How To Be A Good Dinner Guest (And Get Invited Back)

So I was cruising around the net, and reading blogs the other day and on Slashfood, I found a link to this Seattle Times article: Non appetit: Dietary restrictions can complicate social dining.

Basically, it is about the fact that because of greater prevalance in food allergies and awareness of diseases such as celiac in the US, and the growing number of people on various versions of a vegetarian diet, hosting or attending a dinner party has become an experience fraught with no small amount of issues and anxieties.

For hosts, it used to be about choosing the perfect mixture of guests, a sock-em-dead menu with the perfect wine(s) and a scrummy dessert. Now, other factors have come into play which make an already complicated social event a little bit more difficult.

From my perspective as someone who cooks for people a lot, I have a philosophy, and it is a simple one: I cannot please everyone all the time.

When it comes to health issues like food allergies, I -will not- play games or monkey around. That was beaten into my head in culinary school–that if a server comes to you and tells you that someone at table 11A has a food allergy, you -damned well- had best pay attention and if you cannot be certain that your food doesn’t contain a speck of whatever it is that they can’t eat, you’d best tell that server to hightail it on back to the table and tell the guest to please not order that item, because no cook anywhere, wants to be responsible for killing someone. And that is how dire some food allergies are. They can kill. End of story.

I don’t mess with that. So, if I am cooking for someone for whom I have not cooked in the past, I always ask, “Are there any foods you are allergic to?”

I also will not mess with celiac disease, which is essentially a genetically-linked disorder that is a severe form of gluten intolerance. I have a friend who has it, and I have watched her suffer for over a decade through incorrect diagnoses, poor health, and not being able to tolerate or eat anything. Now that she has the correct diagnosis, and is healther than she has been in years now that she avoids gluten, I will be damned if I feed her something that is going to make her sick. Celiac disease is the same thing as a food allergy in my book–not to be questioned by a host, or ignored, but to be taken seriously, because it is related to health.

I also will not mess with religious prohibitions.

I have a Muslim friend, and she will obviously not eat pork or drink alcohol. No problem. When she comes over, I will cook pork, but only if I am cooking other things that she can eat. She isn’t so strict that she will not eat from a kitchen where pork has been cooked. When she comes to eat, I make my pie crusts with butter instead of butter and lard. No big deal. It is still good, and she can eat, and we are all happy. End of story.

If a friend is a vegetarian, I make vegetarian options. No worries.

But.

There comes a point when it all gets to be too weird, too much or too strange, and I will throw my hands up in the air and say, “Screw it,” and probably never ask a person back.

If someone is on a low-cholesterol diet, or they are avoiding fat or salt or they are on Atkins or whatever weight loss plan, or they only want to eat organic foods, or local or sustainable foods (though, in truth the latter is not a problem at my house) and I am giving a big party and they are coming–and they give me the list of things they avoid that while it may be for their health, it isn’t a case where eating the restricted items will kill them–I will not be as likely to honor their requests.

I also don’t tend to honor simple food dislikes, either. “I don’t eat red meat because its icky,” or “I don’t like mushrooms” will not fly very far in my house, especially if I am already making concessions for people who have real food problems which will either kill them or get them in the bad graces of God.

I mean, look, I know that both Zak and Dan don’t much like mushrooms (Zak is of the belief that because mushrooms grow in poop, and poop is unclean, that therefore mushrooms are also unclean), but the rest of us do, so I -will- put them in a pasta dish, and they both will pick them out and toss them into everyone else’s bowls as they eat.

No harm, no foul.

And neither of them whines about it in the least. (Okay, they do whine now and again, but mostly in a kidding way. It is certainly not meant to be taken seriously, and I never do.)

But if I had invited someone over who only wants to eat sustainably raised organic food or whatever, (someone quoted in the Seattle Times story was like that) and nothing I cooked was that, and so they wouldn’t eat–yeah, I would be offended. That would be rude. I also think it would be rude of them to tell me their preferences before they accept the invitation, too, because, as far as I am concerned, preferences do not have to be honored, while truly dire restrictions do.

One meal of non-organic food will not kill anyone.

One meal of something with some fat in it will not destroy a person’s cholesterol count. One meal that includes carbs will not jeopardize someone’s success at losing weight the Atkins way. Picking around a food that one doesn’t like has never caused a person lasting harm.

