Sweet Pharoah's chariot, somebody stop me. It's not enough I keep nagging you how to do stuff you've already been doing your whole life ("Press the toaster lever down firmly and resolutely with the right hand "), now I'm telling you how to drink beer with your friends? Oh, for the love of ... Well, at least, if you continue reading, you'll get some good snacks out of it.
And, no, I don't mean that I'll bring you snacks; I mean you can - oh, never mind.
Why you need to learn this
One quality that made George W. Bush as popular as he was was the fact that he always seemed like "a guy you could have a beer with." His successor, Barack Obama, once famously held a "beer summit" to bring together two individuals caught up on opposite sides of a national debate on race. Then, of course, there was the great Tom T. Hall, who famously sang, "I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow."
So, that's why you need to drink beer. As for the rest, beer without snacks is like tentacles without suction cups. (Don't ask; I was on a deadline.)
The steps you take
Consider today's column to be a reflection on hospitality. A meditation, if you will. Or, a rumination, perhaps, if you happen to be one of those "hideous human-cow hybrids" we discussed in last month's column. (Let this be a lesson, kids: Never miss an episode of "Prep School.")
Knowing well the truth behind the concept of the "home field advantage," we humans have always had a soft spot for the visitor as underdog. We go out of our way to make the guest feel "at home." Right? Not surprisingly, then, hospitality - the obligation to make the guest or stranger feel welcome - is of paramount importance in many of the world's great religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Hospitality is why, when Madge is coming over, we do whatever we need to make her feel comfortable, including cleaning the house, or at least the salon. You know how Madge just loves being received in the salon.
Of course, how we define "comfortable" is entirely between you and your guest, and not every guest is as discerning as Madge. Sure, some of us guests hanker for the bone china and starched white linen. Me, I'm more of a plastic plate and paper napkin kind of guy.
At the same time, some of us hosts have all kinds of stops we can pull out: extra cash out the wazoo (can we say "wazoo" in a family paper?), mad culinary skills, you name it. Others of us can barely scrape out a bargain jar of generic honey roasted peanuts. What any of us can or can't afford in money and time, then, is between us and our god, whoever that may be.
Regardless, we generally agree that our common humanity obliges us to make our guest know that he or she is welcome.
Now, combine that obligation with the good that comes from meetings like Obama's beer summit, and you start to see that there's a whole heap of good that comes just from sitting down with the peeps and sharing a small repast. That's why we go that extra mile.
And as long as we're on distance metaphors, congrats on taking that first step and reading this here missive on handy snacks you can whip up in 3 to 5 jiffies.
For our purposes, we're assuming you're serving your guests something refreshing and possibly alcoholic - like beer or gin rickeys. And for that you need a snack as salty as a locker room colloquy with a head of state.
Now, as we discussed above, you know better than I what falls within your means. However, if you've got the time and inclination to spend a little time in the kitchen, here are some simple suggestions that will make your guests know they are welcome:
Chips: If you've got a mandoline, thinly slice some peeled potatoes and keep them covered in water. Pour vegetable oil into a large pot until it's one third full, and heat over medium high to 350 degrees. Dry the potatoes on clean towels, and fry until golden brown. Season with salt, and flavor with your favorite spice mix. Yum.
Beer nuts: Melt a couple of ounces of butter with an equal amount of brown sugar and a teaspoon-ish of your favorite spice mix and some salt. Toss with a couple of cups of raw nuts, and roast in a 375-degree oven until toasty and delicious.
Snack like it's 1972: Wrap bite-size pieces of dried fruit (date, fig, apricot slices, etc.) in half of a slice of bacon or pancetta per piece, and bake at 350 until crispy, about 15 minutes. If you want to get all crazy, stuff the fruit with goat cheese before wrapping.
Veggie snacks: Mince a couple of cloves of garlic with a few anchovies (trust me), and whisk it into some extra-virgin olive oil. Toss with bite-size cauliflower or broccoli florets to coat and roast, turning once, until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Your stupid friends will make fun of you for serving this, but it will be gone first.
Crunchy chickpeas: Deep-fry or pan-fry cooked chickpeas until they're crunchy and golden, about 15 minutes, then drain and toss with salt and your favorite spice mix.
James P. DeWan is a culinary instructor at Kendall College in Chicago.