And You Are….?

     I am not sure who this post is for, the host or the guest. I will leave it for you the reader to decide.
     Whether you are attending an upscale dinner party or your child’s soccer game, a proper introduction is always important, if not necessary, especially in the military lifestyle. For many of us, the need to give or receive an introduction may be an everyday occurrence. 
While researching proper introductions, I came across a brief explanation from a wonderful blog entitled The Art of Manliness.
The Big Rule:
“The overarching principle when making introductions is deference and respect. You show chivalrous deference to women by introducing the man to the woman. You show respect for your elders by introducing the younger to the older. And in a business setting, you show respect to higher-ups by introducing the person of lower rank to the person of higher position.”
Simple and I could not have written it better myself, hence the backdoor plagiarism. That was so very manly as well. 
And so dear readers, journey back with me if you will to a time and place of long ago. Picture a young Marine wife full of life but most importantly full of herself. She receives a phone call and is politely voluntold to sit on a committee. All right – it was me and I may have trouble articulating tenses so I will henceforth and here unto speak in everyday English.
A committee spot had opened up for a spouse’s organization in Washington, D.C. and a senior leader’s wife called and asked me if I would fill the void. For you civilians out there, that is what is referred to as being voluntold. A healthy fear of saying no… Of course I said yes and off I went to a place I had never heard of before… Fort Myer in Virginia. 
Picture if you will, a beautiful historic home sitting atop a grassy ridge overlooking the Potomac River. “Nice,” I thought to myself as I pulled up in the minivan. “I wonder who lives here…” I have never been accused of over preparing for anything in my life and this day was no different. I walked into the home and as with all good spouses’ meetings; we opened with food and drink. 

 A lovely, older woman (we will call her Susie to protect the innocent and my husband’s career) approached me and we started to chat. I took her for a civilian guest and in my most authoritative of tones began to explain the finer points of military life to include a deep and meaningful explanation of Marine Aviation. Gosh she was so nice and easy going, whose lovely aunt, is this anyway? I wonder where she is visiting from. Our lopsided conversation was coming to a close with Susie being the obvious loser. We politely parted ways and as is the lovely dance of a women’s coffee, I came to speak with another spouse who looked to be around my age. “Wow,” she said. “What on Earth did you talk about with her?” “Who,” I asked. “The wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that’s who!”  

Oh snap.

 

Now, everyone deserves politeness, kindness and the gift of your time but let us be crystal clear, when dealing with the leaders of any organization, and in my opinion, the military, as stated above, it is always about deference and respect. Do you respect your spouse, their job, their field of work? Then why would you not want to put your best foot forward and maintain the customs and courtesies of our culture regarding our leadership? Goodness, I still remember being petrified of my husband’s Staff Platoon Commander!
I was caught totally flatfooted and remained uncomfortable for the rest of the meeting. Why had she not introduced herself? Why had I not introduced myself? Why did I talk so much? Did I actually explain to her what the commissary was? Aren’t there supposed to be nametags at these events? 
The drive home was a swirling of “what did I say” thoughts and “what if I had said” ruminations. It was exhausting. 
Let’s put a bow on this. From a host/hostess perspective; someone at the door greeting, nametags and group introductions are always appropriate. From a guest perspective, do your research. When in doubt, google people, places and events. It helps in conversation prompting as well as history of the location and what to wear. If attending with friends, devise a plan to gather names. Make a game out of it. If you stay in long enough, this will be an ongoing situation for you and your spouse.

Throughout my time on the committee the spouses were all very gracious and I have come to understand that events such as these are where we turn the corner of understanding just a bit more of this military lifestyle.  

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Under-Cooked Dough and Other Things You Should Know

This is about mistakes – entertaining mistakes.

We all experience them; some small, some epic.

But, we recover and we learn from the experience. However, there was a time when I neither recovered, nor learned.

When planning I would create in my mind the party to end all parties, but when the inevitable happened (burnt food, forgotten ingredients or children vomiting on me moments before a guest’s arrival) I became unglued.

I would often think, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this military lifestyle. Maybe I should focus my efforts on other ways to support the command.”

