With the rainstorm pummeling my windows today, it seems like the perfect time to get myself organized to send out holiday cards. In recently years, I've been sending more e-cards or just plain emails, but I still get a handful of paper cards to send to older relatives and some of the business contacts to whom I think it is more appropriate to send a physical card. It is a bit old-fashioned, I know, but I still get a thrill when I see an envelope from a friend or loved-one in my usually-empty mailbox.
In looking through my card stash to find ones to send out this year, I discovered that I had almost exhausted my supply. I also came across this item from the past; you'll note the date on it. I had been out of college for just a few years and was starting to host "grown up" parties. This was pre-email, pre-evite, pre-cell phones, so if I remember correctly, I even sent out hand-written, individually mailed invitations to come to this brunch. Does this bring back any memories for you? My cues were taken from what I had gleaned from my mother, Miss Manners, and Emily Post (in some order).
Compare this, to the list of appetizers and nibbles that I put together for my job search team meeting on Monday. What a difference a couple of decades, some international travel, and a general scaling back makes! I'm not even sure that I'd attempt to make a menu this elaborate anymore. Two desserts, what was I thinking of? And the other thing that strikes me now, is how rich almost everything was that I made. It would sort of be fun to try to put this together again to try for my current group of friends to see what they think, but I know for sure that I don't have these recipes in my file anymore.
I took away from my time in Italy (departing less than two years after this brunch) a love for the simplicity of a well-executed, freshly-sourced plate without excessive fussiness. I also took away a sort of minimalist approach to putting together a meal so that dishes didn't clash with each other, creating a balance of tastes and textures. We didn't have that much money when I was there in grad school, so creating a massive spread was not feasible. My time there transformed a lot of my cooking, and it still shows up in my entertaining style, which is not to say that what I did in the past was bad, just different.
The other thing that I learned is that sometimes, it is really impressive to handmake the smallest parts of the meal. I can't tell you how many times I've brought these homemade pita chips / crisps to a party and someone has asked me about them (including at another party to which I brought them yesterday). For me, when I made them originally, they were sort of a last-minute, throwaway addition because I didn't like all the ingredients in the packaged versions I found at the local supermarket.
By making them myself, I could control the ingredients, the spices, and the amount of salt on them so that the chips / crisps went perfectly with the dips with which they were being served. Sometimes, I enjoy just eating them on their own with their toasted, crunch goodness. Try them the next time you are throwing a party. They might end up being the recipe everyone asks to take away with them.
Pita Chips / Crisps
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Serving Size: enough for one cocktail party
One store-bought package of whole-wheat pitas
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper, freshly ground
very optional (most of the time I omit these): garlic powder, ground thyme, ground cumin, ground cayenne pepper, ground coriander or any other ground dried spices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut open each pita and separate the two pieces (i.e., where it usually makes a pocket). Slice the each of the two pieces into about one-inch strips.
Place the strips on an ungreased baking sheet in a single row (this might take a couple of batches). Sprinkle them lightly with the olive oil or brush the oil on them with a pastry brush, taking care not to dowse the strips in the oil. Several drops of oil on each strip will be enough. Sprinkle the strips with salt and pepper and any of the other spices that you choose. Place in oven and let cook for 5-10 minutes, checking after the 5-minute mark to see how dark they are getting.
Remove from the oven when they are golden to light brown. Not all of the chips / crisps will have cooked to the same darkness, as you can see from the above photos, but that is part of the charm. Some guests will like the darker ones and some will like the lighter ones.
This entry will also be cross-posted at Blogher.