In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Let Us Now Discuss Brunch: 10 Easy Steps

It's an excellent occasion for entertaining. Reason: everyone is at loose ends on a Sunday morning, they feel like they should be living it up because it's the weekend, and no one expects fine china and expensive wine (a bit of Prosecco is welcome, certainly). Plus: who doesn't love waffles?

And your guests go home after 2 or three hours, leaving you with a happy buzz, plenty of time to clean up and watch football and eat leftovers.

Here are the Rules for a Fabulously Successful Brunch. You can have a fabulously successful brunch without follwoing these rules, but don't blame me if something goes wrong.
1. Buy the newspapers. The NY Times (so you can read the wedding section) and your local paper, which should have comics and Parade, which is dreadful but wonderful at the same time. Parade, last I heard, is the single most lucrative market for the freelancer -- something like $3 a word. (compared to $1, or less at other places). That may have all changed, but I can scribble something out for Parade for $3 a word. Anyway: People want to read the Sunday papers, and this gives morning grumps an excuse not to talk.
2. Make cinnamon coffee. (Just sprinkle a whisper of cinnamon on the grounds before you brew). Ignore the snobs and purists who insist on their regular strong coffee. Serve it with half and half (warmed) and sugar cubes. Have tea, or hot apple cider as well. If you have a small coffee pot, buy a thermos. Pour the first pot of coffee into the thermos, and serve from the second. Use the first as your back up.

3. Serve good orange juice. Not from concentrate, please. Ice champagne or prosecco. Super fancy points, puree yourself up a white peach and make Bellinis. You can have Bloody Mary's but I think they are repellent.
4. The night before, make Ina's coffee cake. Every brunch needs something sweet, and this keeps everyone sated until you're done cooking, which you're invariably still doing when they came because you overslept. While it bakes, set the table. Include candles and fresh flowers or herbs poking out of little glasses.

5. Think hard about the menu: Your meal should consist of eggs and meat of some sort, unless you are a vegeterian or especially a vegan -- in which case, you're on your own. You will also need something fruit- related

and at least one starch - muffins, toast, bagels, biscuits. Now, anyone can lay out a spread of bagels and cream cheese and fruit etc., and this is not something I sneeze at. It has its place. But fabulous? No. And despite the etymological derivation of the word "brunch" no one actually wants lunch foods at noon on Sunday. If you want to have lunch, do it on Saturday, and start it at 1:30. More on that in a future post.

Here are some menu ideas (all presume you have made Ina's cake above, which is like a chemical-free version of those fantastic Hostess crumb cakes people of my generation grew up on and no one will talk of anything else). Most include almost entirely things that can be made ahead... some a day, some an hour.


  • Norwegian Waffles (sweet, with cardamom -- griddled up at the table... just get an extension cord and make them to order while you eat everything else.) Recipe to come in an update. I am separated from it at the moment -- it's pretty simple though -- your basic waffle with a stick of melted butter in the batter, 1/4 c ground cardamom, and I think 1/2 cup of sugar. (Make the batter an hour before guests arrive)
  • Scrambled eggs with Dill (this is the last minute dish. No one likes tired old eggs.)
  • Smoked Salmon with capers and minced red onion and thin slices of pumpernickel bread, and more fresh dill. (assemble ahead)
  • Steamed asparagus, if it's in season (steam it the night before. You can serve at room temperature... if so dress it with a little fresh orange or lemon juice and orange zest.
  • Fresh fruit -- whatever is in season -- or perhaps broiled grapefruit (halve it, loosen the sections and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Then run the grapefruit under the broiler. These can be prepped ahead and broiled at the last minute, since it's the only things going in the oven on this menu.)

The Traditionalist:

  • Ham and Mushroom quiche (or strata, in which case forget the...)
  • Buttermilk biscuits (fast, if you have a food processor to do the cutting for you) and honey butter. (pop these in the oven when the guests arrive. They bake in about 10 minutes)
  • Chicken and maple sausage or bacon (bacon en masse is best done in the oven)
  • Hash brown potatoes (you can top them with sour cream and grated gruyere cheese... why not... and run under the broiler. Serve them in the large cast iron pan you made them in. Terribly cozy and keeps everything hot) (make the potatoes ahead of time -- even the night before -- but bring to room temperatue and top them and broil them at the last minute)
Eat Your Face Off:

  • Huevos Rancheros with sliced avocado and sour cream and extra salsa (make these with scrambled eggs, because people can have a problem coping with runny yolks the morning after a night out, and prep the fixings and people can assemble them themselves)
  • Mango or papaya tossed with lime juice (can be done when you first get up. The citrus will keep things reasonably perky)
  • Cornmeal pancakes (or cornmeal waffles, made tableside) (make the batter in the morning, cook at the last minute)
  • Chorizo or bacon (maybe maple bacon)
  • Sweet potato and poblano chile hash (make it the night before, reheat. There's NOTHING worse than waiting for raw potatoes to cook when you have people wanting their breakfast)
6. Light candles (no one expects either candles in the morning or the Spanish Inquisition)(It's just a saying: Do not invite Torquemada), or better yet, light a fire in the fireplace.

7. Play Eva Cassidy on your Ipod speakers, or if you are a dinosaur like me, on your CD player. No one can possibly object to Eva.

8. Make sure everyone has a glass of champagne as soon as they walk through the door - even if they don't want it. It sets the appropriately louche tone. You can drop a raspberry in it, or a sprig of lemon verbena, or even Thai basil, to make it seem like you put some thought into it.

9. Have Ina's cake out and ready to go for people to nibble on while you work (and drink and sway to Eva and remark about what a shame it is she died so young, because it is. It's a total shame. And if you go listen to her on YouTube you'll understand why. The cake is also an excellent time absorber for your guests who are hungover and moving slowly. Hungover people are terribly selfish and will be late every time. Don't start the scrambled eggs until you have a quorum, or they will be overcooked and watery.

10. Since you've set the table the night before; serve the food buffet style, from your kitchen counters. Use cloth napkins, and let people refill their own damn coffee. Claim Sudoku for yourself.

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