How can I “help?”

I awoke this morning to a late Christmas present: a solicitation for my advice regarding a delicate issue of etiquette. Save for toothy grins from my little angels and the knowledge that all my loved ones are healthy and happy, nothing pleases me more than to be considered an expert on anything, but most particularly on matters of the Big E. Some scoff at the concept as trite or obsolete, but it’s what allows us to dine together at the the table without physical violence or gagging, what enables PETA and Tea Party members to enjoy meaningful friendships with each other, and why, more often than not, when you leave your house, you don’t come home with a black eye. We’re all active participants in our culture’s etiquette, which is why we have any culture at all, in the most basic sense of the word. A thorough mastery of the formal place-setting is not required to possess “good manners,” but the ability to make every guest in your home feel welcome and special is. Anyone who would use their knowledge of specific manners as a means to exclude or ridicule others is, perhaps unwittingly, practicing the dark art of etiquette’s evil cousin: snobbery.

All this is to preface my introduction of a new component I’m adding to the site: Dear Someone. If my readers would be so kind to send me questions at regarding breaches of basic civility, family quandaries, partner stand-offs, what-does-one-do-whens, and so forth, I will graciously provide you with either an outline of the high road or, if merited, the best way to “innocently” emotionally cripple the offender. I’ll refrain from suggesting retribution in the form of contaminated baked goods (i.e., Visine cookies) for obvious liability reasons, but if you get caught following any advice pertaining to, say, the old living-room-furniture-counter-clockwise-shift, you’ll have neither legal recourse nor my sympathy; if you couldn’t do it right, you had no business doing it at all.

To give you a taste of the kind of brutally honest yet ultimately helpful advice you can expect from this new feature, I’ll answer a recent question submitted to the maven of propriety, Miss Manners, and published on December 26th. The writer begins, “I am afraid that I am one of those people who tend not to respond to invitations if I don’t wish to accept,” and continues with a lengthy explanation as to why, which I didn’t read, assuming it would only be the simpering drivel of a highly functional neanderthal. I would suggest that the letter writer send out a mass communication to everyone for which she has an address, inviting them to stop wasting their offers of hospitality on such an undeserving wretch as she, and then penny-lock her mailbox before spending the rest of her days under her porch.

I hope I haven’t scared off any potential initial contributors, and you can always submit anonymously if you suspect you may, indeed, be the offending party. But I have faith that none of my loyal followers would require a firm unraveling, and do hope that you’ll drop me a line the next time you find yourself with five responses and twenty guests to your dinner party. I’d love to be of service.

And to All, a Loosened Belt

A Delicious Christmas Dinner to All…

This year is the second of my recent decade-to-lifelong election/takeover as Christmas Dinner Host; thank you again for being so gracious about the whole thing, Mrs. S! In the case that you, too, are preparing the yuletide feast, but have yet to finalize your menu, allow me to suggest one that seamlessly combines New England tradition with festive flair, and reinforces that your children never prefer their future spouses’ cooking to your own. Speaking of children, while they are often delightful, we don’t consider them actual people when determining food quantities, especially turkey poundage. That leaves my diner total at ten, requiring a twenty-pound turkey to ensure enough white meat for all with a few leftovers to sustain Mr. P during his annual Christmas night toy bender.

20-Pound Butter-Basted Roast Turkey with Giblet Gravy*

The Wood Sisters’ Pork Stuffing

Whipped Russet Potatoes*

Mashed Butternut Squash with Honey and Crushed Red Pepper*

Fo Show Green Beans (Green Beans with Toasted Almond Butter)

Red Pearl Onions Tossed in a Balsamic-Brown Sugar Glaze*

Orange Scented Cranberry Sauce

Dessert will be a gingerbread train cake with an individual car for each plate, and of course we’ll have a wasply assortment of spirits ranging from wine and sherry to gin and rum as liven-uppers for the nog and cider.

*The recipes for the unlinked dishes involve little more than their descriptions, and I’ll trust you to use your judgement when determining quantities. After all, if you weren’t confident in your potato whipping or onion boiling skills, you wouldn’t have any business hosting the most stately of annual feasts.

Weather you celebrate the holidays with faith, aesthetic, or a combination of both, I wish all of you a transplendent meal, and a quiet moment afterwards to consider how delightful it is to be you.

Angry Cooking

Angry Chicken

I decided to shelve a 986-word rant regarding my threshold for inconsideration and incompetence across all age groups having possibly been crossed. It turned out that being stood-up for a blind play date with all three kids at Funworld, and my resulting expulsion from a playgroup I’d never been to, did not, in fact, kill me. Nor did the overly audible comment from a woman behind me in line at the Hallmark store as I waited to have an ornament boxed so I could quickly remove my whiny children from the public sphere. Please don’t bother getting irked on my behalf at her declaration of “I don’t understand people who have more kids than they can handle.” In exchange for her helpful insight, I provided her with something to work on with her therapist for the next several years. And Sally the Entitled’s incessant reproachment of my parenting still hasn’t plateaued, but fortunately, I have an abundance of faith in myself, and rubes, barbs, and gripes haven’t debilitated me. On the contrary, my fury-induced blood pressure spikes result in waves of some of my best cooking.

It was a rare occasion yesterday afternoon when, although I had adequate hustle and elan to cook something delicious, I considered the prospect of a trip to the market as appealing as participating in organized running. I may send Simply Recipes a Christmas gift; I had chicken, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and not much else, but the resulting Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes with Port Wine caused an elated Mr. P to unconsciously hum quietly until he admirably gave up just before the bite that would have killed the evening.

I’m sure you’re aware of my penchant for a well-executed cream sauce, but this is a refreshingly dairy-free combination of shallot and mushroom, and the tomato manages to restrain itself to a supporting role. The final reduction is spectacular, and even better when drizzled over whatever accompanies your chicken; in retrospect I would have gone with rice, as my choice of egg noodles proved to be a slippery one.

So even though the end of my tether is in clear sight, the pairing of productive, passionate ire with a reliable site for new recipes culminates in several days of Michelin-worthy dinners at Chez Peña, before my wrath cools back down to mild irritability and Mr. P resigns himself with grace and dignity to another long stretch of family-restaurant-tier cooking. But not tonight. Tonight, I summon my last sputters of anger for Sherry-Dijon London Broil with caramelized shallots and rice pilaf.

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