I Like You

Hospitality Under the Influence


By Amy Sedaris

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The inspiration for the TV show At Home with Amy Sedaris, here is a hilarious, helpful, and informative guide on how to entertain.

Are you lacking direction in how to whip up a swanky soiree for lumberjacks? A dinner party for white-collar workers? A festive gathering for the grieving? Don’t despair!

Take a cue from entertaining expert Amy Sedaris and host an unforgettable fete that will have your guests raving. No matter the style or size of the gathering – from the straightforward to the bizarre – I LIKE YOU provides jackpot recipes and solid advice laced with Amy’s blisteringly funny take on entertaining, plus four-color photos and enlightening sidebars on everything it takes to pull off a party with extraordinary flair.

You don’t even need to be a host or hostess to benefit – Amy offers tips for guests, too! (Rule number one: don’t be fifteen minutes early.) Readers will discover unique dishes to serve alcoholics (“Broiled Frozen Chicken Wings with Applesauce”), the secret to a successful children’s party (a half-hour time limit, games included), plus a whole appendix chock-full of arts and crafts ideas (from a mini-pantyhose plant-hanger to a do-it-yourself calf stretcher), and much, much more!

“In At Home with Amy Sedaris, Ms. Sedaris offers deliriously twisted takes on the homemaking skills she skewered in her books I Like You and Simple Times.” — The New York Times


Copyright © 2008 by Amy Sedaris

All rights reserved.

Warner Books

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First eBook Edition: October 2008

Warner Books and the "W" logo are trademarks of Time

ISBN: 978-0-446-54511-2

The Art of Hospitality

What a Party Means to Me

For most people the word "party" conjures up an image that is so intimidating, so overwhelming, so terrifying that they just want to skip the whole thing—it's just too much pressure. A party doesn't necessarily have to be a big extravagant to-do. A party can be as simple as a few people getting together for conversation and snacks. As my guests leave even my most simplest parties, I consistently hear the same thing: "That was the best time I ever had," and it's always me saying it. But I do know in my heart they all feel the same way, probably. I don't even like to use the word "party" because often the word gives people grand expectations. So when you see the word "party" in this book, don't think of pony kegs and loud Southern rock or cigarillos and business-women. Don't think of pools and diving for loose change. Don't think about cockfights—even though it's hard not to. Don't think tiki lights and fruity cocktails served in coconut shells on the patio, or a large group of drunken seamen clustered together shouting over each other. Think simplicity. Because if there is one thing I am, it's clinically simple.

Who Am I? Do I Ring a Bell?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Well, that's not what most people are saying about you. Before you can give of yourself to others you must know what of yourself you have to give. Every person is special. In all the land there is only one you, possibly two, but seldom more than sixteen. It's a good idea to know your strengths and weaknesses. Are you funny? Are you a good conversationalist? Are you attractive? Are you? Are you a good organizer? Do you have a lot of plates? These are some of the things you should know about yourself before taking on the responsibility of entertaining in your home. Once they've been assessed, it's important to magnify your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. If you have thick ankles, wear pants. If you're boring, pick exciting music to play. If you are a lousy cook, order out. Never overreach to mask your weakness. There is nothing cute or adorable about noticeably reaching beyond your capabilities. Remember, the goal is to entertain, not overtain.

A Self-Realized Person Will . . .

• Be unique in a way that is pleasing to everybody.

• Accentuate the positives—medicate the negatives. Have a hairstyle that is flattering to some and offensive to few.

• Have access to money.

• Never cry herself to sleep in front of others.

Learn More About Yourself!

• Make a self-esteem collage using pictures of other people you wish you were.

• Wing it! Quit your job without any financial plan or backup savings.

• Sleep with someone Chinese.

• Spend a lot of time in the bathtub.

• Disguise your voice and call family members posing as a police officer. Suggest that there has been a homicide and then question them about yourself.

• Spend some time at the zoo. Record how the animals react to your presence.

• Write yourself a fan letter.

• Put something small in your anus during lovemaking.

• Fly Air India.

Planning the Party

Now that we've done some self-discovery (see "Who Am I? Do I Ring a Bell?"), it's time to plan a party and party planning is half the fun of giving a party. The actual party is another half of the fun, and the third half is wiping up and reflecting on the terrific success of your party. But before you start reminiscing about the great party you haven't yet had, let's focus on the great party you're going to have.