However, acting like a spoiled brat who won’t eat this or that, or making demands on a host that are unreasonable, might ensure that one is not invited back for dinner again.

There are solutions to these problems. There are ways to be a good guest, even if you really can eat barely anything because if you do you will swell up and die for real.

If you really are that allergic to everything, and you explain it gently to your host, and then offer to bring a dish or two that you -know- you can eat, you will go a long way toward gaining their respect and eternal gratitute. Some hosts might be offended (and if they are, they are the ones acting like spoiled brats, and maybe you shouldn’t accept that invitation anyway) , but not me. That tells me that you are serious about your food issue and will take responsibility for it, and that makes me happy. That gets you invited back.

If one wants to invite a bunch of people who all have various health issues, religious dietary restrictions, lifestyle choices and food preferences, then one -could- instead of having a formal dinner party, make it a potluck. Then, everyone brings at least one thing that they and their family can eat, so that no one goes hungry. Of course, one runs the risk that no one can or will eat each other’s food, but well, that is probably better than having the host tear out her hair and run sobbing from a kitchen which she has set on fire in a screaming fit of despair.

But with me, I am cool with it. When I have a lot of people over, and I am cognizant of all of the deadly food problems, I usually just make an extremely varied menu that is wide-ranging enough that pretty much everyone has something that they can eat and enjoy on the table.

And if there are a couple of people picking bits of this or that out of something and setting it aside, I don’t sweat it. That is okay. They will live.

And really, if I hear any complaints about not liking this or that or another thing, I will generally ignore it, and perhaps make a note never to invite that person again.

But I rarely have that problem anyway.

Maybe it is because I hang out with people who don’t assume that they are such the center of the universe that a person inviting them over for dinner has to cater to their every food neurosis or whim, no matter how trivial it is.

Yeah, I think that is why I have never had that problem: I only hang out with cool people who know how to act when they go over to another person’s home.

(Which of course, makes me wonder about everyone else in the world–where did they grow up that making trivial dinner demands on a host is considered okay?)

30 Comments

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  1. Hey Barbara,
    Extremely well written and thought provoking. Sometimes, tolerance does get taken for granted and how far can one go to please all guests is a matter of much thought. For eg. I’m vegetarian, and I don’t cook meat either. But when there is a party at home, and there are some guests who’d feel a meal incomplete without some meat thrown in, I order out the meat bit. I feel that it’s a big step for me to be even seeing meat in my kitchen.
    I have also been to parties where there have been hardly any options for vegetarians-esp. one St.Patricks day dinner while I stayed in the US, everybody on my table had to wait to get started -for the server to get my specially made tasteless pasta, that despite having told them my food preferences in advance.

    You do seem to be an extremely considerate host- and good guests must never burden hosts with their fad diets or food idiosyncrasies. I totally agree with you on that…

    Comment by Nandita — August 18, 2006 #

  2. This reminds me of a time when we had a big division dinner at a fancy restaurant here in San Diego. One of our nurses stated she was a vegetarian – vegan to boot. Not a problem. She was part of our group and we wanted her to be happy and to attend – vegetarian dinner was ordered. It wasn’t vegan enough for her so she drank instead (alcohol I guess was OK) and spent the evening with her head in the toilet. She lost her credibility after that.

    Like you, I will honor any food requirement that means life or death. Food based on religious beliefs should also be honored. However, I have some people around my life that use food as a controlling entity. They aren’t fun to be around and don’t last long at my house. There is a degree of reasonableness – after that it gets annoying.

    Comment by Maureen — August 18, 2006 #

  3. I honor allergies and religious restrictions. However I never asked one of my friends over for dinner, ever. She was of the Jain faith. Not only are they vegan, they don’t eat anything that grows under the soil. So potatoes, carrots, and ginger were out. And, certainly no mushroom! To top it all, she was fussy about the vegetables she did eat. And, she would not eat food that had been cooked the previous day. She had also told me once, and it stayed with me, that she would prefer not to eat food cooked or stored in the same refrigerator as any meat or eggs but she does, “out of shame” (can’t translate it any better than that). The one time that I did invite her, it was to an all veggie cookout at a park for my daughter’s 5th birthday. I asked someone else to get food that she would/could eat. If I had such severe restrictions on my diet, I would either carry my own food or eat before I went. But she was such a wonderful person that invariably someone would ask: “Is S coming? What are you going to do? If you like, I could bring something that she can eat so you don’t have to cook specially for her!” I know cos I carried stuff she could eat to many parties. I made sure that it was from freshly bought veggies – that’s as far as I would go!

