Your home, whether you rent or own, is probably your biggest financial asset, which for Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault raises a question: Why aren't you using it?
If that sounds crazy to you - "Of course I'm using it, I'm living in it" - think a little more deeply about what the question is really asking.
Are you using the dining room for meals in any months other than November and December? Do you use the kitchen more as a holding area for mail, pocketbooks and homework in progress than as a place to cook and share time with your family? Is anyone actually doing any living in your living room?
Hmm. Maybe the question wasn't so crazy after all. Which is why Pollak and Manigault wrote "The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette With Recipes." They want to help people reconnect to their homes in a way that nourishes family life and the spirit of gracious living.
"Charleston's been known for hundreds of years for its hospitality and for entertaining at home," says Pollak, who co-authored "Entertaining for Dummies" and "The Pat Conroy Cookbook." But in recent years, she says, some of the finer points of the domestic arts, such as being a good host and a well-mannered guest, setting a nice table and talking rather than texting during supper - have been lost.
When they met at a party several years ago, Pollak and Manigault quickly discovered their mutual love for entertaining and sharing the warmth of their homes with others.
"Though leisurely entertainments were wildly abundant 20 years ago, it dawned on us that we were among the last two people still dragging out our dining tables under the live oak trees for candlelight suppers," they write in their book. "If even people here (in Charleston), in this last bastion of civility, were not taking the trouble to live graciously, we shuddered to think what must be happening nationwide."
Manigault, an internationally educated cook who's loved to entertain since she was a child, and Pollak decided to give a trial class on entertaining, just to see how it would go. They invited a small group of women in their early 30s to join them for "How to Give a Dinner Party." The event was a hit, and what's more, the women continued to call them for advice and ideas long after the class was over.
Thus the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits was born, with "the Deans," as Pollak and Manigault call themselves, leading an array of classes and speaking to local groups small and large about gracious living and entertaining. The dinner party class is still one of their most popular, and Manigault says "Everyday Cooking" and "Cocktail Parties" are other favorites.
Their desire to spread the word beyond the Lowcountry inspired the book (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, available online), and they're finding eager audiences: The two recently returned from several book signings and events in New York City, and the ABC daytime show "The Chew" is scheduled to be in town in the coming weeks to film them in action.
In addition to the recipes and menu ideas, the book is jammed with practical advice offered in frank, funny, snappy style, such as how to graciously get rid of party guests who don't know when to go home and some sly advice on how to set yourself up to inherit the family silver. They even offer tips on how to choose a good hostess gift. ("One bottle of wine smacks of a regift. Two of the same kind, or an interesting pairing of white and red, do not.")
Whether the occasion is a business breakfast, a book-club meeting for girlfriends or a school-night supper with just the family, Pollak and Manigault say their advice can help add a dose of charm to the gathering.
They sum up the spirit of the academy in these three tenets: "1. A well-run house is the bedrock to a successful life for each inhabitant; 2. Using your kitchen to create home-cooked meals will result in a healthier and happier life; and 3. Entertaining at home improves your life in ways that you cannot even imagine."
From cocktails for one to pulled pork for 100, "The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits" features recipes for a range of occasions, ages and tastes. While a number are geared toward party giving, there are also many weeknight family dinner ideas, some holiday-oriented fare and lots of basics, such as biscuits, that can be dialed up or down to be as simple or as fancy as you need them to be. The following recipes are particularly well-suited to the coming weeks of warm weather and casual dining.
Serves 8 to 10
1 bone-in pork butt (about 8 pounds)
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
Place the pork butt fat side up in a roasting pan. Rub the salt and sugar all over the fat. Refrigerate the butt for 1 to 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Season the butt with pepper. Pour in the milk. Roast in the oven, uncovered, for 6 hours.
1/2 red cabbage, shredded
6 bunches scallions, chopped
1 large knob of ginger, minced, about 2 to 3 tablespoons (use a mini food processor if you have one)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients and let macerate for up to 1 hour. Make banh mi sandwiches with the leftover pork and cabbage; sprinkle with chopped jalapeno.
11/2 cups white rum (preferably Cruzan)
1 cup fresh lime juice
2/3 cup simple syrup (see cook's note)
1 lime, sliced
Cook's note: To make 3/4 cup simple syrup, use a small saucepan to heat 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water together over medium heat. Stir continuously until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then pour into a jar and refrigerate until needed.
For the daiquiris, in a large bowl, pour the rum, lime juice and simple syrup over crushed ice. Stir vigorously. Strain into cocktail glasses filled with large ice cubes. Float a slice of lime on each drink. Refrigerate extra daiquiri.
For the candied nuts:
1 egg white
1/2 pound nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans or almonds)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the caramel sauce:
11/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the sauteed pineapple or bananas:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pineapple, skinned, cored and sliced, or 4 bananas, halved lengthwise
2 pints vanilla ice cream
Make the candied nuts: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, whip the egg white until frothy. Toss in the nuts. Transfer the nuts with a slotted spoon to a bowl with the sugars, cinnamon, cayenne and salt; toss. Spread the nuts on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. (The nuts can be stored in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.)
Make the caramel sauce: In a saucepan, heat the sugar and water over low heat until the sugar is melted. Bring to a boil and cook until medium brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully because the mixture can turn black in a moment. Carefully pour in the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Stir over low heat until thickened. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.)
Make the sauteed pineapple or bananas: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the pineapple slices or banana halves and cook until caramelized on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip and caramelize the second side. Do not be afraid to get the sides very dark brown - fruit will be even more delicious.
To serve: Assemble the sundaes with the ice cream, fruit, caramel sauce and nuts any way you wish.