This is your party. You are the captain of the ship, the cobbler of the shoes, the Count of Monte Cristo. Even if you have slaves, you still need to tell them what to do. The first step in creating a plan is to know what kind of party you will be having. This is often determined by various factors: What time of year is it? What time of day? Is my dealer in town? Do I have a backup dealer? You also need to consider how much you have to spend. How much space do you have? How much time do you have to prepare? If it's mid-August do you really want the oven on all day? Can you really fit two large ham salads in your refrigerator? A party is also determined by who can come and whether or not you can wrangle someone into doing most of your legwork. Sometimes parties are built around a theme like Barnyard Barbecue, Siesta Fiesta, Casino Nights, Pol Pot Luck, or Puttin' on the Ritz. Of course, your inspiration for having a party can be as simple as desperately wanting companionship.

Once you've decided on the type of party, it's time to consult the party log.

The Party Log

The party log may sound more like something you would leave behind at a party after a big dinner, but it is actually a detailed diary of your past parties—an organized scrapbook containing a collection of snapshots, recipes, hits and misses, menus, guest lists, and souvenir items. Before I insisted to myself that I write a book on hospitality, my version of party logs consisted of random lists written on the back of unopened mail, old notebooks, and the palm of my hand. But, after doing some extensive research for this book, I decided I loved the idea of an official well-organized "party diary." So, I am going to start one along with you.

The reason for a party log is simple: there is nothing more flattering to a guest than for a hostess to remember if he likes capers or raisins, prefers pickles to cucumbers, or has allergies to kelp, figs, or poisonous mushrooms. This is all information that can be recorded in your party log. It's a reference tool that helps you plan the next party (see sample on next page). I also think it's worthwhile to create a party log because it would be a wonderful item for someone to find after you die. I'd buy that at a flea market.

Party Log Sample Page

DATE: June 5th

PLACE: My house

KIND OF PARTY: South of the Border Theme

TIME: 8:00 pm

REASON: Lonely

GUEST LIST: Toby, Jared, Bethany, Warner, Pasquel, Lizzy, Marta, Roby, and myself

DECORATIONS: Hung yellow, black, and red streamers and a donkey piñata. Taped two large googly eyes with a fake mustache on my door.

MUSIC: Played The Best of Mexico, Vol. 2

MENU: Appetizer: Cheese ball con carne rolled in pumpkin seeds, served with blue corn tortilla chips

DRINKS AND FOOD: Margaritas, cervezas, Mexican colas, avocado salad, taco buffet, Mexican lasagna, and golden raisin flan.

HITS AND MISSES: Paper plates: bad idea for Mexican food. Cheese ball: big hit. Ran out of toilet paper early, ran out of paper towels later.

GUEST PROFILING: Toby was highly allergic to Mexican food, boiled him some spaghetti. Discovered that Lizzy is a lezzy, left with Bethany. Warner out-stayed his visit. Found tooth.

The Guest List

The moment someone says, "Hey, everyone, listen to the words in this song," your party is over. This is why the guest list is the most important aspect to a successful party. It's the people that you specially handpick that make the good times roll.

Whom you invite tells you whom not to invite. If you invite a fox, don't invite a hound—unless you're hunting for trouble. If the party is going to be made up of mostly young pretty girls, then you might want to invite some old men. Nothing makes them feel more alive. If you are having a party for a writer, you might not want to invite only other writers. Writers enjoy talking to all sorts of people who intrigue them, like a doorman, a detective, or an emergency room nurse. If all the guests have the same kind of job, the result can be geeky shoptalk, and that's not a party—that's called a convention. Make sure your guest list isn't always the same—that's a club. If a guest you invite is a shy type, balance that with a show-off, because all show-offs need an audience (we couldn't do it without you).

The Barnacle

A barnacle is that one person in your life you can never get rid of and no one else really likes. They elicit sympathy by attaching themselves to you, making you believe that if it weren't for you, they would have nobody. NOT TRUE. Invite them when it will be just the two of you, or to one of your much bigger blowouts where they will get lost in the crowd. For every barnacle, there is a shipwreck they can attach themselves to—at least for the length of the party. It is not wise to invite them to a dinner for six or less. People might lose their trust in you because you felt obligated to invite a barnacle, and that puts your party's good reputation on the line. You should never invite a guest solely because you feel obligated; that's no way to cast a party.

Possible Guest Combinations to Avoid

Astrologer & astronomer

Fraternity brother & anyone else

Psychologist & psychiatrist

Movie star & a scene-stealer

The newly divorced couple

Director & out-of-work actor

A girl, her boyfriend, & his secret girlfriend

Serial killer & a drunken teenager


The last time I sent a handwritten dinner invitation, I was in junior high and my mom let me invite eight friends over because that was the length of the table. We got to eat in the basement because that would feel special, and I made rock cornish hens, brown rice, frenched beans, and lemon tarts. The point of the story is this: I usually do my invitations by phone so I get a response quicker. But the even pointier point of the story is: whether you send a formal invitation, a written invitation, or make a phone call, invitations need to include specific information. Be crystal clear about the time, place, and location of the party. Include enough information so that you don't raise any questions. If you do your invitations over the phone, don't call the same day of the party unless you call everyone the same day. No one wants to be the last thing on your mind.