    When I cooked for my Muslim friends, I would ask them to get hold of halal meat for me. That way everyone was happy!

    I agree with Maureen that it does get annoying after a while.

    Comment by Manisha — August 19, 2006 #

  4. Interesting post, as always. You may not see it as such, but you DO go a long way to accommodate people’s needs / wishes, it’s just that you draw the line where you see the end of kindness and the start of pickiness.

    My friend A is a vegetarian, her mother will go way out of her way to make something special for A’s husband (even to “I made pie for A’s birthday because A’s husband LOVES pie,” never mind that while A likes pie, she really loves a frosted cake with candles …) but serves pepperoni pizza, telling A, “Oh just pick off the meat, dear.”

    I guess A’s mother finds A’s vegetarian choices as ‘picky’ where you do not.

    Comment by Alanna — August 19, 2006 #

  5. I come at this from a different direction. That of the guest. Traditionally, if you are offered the honor of dining with someone then it is hideously rude to refuse to eat of their bread – meaning you eat everything put in front of you gladly. That evolved somewhat in more modern times to where it was acceptable to decline an invitation to eat – but still, once accepted you ate at least a taste of what was put in front of you.

    Even when I was a vegetarian – which was a nine year period – I woudl eat meat if it was cooked for me when I was a guest and particularly when teh cook didn’t know. The sin of my rideness in declining to eat is still greater than the sin of my eating meat IMHO.

    I completely agree about exceptions for allergies. I even agree about real religious exclusions (although I have trouble understanding them myself).

    But I have little patience for ‘preferences’ – if you don’t like it go make your own ^%#$^& dinner! And I am horrified at the level of entitlement shown in people who can’t accept hospitality graciously.

    Just my two cents.

    Comment by Owen — August 19, 2006 #

  6. That was a great post! I couldn’t agree more, although I also agree wholeheartedly with Owen. I would never show up at a friend’s house for dinner and start to pick it apart because I don’t like different components of it.

    When I was pregnant I couldn’t eat meat- it was a serious revulsion thing. And we got invited over to someone house, and I had just assumed that I had told them about my meat aversion. Well, I missed and they served up hamburgers. It was one of the hardest meals I ever ate, but I loaded up that burger with so many condiments and vegetables to try and hide the meat from myself- but by golly, I did manage to eat it and be enthusiastic about it to my hosts.

    I will say though, that my closest friends always appreciate it when I remember that they don’t care for mushrooms or peppers. In the cases of my closest friends I will often times serve those components on the side for everyone else to enjoy.

    Comment by Erika — August 19, 2006 #

  7. Barbara–great post. I totally agree with everything you say here. I’ve had some of the same experiences except I used to really be all about getting people’s approval so, without going into big long rants, let’s just say that now I look back and realize how much extra trouble I used to go to accommodating NEEDLESSLY people’s food preferences. Soemtimes I’d make 2 or 3 separate meals. I also had an experience I’ll blog about sometime where when we had a small lake cabin, the wife of one couple in particular would dictate to me what I was allowed to cook for the entire group all weekend, and she refused to help becaue “it’s your cabin”. Okay, so obviously she was a jerk and I put up with that crap for years too long but I’ve finally gotten to the point you are where there’s a difference between a food allergy and a food preference, and being loving or rude guest.

    And by the way, Owen, I have to say of your comment that I have nothing but respect and admiration for your attitude of eating whatever a host prepares for you. That’s how I was raised. You eat, with graciousness, whatever your host provides and I commend you for going the extra mile even if it meant going way outside your vegetarian preferences. We used to live in a small town for a couple of years where there were so many degrees of food philosophy that I gave up entertaining for most of the time we lived there. It was too much of a nightmare to accommodate everyone’s food and their disdain of people who eat what they don’t. It wasn’t worth it. And that’s the point where everyone loses out on friendship and happy memories of being together.

    Comment by Glenna — August 19, 2006 #

  8. Very interesting. I think my own attitude about cooking for people is very similar to yours. I try to cook things that will please my guests, but there are limits.

    As for myself, I agree with Owen that you eat what the host serves, unless it’s going to make you deathly sick or kill you. Last night I went to a friends house for dinner. She served potaoes baked with fresh rosemary. I normally don’t eat potatoes because even though I’m not teachnically “on a diet” any more, I feel much better when I follow the low-glycemic eating plan of South Beach. I ate about half of the potato and commented on how good it was. Didn’t hurt me at all, and avoided making her feel bad that she had served me the “wrong” thing. I think it’s just good manners.

    Comment by kalyn — August 19, 2006 #

  9. It looks like I struck a chord here–great comments, everyone.

    Nandita–If I were a vegetarian, I might cook meat for my carnivorous friends, but then again, I might not. Most meat eaters do not eat meat exclusively, and can do with eating some more vegetables anyway. Besides, even though I am omnivorous, I tend to like vegetables more, so I tend to cook a lot of vegetable dishes, especially when I cook Indian suppers. Indian veggie dishes are just so good and everyone, even the most carnivorous of our friends loves them and eats them heartily.

    There is no excuse to go to a catered dinner in a restaurant, and them being told beforehand that you were a vegetarian, -still- having to wait for your food. No excuse. That is awful.

    That said, I will say that a lot of Americans have no clue how to make tasty vegetarian food. They seem to think that flavorlessness is a hallmark of vegetarian food, but as you and I know, that is completely not the case.

    I applaud you for trying to make all of your friends happy and comfortable!

    I can’t remember who was talking about the vegan who didn’t eat vegetables. I think it was a relative of mine–but I was shocked. A vegan who doesn’t eat vegetables is just a person with food controlling tendencies–an excuse for anorexia, as far as I am concerned. Sounds similar to your alcohol swilling vegan, Maureen!

    Manisha–A Jain who is picky on top of that restricted of a diet? Wow.

    Maybe she eats air…..;-)

    Alanna–that mother seems to hold her son-in-law in higher regard than her daughter, which leads me to believe that there is an underlying issue from childhood happening. Mothers and daughters can have really wonky relationships.

    You are right–I do go out of my way to please people, but only to a certain point. Sometimes I will cook mushrooms on the side, and I really like to cook things that I particularly know my friends and family like, to the point that I take requests (please make hot and sour soup and steamed buns, PLEASE!) , but I don’t tie myself in a knot over frivolous things.

    I think it was too many years as a personal chef catering to every customer’s weird whim that broke me of that….

    Owen–you are like me. I was taught, growing up, that when you go to someone’s house and they serve you food, that it is the best they have to offer, and that it is grievious insult not to eat it, even if you don’t like it. So, out of politeness, I have eaten some pretty awful things in my time, while smiling and thanking the host vociferously.

    I agree with you that it is a great sin to not eat food proffered in good fellowship.

    I am happy to know that Anthony Bourdain agrees with us on that score–he has less patience with an entitled sense of pickiness than we do, I think!

    Erika–hear, hear! I agree.

    And, yeah, I am also having a serious meat revulsion during this pregnancy. This didn’t happen with Morganna, but with Kat, this time around–I get nauseous if I just smell most meats cooking, and can only really easily eat ground meat–probably because one eats that well-done. This is very odd for me, since I prefer rare to nearly raw meat, but I cannot stomach the odor of it.

    But, I still cook steak for Zak and Morganna, and watch them eat it. And if I was at someone’s home, and they made meat and didn’t know, I would eat a small portion of it, and then fill up on potatoes or salad or whatever other vegetables were in evidence!

    Glenna–I know people like the lady at the cabin. They aren’t my friends, and I wouldn’t cook for them, but I have heard them speak. What an asanine, rude sense of entitlement these folks have! I wonder how their mammas raised them!

    Kalyn–I totally get you on the potato. One potato at one meal will not ruin your health. A little bit of butter on the pasta will not kill someone’s cholesterol count, nor give them instant heart disease.

    One bite of peanut might kill someone who is allergic, and a bit of soy sauce that has wheat in it (only tamari is completely wheat free) can actually cause severe pain and illness in someone with celiac disease, so I will not play with that. But otherwise–people need to just chill out, eat a tiny bit of their “forbidden food” and just be amiable.

    It isn’t that hard!

