Creativity Is Key to Matthew Mead's New Book, 'Entertaining Simple'

By Nora Krug
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 20, 2008

For style expert Matthew Mead, the key to successful entertaining is a single piece of dishware: the cake stand.

"If you've ever been to a birthday party where cake is on a cake stand, that moment it's presented is that 'awww' moment that denotes what celebrating is all about," says Mead, the style editor at Country Home magazine.

In his new book, "Entertaining Simple" (Wiley, $24.95), Mead demonstrates many ways to turn an ordinary glass cake stand into a stately pedestal: A stack of doughnuts, for example, elegantly perched and dotted with candles, is transformed into a birthday cake. Turned upside down, he explains, a cake stand can be used as a chips-and-dip server.

Creative repurposing is the core of "Entertaining Simple": a votive holder as a receptacle for bar garnishes or individual-size hors d'oeuvres, an egg cup as a bud vase or an amuse-bouche dish. (What devilish delight to serve a mojito out of a 12-ounce milk bottle! )

Part entertaining guide, part cookbook, "Entertaining Simple" has the feel of a Pottery Barn catalogue or an issue of Real Simple. Mead, who is based in Boscawen, N.H., and has his own style blog,, has contributed to both.

His book is organized in a tidy, paint-by-numbers way. He begins by laying out, in very specific detail, essential dishware, a collection built around plain white ceramic place settings and simple glassware that he says give you both a "unifying theme" and a "wide range of options." He goes on to demonstrate how to use those dishes in eight themed parties, including a brunch featuring cheese strata and mini pumpkin bundt cakes and a "girl talk" party, where the menu centers on finger sandwiches and tea punch. Accompanying each party suggestion are recipes as simple as the plates they sit on, such as herb-roasted chicken, tomato bread salad and berry-plum compote.

We asked Mead to elaborate recently by telephone on his simple ideas for entertaining.

How would you describe your entertaining philosophy?

It's about . . . saving your sanity and realizing that all the aspects of entertaining don't have to be complicated. They can be simplified: You don't have to cook everything; you can buy things that are prepared.

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