Restaurant Etiquette: Children in the Dining Room

As the classic 1980’s ballad goes, children are the future. And there are many things that we ought to teach them well, one of which is how to co-exist in a shared space with other people.

Some of my favorite guests in restaurants are precocious little gourmands, but there are some things that adult companions of children would do well to keep in mind when dining out:

1The waitstaff are not childcare professionals. They are here to perform a job that involves carrying hot, heavy plates and trays full of highly breakable glassware. No one wants to see a child with a bowl of hot soup or a tray of martinis spilled on them. Not to mention that the restaurant is liable for the safety of all of their guests and staff during the course of the service. So should another guest trip over an unaccompanied toddler who is running through the hallway to the lavatories, it could be a horrendous collision. It is also worth noting that restaurants are not in the business of vetting their customers. Permitting unaccompanied children to race through a dining room with several entrances and exits is no different than permitting a child to race through a carnival or a department store.

2Make special needs known in advance. While restaurant staffs are not childcare professionals, we are in the business of working with the public and accommodating may different types of people. If your party needs space for a stroller, a wheelchair, or a more secluded table to help ease the anxiety of a young diner who is sensitive to large groups of strangers, etc, let us know in advance. We want you and your guests to be comfortable, and knowing in advance helps us plan for you.

3Ask if the restaurant offers a children’s menu before you arrive. While some establishments may not have a formal children’s menu, most any restaurant will have an informal array of dishes (plain pasta, lightly seasoned chicken with vegetables) that are designed to please the palates of young diners. If, on inquiring about a children’s menu the response from the restaurant is that they do not offer alternatives for children, or that they do not have high chairs or booster seats available then you know that this establishment is not attempting to be child friendly and your party may be more satisfied by taking your dinner elsewhere.

4 Most restaurants will offer crayons or coloring sheets for children, but not all do. It is a good idea to have some diversion available for the children in your party. Though if your diversion makes noise, such as a movie on a tablet or phone, please bring headphones. The table next to you may not wish to have the dialog to Finding Nemo as the soundtrack to their anniversary dinner.

5 If your child has reached her limit and needs to go, the most polite move is to request to have your food boxed and have the check brought rather than subject the entire dining room to the dulcet screams of a toddler meltdown.

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Recipe Video here!

Cherry Clafoutis

3 cups dark, sweet cherries (fresh or frozen), pitted and halved

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp flour

Pinch cinnamon

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups milk

1/8 tsp salt

2/3 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 cup portions

1 tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cherries on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice, 2 tsp flour and a healthy pinch of cinnamon. Set aside.

In the pitcher of a blender, or a large flat bowl with an immersion blender, combine milk, eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend on high until combined, about 1 minute. Melt 1 tbs butter in a heavy bottom, oven safe skillet. Pour in a 1/4 inch layer of custard and cook over medium heat until set. Remove from heat.

Add half of the cherries, sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, then pour on the rest of the custard, finish with the remaining cherries and sugar.

Bake in 425 degree oven until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving in wedges.

Hospitality @ Home: The. Epic. Wedding. Post

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the rascal-y bridal party

So. It’s been a full week of recovery from my sister’s wedding. While we put together the rehearsal dinner ourselves, as well as the wedding cake, floral arrangements, and photo booth, there are only photographic catalogs of 4 of those things— as I sustained a really dumb injury on the night of the rehearsal dinner. As you will definitely see in some of these photos.

smoothing the cake with a bum thumb

It was seriously silly, I cut my thumb open while opening a bottle of tequila with a knife. Which I knew was dangerous at the time, but man, I wanted to get those margaritas made in time to enjoy with the guacamole…. We just super-glued my wound together, chef-style, because there was a full night of cake-finishing to go.

So, here’s the blow by blow. As soon as I landed on Wednesday night, we hit Costco to grab the beverages for the rehearsal dinner, the reception, and The Cake.

bride and the booze

Then we took stock of the bodies at our disposal, and separated them into Team Tux (responsible for getting everyone’s tuxes finished and fitted), and Team Cake (who had the unique distinction of being bossed around by me all day). I ended up with a seriously awesome team of my sisters Megh & Rebekah, along with my sister’s friends Piper, Zach, and Cat (whose amazingly well-stocked kitchen we cooked in).

Rebekah, a major player on Team Cake

After all the testing documented on this blog, we had settled on the Margarita Cake (since they got the marriage license on Cinco de Mayo), strawberry curd filling, Italian Meringue buttercream frosting, and Marshmallow fondant decorations.

It was a process. But it was such an amazing experience. There was a lot of love put into that cake. As demonstrated by the fact that Piper, Zach, and Rebekah assembly-lined the zesting and juicing of the limes.

zest-chop-juice-repeat

We doubled up as many tasks as we could.

Like stirring multiple pots of strawberry curd.

While the cakes were baking, we pulled together some marshmallow fondant, that we used later to create ribbons and roses for the cake decorations.

megh’s handmade leaves– no special tools other than toothpicks
blue and white roses

I really liked that none of the roses looked the same, just like in nature. While some of us worked on the cake, there was also the candy-floral centerpieces to work on, and the photo-booth props to complete.

bowl of candy, glue gun, itunes on the laptop….

This photo is of the process of tying colored candies into little bundles, that will be wrapped together with flowers to create hydrangea-like candy centerpieces for the tables. These candy bundles also doubled as favors for the wedding.

the finished centerpiece

And the photobooth….it’s such a fun trend and so easy to do. What I love is the way the guests actually interact with the props and create energetic, whimsical interactions, rather than a bunch of stiff photos with people holding glasses of champagne and trying to look cool.

Jason was man enough to wrangle the hot glue gun and put together some mustaches and lipstick kisses.

cutting out the ‘staches….. yes, his shirt does say “I’ve tried Polygamy”…. it’s a beer.

And because of his valiant efforts, we were able to get moments like these:

And the irreplaceable Piper made magic with the bouquets and centerpieces. We really wanted to work some blue into the bridal bouquets. When the delphiniums looked like they might not make it, Piper suggested individually wiring the blooms to tuck them in to the puffs of hydrangea… and they turned out lovely.

hydrangea, baby’s breath, blue delphinium

I loved that so many hands went into making this whole project come together.

the finished cake!

A giant thank you to my sister and sister-in-law’s friends; you all seriously are the best. Your generosity of spirit, the way you welcomed all of us into your lives (& kitchens), and made sure that everything that needed to get done got done in time, whether it meant pulling an all-nighter, sharing your Costco account, or loaning your stand mixer– It made me eager to move back to the mid-west.

Hospitality @ Home: When a Turkey Runs You Over…

When I think about hospitality, what it is, what it requires, I think about holiday dinners at my parents’ house. It seems, obvious, I know, to wax nostalgic about Midwestern childhood dishes and their inevitable companions (ice! Fireplaces! Piles of leaves and hot apple cider!), but this is not one of those posts.
My parents always hosted the extended family Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in Oklahoma. As soon as you can hold a spoon, you’re old enough to contribute, whether constructing the relish tray, or mashing the potatoes while the Macy’s parade trundles through its menagerie of marching bands and Snoopy balloons.
After I went away to college in Central New York, it made more sense for me to spend Thanksgiving with family on the East coast, and as the holiday drew close during my freshman year, I fielded many phone calls from my father. His voice raised to a nervous octave when considering the many ways a turkey could go wrong; cooked to sawdust, undercooked and marinating on the table like a salmonella time bomb. I suggested that he “leave it to the professionals” and order the turkey from a local restaurant.
Little did I know, then, that I was creating the truck– well, turkey– that would run me over…
It began with ordering just the Turkey from Ingrid’s Kitchen (www.ingridskitchen.com) at Thanksgiving. By the time I arrived for Christmas break, we were outsourcing the turkey, the gravy (it’s only natural that bird and gravy should come from the same place), the mashed potatoes, and two pies (because where can you find a good mincemeat pie anymore?).
There is certainly an air of camaraderie, milling around Ingrid’s wooden tabled dining room, steaming up the windows with other celebrants in the early morning hours of November 25th.  By now, my father has been doing this for 10 years, so the woman behind the counter smiles and adds “I saved the best mincemeat pie for you!”, because she knows it is his favorite.
Tucking this bounty in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler, though, feels slightly… off. I should be relieved that the brunt of the cooking can be checked off the list, but I can’t shake the idea that something has been lost.
I want to pull out the silver serving ware from it’s buttery wooden chest, to select one of the Good China sets that have permanent residency in the china press in the dining room, shake out the tablecloths, polish the crystal stemware, set my sister to working out an elegant napkin fold… All this while the turkey roasts low and slow, and the cranberries burble and pop on the gas range.
In it’s truest form, that is hospitality. It allows us to be our best self; the self who foraged for the sweetest smelling Gala apples, who discovered This Perfectly Curved Glass to bring out the bouquet of the wine, measured the time and the flour, the self who passed over myriad other options to present to her guests the Best Things. Seeing someone else delight in those things—the plate simply arranged, the filigree of baby birds in the china pattern, the faint scent of cinnamon lingering in the air after the pie comes out of the oven—is intoxicating. Hospitality is knowing what is good and making a meal out of others’ enjoyment, whether it is a holiday dinner, or another night of service at the restaurant.
So, in this blog, I endeavor to unpack all those elements of hospitality from discovering the best food, wine, and venues to share with others, to being a great hostess, a good guest, and all around Enjoyer of Things.
Working in restaurants over the past five years, I have become one of the “professionals,” I advised my father to seek assistance from.  To my friends in Los Angeles I am a considerable cook and hostess, but as is the struggle of one’s 20’s, my credentials are revoked once I am back home.
The holidays are mere weeks away, and I will be going back home, where my father will order the turkey from Ingrid’s, and probably a pie or two. So I’ll just have to find some other inspirational item to go alongside… something like slow roasted ribs and the perfect bottle of wine…