ENTERTAINING

table-with-plates-of-food

I’ll make a cake. The cake will make up for any shortcomings. This cake is intergalactically famous. I’ve been making it for years. It’s a rum cake.

I’m having friends in this weekend.

Sunday brunch. Nothing fancy.

The menu is pretty simple. 

Okay, okay –  the menu is dead simple.

Corn and crab chowder, a basket of assorted breads, and crudités – likely from Costco.  I may get inventive and make some savory butters for the bread. Then again, I may not. But that’s it.  Easy-peasy.  A hearty chowder thick with celery, potatoes and sliced water chestnuts, plus a bucket of crab meat. Crab is expensive but I get it wholesale from a relative who fishes for a living. ‘Go crazy, why don’t ya?’ Is what he says. There’ll be a lot of crab. And to top it off, chopped scallions. That flash of verdant green finishes it off nicely. I’ll make a cake. The cake will make up for any shortcomings. This cake is intergalactically famous. I’ve been making it for years. It’s a rum cake. I got the recipe out of The Sun decades ago. A cup of rum syrup gets poured over the cake when it’s hot out of the oven. Oh, and did I mention that a cup of rum also goes into the batter? It does. This is a cake to induce delirium. It’s beyond delicious. Mind you, not the best cake to have if you’ve got a job interview following. One of its many nicknames is Old Rubby Cake. With a cup of rum in the batter and then a cup of rum over top, just one slice and you smell like someone close to liver failure.  Heavenly, but exhale downwind.  

With a cup of rum in the batter and then a cup of rum over top, just one slice and you smell like someone close to liver failure. 

Photo of a rum cake by John Kanell

I tore my rotator cuff a while back; a rude surprise and dazzlingly painful, too. I had to frost two birthday cakes in the week that followed. This led to the sudden discovery that you can’t ice a cake when your right arm squeals in pain when it’s moved. The rum cake calls for no embellishment but the buttery rum syrup.  It’s a perfect inclusion for this Sunday. I’ll buy the breads, but I’ll make the biscuits. The chowder means there’s nothing heavy to lift out of the oven. In fact, I plan on leaving a ladle in the chowder pot so people can serve themselves. It would be great if people brought their own bowls – a fresh take on BYOB – but I’ll have a stack beside the stove.

I’ve got flowers for the table but not for the powder room. There’ll be clean guest towels. I’m not going to vacuum – nobody notices if you do or don’t.  I expect we’ll go through more coffee than alcohol but I’ll lay in some beer and some wine. But that’s it. Brunch is served, people. Dig in.

I expect we’ll go through more coffee than alcohol but I’ll lay in some beer and some wine.

When I was a bride, I used to sweat the small stuff. Perfectly ironed linen serviettes. Exquisite lace tablecloths that required special laundering. And there was nothing halfway about my demi-glace. It took days to prepare a dinner for company.  I came up with tricks so as to enable perfect execution. From Bon Appetit – or was it Soldier of Fortune? – I learned to bundle blanched asparagus spears secured by leek ribbons and garnished with red pepper slices so that I could, with magical aplomb, reheat them in a bain marie and plate them alongside a rosemary mustard crusted rack of lamb. These undertakings never failed to bring out my inner Gordon Ramsay. I’d be fretting and sweating right up to the minute the doorbell rang. Getting a hot meal to a table of dinner guests is crazy-making. And people are so fussy. Or are they?

Getting a hot meal to a table of dinner guests is crazy-making. And people are so fussy. Or are they?

Over the years, I’ve discovered that most people couldn’t care less about your demi-glace. These days I entertain less well, but more often.  People don’t remember the clever salad with figs and quail eggs, nor the fancy guest soaps. They remember the conversation, the laughs, and how welcome they were made to feel. They do, however, remember Old Rubby Cake.  It’s just that good.

