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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stand Back, Martha Stewart - New Guide Offers Hope to Dinner Party Dummies

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I have a confession to make: I am no Martha Stewart. Crafty projects that look so cute in magazines die slow, painful deaths in my hands. Dishes that enter my oven have about a 50/50 chance of making it out alive. Forget about dinner parties - the mere thought is enough to make me break out in hives. So, when I was asked to review Easy Entertaining for Beginners by Patricia Mendez, I jumped at the chance. I mean, any book that puts the words easy and beginner in the same title as entertaining screams for a look-see from this homemaking horror show.

Mendez begins the entertaining guide with two very profound rules of thumb: Pace yourself, and Do a few things and do them well. When I think of every party I've ever stressed over (and that would be every one I've ever thrown), I realize that most of my anxiety came directly from not following these suggestions. Next time I get crazy enough to throw a party, I'm going to remember to take it slowly and not overwhelm myself with doing everything perfectly.

To encourage this pacing process, Mendez's book offers 13 complete menus for various types of parties, including children's birthday bashes, a Mother's Day tea and a men's night out. Each party idea comes with a step-by-step plan to follow. She even suggests music to go with each occasion and shortcuts to make the menus even simpler. Although there are some recipes that sound exotic (Shrimp Ceviche with Tostaditos, for example), most actually look manageable. No matter how delectable a dish sounds, I won't try a recipe if it calls for ingredients I have to look up in the dictionary. For the most part, Mendez's menus call for simple, everyday items. In short, the book contains recipes I might actually try.

Right after combing through Easy Entertaining for Beginners, I glanced through the Paula Deen magazine I bought on impulse while waiting in the checkout lane for a snowbird to sort through her mountain of coupons for every product but the ones she purchased, and I realized at once what Mendez's book is missing - personality. The writing lacks sparkle. I thought for sure the section "My First Thanksgiving" would have some funny anecdotes, but nope. Snappier prose would have made the book so much more memorable. I also wanted more color photos - I need to at least know if the dishes I make come anywhere near to looking like they are supposed to.

So, if the words "dinner party" have you quaking in your boots, you should definitely glance through this book. It needs snappier prose and more color photos to earn an A from me, but really, it's a very decent entertaining guide. Is it convincing enough to get me started on the housewarming party I've been putting off for the last 2 months? C'mon, no entertaining guide is that good.

Grade: B


  1. Thanks for the honest review! I love to cook but 'entertaining' always puts me into a spin. I think I just need more practice.

  2. Susan, I totally want to try this book out. I like to entertain, but always get stressed out so most of the time Aaron vetoes it. Maybe we just need this book! Add this to my pile. :) I have a couple books for you too, that I haven't seen you review yet. Still wanting to get together...

  3. I also enjoy Betty Crocker's Entertaining Basics--great recipes and menus as well as other great tidbits about hosting different events.


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