Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More Potato Salad, Y'all?

Now that late afternoon temperatures seems more or less fixed above 70 degrees, it's time to start thinking about cook-outs. We've already fired up the grill several times in recent days, which got me thinking about who I'd love to invite over for ribs and chicken or burgers and dogs. I'd even throw a few portobellas on there, having recently expanded my gastronomical horizons with the reading of Michael Pollan's thoroughly engaging The Omnivore's Dilemma.

So who would I like to gather for a casual meal on my deck?

1. Kathy Bates - Kathy strikes me as a woman who cuts right to the chase. No folderol, no foolishness, no facade. Her new series, Harry's Law, showcases her wit and charm as well as her intolerance for shams and stupidity. I think we could have a serious good time talking about everything from the stupidity of six-inch heels to the unfailing madness of crowds.

2. Red Skelton - A funnier man never lived. Well, maybe Robin Williams, but with Red you get all the hilarity without all the profanity. Plus he was a genuinely nice guy. Nice people who make you laugh make great dinner guests.

3. Rhett Butler - Now here's a man who could liven up a barbecue. Not only would he charm the socks off everybody there, he'd undoubtedly have something in his jacket pocket that would add a little kick to the basting sauce. Smart, sexy, unpredictable and unafraid, there would be no dull moments with this man at the table.

4. Carol Burnett - Another woman who is so comfortable in her own skin that she makes everyone else comfortable, too. Funny, smart, a great teller of anecdotes, but happy to share the spotlight so she wouldn't hog the conversation.

5. Leo Buscaglia - I got to hear Leo speak once--even got to meet him and get one of his famous hugs afterwards. What a dear man! (If you've not read any of his books, you must.) One of those people who can always find something positive, who exults over simple pleasures such as a perfectly ripe tomato or the sweetness of a just-picked ear of corn, Leo's presence at a dinner party would guarantee a good time.

6. Jack Hanna - I got to see Jack Hanna once, too--front row seats. (Not necessarily a good thing when he's carrying a 20 ft. python!) Jack strikes me as a likeable fellow--compassionate, attentive to detail, lots of life experience without the ego you might expect. And you never know what he might have tucked away in his knapsack . . .

7. George and Laura Bush - I know you might not want them at your barbecue, but I think George and Laura are good people and would be great guests. I feel pretty sure George knows his way around a grill and I bet Laura would bring a delicious homemade dessert. I wouldn't have invited them while he was president, but now that they're just hanging out at the ranch, I'd love to chat about about raising cows and writing books and how the world reacts to a Southern drawl.

8. Patti Humphreys - I wasn't done with my precious friend Patti when God called her home a year ago, and I'd give anything to have her back in my kitchen helping me put ice in glasses and pouring up my crowd-pleasing sweet tea. Patti enjoyed a party like nobody else; you could hear her wonderful laugh spilling from every corner. At 75, Patti still possessed the wide-eyed curiosity (and enthusiasm) of a teenager; who doesn't want that in their midst?

9. Tugalo Rogers - My granddaddy died nearly 30 years before I was even thought about it, but I would love to put him in a rocking chair on my deck, then just sit back and listen. A lanky Alabama farmer who worked hard and played harder, I'm told his fiddle-playing and joke-telling made him a welcome guest at many a gathering.

10. Walter and Betsy Cronkite - For starters, Walter always made me think of Captain Kangaroo, whom I adored, plus he seemed like another of those genuinely decent folk who makes you feel good to be around. And any long-time married couple make great company because that shared history lets them finish each other's sentences and benefit from a tag-team approach to conversation. Betsy was a print journalist at one point and, like me, a mother of three, so we'd have plenty to talk about.

None of these people will ever grace my table or eat my husband's delicious grilled specialties, unfortunately, but it's fun to think about, nevertheless. So ponder and then tell me: whom would you like to have over for a cook-out?