There’s ho-hum cake and then there’s yo-ho-ho rum cake. I had an overwhelming response to the offer of the Old Rubby Rum cake recipe! These are the two that I use. The one from King Arthur Flour is a from-scratch recipe; the other one is made from a mix. They’re both great. I usually double the recipe as those damned ‘just a sliver’ people end up wanting thirds and fourths. Doubling the recipe will call for a total of two cups of rum. I’ve included a quick video clip of me pouring the rum syrup over my Old Rubby Cake. The trick with this cake is that you have to let all that syrup settle overnight before you invert the cake. Remember: baking is science and you can’t go wrong if you follow the recipe.

Click here for the recipes (and send me a photo of how yours turns out!)


This week’s question for readers:

LOVE TO ENTERTAIN FRIENDS AND FAMILY, OR IS IT A CHORE? WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR MAKING THE EVENT MANAGEABLE?


All aboard the North Pole Express!

Photo by WCRA

The Bookless Club has partnered with the West Coast Railway Association for this fantastic Christmas giveaway.  The train departs from the Railway Museum in Squamish. Visit wcra.org for more information about this fabulous package.

Register for my newsletter to receive further instructions for a chance to win this unique railcar experience for 15!


Responses to last week’s question:

What are/were your childhood holiday traditions?

My mother shared with my two brothers and I, the comforting, delicious and fun tradition of Christmas baking each year.  Starting with fruit cake, mincemeat tarts, shortbread and finally, the highly anticipated iced Christmas sugar cookies. This fun tradition always included a careful review of the seasonal cookie cutters; the bell, star, Christmas tree and most coveted – the old fashioned Santa Claus. The butter icing was divided into small bowls which we carefully coloured with drops of red, green and blue leaving a bit of white for Santa’s suit, hat and beard.  Toppings of tiny silver balls, coloured trimettes and sparkles in plastic tubes were all part of the allure. Afterwards, my wily mother had the daunting task of hiding the large square cookie tin.   The locations changed each year and were always surprising including; behind the dog food bag, beneath the kindling in the living room fireplace and, the most ingenious, beneath my older brother’s bed. Hilariously, and not surprisingly, this location was NEVER discovered by any of us.  This annual baking tradition lives on to this day in the shared laughter and memory of the hidden cookie treasure trove in the least likely location!

Gerry Sayers

As a youngster growing up in South Vancouver in the mid 60’s I have many great Christmas memories, the first being a Saturday morning Christmas Santa parade on Fraser St. running from 57th to 41st with Santa and his sleigh float being bigger than life.  The next was a visit with Santa at the Woodward’s Oakridge outdoor mall where you not only had a visit with Santa with candy canes and treats, but there was an outdoor area where they had real reindeer with Christmas bells and hay bales. My Dad worked with CN Rail and they always put on a Saturday morning Christmas party at the old cruise ship terminal at the foot of Main St. with wrapped presents for all.  For the past 20 years we’ve taken our family to the Stanley Park Christmas Train. And for the past 30 years, I’ve spent three days decorating the outside of my house with Christmas decorations.

Fred Myskiw

When I was around ten years old my parents started a tradition for my three brothers and I on Christmas Eve. They would set up a card table down stairs in the family room and festoon it with all sorts of tasty stuff for the four of us to nosh on. There was sausage, pickles, cheeses, crackers, olives, nuts and an array of traditional treats like shortbread and chocolates. It was a special time that brought my brothers and I closer together while we lived very independent lives the rest of the year. It was such a fond memory I resurrected the tradition a number of years ago to share with my closest companion.

Bruce Shaw

We make it a point to go for a walk on the seawall every Christmas Day and on Boxing Day, as well.  My brother’s family goes to the movies every Christmas afternoon.  His wife uses the time to get the meal on the table and everyone who goes to the movie is responsible for all the post-dinner clean up!  She says she also uses their absence to sneak in a well-deserved nap!

P. Arnold

48 thoughts on “ENTERTAINING”

  1. Bernadette Cartwright

    This really caught my attention as I thought I baked a mean rum cake, but nowhere near 1 cup each of rum inside and out! I often took the rum cake to work as the staff just loved it (mostly men) & I was sure to bring back as much rum as I could when visiting Cuba.

