Memories and Lessons of Entertaining by Carolyn Raber

I inherited the entertaining gene; it fulfills my passions of cooking for guests and enjoying their company.  There have been countless events, of course, but some provide memories of humor, pride and humility, and I share a few here. 

Age 10, we had a young seminary couple living with us and I found out that it was the wife’s birthday.  To surprise her, I got on my bike and rode to the downtown Naperville bakery and got a frosted chocolate cake, nicely packaged in a box and tied with a bow.   I was so excited on the ride home, only to learn that the cake had fallen and crumbled in my not big enough bike basket.  I was crushed along with the cake, but our friend was touched, and the pieces were delicious.  I think of this every time I make chocolate cake. 

As young marrieds, our first house was in Dixon and 900 sq. ft.  We had a first birthday party for our daughter Suanne with 10 guests, all seated in an 8×10 bedroom converted to dining room, using my family linens, crystal, china and silver.  Cozy, but it worked!  And enforced my dream of a formal dining room! 

While we lived in Atlanta, we hosted on December 23rd The Night Before the Night Before Christmas Chili Parties.  Casual dress, lots of people all through the house, white and traditional chili, beer bread, wine, beer, and Christmas cookies.  Little prep, easy, and fun. 

CarolynWe hosted an engagement party for Suanne and Ryan, which was the only time I have pre-tested a menu, using my neighbors as judges.  Ryan is a great chef, and his dad is an executive chef, so the pressure was on.   I duplicated a menu I had seen on Food Network’s Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello….polenta lasagna, grilled zucchini salad, stuffed portabella mushrooms.  Only when Dad Koster arrived did I learn that he had worked with Michael Chiarello.  I worried for nothing, as both Ryan and his dad were the most supportive and complementary guests one could hope for.   Ryan, then, gave me an autographed copy of Michael Chiarello’s cookbook for Christmas. 

I never had a cast iron pot until a few years ago and have no idea how I had lived so long without one.  I initiated it with a dish I also had never made, Coq au vin a la Ina Garten.   Our daughter Renee and husband Robert were over for dinner, and it was such a hit that Robert, also a good cook, asked if we could have it for it for Christmas dinner.  For some reason, I always struggle with the menu for Christmas, and Robert did it for me months ahead! 

It has taken a lot of years to calm this Virgo, but I now know that it is not so much about perfection as guests feeling at home and having fun, and I must have fun!  So here are my lessons: Having a well -planned time chart for the event is a must.  A smaller menu is better than a lot of choices.  My most frequently used cookware is now a 6 qt. cast iron pot.  It can do almost anything, including bake bread.  Come see the great selection of Le Creuset at Marcel’s.  China, crystal, silver, and candles are always appropriate and can be made more casual with less formal linens and serving pieces.  Let us at Marcel’s help you find something new. Clean-up is always after guests leave so that I can enjoy every moment with them.  Linens are soaked in cold water overnight.  Washing the next day is a breeze with no stains.  Don’t try to carry a cake in a too small bike basket.

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