I know a woman who would say of hell that the heating system is marvelous and I have absorbed much of her happy outlook.
Thusmy first thought on hearing of the stock market disorder was that maybe we won't see so many salmons around here.
The salmon, I am told (and God knows I never bought one), is a pricey fish. It shows up, looking somewhat like Lenin, at virtually all upscale receptions. Sometimes it is glazed with a jelly, sometimes it is decorated with harmless gunk squirted out a pastry tube. Once I saw a salmon done with lilies of the valley.
Smoked salmon is popular also. It comes from sulfur pits in Trinidad. It used to come from Poland. The admirable food writer, M.F.K. Fisher, once splurged on some smoked salmon in a time of personal poverty. Her cat would not eat any, however, so she threw it in her compost pile. A year later she found it there intact. Evidently we now have the technique to mainline embalming fluid. It is worse than smoked oysters, which I almost died from in Charleston. There are people down there who smoke them themselves. You get a rush of pure ether when you bite in, cry how delicious they are and go home to three days in bed.
I would not want any host in this capital to think I am ungrateful for kind invitations. Many people like salmon, in all its hideous forms, and they have constitutional rights. The trouble comes in one-shot deals. You go somewhere and there are crackers, raw carrots, and you are directed to the great serving table. It is usually adorned with $250 worth of roses and a good many candles burning in silver sockets, usually more than six of them, but otherwise suggesting a forefuneral exercise at St. George's Chapel, and sure enough, there in the middle is the salmon. So very natural.
And there is nothing else.
If any reader should be new to the city, he should learn to eat before leaving home. Then it makes no difference what there is or when you get it. But sometimes you go straight from work and then you are sorry to see you have been summoned for nothing but a cold fish.
Should we, therefore, have only hot dogs at Washington receptions? You can fare worse and often do. But I have no unshakable objection to expensive food. Scallops are probably no cheaper than salmon, but you never see them at these receptions. And if there are basins of shrimp, there might as well not be, because they're all gone unless you use your elbows. Still, I know one house at which superior shrimps with a dill dip are piled on a table in a little lobby. Everybody is packed in the drawing room to meet God and Mrs. God, except a few who head for the exiled shrimps. Every year you see the same six people hanging over them. Ripe for being dropped from the list, but very happy in the meantime.
Let me also say that people never confuse raw cauliflower florets with food. They can serve it with trumpets and it's still tooth-breaking carrots and spider-ridden broccoli tufts. Nobody ever eats these things, but a considerable display can be achieved for three bucks.
It all reminds me of a woman in Tennessee who did not fling money around and who told me her annual Christmas party cost less than $50. She dyed bread red and green, and squirted green cream cheese on the red bread and red cream cheese -- you get the picture. She also knew how to make eggnog without cream, eggs, brandy, bourbon or rum. All her windowsills were solid with cups of it. The key ingredient was powdered magnesia. Every year she threw all this stuff out after the party. It never bothered her that nobody ate or drank anything. There is probably a guidebook, "Parties as Vengeance."
Beloved food writers send you to the ends of the earth for odd things -- one of them sent people to Alexandria to buy a dreadful extract of pear to make sherbets with -- and sing loudly on the romance of some bitter salad weed imported from Ecuador. They do everything but tell you what people will really eat. So I will:
Plenty of plain boiled cold shrimp, not soggy from sitting in water to cool. Boiled eggs stuffed with anchovies. Rounds of toast with onions broiled on them in a little mayonnaise. Really good beaten biscuits (not those things like rocks) generously filled with Grade A country ham. Small e'clairs. Caramel is okay if you run out of chocolate. Chunks of melon of all kinds, but this does not mean rind of honeydew.
Instead of raw carrots you want roasted red peppers with fat mushrooms in olive oil and don't try to get it from the crankcase. In recent years the French have gained courage and started sending over runny cheeses, worse than Camembert, that formerly they kept decently hidden for Norman peasants. Nobody likes these. Everybody likes Roquefort. When I returned with my bride a few years ago to a city south of here, my mother embarrassed me by having a tea for 85 old ladies to welcome her. If they drank gin, tough luck. There was tea, scotch and bourbon. Novelties included chunks of barbecue in a rather vast punch bowl, 350 meringues you just picked up, country ham and biscuits, cold shrimps, caviar and cream. A vulgar menu. So of course there was nothing left except 18 meringue kisses.
The idea of meringues with scotch is, of course, sickening, but I could not believe how they went. The barbecue was the best in the Western world, elegant or not, and Southern dowagers almost never die of anorexia. The noise (a disturbing but accurate gauge of success) was at Redskin Revival level. Not surprising, as the only salmon within two blocks was in the cat's bowl.