Monday, June 9, 2008

On Burgers, BBQ's, and Bottles

There are a few confusing hostessing scenarios which baffle the mind and the hostess. Chiefly among them is the all-American tradition of barbecue. Presumed to be the easiest of all service scenarios for hosts and hostesses, it is in fact most challenging and not at all a low maintenance scenario. While the food may, in some simplified instances, be an easy hamburger and sausage affair; the dinner, supper, lunch, or brunch service does not fall by the wayside: You are just as obligated to come up with the plates, forks, knives, and napkins of a correct meal service when all will eat at picnics tables as you would be if you were hosting a charity gala at the Biltmore Estate. Your guests are no less worthy of your best kitten-heeled foot forward simply because they are standing next to open flames, are they?

(The subject of whether or not to use paper plates is beyond the scope of this essay. However I can sum up if you wish to know my opinion on the subject: Never. Paper plates and napkins along side plastic utensils and salad bowls?! The name of the hostess is Mrs. Careless Landfill III, maybe? It is easy and attractive for a table to sport reusable, recycled, or biodegradable items if you insist on disposables. Plum Party will put a whole reusable shooting match in a box and ship it to you, no thinking required! No excuses either! This Palm Springs Glamour thing with the melamine is fun though I still get itchy thinking about polyester based products, especially in place of porcelain, but it is appropriate in some instances. Children at the table, for example. And these good folks at Green Party Goods will send you heaps of "paper"plates made from remainders of the sugar refining process that break down in landfill in 4-6 months, which is better than never.)

In many ways, we have come to expect the invitation to a barbecue to mean attending a party in very casual dress and consuming things served from bottles: Drinks and condiments. But bottles, whether they contain beer or ketchup are not acceptable serving vessels unless the guest insists, as some beer drinkers do, on drinking from their bottle. They must be offered a drinking vessel, preferably a glass or in the event of a world ending glass delivery strike, (I cringe as I type it) a cup.

Furthermore, ketchup, mustard, relishes and the like are also correctly served from bowls or some other effective, artful, or precious vessel, with an appropriate service utensil such as a smallish spoon, relish fork, or some other lovely but ditsy means of moving said ketchup to said dog.

I will no longer be invited to plenty of households for mentioning the above but it pays to be quite fearless on this subject: Many people with creative spirits and lovely manners might be encouraged to pull together their best party yet.

I caused myself a problem inadvertently during my dinner party this past Saturday: At the last moment before dinner I hunted for my relish tray and condiment bowls. I thought I had them somewhere mind you, under hill and dale in the storage place (The garage? The pantry's? Ugh!). I was having a barbecue of sorts and serving the $50,000 Burger which readers of the Blushing Hostess may remember fondly, and it occurred to me that I had no vessel of the right size in which to place each condiment on the table.

What a difficulty I can be to myself at times.

It occurred to me a moment ago what became of my three bay condiment tray: I off'ed it to the blissful land One Hostess's Trash... in hopes it would become the treasure of another, more rustic, possibly Alaskan, hostess. You see, it was one of a few serving vessels I have found to be hive-provokingly annoying, practically stupid. Once the condiments were in the tray, it looked very pleasing but at the literal bottom they were preposterous. I was always careful to place a good deal of each condiment in each bay praying all the while that the guests would never get to the bottom of the tray.

It never happened. No guest ever scraped against the bottom of the tray with the serving spoon to discover on the bottom the laughing, ney, cackling, moose painted on the bottom of this otherwise gorgeous relish tray. I could tell you a long story about how this questionable piece of wildlife paraphernalia fell into my hands, a girl clearly not worthy of either it's hokiness or collect-ability, but it involves taking an ill-advised stand for alcohol imbibement in Utah and my subsequent adventure through the airport gift shop. Originally, I intended to bring the moose relish tray to to my Mother. Surely, there must have been some moment of greatness when I saw the underappreciated and endlessly useful future of the vessel in one of the great hostesses' homes.

I don't remember that moment specifically and I never did have the nerve to give the cackling moose to another person fearing what their retribution might be. Being a person genetically programmed to avoid waste, I forced myself to keep it, move with it four times, and use it, each time dutifully creating more waste by squeezing much more ketchup into the thing than we could possibly use. One day, I placed it into the Goodwill bag with an unsure hand. I felt wasteful and foolish, to have bought it to begin with and to compound my offense by giving it away. It must be useful to someone, went my logic, serve well, you hysterically happy moose, I said as I shoved it to the bottom of the donation bag.

So it is gone. Somehow in the meantime, the task of looking for a replacement escaped me. Saturday night I was forced to resort to sweet but oversized bowls for the condiment service. I was not going to resort to bottles on the table. Why I doubt even Teresa Heinz, who is no doubt very proud of the family ketchup empire, would agree to place a plastic bottle on the table. Even pride has its limits.

Now is the time to move on the relish tray issue. There are a couple of so-so candidates on the market at the moment, none of them as original as my moose but worthy, at least, of placing on a picnic table or buffet. Another fine solution is my local antiquities dealer or thrift shop, people are never through rifling through their relish trays and sending them over to the Ladies Club shop. I will eventually find something that suits my taste and avoid relish-cloaked dinner foods until then.

The bottle issue extends to beverages as well. Here is a place where it will be harder, through no fault of ones own, to reinforce good manners: Some people like to drink beer from bottles. Your party will not be enjoyable for them if you do not accept this preference. This is no time to leap from your seat, sidle up behind the offender, and whisper in their ear something gracious and clear regarding the bottle issue. You may only do that kind of thing when the offense is greater than the party iteslf: Throwing food or using the WC with the door open. No, I am afraid you have to party on bravely or prevent the issue altogether.

But how? How will you head off some of these sworn bottle drinkers? There are a few clever tricks to consider here and it depends what kind of party you are having. (The trouble is entirely worth it if there are to be cameras in attendance. Never photograph your guests holding alcoholic beverages. It does not make a good photo, memory, or politician. More on this at a later date.) These are some potential options:

A. Get a keg and conceal it properly: Kegs are a useful and completely acceptable means of serving beer at a party, though the keg should not be apparent. A "barrel" as it was known at Providence College (The Hostesses fine Alma mater) is not a festive decoration. Put it under a table or behind the bar.

B. The Old Two Handed Drink Service: If you know a person to be a bottle drinker, hand them the opened bottle and the cold, beautiful pilsner or glass at the same time (I do not advocate mugs for, ah, anything, come to think of it.) in the hopes that they decide to use your fabulous glass. If they don't, move on, Precious, life is almost too short to worry about it.

The photo below is a ginger beer service recently employed hereabouts, you see the idea, the glass needs to be as or more enticing than the bottle:

C. If it is a self-service bar, line the pilsners up directly next to the beer on ice, making it completely impossible to ignore. Likewise, wine of each variety next to it's paired glass. Mixed drinks next to the liquors. And so on. (Not unlike the above photo.)

D. Your caterers' bartender will see to it that it happens: It is gratefully rare that caterers will allow bottles into service, it makes for perfectly awful photos and makes their event less polished and glossy.

You may be thinking that you do not have enough glassware to manage serving everyone at your upcoming party and you cannot afford a caterer. Let's devise some other lovely solution then: What say you call a party or equipment rental company and tell them you are swinging by to pick up a dozen of each sort of glass you may need to rent for the weekend, to be returned on Monday? It is a good deal less expensive than buying this glassware if you did not receive it from your registry gifts and in some cases you will not even have to wash them. Just return them all as agreed.

Oh, if it could all be so simple. What a wonderful world it might be.

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