Tomorrow will be marked by tears, fears and the realization that we are doomed to a period of cheap thrills. Champagne for the tax man and beer for the rest of us.
But cheap, thank God, is in. All those people serving Beluga caviar and tenderloins of beef are out of step with the newest fad in food, as hostesses turn their back on cuisines nouvelle and cuisines minceur and proudly bring out the dishes we all loved when we were little. Call it nursery food, or comforting cuisine, there is suddenly a great desire to serve friends the foods of childhood.
It is not just that these are foods that are filling and cheap. The dishes of childhood were always easy to eat. There were never any dilemmas about how to get a slithery sea urchin out of its shell or trout bones out of your mouth. No, as long as you remembered not to poke a finger into the mashed potatoes or throw peas at the other guests, nursery food produced no problems of etiquette.
If you decide to serve these simple dishes, they must be very, very good. Memory has enhanced mother's meatloaf and the door to that long gone dining room is now hung with three stars.
But, pa te', after all, is simply meat loaf that has been sat upon, and the diversity of meats and spices that enhance the first will be just as successful at transforming the second. Think, too, how cheap it would be to serve chicken pies, not store-bought things with a gluey sauce and a chewy crust, but homemade ones mounded up with chicken and vegetables and topped with a flaky pastry. Rice pudding, bread and butter pudding, strawberry and rhubarb pie, any one of them is less expensive, and, when done well, better than serving out a pint of some expensive designer ice cream.
When was the last time you were invited out to dinner and served a really good hamburger? Not barbecued and popped on a bun but perfectly cooked and offered on a plate, with small batons of carrots and buttery mashed potatoes and a parade of different relishes. Catsup and mustards, of course, from the grainy dijon to a glaringly yellow dish of ballpark mustard. No hamburger buns, but a loaf of homemade bread.
I know one man who will not eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich unless the jelly is blue. Blueberry, grape, huckleberry, it doesn't matter as long as it's blue. Another man demands tapioca. With raisins, please. For a woman it is peanut butter crackers. Not, she explains heatedly, the kind that come all slapped together and wrapped in cellophane, but homemade ones where a very special kind of cracker is piled high with a very special kind of peanut butter. Chocolate pudding, a woman responds instantly when asked the favorite food of childhood. Rice pudding, declares another, with raisins and sprinkled all over with cinnamon. Which brings us to cinnamon toast, the sugar mixed with just the right amount of cinnamon, homemade bread toasted to a deep golden brown, and spread with butter enough to melt into rich pools to absorb the sugar/cinnamon.
None of these nursery foods are expensive but they evoke a richness of memory and a sense of being cared for and comforted. If your friends are of an age, you could shelter them from the shock of having grown into a world of death and taxes by recreating not only the foods of childhood but the entire era. For one generation it's the Depression and "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?" For another it's radio programs such as "The Lone Ranger," or "The Shadow" or "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon." There was the craze for Davy Crocket hats and Hula Hoops, and TV programs from "I Remember Mama" to "Leave It to Beaver." If your attic yields no artifacts, visit area junk stores and secondhand book shops to find the tokens of the time when you were growing up, and strew them around your living room.
Depending on how deeply shocking you have found this year's tax bite, you may want to slide even further away from adulthood, tacking up Pin the Tail on the Donkey posters, lining up your dining room chairs for a rowdy, shoving game of musical chairs, or turning down the lights for a round of hide-and-seek. It's easier to hide when you're 3 feet tall than when you're 6 feet, but let us hope that your guests have not only added size but ingenuity and will be able to manage.
And even though this is a party for all of us who are newly poor, invest a tiny bit more money and buy favors for each guest. Even if it's only a piece of bubble gum or a plastic trinket, you will be most fondly remembered for having given them something to keep on a day when the world was intent on taking things away.