"Twice a week there is bread making, twice a week yeast making, one day washing, one day ironing, all your pantries and safes to be washed out once a week, dairy work to be attended to, beside innumerable jobs in the way of preserving, jelly making, pickling, curing hams, putting down pigs' feet, looking over and nipping off your apples twice a year . . . " From "The Household," 1870, quoted in "So Sweet to Labor," by Norton Juster
Unlike our overworked ancestors we have a Labor Day, which we celebrate by not laboring. Proposed in 1882 by the Knights of Labor (a group which excluded from its membership only bankers, lawyers, gamblers and stockholders) and given congressional sanction in 1894, Labor Day seems an appropriate time to line up a series of one-stop, do-nothing dinners, beginning with:
A simple, expensive dinner for two: Pick up two dozen already-prepared snails ($7.20 a dozen), a loaf of French bread, and a bottle of white wine from the French Market, 1632 Wisconsin Ave. NW. For dessert, choose two of their happily fattening pastries.
For four: Stop at Wagshal's, 4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW, for a large-sized quiche (Smithfield ham and asparagus, $8.50; quiche Lorraine, mushroom and spinach quiche, $6.75). Follow it with a scoop each of Le Sorbet's coconut and pineapple sherbets, served with the store's chocolate-lace cookies ($3.75 a pound).
Six? Get two containers of homemade, frozen manicotti from Vance's, 3510 Connecticut Ave. NW. Each container holds six manicotti and costs $3. To serve, pour meat sauce or tomato sauce (each $2 a pint) over the pasta and heat. With the manicotti, try the thin, Gastaldino-brand bread sticks and for dessert, raid the orange Amaretti di Darono tin on the counter for a sackful of cookies (20 cents each).
For eight, a few bottles of retsina, Greek sausage and pita bread to start, and, for a main course, a tray of either spanakopitta or tiropitta , flaky spinach or cheese pastries. A tray of 24 pieces is $14.40 (plus a $6 deposit on the tray) from Skenderis, 1612 20th St. NW, 265-9664. Give them advance notice on the trays. For dessert, yogurt spiced with small bits of candied ginger and the long, thin cookies called koulourakia (20 cents apiece).
More is definitely merrier when you settle on Chinese food, with a wider variety of dishes to sample. Everyone has their favorite source, but fortune cookies are definitely necessary for dessert. Most people do not consider a Chinese dinner properly concluded without them.
And perhaps your fortune will be a fortune, and you can give up laboring all year long.