Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
We have a bat mitzvah coming up. The event includes a brunch. Our extended family is not just from a variety of religious backgrounds, they also have a variety of financial backgrounds, and strong opinions on how money should be spent, and what being a good host means.
Some people will snipe about the fact that we are hiring caterers instead of doing all the cooking ourselves. Some people will snipe about the fact that we are serving the food buffet style, and not offering alcohol.
Our daughter, wants bagels and cream cheese and brownies, which we’ll have, but is there anything else we could serve that would make it seem special to the spend money relatives, without making it too special for the thriftier relatives?
First off, congratulations to your daughter, and to your entire family! So much work goes into achieving this milestone, it makes sense to want to make sure the accompanying celebration is everything you want it to be. Mazel tov!
You are in great luck—as I type this, I am visiting one my nearest and dearest friends, who also currently has “mitzvah on the mind” (her quote), with her eldest son’s bar mitzvah set for this summer. She and her prospective bar mitzvah were on hand to brainstorm some ideas that we hope will help as you plan your event.
I was also eating a bagel while I typed. Does that help? I guess we’ll see.
I think your letter reveals that you already understand the reality of the situation: people are tricky and you just can’t please ’em all. This is true even of the people we love the most; sometimes it is especially true of the people we love the most.
The focus of the day will be on your daughter, as it should be, and the pride you all feel in her accomplishment. I’d love to say that the food won’t matter with this in mind, but my life as a) an Italian-American (food always matters to us) and b) a native Midwesterner (food always matters to us, too, although we will politely say it is all lovely, then give each other looks that reveal we wouldn’t have done it that way) remind me that getting the right party food is something that requires consideration.
So, if you know that everyone won’t be happy, and you know that it still does matter what you serve, where do you go from there?
You focus in first on making the bat mitzvah happy (which you are doing), and meeting the budget and the level of posh and/or thrift that works for you. Period. You look people straight in the eye, you thank them for coming, you give them big hugs, and then you offer them bagels. You’ve got that covered from your letter, I can tell.
Beyond that, we (my friends and I) suggest you make the spread as ample as possible. Fixings for bagels—which may be limited by whether or not you and your family are kosher—can be fanned out on beautiful platters, with lots of savory and sweet choices. Carmelized onions, roasted vegetables, lox, pickled vegetables (and fish, if that floats your boat), multiple cream cheeses, sweet jams or spreads and honey are a great start.
Offer up proteins to make the carb-heavy choices more substantial. Provide a drink (punch, juice, etc.) that is themed around your daughter’s taste for some whimsy. No, it isn’t alcohol, but it’s her day, and she wouldn’t be drinking, anyway, so just make a big deal out of her themed drink, and hopefully people will forget about the hard stuff.
Consider items like challah French toast (with fruit and many of the sweet bagel fixings) for another breakfast treat, served warm. Warm veggie patties or well-spiced potatoes will work nicely as a savory addition.
As for the brownies, create a brownie bar. Yes, it’s brunch, but this is a dessert-worthy brunch, so go big or go home. Hot fudge, whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts…you see where I am going with this.
The key is to have a feeling of plentitude—the sense that your guests can come back around multiple times for multiple servings and never run out of options. If you are concerned about waste, and don’t think you can use the extra food entertaining visiting guests in the following days, consider finding a food bank prior to the event who will take donations.
I hope these ideas help to make your family’s special day snipe-free, but even if they do grouse, they can be well-fed as they do so.