Thursday, December 1, 2011

I Never Meant to Poison You

Dear Bashionista,

I recently went to a dinner party. The menu was fantastic - so festive! But I have to say, I felt SO BAD for the hostess. She brought out the first course, which were these great little melted cheese toasts with a carrot curry relish on top - and then one of the guests told her she's allergic to carrots. No big deal, right? Wrong. As luck would have it, the next course was risotto with carrots already mixed in, and the final course was carrot cake!

The hostess had asked people for their dietary restrictions beforehand, but I guess this girl forgot to mention it. Is there any way this could have been prevented? What would you have done?

Catherine N.

Oh, girl, I have been there. And whether the host is to blame or - in this case - is not, on an emotional level, poisoning your guests is only a shade worse than sending them home hungry and pissed at you. Here's how to avert this particular disaster:

1) Do ask, do tell.

Hosts, even if you think you know what all your friends eat, make a point of asking before you select your menu. You never know when someone is going through a vegetarian phase, or just found out they're lactose-intolerant, or had their first averse nut reaction unless you ask them. And guests, ANSWER THE QUESTION. It's true that plenty of people don't want a fuss to be made about them, but do it as a favor to the host. All she wants is to see you happily fed. And some will see your veganism as a creative challenge to rise to.

2) Isolate, don't contaminate.

This carrot fiasco sounds like a worst-case scenario - but if you aren't careful, you can contaminate an entire meal completely by accident.

Gluten and nuts are the most insidious allergens, because their dust tends to fly around the kitchen. It's a smart idea to make gluten-free dishes first on a pristine surface, then cover them when you begin cooking with gluten. Nuts kick up a lot less dust, but they are no joke - you do not want to see a guest whip out an epi-pen. Always use a fresh stick of butter for gluten-free and nut-free dishes - all it takes is one person making nut-bread toast to contaminate a stick.

It's a good policy, no matter what, to assign one serving utensil to each dish - don't mix them. It's heartbreaking going to the trouble of keeping a dish pristine, and then having it ruined in one fell swoop with the wrong ladle.

Wash your cutting boards and knives between prep for each dish - or use fresh ones. Dedicate one cutting board to fruits and vegetables, one to bread and one to meat - and preferably, use cutting boards that are dishwasher safe so that you can more easily decontaminate them.

3) Have a back-up plan.

It does not hurt to think, what if? I'm not saying you need to have shadow dishes for every eventuality, but you should keep your kitchen stocked with quick food solutions - in case you're dealing with a surprise allergy, or a souffle that just caught on fire. Vegans can eat pasta and jar sauce or beans and rice, gluten-free people can eat rice and polenta, vegetarians will eat eggs in place of a meat dish. The lactose-intolerant can be presented with a nice bowl of fruit instead of a cream-heavy dessert. And if the meal comes to an end and you sense that people are peckish, I've said it before and I'll say it again; popcorn can be your salvation. Popcorn with olive oil and salt pleases *everyone.* Butter and cinnamon sugar will make it more like dessert. And if you follow the link, peanut butter popcorn is my favorite way to get fat.


  1. Yeah, this is every hosts nightmare. I like to keep a few neutral staples on hand during every party in the even that we get an allergic, meat free or just picky person:

    Non-perishable (these things last forever!):

    Crackers - a few different types

    Homemade preserved veggies (pickles, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes - it helps to have an italian father!)

    Fancy jellies - We found this place in Nova Scotia: which is unbelievable. A bit pricey though, but will last you a while and are worth it. The horseradish jelly is awesome.

    Boxes of girl scout cookies kept in deep freeze (people go apeshit over these for some reason, whenever we put out some with desserts we made form scratch, these will invariably be eaten first).

    Fig spread - goes terrific with cheese and crackers

    Nuts! - You can roast mix nuts yourself with seasoning if you want to get fancy. Marcona almonds are especially awesome, especially if your guests have never tried them.

    Wasabi peas

    Perishables -

    Cheese - You can't go wrong keeping a nice hard cheddar and a brie (and they stay in the fridge forever).

    Preserved meats - A dry sausage is great here. Again an Italian relative is awesome here if you want homemade.


  2. Jason! These are awesome suggestions! I need to go to more parties at your house.