Entertaining guests and new technology

I HAVE not hosted a dinner party at home for years. Not since Casserole Kitchen went out of business.

I used to order a beef casserole for six people. An hour before the guests' arrival, the doorbell rang. There would be a man with a picnic basket containing a casserole dish, salad bowl, and rolls.

My job as host was to set the oven at an appropriate temperature and put the casserole in. If all went well, 30 minutes later I would serve dinner to guests seated at a candlelit table. My dinner parties were considered great successes.

In recent years, I have limited my oven use to warming the house specialty. Here is the recipe: Place crackers in tin pan. Place slices of cheddar cheese on crackers. Place crackers and cheese in oven. Relight oven pilot light, which has gone out. Turn oven on. At first indication of burning, remove from oven. Serve.

Mother, like me, could not cook, other than lamb chops, frozen peas, and baked potatoes. We had this every night the housekeeper was off. For breakfast, Mother boiled eggs.

I do my entertaining at restaurants.

One long-ago Sunday, Mother, my sister, and I went to a fancy restaurant for lunch. The waiter served us ice water, rolls, and butter. Then he brought the menu. Mother glanced at the prices. Too expensive. She decided we'd leave. I munched on a buttered roll as we made an awkward departure.

At Christmas, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a microwave oven. It sits on a counter by my stove. The culinary possibilities seem infinite. The first few times I left food in too long. The other night a piece of chicken had the consistency of shoe leather.

Having embraced technology, I plan to replace with color my black-and-white television set. And to purchase a VCR. But Perge sed caute, as the Romans used to say. "Proceed, but with caution." First I need to master the microwave.

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