    Thank you for all your articles; very interesting to read.

  2. Just finished reading your article this morning with my morning cup of coffee. Always look forward to your Saturday edition and this one in particular, especially as it relates to food and drink!

  3. Loved your column this morning, actually I love your column every Sat but today’s column resonates so well. I am longing for casual entertaining especially after the last 18 months and I think this will be my style for the future.

  4. Good morning Jane,

    It sounds delicious and some of my best recipes over the years have come from the Sun.

    I just ran over with the lawn mower and destroyed my beautiful red Felco clippers so a new pair will be on my Christmas list again this year.

    I hope your RC heals up soon and thanks for your column, the first thing I read every Saturday morning.

  5. Thank you for your views on how you have changed your entertaining preparation. I too have relaxed about how I prepare now. I think that comes with maturity (not aging).

  6. How did I miss this in The Sun? I have been a dedicated reader of the recipes over the past 50 years and most of our treasured, favourite and old faithful recipes have come from The Sun whether it was Edith Adams Kitchen or from an article and recipes from a new cook book that was featured. I am finding fewer recipes that pique my interest and those that I do try often don’t make the cut. Is it because we already have so many tried, true and tweaked to perfection recipes? I find it hard to believe that with the melding of techniques, cuisines and ingredients by todays creative and talented chefs that there aren’t more exciting dishes to try in our kitchen, preferably not too complicated or time consuming.

    We have a fabulous recipe for Rum Ribs out of that book – might be too much with Old Rubby Cake but I look forward to trying this cake that sounds both decadent and easy to make. Cake baking is one of my specialties but I seldom make some of the more complex and time consuming cakes any more, partly because I have more to do in life and because you need a crowd to eat those cakes and entertaining has had to take a back seat to covid-19.

  7. Hi Jane,
    I look forward to reading your column in the Vancouver Sun and enjoyed the latest offering on entertaining. Your description of the Old Rubby Cake tickled my fancy.
    I sympathize with your rotator cuff injury and wish you a successful recovery.

  8. I will be cooking for between 12 and 16 for a week over Christmas when three generations gather to celebrate. This sounds perfect for the adults only!

  9. The biggest tip I would give to entertaining is “simplicity”. Don’t try to make the menu too complicated. Use fresh local ingredients that don’t require a lot of preparation. Do as as much ahead of time including setting the table, making a salad dressing and/or sauce. The goal is to spend as much time with your guests as possible and the least amount of time by yourself in the kitchen. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

  10. It makes me laugh thinking about Rum Cake as my sister Nancy was famous for hers and we all used to rave about it when we returned for holiday to New York each summer. My mother was the one who fancied it most, she who never tasted a drop of liquor in her life and never asked what was in the recipe. And I was the ‘from scratch’ snob cook unlike Nancy, who with many children and a full time nursing job, took any shortcut available to her. When I finally got her recipe I had to smile as it was a box cake mix to start and the easiest, most wonderful cake to make, time wise. Nancy left us far too young but in her wake she inspired several of her progeny in the fine art of cake making. She never revealed to our mother the nearly two cups of rum that gave the cake its ‘Kick’. Isn’t it interesting that the mere mention of ‘rum cake’ should spark such a raft of sweet memories, bringing my darling sister to life again.

    Regarding today’s question on entertaining, every year we host a Boxing Day Tourtiere Lunch. There is a wonderful local woman who bakes these traditional Acadian, savoury pies at home for the freezer starting in late September. They are a fabulous buy at $24 per pie. The piping hot pies served with chutney (litre bottles of Balls Chutney available at African Breeze on 4th Avenue at a super good price) plus a large green salad and a cauldron of bubbling ‘doctored’ baked beans round out the menu. We serve at least 20 people. Having a menu everyone looks forward to makes it even more fun. Dessert is an easy to make trifle which can be prepared days before. I think knowing what your menu will be is half the battle and when its the same every Boxing Day, well, you’ve won the war!