    Comment by Barbara — August 19, 2006 #

  10. I’m allergic to grapes. I’ve found that restaurants are far worse about accommodating the allergy than friends hosting a dinner party. Many times I have combed the menu to find something I can probably eat, explained to the waitperson that I am allergic to grapes, and then been made ill because there were raisins cooked in the sauce and then picked out before serving, or raisins tucked into the salad. I think most restaurants equate a rare allergy with picky eater. Even my wine-snob foodie friends that can’t imagine cooking without wine in some form can deal with making something, even if it’s just the vegetable dish, in a way that avoids inadvertent poisonings.

    Comment by selena — August 19, 2006 #

  11. It seems a lot of people still see vegetarianism as an unreasonable preference. I have been a vegetarian for 13 years, and if I were to eat even a small amount of meat, it would make me very ill. My own mother-in-law would “accidentally” serve me meat and act suprised when I got sick. We finally had to refuse invitations to eat at her house. Other people have done this as well. I’m a lot more hesistant to accept a dinner invitation because of how often I’ve been told “oh, it only had a little meat in it” etc, when I wondered why I was so ill. Some people even see it as a joke – feeding meat to the vegetarian. I don’t understand it.

    I’ve also been diabetic for a little over a year. While most of us don’t expect a special diet (and each diet is only good for one specific kind of diabetic), I do need to know how many carbohydrates are in the food. I don’t expect the host to do anything beyond maybe saving the packaging or being able to tell me what the ingredients are, but you’d be surprised how many people get snippy about it. This is also not a lifestyle choice and I certainly don’t want people to go out of their way or anything.

    So, I do agree. I do wish more hosts, even if they don’t respect vegetarianism, would realise that people who don’t eat any meat can actually get sick from it. I don’t have the option of “picking the meat out” or eating it anyway if something happens, but I also don’t raise a fuss about it if it does.

    Comment by Lili — August 19, 2006 #

  12. I wonder if people are now so used to eating in restaurants, where they expect every food whim to be catered to, that they expect the same thing when they dine in people’s homes? (Though, honestly, I try to show restraint even when dining out. I might ask for veggies instead of french fries, or ask for a sauce on the side, but if I have to rewrite the recipe for a dish to get something I like, I pick another dish.)

    I don’t understand people who feed meat to vegetarians. In this day and age, I’d think most accomplished cooks would have a few vegetarian dishes in their repertoire. I have a lot of vegetarian dishes in my repertoire, but, like Barbara, I’m an omnivore who really likes veggies.

    I do remember hosting a dinner party which included a vegetarian, someone on the Atkins diet, and 2 people with lactose intolerance. I gave up on trying to find a single dish that everyone at the table could eat. We cooked chicken, black beans, and sauteed veggies, put out a variety of tortillas and condiments, and did a “make your own taco” party. Everyone was happy.

    Comment by spaceling — August 20, 2006 #

  13. Okay, can I just say this–people who feed folks who have been eating vegetarian for years are either just ignorant (and willfully so), cruel, selfish or obnoxious.

    It doesn’t take a rhodes scholar to learn that the human digestive system undergoes a change if one eats only vegetable matter for a period of years, and that eventually meat will no longer be tolerated by that digestive system. One need only do a tiny bit of research to find out that this is a FACT, not a fantasy made up by some “picky” vegetarian.

    Too many people do not take vegetarian diets seriously, and so they just think it is “cute” to trick vegetarians into eating meat.

    That is just twelve kinds of wrong. That is a bad host issue, not a bad guest issue. I’d be tempted, if someone did it to me to puke on their shoes, just to show them how real it is.

    That is so awful.

    Spaceling–I agree–I will often do a buffet style “make your own” meal sort of thing if I have folks of different dietary needs all eating together. It works out.

    That is why I like entertaining with Indian food so much–one can make such a varied menu that there is bound to be something for everyone!

    Comment by Barbara — August 20, 2006 #

  14. Well, I for one can speak about being blessed by being at Barb’s table more than once. She knows I can’t eat bird (health reasons- aparently I am alergic to something in grown birds, eggs do not bother me at all and all organic, free range, gets weekely therapy session chickens are the worst!). She makes apreciated allowances for me. I usualy get pig instead (Yea Pig!)

    Then there is cilantro -ie ditch weed, soap weed, aka “that nasty %&@*”. The answer here is simple: Suck it up cupcake. I am not alergic to it so therefore I have to deal. No problem and I try to keep the whine to a minimum. Besides when she cooks if one thing has cilantro in it there are susualy 5, 6,or 7 other things well worth eating!

