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The Right Tool for the Job

August 06, 1992|CHARLES PERRY

There are disagreements among the arbiters of etiquette--but, of course, polite ones. For instance, "Letitia Baldridge's Complete Guide to the New American Manners for the '90s" (Rawson Associates: 1990), written by a woman who was Jacqueline Kennedy's White House chief of staff and who wrote several of the Amy Vanderbilt etiquette guides, tends to rule more frequently in favor of efficiency and convenience at the table than does "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior" (Atheneum: 1982). "Miss Manners" (Judith Martin, a Washington Post columnist) holds that efficiency in food consumption is boring and piggish, but she would probably never dream of telling Letitia this to her face.

Speaking of Tongs

The snail shell is held, using the left hand, either with special snail tongs that fit the shell or in a napkin. The meat is removed with a small fork. When the snails have been removed and the shells are cool enough to handle, Letitia Baldridge approves of picking them up in the fingers and sucking out the juice, or turning them upside down and sopping up the juices with a piece of bread speared on a fork. Miss Manners does not approve of either technique . . . when other diners are watching. ("That is why you see her turning discreetly away from you at the table, and also why you hear her offering to clear the snail dishes from the table").

Give It a Twirl

Catch four or five strands of this unruly food in the tines of your fork and twirl them into a neat bundle. This sounds easier than it actually is. Baldridge accepts the practice of using a soup spoon, instead of the surface of the plate, to twirl the spaghetti against in times of distress. Miss Manners disagrees (her exact comment is, "Bite your tongue!"), holding that this use of a spoon is wrong in our country as well as in Italy. They agree that any strand that hangs out of the mouth should be discreetly sucked in rather than spit out. Quietly, of course. In China, it is considered correct to slurp one's noodles audibly, but of course the Chinese have to eat extremely long noodles on their birthdays and have no choice.

SALSA DI POMODORO (From "La Cucina di Lidia," by Lidia Bastianich)

2 1/2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes

1 cup minced onion

3 tablespoons olive oil


Freshly ground pepper

8 fresh basil leaves, minced

With point of paring knife cut out and discard stem bases of tomatoes, removing small cones about 1/4 inch deep, then lightly cut X shapes on opposite ends of tomatoes.

Bring water to boil in large saucepan. Drop in tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to colander. Run cold water over and slip skins off with fingers.

Lightly saute onion in olive oil in nonreactive saucepan. Add tomatoes, crushing each directly over pan as added. Add reserved juice, if tomatoes have been seeded. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add basil before serving. Makes about 2 1/2 cups, or about 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

164 calories; 100 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 2.07 grams fiber.

Finger Food

If asparagus is not overcooked, the correct, old-fashioned technique is to use your fingers. Pick up one spear at a time by the base, dip the opposite end in sauce and eat from the bud end, discarding the bases in a neat pile. If asparagus is overcooked and limp, or entirely covered with sauce, it must be cut up with knife and fork.

The Most Dangerous Course

Here we have total disagreement. Baldridge favors the "continental" style of using the knife and fork, where the fork is held (tines down) in the left hand throughout the meal and not only holds food down to be cut with the knife but brings it to the mouth. As she points out, this is more efficient than the American style, because the knife does not have to be put down and the fork does not have to change hands with every mouthful, and because the knife can serve as a "pusher" to move food onto the fork. It's also more efficient at dessert, when the dessert spoon serves as a "pusher" for the dessert fork. Miss Manners, to whom any sort of "pusher" suggests a coarse desire to stuff one's face, emphatically disagrees: "American table manners are, if anything, a more advanced form of civilized behavior than the European, because they are more complicated and further removed from the practical result, always a sign of refinement." She "does not approve of native Americans changing their habits in order to appear fashionably foreign. Nor does she accept their excuse that the foreign method is more efficient. Efficiency in food service or consumption is not desirable."

CREME BRULEE NAPOLEON (From Michel Richard of Citrus)

1/2 cup golden brown sugar



Strawberry Sauce, on H25

2 pints strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

Creme fraiche or sour cream, at room temperature

Sieve brown sugar over Custards. Broil at least 6 inches from heat source until sugar melts. Refrigerate 1 hour.

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