What's a celebration? Platitudinous speeches, not-quite-ready-for-Carnegie-Hall entertainment and balloons sorely needing booster shots of helium all can be forgiven and forgotten if celebrants are treated to abundant good food.
Leave a good taste in their mouths, and you'll have satisfied guests, thankful for the deliciousness of your hospitality.
Reasons and excuses for celebrating are plentiful during the next several weeks: Memorial Day weekend, graduations, weddings, Father's Day, anniversaries, family reunions and the Fourth of July come readily to mind.
Paramount in planning and preparing the food is to make sure you don't work so hard that you lose sight of the reason you're celebrating. The cook should have nearly as much, if not as much fun as the guests.
Suggestions to consider:
* Caterers, delicatessens and take-out shops are eager and waiting to lend a helping hand, preparing all the food or a portion of it. You can make a few of your specialties and leave the rest to the professionals.
* Plan your menu so there's very little last-minute preparation. Serve a chilled soup, and you'll have time to concentrate on a hot entree. Many entrees can be made ahead and reheated. Many desserts can be made a day or more ahead.
* The day of the party, set out plates, napkins, silverware and glasses so you don't have to be doing that at the last minute.
* If you're planning to barbecue for a large crowd, begin early. It's better to keep your barbecued food in a warm oven than to have hungry guests asking when they get to eat.
* Think of balance in your meal so the same ingredient, such as mushrooms or fresh basil, is not featured in more than one course.
* Don't make every dish rich and laden with calories. Some of your guests will appreciate the raw vegetables, the light salads and the fresh fruit.
* Recently published cookbooks offer many more ideas for entertaining and for celebrations, large and small:
"Outdoor Entertaining" (Collins Publishers, $40). Menus, tips and more than 300 recipes.
"Alfresco" by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson (Clarkson Potter, $35). Suggestions for a leisurely lunch in a country courtyard, a relaxing dinner on the porch and a casual picnic after a weekend walk, with more than 100 recipes.
"Lee Bailey's Cooking For Friends" (Clarkson Potter, $30). Meals for holidays are included in this new book by an author who specializes in entertaining.
"The Best of Gourmet 1992 Edition" (Random House, $28). Suggestions for holiday menus, anniversary parties and the ultimate celebratory dessert, chocolate mousse and raspberry cream dacquoise, are included in this collection from last year's issues of the magazine.
"Martha Rose Shulman's Feasts & Fetes" (Chapters Publishing, $17.95). A paperback version of this author's healthful menus for do-ahead entertaining and cooking for a crowd.