Introduction | Excerpt from Entertaining at Home:
As a child, while most of my friends played with dolls, or pretended to be teachers, I hosted imaginary dinner parties in my parents’ dining room. Apple juice with a touch of Sprite became Champagne, while chopped black olives served in crystal bowls doubled as caviar. If I was feeling particularly extravagant, I would layer Cool Whip over Jell-O in shallow wine glasses. Being alone in the sunlit room, admiring my creations and staring at a china closet full of treasures, filled me with a sense of pride and endless possibilities.
I especially loved holiday meals. For Thanksgiving, I would always insist that my family members wear their “fancy” clothes for dinner—my younger sisters rolled their eyes. And at Christmastime, I was all about red velvet dresses for the girls—Pappagallo, Laura Ashley, Jessica McClintock—and if a dress had a large lace collar, so much the better.
I was fortunate to grow up in a household that loved hosting family and friends. From baby showers and movie nights to Sunday lunches with the preacher, my mom and dad would invite everyone and anyone into our home. Their celebrations were never pretentious, and they always adopted a more-the-merrier philosophy. An extra plate could easily be added to any table.
In my early twenties, I met my mentor, Elizabeth Shouse. Walking into her home for the first time was otherworldly. I had never witnessed such beauty or opulence, not to mention her spectacular collection of china, silver, and crystal. A massive antique Baccarat chandelier, suspended high above the mahogany table, cast color around the room. Deep pink, raw silk drapes mirrored the color of Mottahedeh Tobacco Leaf plates on display in the china cabinet and pale pink hand-blown stemware. I quickly went from babysitter to Elizabeth’s girl Friday. From polishing silver and peeling shrimp to setting the table and pouring wine, I loved it all.
It was also during this time that I learned to cook. Each weekend I would go to the library and checkout every Junior League cookbook I could get me hands on. I worked my way through them, eventually graduating to cookbooks by Lee Bailey and Chuck Williams. However, while there was an abundance of cookbooks, entertaining books were lacking. The few that did exist became regular reading. I would photocopy every page and create large binders filled with notes.
Around the same period, I discovered Bon Appétit and became obsessed with the magazine’s “Entertaining with Style” feature, produced by Bettie Bearden Pardee. I savored every word and clipped my favorite columns. Recently I came across a notebook filled with my handwritten notes and an outline for an entertaining book. Even though a dream, at twenty-one years old, I could have scarcely imagined that one day I would write my own tome.
Throughout the years I have been lucky to glean wisdom and inspiration from many talented people. However, this is not meant to be a volume on how to entertain properly, but rather a glimpse of real people at home nurturing friends and family. It is my hope that it is as much aspirational as it is inspirational. Ronda Carman
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