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GOURMANDISE

>Back to Reality

You can tell the holidays are over when the new books published turn from glitzy to basic. Case in point: "Cheap, Fast, Good!" by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross (Workman, $13.95). These are the authors of the former Desperation Dinners newspaper column.

The most important principle the authors stuck to when compiling this book follows: Saving money in the kitchen is as simple as one word, they say, and that word is "cook." When they added up the amount of money, they spent in restaurants (including fast food restaurants and pizza delivery) they were shocked. "The minute you walk through the kitchen door to start dinner you're automatically saving money," they say. And "the fewer prepped foods we buy, the more money we pocket."

So they will give you recipes for the likes of Onion Chopped Steak with easy Gravy (they do stoop to using brown gravy mix) and Spinach Pesto Pasta with Chicken. With a little preplanning these dishes go together quickly.

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>Party Rules

Sure, the holiday season is drawing to a close but it may not be too late to touch up on party behavior. This time our august source is none other than Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, who could throw a mean dinner party if she so chose.

Here, from a tablet on view during the recent exhibit at the Art Gallery of Toronto are some of her rules of behavior at the affairs. (The original Russian is translated in a handout for visitors.)

Catherine's party room was also outfitted with a table that rose up and down from the kitchens below so that the servants didn't have to be present during these affairs -- that's a little luxury we'll all have to forgo.

* "All ranks shall be left outside the doors, similarly hats and particularly swords."

* "Be merry but neither spoil nor break anything, nor indeed gnaw at anything."

* "Speak with moderation and not too loudly, so that others present have not an earache or headache."

* "Eat well of good things, but drink with moderation so that each should be able always to find his legs on leaving these doors."

* "If any shall infringe the above, on the evidence of two witnesses for any crime, each guilty party shall drink a glass of cold water, ladies not excepted and read a page from the 'Telemachida' out loud." (The Telemachida was a contemporary Russian poem considered tedious and long-winded.)

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>Quotable

"If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all."

--the late comedian Joey Adams

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