  11. In return, the cake I always make for big gatherings is the absolutely bomb-proof, always crowd pleasing one called Grandma’s Brown Sugar Cake, by Kraft. Recipe available online. Super easy, and quite showy too.

    My specialty (other than soup, which I am known for!) is Lamb Tagine, with saffron rice. It’s easy to prepare in advance, but is unfortunately quite expensive to make.

  12. Hi Jane,
    I was always my worst critic when it came to having a dinner party or even family for dinner. I would fret and overthink everything and the day after be inwardly critical of how things turned out.

    As I have gotten older, I realize that it’s not so much about the food or how organized everything is. People just love to get together and be treated to a meal and lots of laughs.

    Tips that I would offer in making the event manageable are:
    Plan and make a list
    Keep the menu simple
    Shop a week ahead of time
    Prep during that week
    Do a light house clean
    Early the morning of, finish food preparation
    Leave lots of time to get yourself ready
    Check your list again an hour before guest arrive
    Get the guests involved in serving or
    helping out in any way ( they don’t mind)
    Lastly, enjoy yourself and your guests

    I still struggle with perfectionism over this but have learned to let a lot go.

  13. Before the pandemic hit. My wife and I came up with a pre or post Christmas party. A cookie exchange and beer tasting. We supplied appies and few exotic beers. We encouraged attendees to bring cookies and and some strange brew to share with others. It was a hit.

  14. My husband does not enjoy cake BUT he’s quite confident that the Rum Cake you mentioned in the today’s Vancouver Sun could easily become on of our Christmas Traditions!

  15. Hello Jane,

    We used to love holding dinner parties. Planning elaborate meals and staying up into the wee hours sharing stories and holding pool tournaments in our basement pub. But as the years passed, we found it too tiring, so entertaining has turned into brunches, and early afternoon events. Christmas dinner for instance has been replaced with an Eggs Benedict drop in, that somehow works out perfectly with one group arriving, just after the first group has eaten, so there is an assembly line of plates that are served up and a lovely rotation of family and friends who are all fed and on their way to other events by 3pm, leaving us to a relaxing late afternoon/evening and a light easy meal around 8pm. Hoping we can get back to this after two years of solitary Christmases.
    We still get all the stories and fun, but having no pool table in our newer digs, guests don’t hang around as long, giving Ma in her kerchief and Pa in his cap, a chance to settle down for an earlier evening long winter nap. The best of both worlds at this time of our lives.

    Cheers to you and yours.

  16. My fiancé and I are hosting three couples tonight, two are cousins and their spouses and the third a nephew and wife. Preparations started yesterday. But the fretting started a week ago.

    I’m going to insist my fiancé read your article. She was up until 2:00 am this morning making a tiramisu cake.

    I have reminded her several times that this is family and no one notices if the house is not dusted. But they do notice if you run out of wine. We have lots of wine.

    I love your articles. They are one of the best parts of my Saturday. Today they will have to share that honour with tiramisu cake.

  17. Hi Jane,

    Please don’t stop writing if you can possibly manage it.
    Your columns in the Vancouver Sun are a ray of sunshine every Saturday.

    Warm regards,
    Ruth

  18. Hi Jane,
    Another great column this week! I don’t have room to entertain in a big way anymore. Sometimes have brie, blue cheese, and other cheeses, pate, good bread, crackers and grapes with friends.

  19. Hello!
    Although I can’t abide rum with coke (the reason is buried in a long-ago unwise decision while in my teens) I really like it in mojitos and desserts.
    Thanks for this and for your entertaining columns.
    Best,
    Lisa

  20. One word for almost stress free entertaining: Potluck.
    Our SWorD (Single Widowed or Divorced) group started out having full on sit-down dinners. The hostess would set the main course or theme and we would build on that, as we continue to do Now, many have moved to smaller homes and a larger sitdown meal is not feasible. So, we have moved on to appie and dessert nights instead. Everyone provides something, so no-one carries all the weight. People are happy to comply and love the variety. If you aren’t up to the task…..there is always something store bought in a pinch (Did you know that frozen yorkshire puddings are really quite good!)
    I concur with not vacuuming before a visit and be sure to turn the lights down and light candles!!! Do be sure the bathroom is shiny and clean!!
    Folk congregate to enjoy each others’ company, not to judge someone’s housekeeping!!

