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Filtering by Tag: tips

"8 Ways to Get Guests to Remove Their Shoes" for Realtor.com

Suzanne Pollak

For Sale on Etsy.com (if you’re into this sort of thing.)

For Sale on Etsy.com (if you’re into this sort of thing.)

There is no need to be overbearing! #7 comes straight from the Academy — "Rely on witticisms. Rather than asking straight up for guests to remove their shoes, which some may perceive as rude, inject a funny quip to lighten the mood. [We’ve heard a particular phrase you may want to borrow]: ‘We run our house like the TSA. Remove your shoes before you get to the next part, inside.’”

Two exceptions according to the Dean? Kids coming in and out require a basket by the door with a sign that says plainly “SHOES GO HERE!” And yet a good cocktail or dinner party host must avoid asking guests to remove their shoes at all, as what is below the ankle is a major part of the outfit.

Find the full article HERE on Realtor.com…

3 of the "4 Things You Should Never Store Under Your Kitchen Sink -- and 5 You Should" for REAL SIMPLE

Suzanne Pollak

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“While convenient, [kitchen towels and paper bags] don’t belong under the sink, says Suzanne Pollak. (A leak would ruin them.) Stash them in a nearby closet or another cabinet instead for easy access….

If you want to keep things even simpler, get a few plastic containers or tubs to hold your supplies together, Pollak says. “With containers, you can take out the unit as a whole and easily clean underneath,” she says. Be sure to run the containers through the dishwasher a few times a year. Using clear containers also allows you to easily see what items are nearly used up, so you can stock up before you run out….

There are a few [essential cleaning products'] that you should always have on hand. These include distilled vinegar, Dawn dish soap (in addition to washing pots and pans, you can also use it directly on cabinets to remove built-up grease), and Bar Keepers Friend, says Pollak. Under the kitchen sink is obviously also a convenient place to store sponges, cleaning brushes, and scrubbers. Just be sure to replace them often, as they’re one of the germiest things in your kitchen (gross)—yes, cleaning your sponge is a thing.”

Read the rest of the article by Kelsey Ogletree via Real Simple HERE!

Start a Project: Thank You Notes

Suzanne Pollak

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Back to school! Your very first homework assignment of the year: THANK YOU notes…

Why? When you see your handwritten note on a friend’s mantel or stuck in her mirror, you know your words produced a bit of happiness, because you acknowledged something lovely someone did. Thank you’s pay off a hundred times. Written thank you’s make you really stand out.

How? Text or email is way better than nothing, but writing a note on personal stationary is extra special. You only have to produce two sentences (or if you are an artist simply a THANK YOU with a drawing of what you are thanking…)

When? Not to get all squishy on you but consider going on a 30-day thank you binge. Write a daily thank you by text, email, or paper — not to see what comes back as a transactional exchange, but to see how good you will feel by expressing yourself and sharing your love. To start your project and get in the habit, write us at the Academy and we will in turn write to you!

What for? For anything big or small, a diverse collection of thanks: a cup of coffee, cookie, lunch or dinner, a flower, personal or business meeting, a gift, friendship, time, even simply a shared idea. How about a thank you for something a friend did years ago that you still think about, or because a person helped you when you needed it most?

Now what are your favorite ways to say thank Thank You?

"A Culture of Your Own" for VIE September

Suzanne Pollak

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“There are two things I know for sure. First, never sacrifice your personality for someone else’s idea of ‘perfection.’ You have your own background, beliefs, and set of influences. I have mine. Yours and mine are different, and that is what makes life interesting — to identify what makes us unique and discover what we can each bring to the table, our community, our world. But remember the second thing I know for sure: personal culture has nothing to do with Instagram likes….”

Read the rest of Suzanne’s article, explaining how to develop a personal culture all one’s own, in the latest issue of VIE Magazine HERE!

P.S. Another Perfect Party

Suzanne Pollak

It may seem impossible, but I went to yet another marvelous dinner party this Summer…

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Actually, this particularly perfect dinner party was at my very own house! The special part was the group of guests — seven — three who knew each other, the other three newly arrived in Charleston. We asked each person to pick someone there they knew and tell about that person, instead of people introducing themselves. This is fun, innovative, saves everyone from bragging about themselves; plus it’s fascinating to hear what friends highlight about each other.

