November 23, 2006

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I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, by Amy Sedaris (Warner Books, 2006, 304 pages)
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com.

We should all have a friend like Amy Sedaris.

Someone who, when you say you are stuck entertaining all two dozen of your husband’s closest relatives for the holidays, doesn’t offer to lend you her cookie sheets but does offer to lend you her extra large plastic jugs of vodka. Someone who does not have a recipe for individual lemon-and-lavender-scented crème brulees but does have a relatively simple cinnamon sour cream coffee cake. Someone who will help you plan your seating chart so that the astronomers don’t wind up near the astrologers (which would result in much social chaos).

This is a book on entertaining, whether guests or oneself, by planning out the event (funeral, kids birthday party, French night) and sticking to it. Amy Sedaris’ entertaining ideas come not from the past decade spent watching Martha, Mario and Emeril but from watching her mom some 30 years ago and building off the casserole/pasta salad/fancy beef repertoire. (You can also see Sedaris’ Greek heritage come through with the many Greek recipes including spanakopita and pastitsio.) These aren’t recipes you get off the Food Network but recipes you get off the backs of cans of sweetened condensed milk or a box of instant rice. Which doesn’t make them bad — in fact these recipes are probably the best examples of actual home cooking I’ve seen in books in a while. Potato salad, the giant cheese ball for parties, about a million variations of cake and cupcakes — these are some highly practical items that you usually don’t find in the books featuring your modern pancetta-wrapped eats. Many are presented with some very real-life versions of what the finished products look like — instead of the normal food porn you get photos of lasagna or meatloaf that look very similar to what those foods would look like if you snapped some pictures of your dinner.

I Like You is not a joke book or even just a cookbook (though it does include a great multitude of recipes). In fact it is probably as honest a depiction of Sedaris as ever there has been. She seems to be someone who (at least in public) has decided that, instead of therapy and getting to know herself better, has decided to find happiness by picking a personality she likes and running with it. She seems to like the image of the perky, slightly boozy, can-do hostess who brings a Betty Crocker/Mary Kay do-it-yourself attitude to all of her projects. And you get the sense that Sedaris is someone with projects. Personalized lighters, googly-eyed peanuts, tissue flowers, needle wallets — these are not your standard arts and crafts but they are sort of impressive (as are Sedaris’ many uses for pantyhose). There is a bored-while-stuck-at-home-during-a-snowstorm quality to some of her suggestions. You’ll run across a sheet cake shaped like a ghost with eyes made out of empty egg shells into which are put a sugar cube covered in lemon extract that is then set ablaze. Insane, you think. But then you remember seeing the exact same recipe in one of your childhood cookbooks (flaming cakes? What were they thinking?) and you realize where Sedaris gets a lot of her design sensibilities.

I Like You will not replace your Joy of Cooking. But in a world of dreadfully earnest craft books and enraptured cookbooks, it’s nice to run across a book on entertaining that knows how to wink. B+ — Amy Diaz.