But that competitive, over-achieving military spouse inside of me would raise her fist like Scarlett O’Hara and shout back, “No! I will not be defeated!”

I have not yet lost the war, but there have been a few battles where I threw up the white flag.

Example #1: My Less-Than-Thankful Thanksgiving

After a few years of marriage and countless military functions, I agreed to host my first large Thanksgiving meal.

My husband Joe was attached to a Marine squadron that had a few squadron mates of the Royal Air Force on exchange from England. It was all very intriguing – the accent, their wives, the culture they offered.

One evening Joe came home and announced that we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for three exchange pilots, their wives, and their children. They had expressed interest in a true American Thanksgiving feast and that’s what they were going to get. Who cares that I had never hosted one before? Or that I had three children under four and my appliance of choice was the equivalent of an Easy Bake oven (compliments of the U.S. government)?

“Yes,” I thought. “I’ve got this!”

I had cooked a turkey before (I think?), I had cooked rolls before (maybe?), and I had even prepared gravy, but for some reason I went into panic mode.

I went against my better judgement and started to take shortcuts. Between caring for my babies, preparing the house and trying to create an unforgettable feast, I panicked and started to change things up in my mind.

“I know!,” I thought, “I’ll use one of those cooking bags to insure done-ness. Oh! And I’ll use rolls in a tin so I have enough bread. And how about packaged gravy to supplement my own…” As you can see, I mentally spiraled out of control. To this day, I still do not know why I did the things I did that holiday weekend.

The big day arrived and no kidding, the kitchen sink backed up and there was no one from housing maintenance available to come out. My dear husband tried to clear it, but it just would not give. The water backed up to the top and the entire sink was unusable. I actually rinsed and peeled potatoes in my bathtub! Throughout the day of prepping and preparing, all of the dirty dishes went into the bathtub as well.  The best part though (ssshhhh don’t tell the British) I had to rinse the turkey under the spigot in the tub. It never touched anything, I promise. There is nothing like a Marine holding out a fresh white towel as if to say, “come to Daddy.”  I handed him the bird as a doctor might present a newborn son.  It was complete insanity.

I felt a bit of relief when the turkey was actually in the oven cooking. Remember I told you I used a cooking bag for the first time? Well, I did not mentally process that the cooking time is literally cut in half when using an oven bag but friends – I cooked it for the full five hours according to the turkey instructions.  – I can still taste it now, it was like tree bark.

On to prepping the stuffing. Dear old Mom’s sausage and nut stuffing. I had made it the week before and… oh my goodness had forgotten to thaw it! “No problem,” I confidently thought. I’ll just pop it in a pan and slowly heat it up. No sooner had I done so then I smelled the acrid scent of scorching food. Sausage stuffing, please report to the trashcan. What would my guests know? They are not even American so how would they know what is in a traditional American Thanksgiving?

Growing up, my mother taught my sisters and I the most amazing yeast roll recipe…why I did not make them, I have no idea. I used the Pillsbury brand in the tin and while tasty – they have directions that MUST be followed.

As dinner was underway, I noticed no one was taking a second helping of rolls. In a moment of true insanity, I grabbed one and ran across the street to my friend’s house (a lovely Navy wife who was unflappable).

I shoved a roll in her hand and said, “Taste this and tell me what’s wrong with it.” As she took a bite and pulled the roll away from her mouth, there appeared to be mozzarella cheese oozing out. She asked me, “did you make cheese stuffed croissants?”

“Uncooked dough!,”  I screamed and ran across the street back into my home. I immediately removed the rolls and watched in horror as no one tried a second helping of the turkey. Riddle me this: what is the actually cooking time of a twenty pound bird if you cook according to the directions PLUS toss it in an oven bag? Ten hours? I don’t know, but imagine my guests chewing with only their front teeth and downing copious amounts of water.

Course three – dessert. What could go wrong? I was a pro at pumpkin pie and had taken no shortcuts. I even prepared homemade whipped cream. I triumphantly paraded my pie to the table. No takers. “Oh we’re sorry love; we don’t eat veg in our dessert.” I could not believe my ears but then thought, “yeah, I guess that is pretty gross.”