This only works with a small group, however. The cocktail hour was eye opening, enlightening, and by dinner everyone was acting like old friends. That’s what it’s all about: knitting together a new community right in your own house. Happy to report all six are fast friends.

A Tale of Two Parties (continued)

Suzanne Pollak

First, a debutante ball at the Plaza...

Two weekends later in Charleston: an over-the-top four day birthday party! Guests flew in from Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Texas, Arkansa, Alabama, New York; in other words, everywhere, because everyone loves the birthday girl. She defines Girl Power. A four day party means guests make a commitment of time, energy, dress, and money but the rewards can be life-changing — making new friends, connecting with old ones, witnessing new ways of partying, and having four days of fierce, fabulous fun. 

Bessie Mae by Jonathan Green

Bessie Mae by Jonathan Green

Party One: Thursday was the kick-off at a restaurant with swinging jazz band and three long tables for dinner. We got to know each other with the warmest welcome possible by birthday girl and husband. The vibe was very — We’ve got all weekend! An important element of any party is looking forward, but when the looking forward part starts on night one of four, that’s extra special.

Party Two: Friday night was a party split in half. A bifurcated party is brilliant, a superior & innovative way to force the maximum number of people to connect. The party was zoned for men outside by the pool, women inside the house. The birthday girls instructions were, “Ladies, tell a little about yourselves, what you do, and be brief.” 40 women opened up and we listened intently. In less than four hours, fortified with food and cocktails, we had spilled our secrets and shared our souls, cheered on by cheerleader in charge, the birthday girl herself.  

Party Three: During the day, we took boat rides for a look at our beautiful city from the water.  Then we all went to change in accordance with night time directions to wear white for a dance at the house. The party was around the pool, the band at one end, the bar at the other, line dancing all around. And the real tear jerker? When a guest took the mike and proposed to his love... 

(My only regret was that I left too early. Why did I do that?)

Party Four: On Sunday morning, we went to a gospel brunch at new Charleston restaurant Blue Note. Now the focus shifted to the men since this was also Father’s Day. Goodbye’s were said, selfies taken, plans made for next meetings. 

What all these different parties had in common were hosts who are masters at making unforgettable events, connections, celebrations, and making sure everyone around them feels welcome & joyful. My take away? I have the greatest friends in the world and it is never too late to add more deep friendships to a life. In fact, you must. It’s what makes life worth living. 

TRADE SECRETS

  • Fancy parties and comfort food go together. The food brings the fanciness down a few notches and gives people a feeling of social ease.

  • Document your parties, but not with cell phones! If guests are taking photos, they are not enjoying the minute-by-minute fun that is happening all around. Hire a photographer (or even a niece) because we all know the photos bring pleasure for the rest of our lives.

  • Mix ages, professions, styles — just mix! More brains working together make smarter decisions; more personalities at parties mean extra energy, excitement, entertainment...

  • Follow your instincts & be bold. There is no reason not to follow your heart, honor your creativity, and explore new ideas. 

  • Three or four days is a super party plan; a commitment, sure, but a life memory. A several days-long party is a gift of joy spread out over time, with opportunity to make real conversations, new friends, enjoy a mini vacation. In addition, there is the built-in anticipation…

  • Often overlooked but equally important as the anticipation beforehand are the memories afterwards. To maximize the before and after impact, send invitations (way ahead for more days of something delightful to look forward to) and then send photos afterwards, even in a holiday card months later!

  • At a four day party, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask guests to pick up their own checks when ordering from a restaurant menu. In fact, it’s a good idea. At the four day birthday bash guests paid their own tabs at the bookend events, Thursday night and Sunday brunch. Friday and Saturday were held at the host’s house so everything there was covered, of course.

A Tale of Two Parties

Suzanne Pollak

I want to share the details of an unforgettable pair of parties I attended recently. Not to cause FOMO or to duplicate (impossible!) but to tell the tale of two grand hosts and perhaps reveal some of their trade secrets. These two are totally suis generis, never copying anyone, 100% marching to their own beat. Neither care about a party for a magazine shoot or aim to impress anyone they’ve never met. Rather, they want to spread the joy. And these ladies know how to have a ball at their own parties.

First, a white tie ball — an ephemeral, ethereal, exotic evening from another era. This was the type of party the very rich gave frequently in season at the turn of the century (not the turn in 2000, but the one in 1900!) Our host embraces an art of living which defines generosity, celebrations, and (it must be said) down-to-earthiness; even though nothing was down to earth about the fairytale ball to honor her granddaughter’s 18th birthday, except for the main course of braised short ribs and mashed potatoes. (The host didn’t want the usual filet.)

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The Setting: None other than the Plaza, a palace of yesteryear. The cocktail hour happened in a spectacular space with two photographers snapping away (which allowed guests to slip phones in pockets or purse and fully enjoy the moment) while we sipped cocktails (passed spicy margaritas, non-alcoholic lemony drink, and of course champagne, in addition to two large bars.) Then we ascended the grand marble staircase covered with cascading white flowers* into the golden ballroom before we had one too many sips and weaved and wobbled upstairs. Has anyone today mastered the ancient art of descending a staircase? No! It’s a lost art.

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*Unbelievably, all the flowers were thrown away the next morning for the Emmy after party the next night. Why does a party planner insist on such waste just to stamp his mark on a party, discarding spectacular, eight feet tall arrangements only 24 hours old? 

The Seating & Eating: Once in the ballroom, finding our table was a bit of a puzzle. The table numbers (in three dimensional brass) were hard to locate, peeking out from the elegant white floral centerpieces. The number placement was a great idea because first, instead of looking for numbers on flags high overhead (which spoil the magic because — hello — no one wants to see the working details of a party, we simply want to be enveloped by magic for a few hours and not wonder how this was all produced) and second, the mystery of finding your table made strangers connect, an opportunity to introduce yourself to others and ask fascinating strangers for help. Two hundred people seating themselves takes time, but finally we sat, we feasted, we even consumed  three desserts on one plate. Why? Because our host couldn’t decide which dessert the Plaza chef presented at a pre-tasting she preferred. When in doubt, choose YES!

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The Dress: It must be said that white tie looks marvelous on men. White tie can be rented because who born after 1900 has a white tie hanging in their closet? White tie is a different uniform than a tuxedo. The tie, jacket, and shirt are unique. Yes, the jacket has tails! 

The Band: A 25-piece band and who among us has seen a 25-piece band since Barry White died? Just saying… 

The Extras: Dancers to add glitz and glamor. Six dazzling women dressed in beaded 1920’s style dresses, six movie star-looking men in tails, leaping and spinning the girls around the room. You could lose your bearings watching and begin to imagine whirling like that yourself. And, since the band read a crowd like bands did back in the day, the music called us to our feet. With a partner or without, everyone between the ages 18 to 85 everyone got the call. Dancing in a pair or solo makes no difference in the 2000’s.

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OOPS: The only thing the 18-year-olds didn’t like was having to show ID cards to get a drink. No drinks for that crowd. But the 18-year-olds will never ever see anything like this again in their lifetime so who cares about a drink when they were privileged enough to experience an evening from another era? They have a story to tell their grandchildren in 2060.

The Welcome: The host herself greeted everyone briefly from the middle of the dance floor, explaining that some of the guests were at her own coming out party 63 years ago! Imagine! This means the guest list spanned three generations, maybe four. That range alone creates magic. 

The After Party: The Dean was invited (one of the cousins slipped me an invitation) but sadly I was too tired to attend. Bad decision on my part!

The Day After Party: An aunt of the granddaughter hosted a goodbye brunch at her house. We rehashed details of the previous night, relaxed, refueled, said our goodbyes until next time, until we realized there is no next time. The era is over…. 

Self Love Series: Start with Someone Else

Suzanne Pollak

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

Photographer: Hugh Mangum, circa early 1900s

We all want to know: Who will be there for me?  But sometimes you must get out of your own head. Be there for others (not in a phony way) and they will be there for you.

As we look around at all our friends and loved ones, we might notice that everyone seems a bit low in the water. There is only one remedy to correct this state of mind, and it begins with you. Figure out which problems in your life are actionable and which ones there is nothing you can do to solve. When the in-actionable problems take over your brain, it’s time to start thinking of things other than yourself. Be there for someone else.

Charity doesn’t have to change the world. It’s enough if you can change a few moments for another. Little changes bring about big shifts over time. Here is a running list of Little Actions:

  • Bring dinner. Flu is rampant. Sick people need to eat but cannot get to the store or stand in front of the stove. You could do it for them, delivering a dinner of chicken noodle soup already in zip lock freeze bags so they can have two or three dinners.

  • Be an active listener. Try not saying the word “I” for twenty minutes in your next conversation with an acquaintance. Your friendship will dive deeper as a result.

  • Spread joy. No matter how terrible you feel, pretend you feel joy, if only for a few minutes. Call a friend in need and ask how they are. Do not discuss any of your problems on the call. 

  • Give someone a happy surprise. Pay for someone’s small purchase but don’t tell them. At One Broad in December, a young man I hardly know asked the cashier to put my cookie and tea on his card. When my turn came to pay I was flabbergasted! When I needed a lift, there it was. And for the last eight weeks, I haven’t forgotten this generous gesture, nor will I forget.

  • Share your expertise. One of my closest friends who died recently always had words of encouragement, wisdom, business advice, empathy — never wanting anything in return except friendship. As I mourn his loss and importance in my life, it is my turn to take my wisdom and empathy to another. We all hold each other up one moment at a time. 

Tips & Tricks from Tony Hendra

Suzanne Pollak

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Why is Tony Hendra (AKA Ian Faith and the Academy's Dean of Wit) such an amazing cook? Tony is a master of details. He's got his program down. He only cooks his favorite foods and since he has spent decades doing so, his recipes and techniques are works of art, every time. We should all be so brilliant and dedicated; but in case you are at the early stages of your cooking life, or not as passionate as Tony, you can still learn lessons from Mr T.

Number One. There is no need to be a master of 100 recipes or to go to cooking school. A few favorite recipes perfected will see you through a lifetime of satisfying meals, and will always delight your family and friends, no matter what else is going on. Chaos can be raging like wildfire all around you, but if you can put a delicious dinner on the table, life calms down at least for a while. Amazing results come from just wanting to feed yourself and sharing that food with others. It's guaranteed that more people will love you. Gathering your crew for a nightly feast happens to be a smart way to manage a family too. 

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Tony has spent years choosing his tools, perfecting his knife skills, building collections which include antique, ridiculously thick, beyond gorgeous cutting boards which are almost too heavy to transport (I know because I wanted to steal them all); hand made ceramic casserole and Dutch ovens; every type of knife, including crescents. Tony's knife skills are as good as any chef's but Tony: please get yourself a better sharpener! You could do better than using other knife blades to sharpen. However, that doesn't really matter. Tony can bone a rabbit in less time than it takes me to make an Old Fashioned and he is capable of spellbinding everyone around him while carving a smoked duck. 

Tony never makes the mistake of using too many ingredients. He also doesn't make stupid mistakes with knives or mise en place because he pays attention and focuses. Dinner and cooking is serious business to this man. Preparing dinner is his transition from the end of a hard days work to relaxing, creating in a form other than writing comedy and spending time with the people he loves.

Not for one moment would Tony consider standing up while eating, or not paying attention to his food. Every day is a celebration of food and wines and cheese, especially cheese. No matter where he goes this guy carries his own butter, chocolate and cheese like the rest of us carry our lipstick and cash. Even on planes! He is so picky that he hides his chocolate and cheese in his own house so he does not have to share. These traits do not mean Tony is greedy. Rather, it means that when he craves a certain pick-me-up, he doesn't want to find his food stash stolen. When I needed an afternoon boost I poked around the kitchen and discovered his chocolate bars behind the spice jars. Nothing get past the Dean. His favorite brand of chocolate? Ritter Sport with Whole Hazelnuts. Finding his cheese is easy because he likes the stinky kind (especially époisses) so stinky that his family insists it be kept in hard-to-find nooks.  

As a rule, never ever throw away bones, ever! Tony’s ghost might haunt you. His pots of stock simmer at all hours on back burners. This man is a stock master, the real stock broker.  He has stock on hand at all times (in the freezer or on the stove) to flavor any sauce or deglaze a pan. Spoonfuls of stock of this quality transform the plainest fillet into scrumptuous meals. 

Tony's expertise after decades of cooking? Knowing the exact second to take a breast duck out of the pan and place on the plate. Knowing how to dissolve a family crisis with a family meal. Knowing that the simplest dish made well will bring a table to silence with the very first bite. Knowing how to make a dinner party go on for hours. Knowing how to get those guest to leave. Knowing the secrets of a beautiful life.  Can you see why the Dean loves Tony? 

Finally, Tony's tips for the world's best cousous: measure exactly the same amount of stock and grain. That is the KEY to great couscous; plus sliced braised leeks, freshly ground cumin, ras el hanout (it's fresh if it smells good), yellow raisins all mixed together when couscous is ready...

World of Etiquette: Common Sense

Suzanne Pollak

Now we give you the third and final installment in our World of Etiquette series, covering a few points of (what should be) Common Sense. Etiquette is a social ballet and keeps people from spitting on the table. Learn to be an active governor of your actions and cognizant of how you conduct yourself.

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PAY ATTENTION. Be a good listener! When a friend talks about what’s going on in her/his life, it’s worthy of listening actively and becoming a participant. Instead of one-upmanship -- which means you listen initially and then think this happened in your own life way more dramatically -- just be quiet and actually listen. Do not respond with, ‘You think that’s bad? You have no idea what I’m going through!’ This is the ugly art of turning yourself into the center of the conversation. That is always bad form and people notice. It’s self-centered and self-absorbed.

ASK QUESTIONS. It’s simple; basic manners! Asking questions is how you charm people. Being curious makes others feel important. Being curious makes you a more interesting person and means you are not self-absorbed. Being curious gets information. How to know people’s secrets in five minutes? Play dumb. Smile. Get the details. Hone in to what makes this particular person tick. We call curiosity emotional intelligence. You will get far in life by being charming and deeply curious. You can literally charm people’s pants off. Romantics beware!

Teenagers: Engage your friend’s parents. Try ‘Hello, how are you?’ Don’t just sneak up the stairs when visiting friends and pretend the parents don’t exist. Parents need help too. Academy research shows that in many instances adults don’t take the time to ask their child’s friends questions, like, 'What interests you?' Don’t treat your children’s friends like they are little kids. Give them an opening and start a conversation.

NO WHINING! 'I am so busy,' 'I am in the weeds,' 'You can’t believe what I am up against...' Who cares? Tally how many times you have heard these kinds of excuses. We are all busy, some people way more than others. These statements lead nowhere. They cannot ignite an interesting conversation and do not improve a relationship.

SMILE. Even guerrillas do it. People read facial experiences. They also hear smiles. Smiling changes the tone of your voice. Try it! Record yourself saying something, Then record the same sentence while you smile. The difference might astonish you...

MAKE EYE CONTACT. Even if you are not entirely sure of your position, remind yourself that everyone wasn’t always overly competent. They practiced and they learned. Stay calm and collected. Remind yourself of your own worth, then you can think of others around you.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Last but certainly not least: SELF CARE. Without it, you cannot take care of anyone else. Say, 'I am sorry, I cannot go out. I need to be on my own for an evening.' Burnout is all too common. Avoid it by creating pockets of space to allow yourself to recharge.

A Few Indispensable Tips on Cocktail Party Attire

Suzanne Pollak

It’s chic to wear a fantastic ‘something’ over and over to make it your signature. Just as smart hosts cook their favorite recipe again and again, no matter who comes to dinner, because they know their guests look forward to their culinary specialty; the chicest women throughout history know the style repetition secret. 

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

That 'thing’ can be an accessory, a dress, a shoe. The Dean learned from native and expatriate ladies swanning into her parents 1960's cocktail parties all over Africa. Women wore cigarette pants for casual affairs and jewel-toned satin mini cocktail dresses at fancier parties. Along with real hair dos (coifs, up-dos), eye liner flaring out just like Cleopatra, brilliant lips inhaling pearl or golden cigarette holders, perhaps even a huge cocktail ring or elaborate earrings...none of these beauties boasted a colossal wardrobe with unlimited choices but they had a cocktail uniform that took them anywhere. Once vital decisions are decided, brains are free to tackle life’s thornier problems: whom to invite to the party, which stranger to talk to first at someone else’s, how to grab attention, connect, ignite a fire, or tactfully end a conversation that's headed nowhere.

One  Taffin  ring...

One Taffin ring...

and another.

and another.

The teenage Dean appropriated the tip immediately and forever. Deciding and simplifying what to wear wherever is cheaper and quicker once you you know what suits you. Dressing becomes a snap, so be loyal and stick with your style. Adding that something extra, or taking it off, makes the outfit appropriate for the particular party and place. 

Because, of course, it makes a difference where the cocktail party is: Hollywood, California, Hollywood SC, Beirut, Tripoli or Paris; the Ambassador’s residence or your neighbor’s garden? "When in Rome," so the saying goes. You don’t want to be dramatically different than everyone else unless you can handle it. For example, a man does not wear a motorcycle jacket when he attends a soirée at Charleston’s  Yacht Club. Men there wear the proper uniform of khaki pants and a blue blazer. The Dean once knew two young American beauties visiting the south of France who were assured that everyone, absolutely everyone, went topless to parties at a certain place. Perhaps a little naïve, they showed up appropriately undressed to a party filled with elegant older couture-covered guests. Still embarrassed decades later! 

Dressing comes down to the first impression. What can a first impression tell us about someone whom we only met for a moment at a party? Of course we all know human beings are complex and contradictory, but you don’t have to live with someone to sense immediately if you want more of them or less. The package of you starts with eye contact, the smile and what is draping your body. Identify what you want out of the engagement. Something, or nothing? There to sip one bourbon, or to possibly meet your next business associate or romantic partner? You don’t want your clothes to get in the way. A woman does not want to be so flashy others are distracted from substance, but neither does she want to seem too dowdy. 

Figure out your primary assets -- cleavage, neck, arms, hair -- and choose cocktail attire accordingly. For your own engagement, you will need to move, sit and stand. As a guest you can swan around or sprawl on a sofa as you wish.

For reference, here is the Dean's summer cocktail uniform: Hart tassels, J. McLaughlin white blouse and cigarette pants, with extra pointy shoes to make legs look longer. This pair of Balenciaga mules harkens back to the time of Robin Hood! Because they are extravagant, they will be worn with jeans all fall and winter, for hosting ladies luncheons and gumbo dinner parties, with a Halloween costume, for a Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner, even just for hanging out at home.

MORE on How to Host a Bridal Shower (for Martha Stewart Weddings)

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean, Etiquette Expert Extraordinaire, returned to Martha Stewart Weddings with some additional tips on how to host a Summer Bridal Shower. For everything from menu suggestions (spoiler alert: no messy finger foods) to theme ideas, as well as how to hone your guest list, check out the full piece HERE...

The Dean on Bridal Showers (for Martha Stewart Weddings)

Suzanne Pollak

Betsy von Furstenberg and company ("Look" Magazine, 1950)

Betsy von Furstenberg and company ("Look" Magazine, 1950)

The Dean was pleased to offer her foolproof tips for throwing your first bridal shower, over on the Martha Stewart Weddings blog today. From how to plan and decorate, to properly introducing your guests to one another -- even how to get them to leave when the party is over -- the Academy is here to make sure the party happens without a hitch.

Read the full article, "How to Be the Ultimate First-Time Hostess," HERE!

The Makings of a Pork Chop

Suzanne Pollak

An advisor to the Academy, the Minister of Meat, maintains that a pork chop is harder to perfect than a steak.* We all know where a pork chop comes from** but not many of us know the simple secrets to cooking a chop that will blow your mind this time, and every time.