But don't be discouraged from having last-minute parties. They can be fun because of the spontaneity, such as, "Ruth made it back from Alaska and caught a smoked salmon. Join us at eight."

Leave enough information so that people don't have to call back. Don't make your messages vague: "So hopefully I'll see you a couple of weeks from yesterday!" This is eyebrow-knitting. What if they get the message a week later, or are out of the country? "Late in the afternoon . . . " could mean morning to some people, especially hospital workers, and does "late in the afternoon" mean a late lunch or an early dinner? Whereas, "Friday, May 13th, 6:00 pm" isn't confusing. Don't ask, "What are you doing on the 18th?" It's none of your bees-wax. This sort of question puts people on the spot. Don't use a speakerphone under any circumstances. Let your guests know if the party is a special occasion or involves a theme. If the people you are inviting have never been to your house, make sure to include simple directions. If it's complicated, include a map. If there's a gate, include the code. Inform them about parking, construction, or gay day parades. An invitation is the first impression your guest will have of the party, so keep it light, congenial, and of course, informative.

The following are examples of written invitations:

This invitation tells me exactly what to expect. I have no questions. I think I'll wear white jeans.

This well composed invitation is bristling with information, but be careful to not ask your guest to make too many decisions. Be specific about what kind of children you want at the party so that they can easily narrow it down. Julune?

Excellent! I never thought Betty would stick with the program this long. Go Betty! When is it?

Hmm? Good invitation, but what time is dinner and do I bring my paddle?

This invitation would make a good dustpan.

Always RSVP. I'm what you call a shamagrammer. Because I'm a night owl, I call people back late at night when I know they are not in the office and leave my message on an answering machine. I only like to talk on the phone when I want to.

The most important thing to remember when putting together an invitation is, sometimes the less you write, the more you mean!

Guest Etiquette

So you've been invited to a party. Now what? Accepting an invitation is riddled with responsibilities. Chances are if you've been invited to a party, your hostess has chosen you for a reason, either for your good company or, in my case, to exploit you.

If you receive an invitation, respond immediately. Don't teeter-totter. It's insulting to your hostess. They'll think you're lazy or just waiting for something better to come along. How do you expect someone to plan a menu when they don't know how many people they are cooking for? Commit or decline. If you cannot come to the party, do not cancel at the last minute or give a message to a child to inform the host. And don't bother explaining why you can't attend because anything after "because" is bullshit.

Never bring along a guest without asking. Of course, a good hostess will be prepared for this inconvenience and will not make this situation embarrassing even though she is burning up inside and you most certainly will be crossed off any future guest list. Don't call last minute to see if you can bring a girlfriend. I said yes to this once, had to run out my door on New Year's Eve, caught the butcher just before he closed and the girl never showed up. I was frazzled and stuck with an extra steak.

If you want to bring something to the party, ask the hostess what kind of wine she is serving and bring a bottle of that. Don't offer to help the hostess in a way that will slow her down. If someone calls and says, "So for your party, I was thinking I would love to learn how to boil something. Why don't I try to bake . . . " I cut them off.

Your party is not the place for others' culinary experiments. Save that for the bedroom. I do not like it when someone brings an unexpected dish unless of course the theme of the party is potluck (see "Grieving," page 122). One Greek Easter, I was preparing a traditional menu and a guest showed up with unexpected parents and a three-story chocolate cake: TURTLE WINS RACE, HEADLINE NEWS, GUEST BRINGS PARENTS, THEN WHAT? I would never have served this dessert with my menu and now it took up valuable counter space, which is always scarce. This guest then proceeded to cut into the cake while I was still serving seconds of my Spanakopita. Not to mention, with her parents in the mix, there go the four-letter words, nunchucks, and throwing stars. She and her family took up the whole length of the couch so my real guests and I spent the entire party in my hallway-size kitchen.

Don't ever come early unless asked. Those last fifteen minutes before a party are vital and for me the most enjoyable. I just love that time to myself. No one wants to be rushed when making a last-minute roux, putting on eyebrows, or waiting for that double-whammy you just swallowed to kick in.

