Have any of you read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series? I love those books, but I have to say I was pretty disappointed in the end of the last book, which concluded "pants = love." Uh, okay? I thought it was a lame, inconclusive ending. But for me, I think the word "pants" could be replaced with another word: food!

It's mostly my dad's fault (and the occasional emotional fallout from my love of food is a whole separate post).

Growing up, my dad always got up early to cook me breakfast on special days, even early morning swim meet days when I wasn't really in the mood to eat a heavy breakfast of eggs and bacon. My dad is NOT a morning person, so I knew how much it meant that he was up early to cook. And when I went away to school, it was usually my dad who cooked the "welcome home Laura" special meal, often grilled flank steak, sesame noodles, and green beans.

Thus, when I'm trying to cook a lot of the recipes that I associate fondly with home, it's my dad that I contact. When confronted recently with a pork loin, aka a lump of meat, I asked my dad for advice. He sent me a recipe from epicurious.com saying, "This is sort of like how I sometimes prepare pork loin." Thanks for the specificity, Daddy! But he has a good way in the kitchen. One of the best tips he's given me was that, if you need something to thaw more quickly, put it on an overturned metal cookie sheet or cake pan. The metal conducts the cold away from the thawing item, making it thaw faster. When it's Sunday night and you want to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies but you never took the butter out of the freezer, this trick makes it possible to have the cookies done in a reasonable time frame! You should all try it.

I really love playing hostess. Conveniently, the organization I work for runs these programs called Parent Parties, which are a parent education program in local low-income schools. Their motto is "No more meetings for us; let's have a party!" So in my role as office assistant, I often get to go help set up for the parties. Yesterday I was gleefully arranging cookies on a platter, and I commented that need some of my friends to start getting married so I can host showers! One of the party coordinators commented that she had noticed I seem to love throwing parties, and I commented that I got it from my dad.

She was surprised by that, but it's true! Not much says love to me like segments of a peeled orange arranged around the edge of a plate with a crustless sandwich in the middle.

My dad is big on presentation, though it's often in a goofy way. One year, Mississippi State was in a bowl game, and he decided that we just HAD to tailgate, though we were at home in Louisville, Kentucky. And of course, tailgating comes with very specific guidelines, including cheap beer and cocktail weenies. And the cocktail weenies just had to have toothpicks, so we bought a silly Santa Claus toothpick holder and set everything out nicely on the counter on various platters and in various bowls. Then we set up the mini-Weber grill in the driveway, folded down the tailgate of his truck, and proceeded to have a good time, aka freeze our butts off because it was December.

But that's where I come from. I haven't had much chance to entertain yet, but when I do, nothing pleases me more than having the exact right dish on which to present something, and doing it in a way that makes it fun. I love putting my time into not only the food itself but the way it's displayed. So if I ever present you with a plate with an olive smiley face, you ought to know that it's love. :-)

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman