A Virgin's Guide to Everything

From Sushi to Sample Sales--A Novice's Handbook to Doing It Right


By Lauren McCutcheon

Foreword by Veronica Chambers

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You can admit it-you’re a virgin. Everyone was at one point. And no, we’re not talking about sex. We don’t care who you’ve slept with (okay, we do, but that will have to wait for another book). What we’re talking about is that you’ve never before been to a wine tasting, bought real art (posters from college don’t count), had a personal trainer, nor known the proper way to eat or order sushi. Life is full of firsts-thankfully this book is here to help.

This perfect guide for Virgins, non-and Born-Again Virgins, makes sure that your first times (or second or third) are done right. Filled with advice from Go-to-Girls who are experts in their fields, A Virgin’s Guide to Everything is like having a cool, older sister who’s always willing to show you the way.



This book would never have gotten close to begun—and nowhere near done—had it not been for the great virgins who went before me. Most gracious thanks to thinker-uppers Veronica Chambers and Angela Kyle, the original Go-to Girls: two women who take chances, talk sense, and, as Mariah would say, make it happen. Big props to Amy Einhorn, the brains behind this book-writing business, and to Jim Schiff, the brains behind Amy's brains. Agent extraordinaire Christy Fletcher earns major praise for her stylish book-shopping-around skills.

How could a fancy lady get by without a pal like Chris Meck, major author photographer, coolest mom-friend, and baker of cupcakes, the staff of life? How could a hapless writer do anything at all without crafty counselor and fellow vegetarian-ham-addict Rachel Hezlep? Where would a youngest daughter be without a mother who mails Rice Krispies treats to her and leaves her three-minute-long voice mails, two big sisters named Debbie and Betsy who always let her steal the spotlight, and a dad whose gray-blue eyes will forever smile at her?

Thanks to Tim for the Ben & Jerry's; to Carter for the seasons in the SATC; to Sally, for entering my life and getting her furry head stuck in boxes of Puffs at just the right moments. To my friend groups—knitters, rockers, yoginis, writers, publicists, ornithologists, college chums, cafe owners, karaoke masters and cocktail buyers—you are nothing less than stars for preserving my sanity in a jar, keeping it safe and warm during the January and February of my first-time-author discontent.

But really, truly, this book belongs to my Go-to Girls, women who turned a nifty idea into a seriously fun resource. But the Go-tos on these pages aren't the only ones who own A Virgin's Guide. The following ladies, whose contributions appear between the lines, deserve my deepest thanks, super-sized:

Dany Levy, DailyCandy diva and the girl I want to be

Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author and around-the-world girl

Real Simple editor and baby-shower-er Riza Cruz

Memphis music diva Andria Lisle

Sundance-goers Kate Wingard and Erin McCarthy

Burning Woman Leslie Pritchett

Glamorous techie and Splendora creator Gina Pell

Top shopper Jane Shepherdson

Blog-woman and marathoner Meg Hourihan

Fearlessly wired Rebecca Hurd

Smartphone goddess Rose Rodd

Kim Arbuckle, digital camera addict

Madison Avenue money whiz Linda Schoenthaler

Chicago Shop mom Kate Prange

L.A. puppy lover Hannah Brand

Cowgirl Creamery's Lenny Rice

Intrepid traveler Pam Villacorta

Solo voyager Mary-Jo Lipman

Job-pert Tyya Turner

Sexy author Wendy Straker

Amazing racer Cynthia Palormo

Styling photographer Kate Schelter

P.R. divas Maggie Gallant and Christina Skogly

Workout guru Tenley

Yoga practitioners Ellen Greenberg and Miko Doi-Smith



Hosting a first shindig is a big step in a virgin's life— even if that shindig is holing up on a Tuesday night with takeout. A virgin's willingness to entertain reveals she inhabits a reasonably presentable living space, one with a refrigerator, possibly a freezer, a table, one or more chairs, and cabinets and drawers holding dishes, glasses, and utensils, mismatched though they may be.

But more than that, tossing out an invite and seeing who shows up indicates a virgin's going places. She's not daunted by the size of her studio apartment or her meager MP3 collection. Her main concern isn't the thread count of her duvet cover—or the fact that she's still shopping for curtains. It shows she values good friends, times, food, and drink above all else. (After all, she's going to be vacuuming and shoving stuff in the closet before they come over.)

Furthermore, our little girl—all grown up—has come to the place in her life where she's prepared to spend the equivalent of a month of manipedis on simply playing host, with her only guaranteed, immediate rewards being a few hours of prep time followed by a few more hours of cleanup, possibly while hungover.


I like to have a martini

Two at the very most

After three I'm under the table,

After four, I'm under my host


A cocktail party. How hard can that be? Drinks. Music. More drinks. Kind of like a kegger, but with refined shaken-or-stirred libations instead of beer from a tube.

Oh yes, and a few other things. Like nicer clothes. And more polite conversation. And clever garnishes for each drink. And food you spear with a toothpick instead of grab with your hands. And glasses instead of Solo cups. And fancy napkins . . . But no keg stands. Definitely none of those. More like pure, completely adulterated party-scene-in-Breakfast Tiffany's-style fun.

Go-To Girl*

Sarah Gray Miller

Founding Editor,
Budget Living Magazine

Sarah Gray—the double first name reveals her Mississippi roots—is the ultimate cocktail party hostess. She says her talent comes naturally. "I'm Southern. We take babies to cocktail parties down there." Her fondness for bourbon (when it's not Woodford Reserve, she's fine with Jim Beam), her ability to remain lucid after polishing off a six-pack, her categorical rejection of the chocolatini, and her conviction that an apartment is not an abode without a fully stocked liquor cabinet are impressive, but her real party-throwing skills reside in her creativity. She's a whiz at thinking up clever party themes, and always looks out for inexpensive favors—like a New Year's Eve piñata to stuff with hangover remedies or embossed match-books that double as Prohibition-theme party invitations. Sarah Gray measures a soiree's success by how long guests want to stay and is always prepared to let friends spend the night. Her cocktail party mantra: "The worst, worst thing is if the hostess isn't having a good time."

*Go-to Girl: A bonafide, flesh-and-blood-big-sister type who's been here, done this, and lives solely to tell (you) about it.

What You'll Need

Budget. How much you can spend determines what kind of party it's gonna be. Expect to lay out $100 to $200 for fifteen to twenty guests. Got a bit more dough to drop? Hire a bartender. Says Sarah Gray, "A lot of colleges and universities have bartending schools where you can hire a college student who's learning to be a mixologist" for a low, low price. Or, call a local bartending school.

Theme. Doesn't have to be huge, but does set a tone. Stir some summer into a frosty February by cranking up the heat, blending up frozen margaritas, and playing Jimmy Buffett. Celebrate the 100th-something birthday of Cary Grant—January 18—with martinis, pink champagne, a mini film festival and black-tie-only rules (we stole this idea from some virginal boyfriends). Hurricane headed your way? Batten down the hatches and mix up some dark 'n' stormies, or match a grown-up drink to an immature theme: piña coladas and a piñata. Prosecco and a bubble machine.

Invitations. Invite twenty to thirty friends. "You can count on 30 percent of the people not showing up. And any less than fifteen people, and you don't really have a cocktail party on your hands." Sarah Gray prefers the mailed invite to the Evite, so save a few bucks by sending out postcards instead of envelopes. (Now there's something you can do with those leftover postcards from Las Vegas and Dollywood: Throw a casino party hoedown!)

Decorations. Log on to www.ustoy.com or www.orientaltrading.com for "hilarious little anythings in bulk. Rather than splurging on crème de cassis for the bar, spend your money on those little details that are going to make people remember the party." Cheap stuff we love: blow-up tiki bars, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, plastic grass hula skirts, Mardi Gras beads, feather eye masks.

While you're installing your fabulous cheap disco ball and glitter streamers, be sure to put away anything that would make you very sad if it were harmed when your best friend inevitably busts out with her MC Hammer.

Drinks. A premixed signature drink cuts down on costs—and relieves the host of bartending duties. Stick to vodka for the main bevvie. "Because not everyone is crazy for bourbon or scotch," says Sarah Gray. Count on eight ounces of hard liquor per guest—more if your buds are serious boozehounds.

Stock up on beer and wine. "There's nothing I hate more when I go to a cocktail party than when they do the signature cocktail thing and nothing else." Serve beer in a galvanized tub filled with ice, or in an ice-filled bathtub (a little frat-y, but it'll do in a pinch). Look for second label wines (less expensive vintages made by high-end producers, like Hawk Crest Margaritas by Stag's Leap). If you're running low on liquor funds, skimp on wine. "I never expect it, but most people do bring a bottle of wine . . . I always seem to wake up the next morning with seven or eight bottles of great wine."

Food. Low-maintenance only. Save the soufflé, the gougères, the fondue for a dinner party. If it can be poured into a bowl and eaten with toothpicks or fingers, it's appropriate for a cocktail crowd.

Finger food we love to nosh:

Mini egg rolls from Trader Joe's

Hummus and pita chips

Cheese plate with cornichons, hot mustard, and sliced baguette bread

Blue cheese—stuffed olives

Spanish nuts

Nonna's Cucina tortilla chips, homemade salsa, and guacamole (keep the guac fresh by burying the avocado pit in the bottom of the bowl)

Terra Chips

Homemade sweets: bar cookies are infinitely faster than drop cookies: Ghirardelli box-mix brownies, mini chocoalate chips, lemon squares, raspberry oatmeal bars

Imported sweets: mini cannoli from an Italian bakery, sweet bean pies from a Chinese pastry shop, mini cream puffs, eclairs, and bite-size fruit tarts from a French or French-Vietnamese patisserie

Glasses. Stock up on less expensive glass vessels at Ikea, Kmart, etc. "You don't wanna break out the Baccarat at a rowdy party. But I don't believe in the plastic stuff either," says Sarah Gray. If you're using Popov or another, um, un-costly liquor as the base for your signature drink, consider transferring it into a comely decanting vessel.

Music. Burn a few CDs. Start with getting-in-the-mood music (Nicola Conte, Bebel Gilberto). End with impossible-not-to-dance-to tunes (Out-Kast, Scissor Sisters, Lauryn Hill, vintage Prince, way vintage Jackson 5). "I always keep one or two CDs that are retro or dance music. Normally I kick them in once the party starts to get out of control—in a good way." Stash your CD collection to prevent you or anyone else from playing part-time DJ.

Activities. Have parlor games standing by, ready in case there's ice to be broken. "There's nothing like a round of celebrity," says Sarah Gray. Charades, Pictionary, Name That Tune, Twister, even drinking games inevitably fizzle out in the first fifteen minutes, which means people are more interested in each other.

Sarah Gray also likes to turn her bedroom into a photo booth, with a digital camera, props, and a printing station.

Wing women. "Make sure there are one or two people at your party who are close enough friends to you that they can help you out—with beer runs, etc. You certainly don't want to have a cocktail party of thirty people you've just met."

Arm your steadfast assistant social directors with information about guests—"Oh, you're Tony, the Tony who's just returned from Turkey"— as well as any household details that might pop up while you're busy putting your right hand on red and left foot on green—"Oh, don't worry about the toilet, it overflows all the time."


Pauletta Party Girl had her Gimlet Gauntlet planned down to the very last lime slice. She'd dusted every bunny from underneath her dining room table. She'd received RSVPs from a savory blend of friends and associates. She poured herself a juicy libation and pushed play on her get-the-party-started mixed CD at T minus ten seconds. Guests arrived, appropriately attired, in a steady stream. The mini quiches, lamb kebabs, and chocolate soufflés were a huge hit. Pauletta made sure the buffet was never empty. When the beer supply wound down to four, Pauletta called in reinforcements from the grocer who delivers. Glasses emptied. Pauletta refilled them. She also fluffed pillows, changed CDs, recycled empties, relit candles, turned the living room into a dance floor. Before she knew it, her well-applied Benefit High Beam shimmer turned into a full-fledged, foggy-day sweat. And it was 1:00 a.m. And guests headed to the door. They had a great time. Pauletta, however, didn't. Because she failed to party at her own party, Pauletta is a born-again virgin. Still, she's a game gal, that P.P.G., and got right back in the saddle for the next month's Mojito Meltdown. This time, she relaxed, laughing in the face of spills, dancing atop her own coffee table, and generally proving Sade wrong: A second time can be as good as a first—even better.

The Big Night

Pre-party duty: Have your first drink. Start to sip (gently) the moment the party is supposed to begin. Most guests will arrive twenty minutes after the SET start time.

Party duties: Have fun. Refill, restock, casually, remembering you set the tone for everyone else. Translation: Flitter, float, and be the first to disco. Deal with the spilt red wine tomorrow. Don't get sloshed.

Post-party duty: Take it easy. This means if a guest or two ought to spend the night, let them spend the night. Put them to bed with a pillow, a glass of water, a couple of tablets of pain prevention, and a trash can lined with a plastic bag. Allow them to take you to breakfast the next morning, and to help with the cleanup. It's the least you can do.


When I'm home alone, I will open up a bottle of wine, set a place

mat down, and have a civilized dinner. Just because I'm alone, it

doesn't mean that I have to eat like an animal.


In the beginning, there was the boob—that, and/or the bottle. We cried, and the nipple delivered. Next, we slurped up jarfuls of pureed vegetables and fruits. Then came the boxed food phase, when we put our baby chompers to work, first with Cheerios, eventually moving on to Crunch 'n' Munch. Big kid food led to cafeteria grub.

Now, graced with a fridge of our own, we grown-up eaters face a whole new challenge: feeding ourselves.

To some of us, this chore comes easily. Like to you, for example, who, at this very moment are pondering: sauvignon blanc or chardonnay for tonight's roast capon and rosemary potatoes followed by apple tart à la mode? Others of us, however—ahem, you, on the floor, munching pretzel logs dipped in peanut butter, slugging down flat Diet Coke with Lime and watching Judge Judy reruns—could use a little help.

Here's the secret to a successful meal for one: It's not what you eat; it's how you eat.

No time to puree your bisque or brûler your crème? Oodles of Noodles can be as much a meal as a Julia Child-like feast pour une. That's not to say there isn't room to improve from the ramen realm. It's just that we all gotta start somewhere.

Step away from the sink. Get up off the floor. Cordon off any sleeping area. If your first real meal on your own isn't occasion enough to use your dining table (or, at the very least, a TV tray) for its intended purpose, then nothing is.

Phase One: Table for One and Takeout

Clear the dining surface of all junk mail, laptops, pets, bank statements, stamp collections, cosmetic brushes, etc. Do this completely. Bring out a partial (place mat) or full (tablecloth) covering. Place the covering on the table surface. If desired, add freshly cut flowers and/or one or more unscented candles.

Spelunk your kitchen drawers and cabinets for one each: clean napkin, fork, knife, spoon, full-size plate, small plate, or bowl—because a meal always tastes better on real plates—water glass, wineglass. Lay them out neatly. Fill the water glass. Fill the wineglass (or at least open the bottle).

Now you're looking good. Depart your nifty new dining arrangement to retrieve a pizza and a salad from your neighborhood Italian take-out joint. Return home.

On a non-dining surface, open the take-out bag. Transfer the salad to the small plate or bowl. From box of pizza, extract one slice. Bring the salad and slice to the table setting. Sit. Eat.

While chewing and swallowing, you will be tempted to turn on the tube, catch up on bills, read a book, call your mom. Don't do it. You may, however, play the music of your choice.

Congratulations: You just completed your first meal for one.

Phase Two: Making Dinner

Don't panic. Campbell's finest tomato bisque and a grilled cheese sandwich count. But hardcore DIY counts for more.

The trick here is timing. Do you work late or go to the gym right after the office? Then prepare in advance meals you can reheat: lasagna, roast chicken, veggie burgers, anything ending with "Parmesan"— or anything made in a Crock-Pot.

The stove life of lots of foods—starches like pasta and rice, fish, fowl, and meats, steamed veggies—has a small window of pleasant edibility. Serve yourself the hot food when it's ready, even if this means shifting the first course to second place. Salad after a meal is actually a nice switch— and good for your digestion. (At least that's what the French say.)

Our favorite cookbooks for meals for one.

Bowl Food—The New Comfort Food for People on the Move: soups, salads, stir-fries, curries, pasta—this book offers up simple but hearty recipes for one-dish meals

Girl Food, Cathy Guisewite and Barbara Albright: one of our favorite comic book heroines serves up quick-and-easy recipes with a liberal dash of her deadpan wit

How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, Nigella Lawson: the uber-domestic goddess breaks down the basics in fun recipes that are dee-lish and easy to execute

Joy of Cooking, any edition: supplies basic techniques for when so-called simple recipes turn complicated

The Girl Can't Cook, by Cinda Chavich: a no-fail guide around the kitchen with recipes organized into "sustenance, decadence, and observance."


Claudine Pépin

Chef, Author, and Intrepid Solo Diner

In college, Claudine had a minor revelation: "Why should I wait to have company to eat off a plate?" Of course, to the daughter of a world-famous chef and a mom who insists on using the good silver for every meal, this revelation came somewhat naturally. What came a little less naturally were culinary skills. Her favorite tale of cooking floppery:"I was in my second year at college and invited my father over for dinner. One of my father's favorite meals is roasted chicken, a good green salad, and roasted potatoes. So, I went to a fancy food store in Boston, bought a hen, green salad, and potatoes. I started cooking too early. He arrived late. As it turns out, a hen is meant for soup. The thing was like eating a piece of shoe leather. I looked at him with big, second-year-of-college eyes and asked him how it was. He looked at me and asked, 'As a father or as a chef? . . . As a father, it was delicious.'" Then she learned quickly. She and Papa Jacques racked up on-air hours taping the show Cooking with Claudine. In front of a live TV audience, Claudine picked up the finer points of shopping to supping. Claudine Pépin is our cook-for-yourself Go-to Girl.

Kitchen Essentials, According to Claudine

Knives: four of them." A small knife, a paring knife, a large knife, and a good bread knife. Only four, because you can use only one knife at a time. And you need them to be sharp. Buy knives that are easy to sharpen. I like Lamson Sharp because I have small hands. If you cook twice a month, get them sharpened once every eight months. When you feel like you can't easily slice through a tomato, get your knife sharpened."

Oil."If you don't cook a lot at home, it's very important to keep oil in the refrigerator. Oil can go rancid quickly, especially sesame oil." After time in the fridge, "it might look like it's congealed. Just take it out, and in twenty minutes it will be fine."

Salt 'n' pepper. "Go for kosher salt over iodized salt. If you look at iodized salt under a microscope, you see the shape of it is round, which means it falls off food. Kosher salt is jagged, like broken glass. You use less of it and you get more flavor. It sticks to your food properly."

Don't bother with pre-ground pepper. It's like using old fresh herbs. Or, think of Folgers or Maxwell House and really nice freshly ground coffee. That's the difference between pre-ground and freshly ground pepper. Pre-ground pepper has a really bland taste. Freshly ground pepper is nutty and spicy . . . Invest in a good Peugot pepper mill."

Pans. "I'm a fan of really good, no-stick pans. People buy a whole set of pots and pans. You don't need them. Remember the thin, dinged-up pots and pans you used in college? You felt like you could burn water in them. You want a piece of metal that's thick." Think Le Creuset. Think All-Clad.

Whisk. "You need one whisk."

Wooden spoon with a straight edge. "If you make a sauce, you can scrape the bottom of the pot with the edge."

A rubber spatula. "One that is heat resistant."

A slotted spoon. "You'd be surprised how much you use a slotted spoon."

A really thin spatula. "One that's made of flexible, thin metal. You can't get big spatulas under what you need to get out."

Pastry scraper. "This is my favorite kitchen utensil—and I don't make pastry. I use it all the time. When you cut a bunch of onions, use it to push the onions into a bowl or pan. It's like a big hand."

To Recap: The Top Ten Most Beautiful Things about Eating Alone

• You're always on time to dinner.

• You're always impressed by your own cooking.

• No permission required for seconds.

• You don't have to finish your vegetables.

• Spilling is OK.

• Burping, too.

• Farting is permitted, but discouraged.

• Talking with your mouth full is a nonissue. » No need to share.

• No need to finish your spinach in order to have dessert rights.


Find me a man who's interesting enough to have dinner with and I'll be happy.


It isn't just the seventy-five minutes you wait to be seated at that chic new bistro across town. It isn't just the wobbly table, wedged between an espresso station and a swinging kitchen door. Nor is it merely the noise level that incites a polite shouting contest between you and your date, or the server that scoffs at your choice of wine—and then spills it onto your suede skirt—or the bill that exceeds your monthly rent check. It is all of these combined—and, perhaps, one of those handy, courage-bolstering espressos—that leads you to do the unthinkable.

"How about I fix you dinner next week . . . at my place?" you ask.

The question hangs in the air, suspended in a cartoon bubble. Its presence is shocking. Suddenly, you're back in junior high health class, raising your hand and asking, "What's a testie?" You recognize the voice as yours, but the idea itself surely came from a nether region of your unconscious.

But there it is. Floating up there, above your head. Across the table, a face smiles, a head nods. Your offer has been accepted.

So this is how it's gonna be. You. Your significant other (or as significant another as a former stranger can be after four dates). A rendezvous for next Saturday night. At your apartment. With food you've promised to make yourself. Oh man.

The upside: no restaurant-related inconveniences. The downside: little previous experience cooking for yourself, let alone for someone you find irresistibly cute, highly intelligent, and sweaty-palm inducing.

Wipe off those hands. Pick up your favorite cookbook. You can do this. You've got a whole week.

P.S. Words to the wise. Remember to ask ahead of time your date's likes, dislikes, allergies, intolerances, etc. Anaphylactic shock is such a date dampener. Stick to three courses: starter, main, and dessert. And make these courses light. "If you're thinking of—let's face it—trying to get busy afterward, you don't want to be full of heavy food. After a heavy meal, you're not feeling sexy," says our next Go-to Girl. . .


Thia Boggs

Caterer, Event Planner,
Culinary Program Coordinator
for Macy's Union Square in San Francisco

Quality-over-quantity girl Thia began her culinary career assembling pear slices into the shape of a bunny, as per the instructions of Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls. Nowadays, she books top chefs for appearances in the test kitchen at San Francisco's Macy's Union Square—a job for which, on occasion, she spends weekends baking hundreds of Nigella Lawson's mini chocolate cheesecakes. Thia's our number one for the classic lines: "If something occurs to you and you're like, that's not the way they do it in the books, well then screw it. Do it your way." And, "There's nothing sexier than confidence."

The Mantra According to Thia: "You are the greatest dish in your whole dinner."

The Meaning of the Mantra: "You don't have to make the meal the star: You're the star."

The Meaning of the Meaning: This time, "It's not all about the food. If you're going to have an eight-person dinner party, it's about the food. In this scenario, it's about you eating with someone. Whatever you do, don't make yourself feel more self-conscious."

The Application of the Meaning of the Meaning:


On Sale
May 30, 2008
Page Count
400 pages
5 Spot

Lauren McCutcheon

About the Author

Lauren McCutcheon is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She is the author of A Virgin's Guide to Everything (Warner Books) and has contributed to numerous publications including Philadelphia Weekly and Home & Garden.

Learn more about this author