As a guest arriving at the party, don't enter saying "I hate Florida" or "I hate my life, I'm so depressed I almost killed myself last night." Yeah well, you didn't. Don't set a negative tone walking through the door. Don't go into long involved stories with the hostess while other people are still coming in or insist on dominating her time. The host has a job to do and you're not the only guest. Don't ask for an outlet to plug a light box into to show slides of some historic ruins or sundowns or rocks. Don't bring a light box. I had another party where a guest brought over a short film she had made and insisted that we watch it right then and there on the spot. It stopped the party dead. I had to jump-start it all over again. Remember, television ruins a party, unless of course that's your theme (see "Price Chompers," page 167), as does turning the music down unexpectedly or having the music too loud, which then dominates the room.

A guest shouldn't bring over anything that isn't assembled, like raw vegetables with spinach dip served in a bread bowl (a favorite among the lesbians), because this requires valuable counter space, a cutting board, and a knife. Don't show up with a raw chicken breast and some mushroom caps, or anything that needs to be put in the oven for a long time, or needs room in the freezer. I like it when someone brings over something practical that they know I'll use, like butter. Butter is expensive and has many uses. I like when a guest shows up with confectioners' sugar, lightbulbs, or a roll of those heavy blue gas station paper towels. A classy bottle of water is always nice. A roll of quarters, peppercorns, or carrot tops for my rabbit will make me happy.

Next time you're about to pick up flowers, think. When reaching for those last minute "these will make me look good" dyed carnations, baby's breath, and sunflowers, what are you really saying to your hostess? How much thought and effort does a grocery bouquet require? It's like dropping unwanted change into a tip cup. No regard. They may seem like a charming idea, but truly can cause more aggravation than joy, actually slowing down a hostess. She has to stop what she is doing, react to the flowers, cut them down, find a vase, fill it with water, which could be difficult because the sink could already be occupied with lettuce or a colander of clams. So if you bring flowers, bring them already in something. Bringing flowers can be risky, because often they don't go with the decorations that the host has already displayed. Maybe the party has a southwestern theme and the hostess has sprinkled cacti about the room, but now you've got blossoms fighting for attention. Don't you dare show up with bamboo! You might as well show up with a turtle. If you must bring a plant, it better be of the five-fingered variety. Flowers are good delivered the day after a party as a thank-you. Now that's class! But for parties of eight or more, showing up with flowers can cause a lot of anxiety.

If you are asked to bring something, bring it and show up on time. If you are asked to bring alcohol, don't call up on Sunday at 6:00 pm and ask what liquor stores are open. It's like asking someone what they want for Christmas on Christmas Eve. If you neglect to pick up the item you agreed to bring, you may as well not show up. You're better off lying and saying you were mutilated in a closing subway door (see "Grieving,").

At the party, notice if there are ashtrays visible. If not, don't smoke in the house. I don't smoke but I don't mind if people smoke in my apartment. I just hope that they are courteous enough not to smoke while someone else is smoking so the room doesn't fill up with smoke. Don't take advantage and make it a great American puff-out night. As far as ashtrays go, make sure that you don't use them for anything other than stamping out butts. No one wants to stare at your chewed up gum or peach pit or wadded up beverage napkin. Don't be "polite" and empty the ashtrays.

There might be a roach or a tooth or something the hostess doesn't want thrown out.

Don't overstay your welcome, know when it's time to go. It's always a good idea, especially if you want to be invited to another party, to call the next day and reiterate what a great time you had or send off a quick note, or even better, a quick check. Nothing makes the hostesses happier than a glowing review.

Now that you've learned all the rules of guest etiquette, relax and have fun, but remember: NO BAMBOO, TURTLES, OR SUNFLOWERS!

More Party Don'ts

• Never try to out dress the hostess unless you are the guest of honor, or a transvestite.

• As far as bathroom etiquette goes: number 1, no number 2.

• Don't bring your dog.

• Don't go through the medicine chest, steal toilet paper, or leave with someone else's coat, shoes, or buttons.

The Menu

As I said earlier, half the fun of having a party is planning the party, and all of that half belongs to meal planning. Other than massaging my rabbit or frosting cupcakes, there is nothing I would rather do than plan a menu for a party. Growing up in Raleigh, my favorite part of the local Sunday paper was a section called The Mini Page, which was devoted to children. Included among the word scrambles and picture jumbles was the following week's lunch menu for the public schools. They would use words like "carrot coins" and "pickle spears." All of the lunch menus would end with "cookie, milk" as in, "Baked chicken, rice with gravy, green beans, cookie, milk." I became obsessed with what foods were chosen to go together, and appreciated their combinations. I remember thinking menu planning would be a fun job to have.

