Saturday, April 23, 2011

On the Pleasures of Brunching

Until this morning, I forgot how lovely it was to lounge on someone else’s couch, Bloody Mary in hand, on a Saturday morning. Especially when guests arrive with feathers in their hair, and Easter grass becomes the alfalfa of an otherwise whole grain, lox-and-capers affair.

This morning, I rediscovered the pleasure of brunching.

Forget the art of the cheese plate, and let’s talk about the essentials of a stellar late-moring soiree. It all depends on nosh and company.

Here is my field report:

Invite strangers.
When comrades come to a party, a clique forms and no one leaves the kitchen. When you select a random assortment of friends, the room swirls. There is so much to talk about – conversation becomes the Easter Egg Hunt, yes! This morning I collected notes on how to make a cucumber gimlet (from a bartender), the history of sea shell collecting (from the author of an encyclopedia), and sketches of Philadelphia in the 1960s (from a revolutionary in a bandana). I also learned where to buy a smart second-hand suit.

Establish a Bloody Mary Bar.
Be sure to tape a recipe to the counter. Set out tomato juice, wedges of limes and lemons, Tobasco, a dish of celery salt, plus alternating olives and okra on bamboo spears. Then let everyone jostle and concoct.

Hang a chandelier over the buffet.
Let’s agree that a fabulous party is all about the lighting. Lox should look luminescent. The cream cheese should give off a pearlescent glow – not a glare. It’s a brunch, not an office party, so turn off the overhead fluorescents.

Kick the guests out of the kitchen.
Controversial, I know. But the flow of traffic is a lot easier to manage if you aren’t trying to scramble eggs with a crowd. Encourage basking by setting out a few appetizers on a coffee table, like a dish of radishes with a little salt shaker, plus a tray of sliced cucumbers with rosettes of sun-dried tomato goat cheese (mock deviled eggs?)

Serve a collage.
Brunch should be vivid and encourage play. An artful arrangement of little dishes containing items that can be assembled to make a towering bagel or a regal salad is more fun than an egg casserole, say. Consider: anchovies, capers, cheeses, lox, pickled veggies, scrambled eggs, lightly dressed arugula, bacon, a bread basket.

Burn something.
That’s right. Nothing brings people together like a crisis -- when the fire alarm goes off because the oven is smoking, everyone rallies around the cause. Laughter ensues. More drinks get poured. And then it’s time for seconds.

 Many thanks to this morning’s hosts for extending their West Philadelphia hospitality to a Fishtown stranger. Someone needs to start a brunch blog. Hint. Hint.


  1. oh, this is making me crave a) a proper brunch, and b) a return to philly. I hope that our oyster nights ensue asap!

  2. You inspire! Thanks.

  3. I'd love the recipe for that salad! Please?

  4. Sure, the salad included: arugula, shaved Parm, halved grape tomatoes, toasted pine nuts. It was dressed with white balsamic, olive oil, and a touch of sea salt. It was brought by a man named Terry, who claimed it was the only dish he knew how to make. And it was fabulous. Thanks for asking for the recipe.

  5. Oof. I've been thinking about brunches for strangers (to one another) since you wrote much so that I'm now actually planning one / inviting people. Though, I'm just too selfish to give guests assemble-it-yourselves sandwiches - I only want to cook the brunch foods that I want most. :)