Remember when we used to "entertain"? Tablecloths and candles, china and crystal, hors d'oeuvres, entree, salad, hot rolls and dessert? Conversation -- remember conversation? Remember after-dinner coffee in the living room, an easy exchange of ideas, and no TV news in the background?
If you can't remember spending such an evening since 19-aught-7 (or was it 8?), you're not alone. We busy working people simply haven't the time to spend days preparing gourmet meals and formal settings.
Here are some simpler ways to break bread with your friends and family, instead:
* Host potluck suppers -- remember them? Ask each guest to bring a part of the meal, with the understanding that he/she will take home his or her own dirty pots and serving bowls.
* Invite guests to contribute to ethnic theme meals -- Italian, French, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, German, Jewish, whatever. Ask each guest to bring his/her favorite hors d'oeuvre or entree. All you have to supply is a light dessert and perhaps an appropriate wine.
* Take advantage of warm weather and host a salad supper. Chicken, macaroni, Greek, potato, cucumber and tomato, coleslaw, bean, molded or gelatin -- all taste just right now, can be prepared ahead of time by willing guests, and are easily transported. All you have to do is provide a tureen of soup and a basket of rolls.
* Serve the all-American menu of barbecued hot dogs, potato salad, beans, hamburgers, corn on the cob and watermelon -- often! Nothing could be easier, especially if you stick to paper plates and disposable silverware.
* Invite people over for Sunday brunch. Serve make-your-own Bloody Marys or mimosas, cut-up fruit from the grocery salad bar, bakery rolls and bagels, precooked, sliced ham from the deli, and an easy, prepare-ahead baked egg dish (if you can stand the cholesterol).
You can be more informal with a brunch than a dinner. Plus, you'll have all day Saturday to prepare and Sunday afternoon to clean up.
* Invite people over after dinner for make-your-own sundaes. Your guests will love it, and you don't have to do a thing except buy toppings, supply napkins and watch your guests turn into happy (sticky) 8-year-olds.
* Invite friends over to share take-out food -- hamburgers, pizza, Chinese food, deli salads and/or sandwiches, (skinless) fried chicken, etc. Your friends can share the cost of the main meal while you provide beverages, paper plates, dessert and coffee.
* Give an hors d'oeuvres party. Serve cheese and crackers and one hot appetizer (perhaps easy baked chicken wings or scallops or shrimp wrapped in bacon the night before and baked when you get home from work). Ask everyone to bring his or her favorite appetizer. Just serve drinks, a bakery-bought dessert and coffee.
* Give two dinner parties back-to-back. Sounds exhausting, but you can shop for both parties at once, use the same menu and centerpiece for both, and put the dishes and glassware from the first party right back on the table.
* If you're still overcome with the urge to give a formal dinner party, sit down until it goes away. If this doesn't work, look in the Yellow Pages for bakeries, gourmet take-outs and caterers. A small dinner doesn't cost as much to cater as you might think.
* Finally, just do it. We all need to make time in our lives for the people who nourish and strengthen us, who stretch our minds and make us laugh, who know our secrets and accept us just the way we are, anyway. And when we invite these people into our homes, the last thing we need to do is impress them.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.