Diversity at the Dinner Party


Mason Masteka/flickr

To try Regina's recipe for roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts, click here.

As I was cooking one recent afternoon and anticipating the arrival of guests, I was juggling the needs of a diverse group of friends who would be at my table. As I have written before, I prefer entertaining with a buffet-style menu—this is a sure way to please everyone and cover any special requests.

I always begin my menu with what I have on hand or what is in season. I had some lovely Colorado lamb chops and some Mississippi farm-raised quail. That night I had two guests who do not eat red meat and my guests of honor, who were traveling to Mississippi from upstate New York with their new baby, keep kosher. No dairy or shellfish wouldn't be a problem: with the quail I planned a cranberry demiglace, and for the lamb chops my favorite tomato-mint marmalade. For the non-meat eaters, my side dishes would be hearty enough to make a meal without meat. I would do a mushroom-brioche dressing, roasted Yukon Gold fingerling potatoes with Brussels sprouts and mustard. I always have a hearty salad. My biscuits with orange marmalade butter are off limits for my Jewish friends (I learned this a little too late) and dessert would be served after dinner, so dairy was acceptable—and it is essential for my blackberry custard tarts.

Whether your table is diverse geographically, politically, or any other way, good food and company always bring out the best in everyone.

My friends are more diverse than any buffet I have ever prepared. I have hosted friends from every political party, most every race and religion, conservative gays, straight liberals, and often at the same table. As welcome as they are in my home and at my table, they find the same warm welcome wherever they tour, shop, or eat in Natchez, and, I would like to believe, in Mississippi as a whole. I know very well the image Mississippi has had through the years. Being a Mississippian in Paris, San Francisco, or New York, the reaction is the same. It is first assumed you are racist, or if you are not that your family is. There may be assumptions of a lack of education. I had someone in San Francisco tell me once that they did not even think people from Mississippi would look normal. As I have always said, "Mississippi has not cornered the market on prejudices." It exists just as strongly in California and every other state.

Don't think we are not aware of our past here. As Mary Beth Wilkerson with Mississippi Development Authority recently said, "We recognize and honor our past (good and bad) while presenting the innovation and growth of today and tomorrow in Mississippi." I remember in the 1960s when most every Sunday dinner with my parents, aunts, and uncles ended up with heated discussions about civil rights and what was going on in Mississippi. I have seen the South change before my very eyes. Personally I am proud of Mississippi and the reputation it is now embracing as the most Southern state in the nation. Mississippi is beginning to have a positive ring to it because people are recognizing Mississippi as the mother of Southern culture. Whether it is blues music, literature, or Southern food, Mississippi epitomizes the best of what's Southern. We even have a new slogan for the state: it is "Come find your true South." That applies to what appeals to you: Southern food, Southern architecture, Southern music, Southern gaming, Southern literature, and more.

Whether your table is diverse geographically, politically, or any other way, good food and company always bring out the best in everyone. It never hurts to have a menu that suits all your guests' needs. Here is my recipe for roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts with grainy mustard. I have had many requests for meatless dishes now that the new year is in full swing, and this is one of my favorites—with four basic ingredients.

Recipe: Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with Grainy Mustard