Recently finished the loveliest book, Charlotte Wood's 'Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food'. The experience of reading it was like slipping under a doona with a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy Sunday. Absolutely delicious and cosy. Wood is a journalist and novelist who often writes on food related issues - her recent Good Weekend article where she experimented with cooking and eating offal for a week was great reading. This is a collection of her musings on food and its many aspects of etiquette: what to cook for funerals, the best food for beach house holidays, why our tastes change as we age, dinner party etiquette, and our relationship with soup among other topics. Wood writes in a succinct fashion, never wasting words, but still manages to make the reading experience leisurely and comforting.
Several ideas or points in the book provoked me into some new behaviour. Firstly, her thoughts on dinner party etiquette in the book and on the discussion on her blog have made me renew my attitude to what to bring to a party. Someone scathingly referrred on her blog to the disdain he felt when people brought store bought hummus and chips to dinner parties. Ooops! Yep, guilty. It is such an innocuous food stuff to bring to someone's house that I never really gave it any thought - and it's always accompanied by a good bottle of wine! But I take his point - it's pretty impersonal. Charlottle refers to a 'hostess gift' - I'm going to use that term from now on - and she argues it's nicer to bring some homemade tidbit, something grown or made. She suggests chutney, or jam, or the excess zucchini you can't use from your veggie patch, or some honey you bought on holidays. Yes, that would be lovely to receive if you were hosting the party. My father always brings home made hummus when he comes over and I appreciate the gift - it also tastes better than the store stuff! I've tried to make my own hummus but it always seems like too much work. But now - well, the hard things in life are always the best aren't they? So, I shall endeavour to make something for my next 'hostess gift'.
Secondly, Wood describes the pleasure she and her partner take in stopping at the roadside stalls where farmers are selling their produce. I've never stopped at a stall! Dreadful. So, on our holiday last week, I thought of this, and we stopped at a MOAD stall in Nana Glen (small town northern NSW where Russell Crowe famously has a farm). Wood informs me that MOAD is a 'Money or a donation' stall. Nana Glen specialises in bananas and we picked out a fabulously golden bunch, throwing the requested two dollar coin down the tube that ran all the way down the hillside to the family home where a pan presumably held all the coins. The bananas were divine. Tart but sweet at the same time. That's the first time I have bought from a road side stall in Australia. Why do we always do that stuff in other countries but not in our own home?
And finally, one essay looked at the need for a host to be calm at all times - otherwise guests feel stressed about coming, relaxing, taking their time over the dinner, lunch etc. Wood lists all the ways a host can be prepared before guests arrive to create the illusion (!) that everything is under control. So I take this advice for the big party I am holding at our house this Sunday - about 70 people to cater for, and entertain. Serenity now.....serenity now.
Charlotte Wood's blog can be found here -