My mother was a really good meal planner. The first thing she thought about after waking up and yelling at my father was, "What will we be having for dinner?" There was always something defrosting on the counter or upside down in a shallow pan of hot water. I used to love watching the old soap operas like Secret Storm or The Edge of Night because regardless of what drama was going on the wife had a roast in the oven and it was always about the roast, no matter what the crisis was.

A well-planned menu is important because it ties the whole party together. The most impressive trick is organizing the menu so that everything is ready on time and what is supposed to be served hot is hot. You will find that if you can achieve this, your guests will be impressed. Trust me they will notice. If you have successfully preplanned, you will just have to add finishing touches by the time your guests arrive, like a quickly heated sauce or warmed up vegetable. I like to use Revere ware for this purpose. I find that brand is like a camper's tool: it will heat anything up in an instant. I also like to use it for popcorn. Try to avoid using the broiler when people are on the way over because it smokes up the room and can cause the smoke alarm to go off, unless that's what you want. I dismantled mine (it kept going off during my grease fires).

Before planning a menu it's a good idea to consult the party log to remind yourself of your guests' likes, dislikes, and dietary restrictions and to avoid repeating a menu. I wouldn't call a guest to ask if they eat meat because it would ruin the surprise of what I was serving and to me this is like calling someone for their address because you want to send them a card. Why bother sending it? Now they know it's coming.

Always plan a menu with your guests' special needs in mind. Are they dieters? If you are serving a dish with sauces, glazes, and/or dressings, you might want to serve those on the side, but do it for everyone. You don't want your dieting guests to feel uncomfortable. Be careful about topping a dessert with alcohol. The last thing you want to do is knock a guest off the wagon with a tiramisu or bourbon balls. If you are entertaining someone with the misfortune of bad skin, stray from serving cranberry muffins or pizza or any other food that might mimic their face. You wouldn't want to embarrass them. Always make eye contact with these guests, for they are very sensitive and have low self-esteem. To get them out of their shell, give them a chore; build up their confidence a bit. This will distract them from thinking about themselves and how bad their skin is compared to other complexions in the room.

The menu often depends on the number of guests. If it's dinner for two I probably wouldn't want more than three things on a plate, two if they are dieting. I have to be careful that I don't make too much, unless my purpose was to send the individual home with leftovers (see "Gypsy," page 163).

Dinner for four means I need to be prepared for surprises. If it's Friday night and I want a fish dinner (see "T.G.I.F.," page 41) and my guests are first-timers, virgins to my party log, I should keep a chop or two in the refrigerator in case someone doesn't eat fish. I can always freeze the chop and eat it later when I am just cooking for one (see "Cooking for One," page 192). With six or more guests, plan on do-ahead dishes. Make a dessert the night before or half-bake a dish and finish cooking it the day of the party.

Eight guests means batten down the hatches, hike up the britches, and pull the table from the wall because now you've got a shindig. For this many guests, I serve cafeteria style, doling it out in the kitchen. For ten to fourteen, unless you already own a battleship-size table, you can rent one along with chairs or go buffet. A buffet means that your guests will probably be standing or using their laps. Serve food that can be broken up with a fork, as knives are awkward. I would steer clear of stews and chili. Things are bound to spill and this can also be a hazard. I once saw a girl on stilts slip on an olive.

It's important to make it clear to guests that dinner will be served at a specific time. If I invite people over at 8, it means dinner will begin at 8. The food is ready to go on the table at 8. I do this for three reasons:

1: I don't have to consider many appetizers or worry about multiple predinner cocktails.

2: People won't eat and run because as they finish dinner, the party is just beginning.

3: Nobody wants to arrive and see the hostess putting a raw turkey in the oven. Don't assume you are that interesting to hang out with. Not to mention that you will be trussed up in the kitchen the whole time and that's rude.

If you can't avoid spending large amounts of time in the kitchen during the beginning of a party, ask a friend to play cocktologist and pass out peanuts. I don't normally serve appetizers, but if I do have something out it is usually one of my famous Lil' Smoky Cheese Balls (see "My Success Story," page 180). Cheese balls are good if you are on a budget, because one can serve a cheese ball while entertaining friends on Monday, spend Tuesday perking up the ball, and then serve it to a different group of friends on Wednesday. They'll never know the difference. To freshen up a cheese ball, merely reshape the ball back into its original form, being careful to cover the gouge marks, and then roll it through the remaining nut shake to mask the renovation. Decorate with a poke or party pick.


On Sale
Oct 22, 2008
Page Count
304 pages

Amy Sedaris

About the Author

Amy Sedaris has appeared in several movies and television shows, and, with Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, is a co-author of the novel Wigfield. She also co-wrote Strangers with Candy, the hit show on Comedy Central. She lives in Manhattan.

Learn more about this author