    Well, least I will eat the pork and mushrooms, its hard work but someone needs to take up the slack for Zak and the others ;)

    Comment by Bryian — August 20, 2006 #

  15. This posting has kinda hit the fears that I’m trying to deal with lately. On Monday, my doctor informed me that I must do a low-fat Vegetarian diet (Ornish) because my liver was 90% fat (Diabetes and my body not processing food correctly not really diet induced. And this was biopsy on the lobe they removed, not just a general “it looks like.”) Luckily I like veggie meals (we eat a few a week), but this change to a major low fat one has got me a bit nervous I must admit. I don’t want to put anyone out, or stress them out over feeding me. I can do that well enough by myself, thank you. :D

    I am worried about how my MIL will handle this when the holiday invitations are offered. She is one of those that is on Weight Watchers (I was too) and lives on the Veggie Soup and Salads instead of what I like to call “Food.” :) Anyway I have no problem bringing something I can eat, but she’s one who wants you to eat everything (even while on WW and she had even paid for a 10 meeting pass, she was still giving me food even when I said no.) I am not looking forward to that first meal, I must admit.

    I am also worried that no one will want to eat here anymore either. I was known for my cooking (and was a cook for a while), and with a picky family on my side I’m not sure that I’ll be cooking for anyone but my husband anymore, and that really saddens me. :(

    Oh well, I guess we’ll see what happens. Ornish starts tomorrow (I already had my menu and foods bought for this week).

    Comment by JJ — August 20, 2006 #

  16. I truly enjoyed reading your take on what having people over for dinner with food intolerances can be like. Even though I have celiac disease, I completely agree that sometimes it just gets to be too much for the host/hostess to deal with. Those of us who live with it day to day find it no problem whatsoever, but those people who have to find a way to exclude gluten from their menu for the first time ever can find the whole situation mind-boggling. But I have to say — the people in my life who continue to have me over for dinner are precious to me! I appreciate everything they do to make sure there is no gluten in the meal. And those are the friends that will be with me forever. :)

    Comment by Kathy — August 20, 2006 #

  17. Three cheers, Barbara. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Here’s a story about hospitality and graciousness, and lessons learned: Many years ago I worked for a study-abroad program. A group of our American students arrived, after traveling upriver, in a small remote village in Colombia. The host families had gone out of their way to provide a dinner they felt was worthy of their guests. The dinner was meat, a rare offering in those parts, but some of the vegetarian students refused to eat it. None had allergies or religious prohibitions against eating meat, by the way. There was no alternative meal; after all, they were upriver in the jungle. Their refusal of the meal proferred was interpreted as a snub by the hosts, and the following year, our student group was not invited back.

    Comment by Lydia — August 20, 2006 #

  18. Great Post!

    I’m a picky eater and unless asked, keep my mouth shut. Sometimes I’m suprised by what I thought I didn’t like and ended up thinking was really tasty!

    As for being a host, I’ve gone to extremes to make people really happy and it was crazy. Now, I plan my menu, then plan my guest list based on what I know from my friends. You’re vegan..alright, way to challenge me! And it was a great party…the non-vegan friends were a little put off until they tasted the food!!!! They loved it. But I know that my vegan friend won’t be invited to Thanksgiving when nearly everything has butter or stock in it. And that’s good.

    I’ve also been to BBQ parties where the host says, I’m providing the following side dishes and condiments and beverages. The grill will be ready at X time, bring your own entree. WORKS WONDERS!

    Cheers!

    Comment by Scott — August 21, 2006 #

  19. I usually ask my guests if they have any allergies or foods they can’t (as opposed to won’t) eat. But I won’t tailor a meal around the fussiest person (i.e. make a meal with no mushrooms, no spices, etc). I generally cook what I want and offer a lot of choice so no one feels left out. My friends mostly eat everything – but for example, if I were having my Brahmin Hindu friends over I wouldn’t cook meat – because I know that my other friends would happily eat whatever I make that was veg. And I don’t cook spicy food or dairy for my mom, but I do have some fishes on the table that ARE spicy or may have dairy for myself.

    It’s flexible. I certainly honor religious preferences or allergies, but the rest – not so much…

    TTotally agree with you about “kids food” but feel unqualified to weigh in much as I am not a parent.