  21. I love to entertain friends but due to my husband’s health, that is infrequent now. However, my tips include making dishes that can be prepared a day ahead or frozen. Set the table a day prior also, cut up the salad ingredients in the morning, cool the beer and sit down for at least an hour before everyone arrives. Then you can re-heat, quickly toss, pour and enjoy the company. If you serve mixed drinks, give the job to someone else.

  22. It reminded me of a favourite cake I used to make with no alcohol unfortunately but similar modus operandi. Very easy and totally decadent and delicious. I love your columns and always read them. Incidentally I know about shoulders. After years of rotator cuff problems I now have arthritis in my shoulders and had one replaced. Such a relief. Need the other one done now.

    Thank you so much for keeping me entertained. I am 85.

  23. I enjoyed your essay on home entertaining and the heroic measures we often take as hostesses to ensure the perfect party. This is often stressful.
    My solution has been to host lunch parties rather than dinner parties.
    Lunch menus are far less work. My friends know that they can expect homemade soup and biscuits with a nice treat for dessert. Also, having a focus for the get-together is important = a birthday for example. Another example of easier home entertaining is having friends over for a music evening. Everyone brings a plate of snacks and I serve wine. We can either perform (we’re mostly all musicians) or just listen. Its always a nice surprise to see what foods people bring. The music program is always fun as well.

  24. Hello Jane,
    Let me start by thanking you for always entertaining me on Sunday morning. I read most of The Vancouver Sun on Saturday morning, but always put aside your Bookless Club column (& Pete McMartin’s if there is one) to savour on Sunday morning.
    A ritual I so enjoy… many thanks for your wonderful columns that touch on so many interesting & nostalgic topics.

  25. Hi Jane,
    For many years I hosted our family’s Christmas Eve.

    Being Ukrainian I was required to put 12 dishes on the table. One year I was so exhausted that, when the dinner was over – all of 20 minutes to eat and push away from the table- I ran to the bathroom and burst into tears.

    Ever since that day I have hosted a potluck appetizer party. We have a big island in the kitchen and it is so much more fun to chat and graze.

    I really enjoy your articles, hope you’ll keep writing for us post-pandemic.

    Regards,
    Wendy

  26. I rarely entertain but might be tempted to with a dessert recipe like that. Guests might then forget any problems with the main course! 😁

    I really enjoy reading your columns each week.

  27. Hello DearJane,
    Marvellous Saturday column.
    In the past, dinner parties were big, fun and delicious.
    This past year has shown us that aging isn’t for sissies.
    An autoimmune disease lead to COVID for us both then a devastating open heart surgery for husband.
    Last month was husband’s 70th ~~ a time to celebrate.
    Yikes! Out of practise, weakened in body but stoked in spirit..
    made the traditional: two entrees, salads, veggies, exotic rice, appies, 😵‍💫
    A dear couple gifted birthday cake.
    Wish I’d read your so sensible, charming menu prior to the day!!

  28. Hello Jane:

    I faithfully read your articles every Saturday edition (the only edition I read here in Hope).
    As for your last article about easy dishes to serve to guests – I am grateful that my husband enjoys my Beef Stew so much that he requests it for his birthday meal. I cook mine in the oven and once all the veg’s are prepped and the meat prepared etc. and it’s popped in the oven it cooks on low for over 3 hours – giving me lots of time to set the table, prepare other courses or ready myself for guests. I can even leave the house and go for a walk, returning to the smell of a dinner ready to serve. No last minute sweating over the stove as the guests arrive and you are torn between welcoming them and serving beverages and trying to keeping track of several dishes that you want to serve hot when everyone is seated. I have a great Lamb Shank recipe that is equally easy for such occasions.

