Is It Ever Okay… To Charge People at a Potluck?

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Welcome to “Is It Ever Okay,” Bon Appetit’s etiquette column. Have a question? Email staff.bonappetit@gmail.com.

“Recently, a friend hosted a potluck. I baked a dessert and a side. But then afterward, a friend of the host texted, ‘Hey, we divided the cost of [the host’s] groceries so everyone owes $10.’ Wait, what? I thought the point of bringing food was to pitch in to the meal, while other guests showed up with six-packs or nothing. How do I avoid this in the future?” —Kate R.

THIS IS CRAZY. This friendship is OVER. If someone financially needs to charge you for groceries, and knows their deadbeat friends aren’t going to bring anything or are terrible cooks, fine, there are circumstances where this makes sense (college?). But you have to put that front and center in the invite text/email/Facebook thing/Paperless Post. Otherwise WTF. Kate, you and I bitched about this so I know you already paid this cheapass, but I wish you’d reamed out your friend like “lol no, I made freaking homemade mac and cheese! That’s KINDA HARD. It takes time and bechamel! Pay ME for my CHEESE BUDGET. It’s VERY LARGE.”

“If you make Friendsgiving, or any dinner for friends, is there any non-douchey way to hint you’d love some help with the dishes? Or do you just have to know that’s part of the job, even if you don’t have a dishwasher and the sink overfloweth and you’re high-key stressed?” —Sarah W.

So many people asked me this! Just DEMAND HELP. What are you afraid of, someone saying no, they just got a manicure? (I’ve said this. But to family! I needed gloves!) Some people weren’t raised right. They don’t offer to do dishes and might sneeze in your cloth napkins and sample all of your sleeping meds, but that doesn’t mean they’re anti-dishes. They’re just waiting to be drafted. Here’s the script: “HEY BUTTHEADS, SOMEONE COME IN HERE AND DRY THESE DISHES WHILE I WASH.” I find that “buttheads” really eases the tension. Sometimes at the table, I’ll start stacking people’s dishes, but I won’t stand up and take them to the sink—that’s key. Instead, I’m sending CLUES. Then others might start stacking plates on their end of the table, then someone might even stand up and bring them to the sink. At this point I’ll call out, “Let me know if you need gloves!” and that’s my extremely effective passive-aggressive way to get people to do dishes for me. Alt: burst into tears and run into the pantry and slam the door and refuse to come out until all the dishes are DONEZO.

Snack Break

swiss-chard-tahini-dip.jpg

I know this dip looks like baby poop under a microscope but I’ve made it twice in the past month and it’s so creamy good, without …any… cream. Make it! Then check your teeth after, there are definitely flecks of chard right in front, yep, right there, no, to the right. You got it. Worth it tho.

“Is it okay to serve food with bones in it for a dinner party…?” —Chiara S.

I mean, are you adding bones into foods that they didn’t originally come from? Because that’s twisted and cool as heck. I’m picturing a quiche with a huge tomahawk bone sticking up from the center like the sword in the stone. Yes to bones. On your plate, in your hair, ground up and baked into your bread.

platters shallots

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Dana Bonagura

Glazed shallots. You got this, Bex.

“I’m responsible for the Thanksgiving sides this year. I would like to make them in advance, and since I’m somewhat lazy, are there any sides that will make me look great in front of my family that won’t force a complete mental breakdown?” —Rebecca P.

I dunno Rebecca, do you like canned green beans? You want lazy AND impressive, but that’s a fine line to tip-toe. Thanksgiving is the time to go all out. Slow down, get fancy, try a little harder than usual. You get what you put out into the world. (I heard a yoga teacher say that once, but I think she was talking about the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide as we breathe in and out. Hard to say.) So to impress your parents and make them forget about your “in flux” state of employment, your lack of a 401K or “property,” I’d say these glazed shallots are the move. You toss them in a pan with some herbs and chile, butter and vinegar, and then they roast for a half hour—AND you can make them ahead and microwave before dinner. But that’s not enough food. These roasted carrots with a sweet-spicy sauce of harissa and maple syrup are super easy, and then your parents will be all, “what’s harissa? Can I get it at Kroger? Now what do I do with it?” And you can pretend you know. Oh, and even if you don’t make the glaze for these roasted brussels sprouts, this recipe technique gets them super crispy and delightful for people who grew up traumatized by TV-dinner mushy brussels.

mexican-lagers-ice

Alex Lau

Not an ad for Tecate. Or is it?