 Suddenly, out came the lovely English trifle that was brought as a hostess gift. Have you ever seen rabid dogs fight over a bone? You get where I am going with this. The trifle dish was licked clean and I mean clean.

I guess I cannot blame them. It was a pretty terrible meal.

While so much went wrong that evening, I did do a few things right. I absolutely hid from my guests even the hint of a problem and kept the evening moving with good drink and good conversation. Never allow your guests to see or hear of a problem if you can at all help it. It makes everyone uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite of what a host or hostess desires.

My biggest failure that evening was trying new things. Never, ever try anything for the first time the night of your event. You are inviting disaster.  My husband and I still get a good laugh out of this experience, but I sure wish I could have a redo! And I promise, I have never rinsed meat in the bathtub since.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Buffet ANT-ics

Here in lies the woeful tale of two hostesses. The one I aspire to be and the one I really am.

A little melodramatic – but accurate.

I am so dedicated to the art of detail that more than once I have planned an event a year in advance. Attention to detail is the military mantra that we live by (and we like it that way). But, the truth is, when entertaining one can never truly prepare for everything.

Case in point – each duty station we move to is known for things. Those things can be good or bad. Things that are pretty and ugly. Things that frankly,  you don’t know about until you get there and experience it firsthand.

Enter stage right – sunny Southern California, an American paradise.

One finds the happy locals in their athleisure wear, strolling from Starbucks, yoga mat in hand. There is sea, surf, blue skies… and ants.

Wait, what?

Now, not all of my homes in SoCal had an ant problem, but one in particular did. And when I say problem – think full-scale ant invasion.

I noticed right away that a speck of cheese or a crumb of cookie would bring on the following morning an army of indescribable proportions. My dining room looked like an arthropod convention on the Discovery Channel. I addressed the problem immediately (borax, Raid, napalm) and thought nothing else of it.

Time to plan the next party, and plan I did.

Our Marines were on deployment. In true military spouse fashion; our squadron wives were hosting a Pity Party for the squadron wives whose Marines were replacing ours. Side note – a Pity Party is an opportunity to basically say, “ha ha we are done, and now you it is your turn to suffer. Enjoy”. We also eat our young in case you were wondering…

The invites were launched, the house was ready, and the spouses brought an amazing array of potluck items including the piece de resistance: a delicious ham. Spiral cut, studded with cloves and dripping with a sugary glaze. If it weren’t early May I would have guessed it to be December 25.

With the evening well under way, I poured a cocktail with an air of smug satisfaction. “Yes” I thought, “another successful event.”

In an unguarded moment, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see one of our go to spouses (you know the one – she can be counted on for anything and everything) with a look of fear on her face.  I immediately stood up. She leaned forward and quietly whispered, “We have a code red meat emergency.”

Like any good senior leader’s spouse I confidently said, “Take me to the meat.”

As a host or hostess, we should never allow our guests to see us ruffled. In the worst situations, we remain calm, polite and patient. As my husband says, “never let them see you sweat.” But, I must say, what I saw next almost put me over the edge.

My ever vigilant friend had her arm outstretched with a pointed finger much like the ghost of Christmas future as he eerily points to Scrooge’s tombstone. I followed the length of her arm and my eyes landed on the ham.

Is the glaze moving?

ANTS. ANTS EVERYWHERE.

Is that one carrying a clove on his back? Why ants? Does the Ritz get ants? Does Ina Garten invite ants to dinner with Jeffrey? This isn’t supposed to happen – I did not plan for ants!

 I like to think I am cool under pressure, but I am not. I immediately grabbed the ham and ran like a wide receiver crossing the goal line quickly spiking the ham into the kitchen trashcan.  In a flash, amazing spouses were scurrying for any remnant of insect. It was an ant-killing Seal Team 6.

The determination was made that the ants were meat eaters and had confined themselves only to the gammon. Thankfully, the food service had been going for a while and it appeared that we had simply removed a few things. The buffet was spotless and open for business.

I stood there for a moment and became rather frustrated. What made me think the ants were going to self-relegate? Why did I assume that they had come together prior to my event and agreed to not transgress the buffet table? The ants were truly an ongoing problem and I should have planned the placement of my food better.

