There was a time when having house guests wreaked such havoc on my schedule and pocketbook, you might have thought I was entertaining royalty or running for Innkeeper of the Year. Weeks before the big event, I would scrub every nook and cranny not only of the guest room, but of the entire house. If my visitors had arrived with magnifying glasses and white gloves, they would have given me an A in Housework 101.
The bed linens were starched and ironed; thick, fluffy bath towels were folded with T-square precision and fresh-cut flowers resembled a Cezanne still-life. The bathroom was filled with an exotic array of shampoos, soaps and lotions, plus every sundry item needed if luggage was lost en route. By the bed sat an enticing platter of petite homemade pastries, to be consumed after guests had indulged in a four-course gourmet feast. I might have earned Mobile Travel guide's highest rating, but my guest quarters were seldom occupied -- filling them was just too much work.
But last summer, after visiting a dear friend and culinary colleague in New York, all that changed. I ate the same pizza she bought her kids and slept in a guest room so overstuffed with boxes that the floor was almost indiscernible. Nonetheless, I felt welcome and loved, and it had nothing to do with the food or surroundings. She didn't have to exhaust herself to let me know she was happy I was there.
Since then, I've developed a new philosophy -- what's good enough for my family is good enough for my guests. Advance preparation is limited to making dinner the day guests arrive, marketing for the remaining meals, and when time allows, tucking a posie in a bud vase and a welcome note on the pillow.
For this breakfast menu, you won't need to arise before your guests -- in fact, it's fun to let them share in the cooking. Begin by blending some frothy cantaloupe coolers to sip while you work. With or without the rum, this mix of cantaloupe and vanilla yogurt is so refreshing, friends have dubbed it "The Ultimate Eye-Opener."
Gingerbread oven pancake with fresh peaches is an adaptation of the increasingly popular classic, Dutch Baby, a Yorkshire pudding-like baked pancake. In this version the batter is enlivened with the fragrant spices of gingerbread and the juicy sweetness of fresh peaches or nectarines. For an even quicker version, substitute frozen sliced peaches, well drained on paper towels, for the fresh. The batter may be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight, if desired. To reduce cholesterol, replace the three whole eggs with one whole egg and three egg whites. The result will be a lighter, less custardy, but equally delectable pancake.
Turkey sausage patties with honey mustard make a delicious accompaniment to the pancake. Although a wide variety of breakfast sausages are commercially available, I prefer making my own creations, giving them unexpected twists and knowing what's in them. These baked patties are made with turkey scallops, leeks and thick-style honey mustard found in the produce section of most markets, then encrusted with a coating of corn cereal and pecans. For a lower fat version, replace the nuts with an equal amount of Grape Nuts cereal. The uncooked patties can be refrigerated overnight or frozen and then baked on the top rung of the oven while the pancake bakes on the bottom.
With my new laid-back philosophy and minimum advance preparation, I find I can enjoy my guests as much as I hope they enjoy my hospitality.
Makes 4 (6-ounce) servings.
Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes
2 cups chopped ripe cantaloupe (about 1 medium melon)
3/4 cup low or non-fat vanilla yogurt
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup golden rum, optional
about 16 ice cubes
wedges of cantaloupe for garnish, if desired
Place cantaloupe in blender container and process until pureed. Add yogurt, sugar and rum, if using, and mix to blend. Add ice cubes and blend until mixture is thick and frothy, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately in wine or juice glasses. If desired, garnish with wedges of cantaloupe.
Gingerbread oven pancake
` with fresh peaches
Makes 4 servings.
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Bake time: 18 to 20 minutes
Advance prep: Pancake batter may be refrigerated overnight
1/2 cup low or non-fat milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 small, or 2 large, firm but ripe peaches or nectarines (about 1 1/2 cups sliced fruit)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
sliced fruit and/or berries for garnish, optional
creamy peach schnapps topping, recipe follows (optional)
To make the pancake: In a food processor with metal blade or large bowl with whisk, process or whisk milk, eggs, molasses and spices untilblended. Mix in flour and 1/4 cup brown sugar until blended. If using a whisk, the batter will remain slightly lumpy. Let sit while preparing the fruit. (The batter may be refrigerated overnight, if desired.)