“Is it appropriate to tell people exactly what to bring to a dinner party (like, ‘natural wine only,’ ‘cheap beer only,’ ‘this specific salad recipe,’ etc.) The answer to this is obviously yes but I still feel like it would make a good column.” —Emma W.

Thanks for editorializing that question, Emma who may or may not work at Bon Appétit. I’m a bossy lady and agree with you, but “natural wine only” is TOO FAR. Do like our colleague Emily Schultz and tell your friends which wine stores you like so that they go there, hopefully. But asking for “natural wine” is just too pretentious, like “only wear socks with a high-thread count,” or “only bring plus ones I haven’t already slept with.” Some party details are out of your control. Things I’ve asked guests to bring: Bounty paper towels, select-a-size. Vanilla ice cream. Negra Modelo (NOT Especial). Six limes. That book they borrowed three years ago and never read, clearly. Sometimes they accommodate, sometimes not. It’s always worth a try!

boulevardier

Photo by Emily Schultz

Meet the Boulevardier—your winter Negroni.

“Is there an easy drink I can make with three ingredients that will replace a Negroni? I need a change.” —Greg L.

BOULEVARDIER, DUDE. Or just make the negroni with Cynar instead of Campari. Or try my favorite cocktail in the world, the Adonis: 2 parts sherry, 1 part sweet vermouth (also known as SWEET V), and a dash of orange bitters. Stir and serve up, with an orange peel if you have it, lemon if you’re roughing it.

 

That’s all for now, but if you have petty etiquette questions or recipe requests for me, email staff.bonappetit@gmail.com and betoo specific. I want the juicy details!

Love,
Alex

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Our Smartest Thanksgiving Potluck Strategies

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A potluck-style Thanksgivings is, plain and simple, very logical: You can cross a handful of dishes off your scroll-sized list, free up kitchen (and head) space, and make your guests feel involved. Plus, your great aunt or cousin’s boyfriend might bring something delicious that you would’ve never thought to make on your own.

It can become more of a stressor than a solace, however, when one friend shows up asking to use the oven and another, stuck in traffic, is in possession of the only batch of mashed potatoes for the party. To make sure your Thanksgiving potluck works in your favor, follow this plan. They’re so helpful, in fact, they’re also rules to live by when choosing your contribution as a guest.

1. Assign within reason: A cooked turkey should move no farther than the distance between the oven and the table. Farm out salads, casseroles, and other hearty, sturdy dishes that can be carried under one arm (but might take up a lot of room in your own fridge). Cranberry sauce is the perfect candidate: It’s easy for someone to transport, it can be served chilled or at room temp, and it only gets better with time, meaning your valiant volunteer can make it days ahead.

2. Assign smart: The best assignments are good at room temp and avoid minimal “finishing touches.” Ask a guest to bring a frozen dessert or a piping-hot soup and it won’t be that way when it arrives. And unless you have burners, sheet trays, cutting boards, and oven space to spare (…who are you?!), think of dishes that can be made as far in advance as possible. And guests, don’t leave any garnish prep to the last minute: Toast nuts, mix vinaigrette, and wash and tear herbs at your own house, then transport them in separate containers if you’re worried about wilting or sogging. Leave only the final toss for game time.

3. Know your guests’ limits: Request that the perpetually late friend bring dessert, not an appetizer.

4. Divide and conquer: If you’re hosting a massive group, divvy up certain staples, like potatoes and stuffing, among several guests so that no one has to quadruple a recipe. (If you’re the competitive type, you can turn this into a taste-off. Just kidding—kind of!)

5. When in doubt, ask for an appetizer: If nothing else, something to snack on will satiate any peckish guests, buying you time to finish setting up.

6. Prepare to receive the bounty: When friends come bearing Tupperwares, make sure you’re adequately stocked up with utensils, bowls, and platters for serving. Or be clear up front that the vessels and silverware are part of the assignment, and guests need to bring their own.

7. Think beyond food: Get cooking-phobic friends and family involved by asking them to bring wine glasses, napkins, ice, or even a (really thoughtful) playlist. If all else fails, there’s always dish duty.

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