What we don’t want is a grey pork chop. A grey chop means the heat wasn’t high enough. It means that you were chicken. Don’t get chicken with the pig. The difference between chefs and home cooks is that chefs are not afraid of high heat. The pork chop goal is juicy pink inside, crispy fat on the outside. The difficulty lies between crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. The following are the Pork Chop Poobah’s exact directions for the perfect pork chop, which he follows to the letter every time: 

  • Pork chops 
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Pears, apples or peaches, thickly sliced***
  1. For starters, buy your pork chops from the best butcher in town. It is literally impossible to make an inferior pork chop superior. In Charleston we go to Ted's.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When surface is hot, pour a generous slug of olive oil in pan. You are not frying the chop, but you need more oil than a bare sheen. Using enough hot oil is the reason why the fat crisps and becomes delicious. This heated oil is definitely going to splatter, so wear an apron to protect your clothes, and know you will be wiping the stove and floor near the stove during clean up time. Your stomach and loved one’s stomachs are worth that hassle. 
  3. When the oil starts to pop or "spit" (about thirty seconds), lay the pork chops in pan and leave the chop alone for exactly five minutes. Then turn the chop over. The Pork Doctor says that the second side is the creative side. Not to make you crazy, but he says listen to the vibe. The Dean’s translation: depending on the chop’s thickness, temperature of pan surface, even the humidity, the second side is done in three to five minutes. After cooking pork chops a few times you will know exactly when it is ready by touching and looking. Until that time comes, know that your chop is finished when the second side’s fat is crispy but the interior is pale pink. Stick a knife tip into middle of the meat and take a look at the color. It’s a fine line between pinky perfection and grey overtones.
  4. When you turn the chop to the second side, place sage leaves and slices of pears around the chops. Both leaves and fruit will be ready in two minutes, when browned and crispy. If the chops need another minute, remove the sage and pears with tongs onto a paper towel first, and then take the chops out.
  5. Serve pork chops with sage and pears on the side.****

*Why is a pork chop harder to cook than a steak? Steak is more forgiving. Cooking a streak properly means charring the outside and leaving the inside rare. You can guesstimate by looking at the thickness. There is more leeway between black and blue rare and overdone for a steak than there is for a pork chop. 

**A pork chop is from the loin of a pig, which runs from the hip to the shoulder and contains the small strip of meat called the tenderloin. The most common chops you see in the butcher case are from the ribs and the loin.

***Fruit and pork go together like Fred & Ginger. Use apples or pears in the fall and winter, peaches in the summer.  

****For a colorful feast, serve alongside sautéed yellow wax beans and roasted cauliflower.

 

The Right Tools for the Job

Suzanne Pollak

Angles matter. Whether cutting garlic cloves to release the most flavor, testing the doneness of steamed cauliflower, or simply choosing a spatula -- it’s all about esthetics & practicality.

Tony Hendra, Charleston Academy's Dean of Wit, likes to thinly slice his garlic because "the large combined surface area of the garlic means it releases its flavor faster and more fully when it hits the oil. Also crispy sautéed garlic slices are one of the great toppings for pasta, fish, and veggies (e.g. haricots verts.) In fact they're up there with 'amandine' or crispy sautéed almond slices. Sometimes I mix them to make my own special amandine.

I rarely mince unless I'm in high heels.  I only chop wood and suey."

We often use the term "Goodfellas thin" in reference to the famous scene in which lead character Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) describes how mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) prepared dinner while they were doing time: “In prison, dinner was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, then we had a meat or a fish. Paulie was doing a year for contempt and had a wonderful system for garlic. He used a razor and sliced it so thin it would liquify in the pan with a little oil. It’s a very good system.”

When testing the readiness of steamed vegetables, people often use the tip of a knife. The Dean has learned that sometimes a knife tip is wrong for the gig. Using the tines of a fork with cauliflower is better. Three or four prongs provide greater surface area for poking and give a more accurate decision of doneness. 

Finally, the almighty spatula. The angle of the spatula makes the utensil more, or less, useful. In the photo, the top spatula, by Oneida, will enable the cook to slide food from the pan without having to tilt a screaming hot object.

In the kitchen, you're only as good as your tools. And remember, it's never the oven's fault...

I Heard You Twice the First Time

Suzanne Pollak

When it comes to managing uncommunicative teenagers, your home is the ideal place to get this surly age group to start talking to you. The second most ideal place is your car, essentially the family home on wheels.

A well-known fact is that everyone feels comfortable in anyone's kitchen, even young adults. So set up an environment that puts teens at ease around a kitchen island or countertop, and organize a project making gnocchi together.  Making and forming gnocchi will be a learning experience, no matter how expert you are already. (If you are frightened by the prospect then get the Academy to do the teaching.)