    Comment by Diane — August 21, 2006 #

  20. I find Lydia’s comment on the vegetarians in South America interesting. If they had been vegetarians for religious reasons, would it have been less rude for them to refuse meat? Why is a religious dietary restriction more worthy of respect than a decision based on personal ethics?

    If I went to South America, I’d try to put myself in a situation where I could be procuring and cooking my own food, because I can’t really bring myself to eat meat (and I know from experience that it will make me sick even if I don’t know that I’m eating it). What was rude was not familiarizing themselves with local customs ahead of time, preparing themselves for the offer, and figuring out how they could take care of themselves without insulting their hosts.

    Comment by Brenda — August 22, 2006 #

  21. I guess that as cooks and hostesses, we all have our own limits as to how far we will go to accommodate preferences, as opposed to medical necessity-which I assume anyone will accomodate, if they are alerted. (By “medical necessity”, I mean things like genuine severe allergies and celiac disease).

    Personally, I don’t find anyone’s religious requirements more compelling than any other personal preference …but if I really like folks and want to entertain them personally, I’ll accomodate. For a big event, though, they’ll just have to suck it up, and eat whatever won’t trouble their consciences.

    Personally, I’m willing to make sure that vegetarians have a substantial main course to call their own.But this is really a matter of my own comfort-my daughter and her husband are vegetarians-if I cook for them, I want them to have a good time. Also,there are plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from that I like- I don’t miss meat and fish…for a couple of weeks at a time, anyway.

    But I really think this should be approached from the perspective of the guest-as guests , courtesy requires that we make as few requests as possible of our hosts, keep an open mind, and try things.I know that some people cast their diets, or personal tastes as “allergies”-self -diagnosed, and I think that is cheesy in the extreme.Nor would I ask someone else to make vegetarian food for my kids.

    Comment by lindy — August 22, 2006 #

  22. Hey Barbara! Love your site! I have a question,and was told you could answer it for me. I just this year planted my first Lakota squash, and then I had to move and the garden was neglected. The new residents brought me the only Lakota squash that grew (just one!!!), and I would like to know how to cook it. Any suggestions? Thank you, Cindy

    Comment by Cindy Gordon — August 25, 2006 #

  23. Cindy–Lakota squash is a lovely winter squash that cooks very similar to a hubbard or acorn squash. That means you can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and bake it with some butter, salt and maple syrup in the cavity until it is tender and come out with a delicious side dish. You can add fresh or frozen cranberries into the cavity, along with black walnuts and pecans and make an even tastier side dish, with the tartness of the cranberries contrasting well with the sweetness of the squash, and the earthy nuts making a great counterpoint. All of the ingredients but the butter, by the way, would then also be ones that Native Americans would have used to make their squash.

    You can also make a nice pureed soup out of the squash. You can either bake it plain until it is soft and scoop out the flesh and then take onions, a tiny bit of garlic and maybe some smoky chiles like chipotle, and saute these with either some bacon fat, olive oil or butter, until they are fragrant. Add some chicken or veggi stock or broth, and simmer the base of the soup until fragrant. Add some sherry if you have it, and then add the squash, and simmer a bit longer. You can add some carrots and celery to the onion mixture–but the point is to simmer until all the veggies are soft. Then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup and add a bit of cream, creme fraiche or Mexican crema or sour cream. (If you add sour cream, do not bring the soup back to a boil.)

    Reduce until it is as thick as you like, or thicken with roux. Salt and pepper to taste, and you can serve it with a sprinkling of whatever fresh herbs you like. You can season it with a dash of nutmeg, some cinnamon, some curry powder or more chiles. You can sprinkle a very fine dice of sweet raw bell peppers or roasted bell peppers over it. There are so many ways to present sqash soup–oh, tiny dice of raw apples is great, too, now that I think on it! (You can add cooked apples to the soup as well.)

    Or, to make the soup, you can cut the squash into chunks, scrape out the innards, peel it and boil it in the soup base. That works, too–you just have to be careful with the peeling–the rind is very tough. I have always just baked it first, and then added it to the soup base.

    Now, you are making me want squash!

    Another way to make it is squash and apple casserole–a vegan dish I learned years ago.