  29. Hi Jane,
    Look forward to your column each week-
    It is a little ray of sunshine these days and usually good for a laugh or two.
    Thank you so much- keep well.
    Marg

  30. Hi Jane
    Thanks for once again a sweet and fun column. In answer to your question –

    One of the biggest things I missed when I moved from Southern California (where I lived for 25 years) to Vancouver was my weekly dinner with my best friend Lee. She is not a cook, she “assembles” via Trader Joe’s, but I love to cook. She would come over mid-afternoon with wine, and we would talk, drink and I would cook. She always loved it, and I miss cooking for a close friend. Fancy it never was, but I got a chance to experiment and she was always gracious about any failures. That is true friendship!

  31. Hi Jane,

    I just read your article in the Vancouver Sun and you described your delicious Rum cake … it sounds like the perfect finale to a wonderful evening with family and friends!

    I always enjoy your column!!

    Thanks!

  32. I agree that running the vacuum before a party is madness….just dim the lights. Makes the mess disappear and the guests look better too😊

  33. I’m also having friends for a Sunday brunch/Christmas cookie exchange in a few weeks. We are the remnants of a once thriving book club trying to recover from this pandemic time. Our meetings used to be evenings but long drives on dark rainy winter nights weren’t very inviting anymore so Sunday brunches are now our thing. I make tourtière pies every Christmas so one will be for this brunch along with a Caesar salad and red wine savoury spritzersI

  34. Hi Jane

    I loved your column on Christmas traditions and remember fondly Santa and the reindeer at Oakridge, where we took our young daughter each year. Also the Christmas windows at The Bay and Woodward’s downtown.

    Please continue your columns – they are the first thing I read in my Saturday Sun. With so many good writers now put out to pasture, it’s good to know there is still someone worth reading each week.

    I hope you are safe and well.

    Best

  35. First of all, I love your column and it is the first thing I read in the Saturday morning paper while enjoying my breakfast!

    Would you please send me a copy of your recipe for Old Rubby Cake?

    After 53 years of marriage I find cooking on a daily basis a bit of a drag. However, I do like cooking and especially baking for my friends and neighbours in my newly updated kitchen.

    A group of old high school friends (8 of us) meet about twice a year and take turns being the hostess. The hostess makes the main course and rest of us bring appetizers, salad and dessert. We always have a lovely time bringing each other up to date on our lives and reminiscing about our high school years in Quesnel.

    I also belong to a dragon boating team, D-Fyance. We are a team of ladies who are 65 to 82 years of age and we just won gold at the Concord Pacific regatta in Vancouver! When we have our socials it is usually pot luck or just appetizers and desserts.

  36. Hello, Jane,

    We are fortunate to have a lanai (patio) very suitable for entertaining 6-8 people. Due to the pandemic we did no indoor entertaining, but this summer we discovered the perfect way to feed guests. Finger food! Fancy little potatoes. Cherry tomatoes. Strips of peppers. devilled eggs. And sweet sour ribs, huli huli chicken wings and kielbasa (already cut up) on the barbecue. Guests helped themselves, nothing got really cold, the food was all there, and there were only plates to wash up. No cutlery to spread viruses. Perfect!

  37. Dear Jane;

    It brought back great memories of classic desserts from my childhood when I read your latest column. Growing up in West Van, our family had several neighbours from England and Scotland that would pass along traditional recipes to my Mum like Christmas Pudding, Mince Tarts and Brandy Butter along with Mrs. Milne’s famous three ingredient Scottish Shortbread recipe that had to be translated by her daughter because her Scottish brogue was so hard to understand.

  38. Hi Jane – Regrettably, there’s little good news to read in local newspapers these days, but I do look forward to Saturday morning breakfasts with your column before me. Like your writing style, it’s as if we’re having a conversation, which is to say I’m nodding my head in the affirmative, supplementing your sentences and/or paragraphs with my own comments or reactions to what I’ve just read. Keep up the great work!

    Hope your Sunday brunch went as planned – sounds like your evolutionary entertaining style guarantees lotsa kudos and ‘atta girl’s every time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *