The Cocktail Hour: 60 Minutes to a Better World
Does anyone enjoy cocktail hour more than an eight-year old? Not possible. Though my grandmother was an excellent cook, her pan-roasted pork chops with string beans and potatoes remain the height of culinary achievement in my estimation, it was the hour or so before her dinners that most resonates.
When we were ages, say, six through ten, the years when our parents were busy getting divorced and starting careers and such, my brother and I had dinner and drinks with our grandparents just about every weeknight. It was all so sophisticated. My grandfather would come home from his office and make martinis in a shaker, strain them into a proper glass with little stars etched into the side. My gran would have a Seagram’s and 7 or a screwdriver in a cut-crystal highball. They’d make us our own Shirley Temples in these shiny tin cups and put two maraschino cherries (picture perfect, as if from a slot machine) on top.
And there would always be a plate of hors d’ oeuvres set up on the coffee table, too. Salty mixed nuts served in a delicately painted porcelain bowl (my grandfather had won a set of them in a talent competition at his VFW hall) alongside Ritz crackers and sliced cheddar fanned out on a plate. Or cubes of Swiss cheese and pimiento-stuffed olives skewered with a foil-tipped toothpick. Or skewered slices of smoked sausage painted with barbecue sauce. Foil-tipped toothpick skewering was key to an appetizing presentation. Even on the nights my gran was kind of phoning it in (pizza rolls heated in the microwave) you better believe those rolls were cut in half and run through with a party pick before being arranged on the platter. Because that is the way my grandparents rolled: even when your guests are a couple of elementary school latch-key kids whose conversation didn’t much rise above speculation as to which A-Team episode would be re-run that night, you still put on a fancy spread to make for a civilized evening.
It’s possible, probable even, they would have done the same if they had only had each other for company. And why not? In my experience, having a little drinky-poo and snack before dinner will never ruin your appetite. Rather it prepares you for what’s to come. If the dinner is very good, it’s that extra bite that will prevent you from making a pig of yourself. If the dinner is very bad, it’s that cocktail inspired serenity that will allow you to compliment the cook with eyes that are loving, if only a bit glazed over. Either way, I’ve come to believe it’s the cocktail hour that is the cornerstone of our society, makes us into better people.
In a more perfect world we’d always take an hour as the sun goes down to eat a little something off a toothpick and drink a little something topped with a cherry. 60 delightful minutes when we can all, pre-teen and senior citizen alike, act our fantasy of what it is to be a grown-up. Which is a lovely way to start the night, I think, no matter if after-dinner plans include doing math homework or laundry or the bossa nova.
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