Our diva of entertaining suggests we spend January gathering our strength and resources for a glittering, party-filled 2016
My friend Jim Blair has inarguably the busiest social life of anyone in Kansas City. When he’s not hosting a gathering at his storied Frank Lloyd Wright house in midtown, he’s Ubering about. Often he hits three or four events in one evening. His party stamina is legendary. At 2:00 a.m. on any given Sunday, wherever Blair is, he’s chipper, clear-headed and, well, ready for another vodka.
But every January, he shuts it all down. The partying comes to a screeching halt, and he enters into a month of sobriety and relative hibernation. Everyone knows that Blair doesn’t go out in January, a fact grudgingly accepted by hosts all over town. I’ve been annoyed as anyone, over the years, at Blair’s eccentric January policy, but I’m beginning to see the wisdom in it. Maybe we would all be indefatigable hosts and guests if we took a month off the circuit. Maybe we could use the time to chill, reconnoiter, and organize ourselves and our homes for a fabulous year of party-giving. Herewith, some ideas for a productive January respite.
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Who wants my cleanse kit?
I have several friends who do a fasting cleanse every January and swear by it. A couple of years ago I spent two hundred dollars on a kit for taking a 21-day cleanse that promised to purify my body and change my life. The kit remains unopened in my closet. Who was I trying to kid? Let me know if you want it. I’ll trade it with you for one very expensive martini.
Although I lack the discipline for a draconian cleansing regimen, I do plan to cut down dramatically on carbs and alcohol in January—who doesn’t?—so much easier to do when one is not socializing. This would be another benefit of The Blair Plan. I fully expect such measures to result in renewed vim and vigor, as well as extra hours, which I will use to get my home shipshape for 2016 entertaining.
Let’s start with the kitchen
An orderly kitchen begets easy entertaining. I am not a naturally orderly person—all of my drawers and cabinets attest to that—but this has never stopped me from having people over. My January hiatus will provide the opportunity to reorganize my kitchen so I can find things more easily and actually be proud, yes proud, to have a dinner guest open my cabinets and drawers. My unruly utensil drawer will be my first step.
Professional organizers say you should empty the drawer completely, give it a scrub, then eliminate the tools and gadgets you haven’t used in a year, especially those that perform only one function. Back into the drawer go only the tools you actually use.
Oxo makes an ingenious, expandable utensil organizer with adjustable dividers that shift to accommodate all sizes of tools. I bought one at Pryde’s Kitchen and Necessities for $15, and I can’t wait for the moment I drop it into my emptied and scrubbed-out utensil drawer. It’s the little things, isn’t it?
Out with the stale
Organization experts also say we should, once a year, pull all the foodstuffs out of our cabinet, toss everything old or stale, scrub-a-dub-dub the empty shelves, then restock. This will give you lots of added space, so you can actually see what you have in your cabinets.
My spice cabinet in particular needs this treatment. Did you know dried spices start losing their potency after six to nine months? I have an unopened jar of arrowroot I’ve had since the Reagan Administration, but my spices are so plenteous and so disorganized it could take me all of January to find it. Time to purge.
Speaking of spices, my new favorite shop is Savory Spices in Brookside. They grind spices fresh and let you taste them before you buy. You can purchase many spices in quantities as low as a half ounce, so you don’t end up with a cabinet full of stale spices. In their salt assortment you’ll find a Hickory-Smoked Sea Salt that transforms a roasted potato into something out of this world. A jar of this sea salt would make a thoughtful hostess gift.
My cookbooks are a fire hazard
Like a great number of cooks, I am turning more and more to the “InterWebs” for recipes. There is an app called Paprika that makes it a breeze to find and organize online recipes. If you don’t have it, download it!
I’ll never stop buying cookbooks. I get too much inspiration from perusing them, and I love how they look stacked up in my kitchen. But I also have them stashed all over the house; many I’ve never used for a single recipe. In January, I’ll purge my cookboooks and make room for more. I plan to donate them—and some other books while I’m at it—to the BooksKC project, which benefits the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City. Call 816-751-7876 for more information.
Ruth Reichl will rev you up
Among the books I’d never give away are those by Ruth Reichl. I am reading her new one, My Kitchen Year: 165 Recipes that Saved My Life. It is being sold as a cookbook, her first in 40 years, but it is as much memoir as cookbook. Even if you don’t cook, it’s a first-rate book to read, just because the writing is so engaging. If you do cook, this is must-read for January. She takes you through all four seasons, so it will inspire and motivate you for a year of cooking. Actually, a lot of the recipes look to be a labor-intensive P.I.A., if you know what I mean, but in January, we’ll have time to tackle several of them, won’t we?
New year, new ugly footwear
When I get a rare day to myself, I love to spend it cooking in the kitchen. If you don’t have the right footwear, however, standing on your feet cooking is no fun at all. When your feet hurt, everything hurts. James Beard award-winning restaurateur Michael Smith is on his feet cooking, all day every day. I asked him what footwear he uses. “Old man shoes,” he joked. He told me he gets his shoes at Comfort Plus, and he always wears custom-made orthotic inserts. “I couldn’t live without them,” he said.
I have some ugly cooking shoes, too, in which I drop inserts I bought at E.G. Geller on the Plaza. The inserts are made by a company called Pedag and cost about 40 bucks. The first time I put them in my shoes and spent an afternoon cooking for a dinner party, I was amazed at how not only did my feet not hurt, neither did my back or my neck. You are supposed to replace your Pedag inserts every six months. Geller is closing at the end of January, so I’ll definitely get there to stock up. Maybe I’ll see you on the Plaza, and we’ll make plans for a party … in February … with Blair.
Pasta and sauce, all in one pan
- Serves four, not all that generously.
- 12 ounces dried linguine (I use Cervasi)
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- Small bunch basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for serving
- 4½ cups water
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Combine all ingredients except cheese into a 12-inch, straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 18 minutes. Divide among four bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with Parmesan.
Questions about entertaining?
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