Let’s put a bow on this sad tale with some entertaining tie-ins.

  1. Know the problem areas in your house whether it is in military quarters or a rental.
  2. Don’t fight the issues, just adjust accordingly.
  3. Always have your power team of spouses. The ones you can rely on to help. In turn make sure you are there for them as well when they host an event.
  4. Don’t become emotional or excited in front of your guests and if something is amiss with your food simply remove it.  Due to the fact that there were so many wonderful offerings on the buffet, the removal of the ham was not a huge issue.
  5. Be in the habit of having a few easily prepared items in your freezer just in case of a culinary emergency. It is always a wonderful thing when we can prepare a fresh, homemade menu but sometimes you need a little back up.

But always, always remember: you can fix any situation – even arthropod WWIII.

Entertainingly yours,

Cassie

Sweet and Savory, Bad Behaviory

“Is there anything on this buffet that is gluten free, anything at all!?”

I paused for a moment as a chill ran down my spine.

I had forgotten to provide a gluten free alternative and now my militant guest was calling me out with shrill, Verruca Salt-like attitude. I scrambled for a box of gluten free crackers, uncontaminated fruit, rock candy (maybe a little past the expiration date, but rock candy doesn’t go bad right?!). I looked for anything, ANYTHING, that would suffice in this entertaining emergency. How did I miss this? I finally found something and quickly prepared a small plate for my guest.

But I’ll be honest, after catching my breath I became slightly irritated.

Allergies can be deadly, so as a host or hostess we want to be made aware of all dietary restrictions and my guest seemed to have forgotten to inform me of her condition. The goal of any good host or hostess is to provide and cater to their guest’s every need. However, sometimes people take their guest status a little too far. Instead of taking offense, take note – and learn from it!

I make sure I always take into stock comments I hear during the event. Then after all the guests leave, I do what the military calls a “hot wash,” or an ”after-action report.” I mentally go over the good and the bad, the successful and unsuccessful. You understand! It’s a great way to make sure at your next event you don’t find yourself in a hard place between a gluten-free guest and a gluten-full table.

“I hate meatloaf but this is actually good.”

“How long do we have to stay?”

“Does she actually drink wine out of this?”

Think I’m kidding? Even the most refined officer and polished lady of state can accidentally leave their mental filter at home.

“I hate this champagne, it is ca-ca.”

“Oh nothing for me, we leave for Hawaii in a week and I am dieting.”

“I don’t eat vegetables in my dessert.”

That last one? Foreign military – bet you never thought of that!

“Doesn’t she have any wine glasses that are bigger?”

“I know I said I couldn’t make it but surprise, I’m here!”

“I used the cream in your fridge.”

It was breast milk for the baby.

I brought the baby because I knew you would want to hold her.”

“You wouldn’t be able to mix up a few martinis would you?”

“Those directions were terrible, who wrote them?”

“I hate the colors red and green.”

At a Christmas party!

“I don’t eat off of buffets, I am afraid people have touched all the food.”

“I drank the last of the Jack…”

“I hate Mexican food.”

Guess what was being served?

“I think my boyfriend is drunk…”

“Can I turn the game on?”

“Oh, when are you due?”

Well the only thing due that night was the electrical bill, so unless you’re at her baby shower, do not ask a lady when she is due…

Too, too funny but all true.

I listen to the polite complaints, I watch for food left on plates. It all holds value as a visual after-action.

The truth is my wine glasses were too small and the champagne may very well have been cheap. Lesson learned.

I also take into consideration how people were raised.

My first generation, immigrant mother has often used the word “obbondanza” which is Italian for abundant. Everything must be abundant, mounded butter, mounded salad, mounded pasta, eat, eat, and eat! I once attended a dinner where the hostess prepared an absolutely delicious meal. She served each guest one portion then removed all of the food back to the kitchen. Waaaaiiittt I thought… I am a third-helping type of girl.

Rude perhaps, but as I got to know her it became evident she had been raised in a home where they were on a very tight budget and was now running her home the same way.

Another example is when (in an effort to be fancy) I started using cloth napkins. They are chic and classic, yet I failed to consider the fact that if my guest didn’t care for whatever they were eating it was going in the cloth napkin! Needless to say, I have thrown away a few good cloth napkins.

Don’t overestimate (notice I did not say underestimate) your guest’s desire to try new things. I once served liver pâté and ended up placing a small trash can next to the buffet because so many people spit it out (into my good cloth napkins)! Hysterical.

Whatever happens at your event, just remember your guests came because they like you and want to get to know you better.

Be patient and gracious and like they say in the movies, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Charcuterie Board 

Charcuterie is a French word literally meaning cold cooked meats collectively.

It references the prepared meats such as bacon, pates, hams, in other words, mainly pork products. It also is another name for delicatessens specializing in dressed meats.

A charcuterie board is a beautiful and easy way to serve guests appetizers before the main meal. While the French definition calls for specifics, I say let’s Americanize it and do what we want!

Entertaining is all about what you as a hostess are comfortable doing and this could not be any easier. Of course the first item required is some sort of board, pallet or rustic platter. If you use a serving dish or plate, then you are simply serving a meat and cheese plate – which can be delicious but not our goal here. The WOW factor is in the presentation and by selecting high quality meats and cheeses, the taste handles itself. I actually have two boards I use depending on the occasion and number invited.

My large board is 69 inches long and my smaller board is only 25 inches long. The larger I found at HomeGoods and the smaller at Pottery Barn (offers a military discount), both on sale. I NEVER buy anything full price, EVER.

I’ve also been known to lurk around housing on trash pick-up day. Don’t judge – you know you do it too. You can also purchase an actual pine or solid wood board from your home building stores (Home Depot and Lowes – both offer military discounts) and have them cut it down to a size you are most comfortable with. Check out the wood remnant box as well for a throwaway piece.

I have seen beautiful slices of wood from oak trees- a round instead of a plank. Use your imagination! A nice plank of pine is wonderful as well as an old shelf. You can stain, seal or distress and seal – it is all about what you like. Metal might be fun but potentially your food could take on a metallic taste so be selective! (Whatever you use, make sure it is sealed as you are serving food on it).

charcuterie board

This is a go-to of mine. I have my board down to a science and prepare and display some basics with only a few changes depending on season, availability and event. My basic board (using the 69 inch) consists of three to five assorted cheeses, three to five assorted cold meats, nuts, olives, artisan bread sticks, crostinis and dried fruits (apricots, dates and cranberries). You may even add a chutney or local honey to the list!

Every item mentioned can be found at your base commissary. Keep proportion in mind when displaying cheeses and meats. If you are using a six foot board then your selections must be large and abundant. Imagine serving a cookie on a dinner plate – it is proportionally not pleasing to the eye and looks hastily planned.

I purchase a blue cheese, a smoked Gouda, a sharp cheddar and some sort of out-of-the-box cheese to challenge my guest’s palate. Several hours before the event I place the cheese selections (wrapper left on) strategically spaced on my charcuterie board. Cheese must sit at room temperature for the true flavors to amplify.

Thirty minutes before the event, I display the meats which may consist of anything you find in your commissary deli. Salami, prosciutto, mortadella, roast beef, turkey and even a nice flavorful bologna.

I alternate the meat with the previously placed cheeses and then begin to fill in spaces by mounding the nuts, dried fruits and small breads and crackers. This is a finger experience so if you are serving a very large crowd, I recommend placing all the small items in accent bowls with small serving spoons that your guests can serve directly into the palm of their hands.

With smaller groups, I do not place items in bowls; I mound them as previously mentioned. This is a mix -and -mingle while grabbing your wine type service.

Remember the beauty behind this is no plates, no silverware and everything is store bought. Of course, you may add small, pretty appetizer plates and don’t forget cocktail napkins as well. This entertaining idea can be used for any sized event. The shop, your headquarters’ staff, a department, wardroom, your unit company, unit spouse’s coffee or the squadron.

It is as big or small as you would like it to be. Without fail, your charcuterie board will be the start to a truly memorable event!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie