Far too often, you hear uninformed people -- or at least the uninvited -- say that the day of the Washington Hostess and the dinner party at home is as gone as Garfinckel's.
Yet Washington still has great hostesses -- women who think of putting on a party as an act of care and creation. In a lushly illustrated new book, "Washington Hostess Cookbook," journalist and novelist Cissie Coy serves up the recipes and table settings of 15 social stars.
No one should be surprised that more than one party has been given to toast the book, including one by journalists Marianne Means and Warren Weaver Jr., with party planner Gretchen Poston (of course one of those celebrated) and her husband, attorney Raymond Poston. At a second party the other night at the Starfields of Astraea, which bills itself as a literary and art salon, a few of the book's subjects, in between autographs and curry on rice, gave their recipes -- not for food but for a successful party.
"Get food, get guests and get lost," suggested Jayne (Mrs. Frank) Ikard, a journalist and charity fund-raiser. "If you have the right food and guests, the hostess could go upstairs and go to sleep and the party would go on to success," she said. Ikard prefers dinner parties for eight, but gives all sorts -- except cocktail parties -- in their Kalorama house.
"Care" is the one-word instruction of Gretchen Poston, Rosalynn Carter's former social secretary and a founding partner in the multimillion dollar WashingtonInc., the pioneer party planners. "You have to really want to give a party and be willing to do the extras," she said.
Aniko Gaal (Mrs. Nash Whitney) Schott believes strongly in giving parties that "reflect your own point of view." In her case, it's Hungarian cuisine, from her own heritage. In the book, she gives not only her recipe for the very thin blintzes called palacsinta but also the address of the store in St. Moritz, Switzerland, from which she orders the caviar to go with them. Gaal Schott now is the public relations executive for Harriet Kassman, following the lamented demise of Garfinckel's.
"With me, the most important element of a party is its purpose," said Gail (Mrs. Richard) Berendzen. She intends to use the party-giving knowledge she gained from her two events a week during the 10 years her husband was president of American University. "I hope I can find a job planning events for serious causes," she added.
Carol (Mrs. Climis) Lascaris is a partner with her husband, both in interior design and entertaining. "My first thought is to make sure he's part of the planning," she said. "We often cook Greek recipes we learned from his grandmother -- and he's the one who remembers the details. The Lascarises give parties for great multitudes in their enormous "Potomac House" as they call it, in McLean.
Two hostesses make centerpieces with porcelain animals from their collections. Cathy (Mrs. Steuart) Martens, who plans fashion shows with Georgetown Design Group, makes miniature jungles, using her collection of Herend animals. Carol (Mrs. Robert) Foley has a rare Meissen Monkey Band -- but she also uses a full-size violin, suggesting a party before a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra, of which she's a board member. Pam (Mrs. Raymond) Howar, founder with Tipper Gore of the Parents Music Resource Center, never has to worry about flowers for her table -- she has a greenhouse full of orchids.
The book also includes Mariana (Mrs. Brandon) Grove Jr., a fortunate among hostesses. Catherine Cheremeteff Grove, her stepdaughter, helped with the food preparation for the book. Catherine Grove is a graduate of a Paris cooking school and executive assistant to Jean-Louis Paladin at the Watergate restaurant. Mariana Grove co-founded Flemming and Meers, an antique English furniture store.
Texan Penne Percy (Mrs. Fritz-Alan) Korth, who was co-chairman of the Bush inaugural festivities, currently entertains in Mauritius as U.S. ambassador. The only foreign embassy wife in the book is Anne Merete, the wife of Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani, who, Coy says, entertains some 10,000 guests a year at the Villa Firenze. Esther (Mrs. Jack) Coopersmith, a winner of the United Nations Peace Prize, specializes in international guests -- notably the Israeli/Egyptian press party during the Camp David summit.
Grace Cavert Nelson, wife of east central Florida Rep. Bill Nelson, brought from home her recipe for chocolate cups filled with key lime curd. Sally (Mrs. John) Chapoton, gained her fame as a hostess by running all nine 1989 inaugural balls. She gives Texas-style pool parties with guacamole and seviche recipes. Another Texan, Alta (Mrs. Marvin) Leath, owns the jewelry studio Altomar Collection and raises topiaries. Sweetest of all -- her specialty is homemade desserts.
Cissie Coy learned entertaining early as the daughter of Imelda Dixon, a Washington Star society columnist, and the granddaughter of former New Mexico senator Dennis Chavez. As for her own entertaining, she issues a disclaimer.
"My friends would hoot if I said I give small dinner parties," she said. "I can only give suppers, because I have a little house and a small staff. But once a month, I do like to have two or three couples over."