Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Laid-Back Entertaining

A lot of people I know are cutting back on entertaining due to financial reasons. Obviously, we are all watching our pennies right now, but I don't think we should curtail entertaining at home. If anything, now is the time that we should focus on what's really important: spending time with family and friends.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to relax and not be so uptight about having people into my home. I do think (or at least hope) that my home is warm and inviting, but I can say that it is not by any means perfect. As I'm writing this, my powder room has partially removed wallpaper. It ain't pretty, but it has not stopped me from having people in. I consider the wallpaper a temporary situation, and people who know me know that I will one day soon have a remodeled powder room.

The other thing that I'm more laid back about is food. Food does not have to be fancy- only tasty. I love putting on a spread for people, but there are times when it's fun just to relax and enjoy some conviviality with one's friends. And this leads me to the point of this post. When did the cocktail hour get so elaborate? Sure it's fun to assemble a platter of antipasto. And what's better than sharing caviar with your guests? But for those on a budget or who are trying to be less uptight, there is nothing wrong with serving the basics. Such as ... Ritz crackers or Triscuits.

Just look at the gorgeous Horst photo above, taken in 1963 at the Long Island home of Consuelo Balsan. What are those crackers in the Chinese dish on the beautiful tray table which rested on the gorgeous Aubusson rug? Ritz crackers! Truly, have you ever met anyone who didn't like Ritz crackers?

And what about Triscuits? In Susanna Salk's paean of everything WASP, A Privileged Life: Celebrating Wasp Style, Salk writes of memories of "Triscuits with Cracker Barrel Cheese and warm white wine in plastic tumblers." I don't remember the warm white wine so much, but heaven knows that I've eaten a lot of Triscuits and Cracker Barrel Extra-Sharp Cheddar in my day. And don't forget that the only crackers you can serve with cream cheese and pepper jelly- the old stand-by served by all Southern Belles and Gents- are Triscuits.

Now, I'm not saying that you should forgo elegant entertaining altogether. I actually regret that formal entertaining is not as fashionable as it once was. But, when you're having good friends and family over for a few casual drinks, give yourself a break and pull out the box of Ritz.

According to an old New York magazine article, Albert Hadley served a bowl of unsalted Triscuits to the journalist interviewing him. Yet another reason to love Mr. Hadley.

I don't think Triscuits and Ritz were around in 1941 when Dorothy Draper wrote Entertaining is Fun!: How to Be A Popular Hostess, but she was pretty down to earth with her advice. For harried hosts and hostesses who were faced with unexpected guests, she suggested serving English muffins with sliced ham and grilled mushrooms. Were Dorothy alive today, I think she'd just say to serve some cheese and crackers and call it a day.

Sister Parish was one character who I wish I had been able to meet. One of her favorite drinks was vodka with ice and a dash of Clamato. She also on occasion served appetizers of ham wrapped around a pickle with some cream cheese, cut on the diagonal, as well as peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. And based on what has been written, people loved her get-togethers...even the food!


  1. This is hysterical. Last night I had to look something up in the Horst book and it fell open to that Consuelo Balsan page. The first thing I noticed were the crackers!

    Great idea for a post!

  2. Courtney- That image has always cracked me up! Great minds think alike ;)

  3. I love to entertain. I've found that friends don't pay attention to small things that may not be perfect...they just tend to be happy that they've been invited to an evening of good food, wine and friends. And maybe a bit of boogying!

  4. I'm with you Jennifer, while I do miss the more formal entertaining that my parents did, I also really like the idea of a simple cocktail hour (which is still standard in my parents house) - a drink and some Cracker Barrel cheese on a Triscuit! Can't beat it. But, unsalted Triscuits are the worst!

  5. Jill- I agree, esp. about the dancing bit!

  6. Linda- Nice to see another Triscuit/CB Cheddar devotee! I've never tried unsalted Triscuits before; maybe I'll stick to the original.

  7. Anonymous12:20 PM

    My Great Aunt, effortlessly stylish, used to sit back in her Sutton Place Apt and serve Club Crackers wrapped in bacon, baked until crisp. Everyone adored them and they disappeared faster than anything else. Kit

  8. Hi Jennifer.

    Great post with lots of ideas and inspiration.

    If these style arbiters are confident enough to 'keep it simple' it gives us all courage.

    Mrs Parrish, no doubt, had her cook prepare these very frugal waspy bites. Not to say they weren't delicious, but they were fine. It's the company and spirit that matter.

  9. It's so funny you should have so many comments on the cracker commnents .. 2 different girl friends and I were in an email debate this week over which we like better - the Carr's new rosemary crackers or the Triscut's new rosemary crackers!

    The carpet in the first image is amazing!

  10. Kit- I'm going to try that. My cousin just emailed me and told me she makes the same thing- and they fly off of the trays!

  11. Diane- Great point about the staff. I believe that she did have a beleaguered staff who prepared the food. And it is all about the company and the spirit!

  12. Diva- I have not yet tried either cracker. Both sound delicious!

  13. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Hello Peak of Chic,
    Low/no pressure = more fun for everyone.
    Cocktailing can be the EASIEST way to entertain.

    Always at the ready/in the pantry:
    Nuts, assorted crudite's, dipping sauce, crackers and couple cheeses.

    When I want an extra pop, anything wrapped in bacon and crisped.
    10 minutes more & you can have cucumber & cream cheese sandwiches.

    Linen cocktail napkins.
    Trays & baskets.
    Plenty of ice.
    Good booze.

    Done, done AND done.

    Now go and mix it up.
    Ali (from WI)

  14. Jennifer,
    I so agree with you on the southern roots always told me everything had to be "perfect" and "perfectly" displayed and formal. As I have grown up, I have grown away from the formality. Friends just want to be together, so if you need to run to Trader Joes and pick up some fun things and do a quick vase of greens or flowers for some festivity, that's all you need.


  15. Renae- Trader Joes is great for last minute hors d'oeuvres. So much easier too!!

  16. Amen, Sister.

    I recently ran across a jar of pepper jelly in my mother's cupboard and was so tempted to squirrel it away in my overnight bag for the next cocktail hour.

    You know what gets the most "ooohs and ahhhs" at drinks here at the manse? Potato Chips. You'd swear I served a kilo of Ossetra.

  17. E&E- Great idea b/c once again, who doesn't love potato chips? And if you wanted to get fancy, you could make Ina Garten's homemade potato chips. But I'd probably just buy them from the store!

  18. Thanks Peak... actually I topped them with sour cream and faux-ruga (smoked whitefish roe) for those who wanted something a bit extra.

  19. Ali- You've got entertaining down pat! That is really the way to go. Can I come over for a drink?!

  20. I love to entertain. And you are so right! You should see my bathroom. Lots of love. xoxo

  21. I grew up just down the road from Sister Parish's home and recall the peanut butter and bacon appetizer well. My grandmother in New York used to serve ritz crackers with a dash of peanut butter sprinkled with crumbled bacon often! This was on Park not Third mind ya! :) Cheers, Homer.

  22. Beth- There are many of us with less than perfect powder rooms!!!

  23. Homer- I'm going to have to try this peanut butter/bacon combo. I hear it's delicious, but I've got to try it for myself.

  24. Ha! You are so right about food and entertaining. I was cleaning out my fridge yesterday and ran across some hot pepper jelly...I was thinking I should have some friends around and serve it.

  25. Great post! As Andy Griffith used to say, "Mmmmm.........good cracker, good cracker".

    As much as I love design and beautiful things and elegant entertaining, people come first, and with a group of good friends and a bottle of wine.......all you need are some good crackers!!