Let me begin by saying that anyone who invites you over for dinner is doing you a favor. Without question, hosting dinner is hard work–the shopping, the prepping, the actual cooking, plus the cleaning–and anyone who takes it upon themselves to do all of that for you deserves your gratitude. That said, sometimes somebody invites you over for dinner and then serves a meal that feels a bit, well, punishing. Often it has nothing to do with the cooking skills involved; usually it has a lot more to do with the recipe choice. Which is why I’ve decided to compile a list of ten things you should never serve at a dinner party. Avoid these ten dishes like the plague and not only will your dinner guests swoon, they’ll even help you do the dishes.
Roger Ebert used to have a column called “Movie Answer Man” where he’d answer reader questions about movies. I know because I once submitted a question that he published concerning The Royal Tenenbaums when I noticed someone in the credits with the last name Tenenbaum who I thought might have inspired the story (Ebert reached out to Wes Anderson who said there was no correlation). Seeing as I’m on a blogging kick, I thought I’d try out a Dinner Answer Man in which you can ask any food or blog related questions you want to in the comments and I’ll try to answer them all. So have at it! In the meantime, if your question is: “What’s that dish in the picture?” It’s the cauliflower gratin I made for Easter Brunch before everyone devoured it.
The New York Times recently published an article with a powerful first sentence: “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.”
I like this news because it’s not like it’s saying “all delicious things are bad for you!” It’s saying: “Hey, you can eat really delicious things, just not In-N-Out burgers and milkshakes, ok?” And though I don’t imagine I’ll be giving those up any time soon, it’s good to know that I can maintain a mostly Mediterranean diet by doing the following: pouring a bag of dried beans into a bowl of cold water before starting my day.
This past weekend I gave a lecture at Food Blog South in Birmingham, Alabama. The title of my speech was “10 Food Blog Posts That’ll Get You Traffic” and though I was slightly nervous going in–this was my first time both attending and speaking at a food blog conference–I felt validated, after it was over, by the many people who thanked me for my presentation. Turns out, after nine years of food blogging, I have something to say on the subject. What follows, then, is basically the speech that I gave with images thrown in for good measure (I didn’t use PowerPoint when I spoke, so everyone just had to look at me and my colorful shoes). Hopefully the food bloggers among you will find this helpful.
Every few weeks, an e-mail arrives in my Inbox from a law student or lawyer who’s read my About Me section and sees that I too once studied the elements of a tort and knew what kind of consideration is required for a contract. These e-mails often marvel at the fact that I made a career for myself as a food writer while simultaneously earning a law degree that now sits, gathering dust, in a frame leaning against the wall of my childhood bedroom.
“How did you do it?” is often the question and my answer is usually a shoulder shrug. The truth is that I never set out to become a food writer, I just knew that I wanted to be a writer and I wouldn’t let go of that dream no matter how hard law school tried to shake it from me.
Looking back on it now, though, I realize that, without really knowing it, I was laying the groundwork for a career as a food writer. From the books that I read, to the meals that I ate, to the posts that I posted on websites like eGullet and Chowhound, the seeds that sprouted into a full-fledged food career were all planted in law school.
Here, then, is some concrete advice for anyone unhappy in law school who wants to make it in food. With the job market being the way that it is, this advice may actually prove to be more lucrative* than anything you’re learning in class…so pay attention! [* Note: I am saying this tongue-in-cheek. In a single day, the average lawyer makes more than what the average food blogger makes in a year.]
In 2006, I graduated N.Y.U.’s dramatic writing program and moved to Brooklyn with my friend Diana. At the time, I’d been food blogging for two years and had just sold a book to Bantam/Dell that came with a pretty decent advance. Before I sold the book to Bantam, I had ads on my blog—Google Ads, BlogAds—but wasn’t generating enough money to pay rent. With the book advance, things changed. When that check came, I told my parents that I wouldn’t need their financial help anymore. I’d be able to take care of things from here on out.
And, for the most part, that’s what happened. The book advance only got me so far; at a certain point, I began making enough money—from the blog itself and other food ventures—to pay the bills. Here’s how I did that and how you might do that too.
One of the best things about being a home cook is the opportunity to show off your cooking chops to family, friends and loved ones at a dinner party. Some out there plan dinner parties meticulously; every detail is accounted for, from the crystal that’s to be used for the wine, to the palate cleanser between entrees and dessert. Others go about things much more casually: the grill is fired up, sausages and burgers and passed around on a platter, and beer is a do-it-yourself affair. Grab your own from the ice bucket.
Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the kind of dinner party that I like to throw. And after years of throwing them (almost eight years, to be precise) I’ve learned a thing or two. And for those of you who are new to throwing dinner parties, here are some things that you might be doing wrong. (Consider this a corollary to my Huffington Post piece: “10 Things That You’re Doing Wrong at Restaurants.”)
Every day I go to a coffee shop to work on my book. And every day I witness the same phenomenon: people poke their heads through the door, look at all the crowded tables, sigh a heavy sigh and leave.
I want to yell out: “Don’t leave! You’re giving up too easily!” But since most people can’t hear the thoughts in my head, they continue to march their lonely march away; and it’s for these people that I am writing this post. God willing, they’ll read it and realize there’s always a way to get a seat at a crowded coffee shop.