This week my dear friend Fran presented me with a book she found on the "free" table when she was out and about fossicking for treasure in a Hospice Shop. I am sure she did not mean to imply that my hostess skills are lacking; even those of us who shine in the firmament of hospitality givers can do with some helpful hints from time to time. I am not sure when this book was published, for some reason this is not recorded in the front pages, but the author (Nell Heaton) had also published volumes entitled Shell Fish, Cooking Dictionary and The Complete Cook.
Since Mr Shoestring was preparing a curry feast and we had invited Mr and Mrs Peaceable around for dinner before an outing to the local playhouse I eagerly consulted my new book for useful advice. It has several colour plates, most of which depict violently colourful dishes which appear strangely unappetising.
But I had to admit that there are many useful recipes included, particularly if you are planning to feed 50 people. I was rather surprised when I read the section about "The Temporary Help" to discover that the "help" should have "No perfume, no nail varnish, and not plastered with jewellery." If this book had been written in recent times it could more accurately have suggested that tattoos and body piercings be as unobtrusive as possible, and not too much midriff bared.
The section on Uses For Macaroni was rather uninspiring by today's standards. For some reason the idea of serving macaroni cold with raw grated carrot, cheese and celery, garnished with lettuce just did not appeal. Likewise serving spaghetti in a milk pudding did not have me licking my lips in anticipation.
By far the most interesting section though was the one about table etiquette. I will never again cut a bread roll, it must be crumbled. (I think I remember being instructed on this point as a child but blithely ignoring it.) Also must remember that the over hang on my table cloth should be 12 - 15 inches. I had already put my cloth on the table and it fell woefully short of this measurement; despair was setting in. But I was relieved to learn that crescent shaped salad plates are not essential - apparently this is entirely according to the taste of the hostess. When I came to the section on napkin folding I almost began to chew my nails - like origami but even more confusing, if possible. Eventually sighed and flicked past this part.
All in all I was pleased Mr Shoestring was pulling out all the stops in the kitchen, I realised I would never have what it takes to be a good hostess but he can whip up a mean curry. He made his beef rendang, a butter chicken, popadoms, raita and all the trimmings. Mr and Mrs Peaceable were very polite and never complained about the service, the table settings or the lack of cocktails or sherry before dinner. They are the soul of discretion and all that is to be desired in dinner guests! Even when I brought out my new wine glasses (50 cents each at the Anglican Bring and Buy and not identical) there were no complaints.