Or- Johnny’s New Girlfriend Doesn’t Eat Red Meat
Your father had a heart attack and Mom is at a loss as to how to cut cholesterol;
Janie comes home from camp and announces that she is now a vegetarian. What do you
do? (After arguing, which only strengthens her resolve).
Or maybe Jerome brings a Bangladeshi friend home with him from school. Your visiting cousin says that his wife has celiac disease.
You probably have enough on the pantry shelves and in the refrigerator/freezer for at
least one meal, a snack and breakfast before you feel the need to run to the store.
Don’t know if the vegetarian will eat eggs and dairy? Aren’t sure if a guest eats beef? First,
Play it safe. Offer something not possibly offensive. This is where knowledge of
meatless protein comes in handy. And then, Ask! Say, (in your sweetest, but most
“Do you have any dietary restrictions?”
Not your style? Practice it. This is always a good idea, as there are many people
with health related food requirements. What ever you do, avoid asking, “Is there
anything special that we can make for you?” That will only make your guest extremely
uncomfortable. They will not want to “put you out”. Being a good host means always making your guests comfortable and never seeming to be ‘put out”. If possible, enlist the aid of the person who brought them in. Try to tailor the family’s meals to suit your guest as much as possible.
No, Janie is not allowed to dictate that the family will now avoid all animal products, but if you have a Jewish or Muslim guest, please do not serve pork, or beef if your guest is a Hindu. It is only common decency respect other people’s religious sensitivities. That is being a good person and a good host. And believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than putting on a good show, only to have the guest pick at only a few things because they cannot eat the rest. All your hard work will have been in vain, and you find out only after tearing your hair that you possibly could have gotten off easier by meeting their needs. Even when I was young, people’s conversations with me seemed to gravitate toward food. When I was about twelve a teacher, whom I had all to myself , lamented over the previous evening. Her husband’s position had required them to entertain VIP’s from some exotic locale. She had looked into their dietary do’s and don’ts , pulled out all the stops, spending a great deal of time and money creating fine canapés and sweets pleasing to their eyes and she was sure, palates. They came in, she showed off, and they thanked her very kindly, but you see, they were sorry, but they were fasting as an observance of their religion. They wouldn’t touch a morsel. And she was stuck with platters of fancy foreign finger food, frustrated.
Right after we were married, a young man who was a friend of my husband’s family came to visit.
He was a tall, strongly built, active man, whom my husband warned me was a big
eater. He was in town, staying with his brother, and was going to visit us, starting
very early the next day. I made a huge breakfast of waffles, eggs, sausage, fruit and
more, but he had had breakfast. (Husband never thought to actually invited him for
breakfast, but that is an argument already fought). Anyway, he did eat, and lunched
well, and talked about his active life , all of the sports in which he was involved. He
came back through town a couple of years later. He was going to drop in to eat a
quick lunch with us and he was leaving from our place to
drive across the country. Husband asked me to fix a large bag dinner for him to take
on the road. As I was getting dessert, (something gooey), Husband brought sports up to
him. “Oh, no, not any more. I hurt my back, and I’ve had to radically change my life!
No more sports. Only whole grain foods, no more sweets, lots of fresh
vegetables…..” I panicked for only a second… that was all the time I had. I sent them
into the living room, as I sliced fruit, grabbed a jar of dry roasted nuts, pulled raisins
and dried fruit out of the cabinet to make a platter. “This is exactly how I should eat!”
he proclaimed. I had to change some of what I’d already prepared for his road bag,
but I made it, and he was happy. Husband was happy. And I was darned
pleased with myself.
Once I just plain lucked out. The story that I will tell another time about the family of nine who dropped in from out-of-state for dinner has one part missing. Having to quickly serve 13 people, I made large pitchers of fruited iced tea mix. Unknown to me, the father of the family was allergic to corn in any form, even corn sweeteners. The mix was, fortunately, sugar sweetened.
You can’t always rely on luck, ( however, as there are no atheists in fox holes or hospital waiting rooms, I might add that I have heard more than one muttered prayer or quick sign of the cross from many otherwise unreligious cook or chef when facing a culinary crisis), you can learn to rely on yourself and your shelf. You cannot possibly be prepared to set up housekeeping for every unusual contingency, but with a little knowledge and forethought, you can keep your head when faced with unexpected dietary needs of family and friends. You can come shining through.
Next time, we will talk about fish and meatless protein combinations and what you should have in your pantry cabinets at all times.