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Nurturing neighbors

From fine meals to tasty treats, this at-home cook shares tips, recipe for casual entertaining

When it comes to nurturing neighbors, there’s no better example than Lorelei Albert.

“She is a fabulous cook and fantastic hostess,” said Anita Evanhoe, who wrote to recommend her Forest Ridge neighbor and friend for Our Good Cooks. “She regularly invites the neighborhood families to partake of her delicious goodies with backyard get-togethers.”

Evanhoe says Lorelei, a piano teacher by profession, also regularly hosts activities for female friends.

“Lucky for us as her friends, she will also put out a call or email when she has tried a new recipe and wants to share the extras,” Evanhoe added. “Everything is always served to create a visual feast also.”

In our chat with Albert, we asked about the creative ways in which she shares food and love with family and friends.

Q. What makes a meal comfortable for guests?

A. I think the guests will be comfortable if the host is comfortable. I used to worry about the house being absolutely spotless, or the meal being hot and done right on time. And what in the world were we all going to talk about? Did I have enough room? What was I going to wear? What if they don’t like what I’m serving?

I have over the past few years realized that the time and energy spent worrying about such things is better redirected in developing lasting friendships. Make all the introductions. If in doubt whether two people know each other or not, introduce them just to be sure. Seat strangers who have common interests together and help get their conversation started. After dinner, don’t hurry to clean up. Leave the mess for the morning. Join in the party. Participate in the conversation. Put another pot of coffee on. Make sure late comers get a great seat! As the host, I try not to make any excuses for the food, the messy house or lack of preparation on my part.

Q. Can you give examples of ways in which your neighborhood comes together?

A. Our neighborhood has been a real blessing for our family. We retired here in 2002, and bought this, our first house, here in Forest Ridge. Our neighborhood friends have become our family over the years.

Our small town atmosphere makes it especially easy to throw last-minute get-togethers. I like inviting friends over for a BBQ and no one has to worry about what to bring — they can just come and eat. Everyone brings their own lawn chair.

For me the pleasure is providing good food so that they can come, relax, and have a great time eating, sharing stories and building new relationships. In the winter, I tend to do more small dinner parties with one or two other couples.

Q. What is it about sharing food that you most enjoy?

A: Because I have a small family, when I want to cook up something special I love having friends over to make it worth the effort — and so I don’t have too much left over. If it’s the first time cooking a recipe, I love it even more.

It’s a good excuse to try out new stuff on friends. They are usually so grateful for the meal, but I also get great feedback about the food. The fellowship that happens around the pre-meal “food table” — which is usually my kitchen island — is always joyful and happy and is my favorite part about sharing.

I also like to see people really enjoying what they eat and drink … not just putting the food into their mouths, but truly loving the taste of the calories they are consuming. (BTW, I don’t count calories, ever.)

Q. Can you recommend a favorite cookbook?

A. I absolutely love “Fine Cooking.” I subscribe to their magazine and get a daily recipe with a link to their website. They offer tutorials, tips and excellent fail-proof recipes. I do like to work from a recipe at first and then make adjustments if needed, but I find that “Fine Cooking” really helps me fine tune with detailed instructions, the chemistry behind the ingredients, and the best technique to ensure a nice presentation as well as a tasteful outcome.

Q. What is an example of the type of event you most enjoy cooking for?

A. In the summertime, my daughter Emily and I host “read and eat” events. We invite eight to 10 people, made up of mostly mothers and daughters, to come over for a day and read a book from beginning to end out loud. I love making the day special for the moms and daughters with the food selection, setting a pretty table and having them totally pampered in the kitchen — for them there is no prep, no cooking, no clean up.

Before we start reading, we serve up a tasty breakfast featuring quiche and an assortment of homemade bread and pastries. With the first reading break, I like to serve fruit of some sort: a favorite is Blueberry Fruit Salad with Tequila-Lime Syrup.

Lunch might begin with Chilled Cucumber-Buttermilk Soup, Chilled Tomato and Red Pepper Soup and Gazpacho served in shot glasses. The main course might be spinach salad with marinated grilled chicken, strawberries, blue cheese and almonds with homemade dressing. We’ll have a special drink, perhaps Watermelon-Basil Water made with fresh herbs from the garden. After the guests return to the living room to read more, I quietly clear the table of dishes and reset for my favorite part — dessert! I found those Just Desserts mini glass dishes by Libbey that are just the right size for a bite or two, allowing everyone to try two to three different desserts.

We finish reading the book and end our day discussing the story over a plateful of homemade cookies. Some of my favorites — Chocolate-Dipped Espresso Shortbread Cookies, Macadamia Lace Cookies, Homemade Oreos, and the best ever Peanut Butter Cream sandwiched between two Chewy Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies.

Q. What are some of your favorite ingredients?

A. I guess butter would be pretty high on the list — I don’t ever use substitutes like margarine or spread, and nothing low-fat, especially nothing fat-free. Basil is one of my favorite herbs. Asparagus, I am finding out, is wonderfully versatile. Cream, wine, celery. I like sauces of all types.

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