting event or concert. You see young children running around at full tilt long past what we would consider a normal bedtime. But that’s what’s great about traveling to places with different cultures; you get the chance to rethink your definitions.

Kuwaiti women always dress up in public, but during Ramadan they wear gorgeous outfits that look like museum pieces. I feel mighty shabby in my tourist gear, but there’s no way I could pull off one of these outfits, nor am I expected to.

Well, it’s time to start prepping for tonight’s futoor. Not only are my tourist outfits shabby, they’re also getting pretty tight around the waist.

Thank you for visiting,


The Gluten Free Guest

The Gluten Free Guest

We recently hosted a dinner party for seven people. These were the specs:

2 Gluten Free

2 Vegetarians

1 Pescatarian

I served ice water. Actually I served homemade pasta sauce over gluten free noodles with a green side salad and fresh berries with almond milk for dessert. I cooked up some shrimp on the side and added it to the pasta sauce for those of us who don’t mind eating something that had a face while we shovel it into our own faces. My guests brought complimentary dishes like gluten free rolls, brussel sprouts that had been processed into losing all their identity as brussel sprouts, and delicious cookies. I must say it was a pretty good meal.

The aspect of this hosting experience I’m highlighting today is the Gluten free guest. For this post I spoke to the proprietor of AnnaB’s Gluten Free bakery in the Richmond, Virginia area I will refer to her as GF.

It’s fair to say there is some confusion about gluten. Is avoiding it just a fad? Is it a real health concern? Is it potentially dangerous? The answer is yes. GF explained there are basically three types of gluten free eaters: those who believe gluten is inherently bad for humans and choose to avoid it; those who have sensitivity to gluten and develop stomach or headaches; and those who have Celiac disease.  GF discovered her daughter had Celiac disease after she failed to thrive as a young child. For those diagnosed with Celiac disease, eating gluten is like eating a slow-acting poison. “It is an autoimmune disease,” says GF. “The gluten protein in wheat, barley, and rye (Oats are included because of cross contamination with wheat) inflames the small intestine which stops the absorption of nutrients. If you don’t follow the diet there are serious consequences including cancer.” For more information, Google it! I’m not a doctor you know.

What’s a hostess to do? GF says most people/parents affected by Celiac travel with their own food and food prep necessities. “There is no need to ask a host to retrofit their kitchen,” says GF. “Reynolds wrap is your friend. Things can be grilled or baked using it. Paper plates work great. I’ve been known to take pots and pans with me.” In other words, someone with this disease is used to fending for themselves. However, there are some things a host shouldn’t do: don’t take it personally if your guest brings their own food; don’t bring attention to it; and don’t accuse the person/parent of being a “fussy eater”. This actually happened to a Celiac patient I know whose mother-in-law ostracized her at the family’s beach week because she was being a “diva” about the food they served. Where is a good rip tide when you need one? “Oh dear, Mother Gilbert is being carried out to sea…what shall we do? Let’s throw her this giant hoagie roll and some donuts!”

Regarding the second two types of gluten free diets; those who chose not to eat gluten, and those who have a sensitivity to it. It’s always nice for a host to inquire in advance, but it is the responsibility of the guest to speak up about any and all dietary restrictions. I have actually heard more than one person say something like, “I can’t believe they served chicken salad! Don’t they know I’m on a low-cholesterol diet!” Listen, unless you’re staying with Carnac the Magnificent, get over yourself. Perhaps you’d like to take a little swim in the ocean with Mrs. Gilbert?

If forewarned, I think it is reasonable for the host to provide a gluten free option at each meal. It’s not that tough and it might be a good learning experience. If you want to provide an entire meal GF recommends, “Baked chicken with potatoes and carrots is a winner here. Or baked pork chops, potatoes, and applesauce.” Mmmm, sounds good.  “Gluten free has come a long way,” says GF. “There are many more options now in grocery stores and at restaurants.”

Those options include items from Anna B’s Gluten Free bakery, including the yummy muffin featured above I thank the proprietors for helping me with today’s blog.

Thank you for visiting,


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