Here's what happens when you are creating something with your hands and concentration is needed: brains are 75% occupied with task at hand, which makes the other 25% of motor functions relax. Don't ask the Dean why but she knows this is a proven fact after raising four of her own children. Talking subjects can be about the steps to making the gnocchi, a completely non-threatening topic which offers lots of areas for delving into -- food, culture, nutrition, taste. Not to mention that a hands-on experience is always more fun to do with someone else, because you become pals in a project instead of adversaries.

If you can get into a routine (maybe once a month) a one-on-one tradition may start and memories will be made, believe us! Once a skill becomes more familiar and less scary, there is always opportunity for laughing at mistakes which will definitely occur, being proud of the final product, and creating a delicious dinner. With patience, the space will arise for talking about other, more personal subjects...maybe not on the first try but eventually. Number one key: don't ask penetrating questions, which moms can be expert at doing.

Nightly dinners are the time and place to become an active listener. Ask questions that need more than a yes or no response, but remember, not too personal! The big mistake is to do all the talking or give too many opinions. Allow these teenagers of yours time to answer a question so they can formulate what they want to say and how. Let these guys be the smartest ones in the room. Every person needs that. 

Dinners for Three

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean loves a good trio. The chicest dinner party she's attended of late happened in NYC, hosted by a super busy deputy director of a major institution (a friend whose identity shall remain a secret, as always.) Somehow, this doyenne finds the time to cook, set a glorious table, pour champagne, and even, in Summers past, fill a kitchen shelf with bottles of her put-up tomatoes, peaches, plums -- which just proves the Academy's number one discovery: the busiest people in the world somehow manage to get the the most done.

Enter this beauty's house and her dinner is nearly prepared, but not quite. Genius move! The guest sees the host in action and the house smells heavenly so taste buds tingle. The entertaining atmosphere becomes cozy, soothing, comforting, exciting, relaxing all at once because you are hanging out in the kitchen. Who wouldn't fall in love? 

Her no fail hors d'oeuvres? More genius! Chips and cashews. No work, easy peasy.  The water bottles on the table? Genius again! This exotic lady collects interesting shaped liquor bottles and when the alcohol is finished, keeps the beautiful bottles filled with water in her fridge. 

The Dean loves peeking into powder rooms, whether she needs to use one or not. These tiny rooms reveal so much. Her's was moody and sexy with a dimly burning candle, scented not too sweet. (Cloying candles are a major turn off, if you don't already know.) The dark aura would make anyone appear beautiful. Here's a tip -- if you want all your guests to feel glamorous, then the powder room is a tool in your arsenal. 

Back to the guest number...three is just perfect. You will have a chance to really get to know someone if one is unknown. Or, if you are old friends, then you can really catch up. Dinners for three are less work, easier to clean up, and deliver huge returns. Relationships glue together by the end of the night. 

Thank you my NYC Secret Lake Diver.

On Serving Nuts

Suzanne Pollak

One tip the Dean picked up this Summer in France and adopted at home in Charleston is an elegant way to serve nuts during cocktail hour. Fill one bowl with nuts and another with little spoons -- for instance, those sterling demitasse spoons your grandmother left you that lay hidden and unused in their felt rolls. Show your guests how to take a spoon, fill with nuts, then place nuts in their hands and snack away. The French approach accomplishes two results: individual portion control and avoiding fingertips in the food. YUCK!

Quick Tips for a Hallway Arrangement

A. K. Lister

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Along with your warm greeting, a punchy party soundtrack, the scent of a something delicious to come, and a stiff cocktail at the ready -- the thoughtful placement of an eye-catching arrangement by the front door should be the first thing to welcome guests to your home.  

It doesn't have to be an elaborate bouquet (...not that we would ever protest.)  All you really need are a few interesting leaves and branches, clipped from the garden/yard/public park across the street, in the dark of night, so local law enforcement and nosey neighbors don't notice you at work.

The Dean is not here to judge anyone's methods for procuring their flora, but simply to offer quick & easy instruction for arranging them.  Without further ado: