If there's one thing I learned upon my arrival in Washington, it's that the key to success comes down to whom you know. But in this land of happy hours and Hill receptions, mastering the congressional handshake and the art of name dropping can get a person only so far. What happens when you need a tailor for the power suit you've worn out? How about a last-minute plumber when the drain is stopped and the senator is due to arrive for cocktails in half an hour? Rifling through the Yellow Pages is one way to solve these quandaries, although anyone who's taken their chances at Supercuts knows this doesn't always work out.
What I prefer is to turn to my trusted friends. So recently, I decided to invite a bunch of pals to grab their Rolodexes and come on over for a brunch dedicated to referral-making. I wasn't interested in Professor X or Staffer Y; I wanted the names and numbers of manicurists and mechanics, cleaners and carpenters. PDAs, business cards, hastily-scribbled-upon napkins -- all were welcome. The point was to get people swapping.
(Photos Rebecca D'angelo For The Washington Post)
A Casual Risotto Dinner (The Washington Post, Jan 9, 2005)
Bloody Mary Football Party (The Washington Post, Jan 2, 2005)
Culture and History in a Bowl (The Washington Post, Dec 26, 2004)
Gingerbread House Party (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
Siblings Party (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2004)
Networking takes its toll, so I made a hearty but not-too-labor-intensive dish: baked French toast, prepared the night before, which ensured that during the soiree, I wouldn't miss the tip on where to get an $8 eyebrow wax. The recipe calls for thick, cinnamony slices to be smothered in a tangy combination of apples and cranberries, making the customary maple syrup optional (although you might want to heat up the gooey stuff just in case).
I served the dish alongside fresh apple slices and leftover cranberries for a festive winter look. Other decorations? Not so important. Remember, this party's not about showing off your dining room -- it's about dishing on the painter who gave it that amazing Tuscan faux finish. Kate Ghiloni
Baked French Toast
1/3 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus additional for the baking dish
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tart apples (such as Macintosh), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1-pound loaf egg-enriched bread (such as challah or brioche)
6 large eggs