    Mix together about 1 cup of tahini with about 1/2 cup of maple syrup until it is well blended. Peel and cut into a medium dice a Lakota squash, and about four or five good apples, all cored. Oil a baking dish and preheat your oven to about 375. Put sqash and apple cubes into the dish, and pour the tahini mixture over it. Mix together a bit, then sprinkle with some dried cranberries and sliced almonds, and bake covered for about forty minutes, until the squash is tender. Uncover and allow the top to brown for about five to ten minutes, and then serve.

    Very tasty stuff.

    Comment by Barbara — August 25, 2006 #

  24. Thank you so much! Never had such quick and thorough replies to anything before ever! I will cook it tonight, I think with the apples in the oven. (drooling on my keyboard here!) You have a great day, and thanks again! Cindy

    Comment by Cindy Gordon — August 25, 2006 #

  25. We are basically the same as you, Barbara. But we do cater a little to people’s dislikes… by asking in advance if there is anything that they can’t or won’t eat. As long as the list isn’t long, this is no problem. We look upon it as a challenge.

    If they say they don’t like brussel sprouts, we may still make brussel sprouts but we’ll also make sure that there is an alternative and encourage any dissenters to try brussel sprouts one more time. (We have had converts….)

    And I know what you mean about celiac disease. My father was diagnosed as celiac many many years ago so we are already used to dealing with that (not the easiest thing for me, being the bread maker in the family – heh, there’s a reason that wheat is used primarily. It really IS the best thing for bread making. But with SO many alternatives, it’s not really that difficult after all and one can’t live on bread alone….)

    As for the ones who say they can’t eat onions or garlic or butter because those things disagree with them OR the self-diagnosed celiacs who claim that they can eat bread if it’s made with spelt OR the ones who don’t like anything they’ve never even tried before, well, ummmmm, they probably shouldn’t come to our house unless they would like to be mocked mercilessly….

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — August 25, 2006 #

  26. Really liked your views. As a vegetarian living in the Philippines (where being vegetarian is completely unheard of), I struggle everytime I attend a dinner/official do/lunches with colleagues & friends.

    I’d go really hungry from eating cold potato salad or ice cream as maincourse. So now I just eat before I go out to dine – that way I know I won’t die of hunger. And I dont go for weekly lunches anymore – it is too much of an imposition on the group to get them to find a place that serves vegetarian food that is not astronomically priced (Atleast in the are where I work). I had to sit down and talk to my boss about this (because team bonding is very big here) and explain to her that this probably for the best! I hope they understood.

    However, whenever I call them over for dinner, I ensure that there is lots of non-veg food to choose from.

    My husband gets constantly irritated about my being picky – but I have never had meat ALL my life, and I am definitely not going to start now. But sometimes I feel so sorry for myself, hungry most of the time when I supposed to be pigging out at ‘dinners’! :-( Wish we had more Barbaras out here in Manila .. :-)

    Comment by Sandhya — August 26, 2006 #

  27. I agree with you that a quick question the first time you are cooking for someone is all that is needed to determine allergies or dietary requirements. No need to go overboard or you run the risk of embarrassing someone – maybe even yourself!

    Comment by risingsunofnihon — August 28, 2006 #

  28. [...] This is a well-considered and mature approach to handling the challenging diets of friends-and-family, and I’m totally adopting it. It’s way better than “damn you, I am making cheeseburgers.” [...]

    Pingback by Raven Swallows the Sun » Food & AGON — June 21, 2007 #

  29. Ok, I read your blog entry and agree. But here’s the unanswered question…what if a guest offers to bring something and the host emphatically says “no!” For example, if you offer to bring a bottle of wine–well maybe that’s the guests favorite bottle of wine. Why can’t a guest bring a beverage that they would enjoy, especially if it might not be present at the party. Or a favorite beer or carbonated fruit juice they like to drink. What’s the etiquite on that and is it polite or gracious of the hostess to forbid it?? If the host prohibits it then it becomes (in my opinion) more of a regimented controlled “get togeather” rather than a fun shin-dig for friends to catch up. PS- the hostess isn’t refusing the offer for religious reasons.

    Drew Baker (aka, “perplexed”)

    Comment by Drew Baker — August 15, 2008 #

  30. Hey Barbara,
    I look up to your attitude as a hostess,although I am finicky.I have a question for you.If one of your guests were high class and only wanted to eat gourmet food,and so,they scoff at your menu for not being high class enough for them,what would you do in that situation?

    Comment by Christy — September 28, 2008 #

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