the menu: custom fit

setting the table

I’m always appreciative when hosts make thoughtful meals for me at dinner parties–I always require a meat-free meal, and sometimes I’m the only one around the the table with that requirement. I’ve had them either make creative substitutions wherever they’re serving meat in the meal, make an entirely different course for me, or skip the meat altogether. The latter puts the most onus on the host, but it also makes the guest feel the least self-conscious, since their preferences are not singled out.

That’s the approach I take when I have guests over who have specific meal requirements–for several reasons. I strive for a meal that everyone can enjoy, making as few versions of any course as possible. That means they feel like I haven’t gone to a lot of trouble, because I really haven’t. Win-win.

I’m sure you’ve had to get creative to make your guests feel welcome too and I know it can seem challenging.

My advice is to think of what people can enjoy, rather than what they can’t. Because I love menu-planning, this approach has added merit for me, since it keeps the focus on the rewarding part: creating a delicious experience for everyone. If the dish that initially comes to mind doesn’t fit your needs, move on to the next great thing you might make. If a recipe almost fits the bill but has one ingredient on the no-list, perhaps there is a perfectly good substitute for it.

Most recently, I made dinner for myself and five guests who could not eat meat, gluten, soy, cow dairy or garlic. We ate for hours and I think everyone truly enjoyed every dish, judging by their compliments and second helpings. I don’t think anyone felt cheated and certainly no one felt singled out. We just had good night breaking bread together. Well, minus the bread, of course. Ha.

dinner with friends

black olive tapenade – seed crackers – fried fava beans – cava

james’ winter stew (with green onions and shallots instead of garlic, coconut milk instead of milk) – jerked tofu – rice & lentil pilaf with caramelized onions – spiced goat yogurt sauce w/ cilantro, mint – riesling – pinot noir

ice cream sandwiches (store-bought gluten-free, vegan cookies and soy vanilla ice cream) – coffee & liquor