Amy Sedaris' new book serves up a heapin' helpin' of hospitality

DO YOU FIND the thought of entertaining to be, well, less than entertaining? Does the mere idea of making hors d'oeuvres make you howl? When you hear "hostess," do you think "cupcake?" Then I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (Warner Books, 2006), by the ever-scampish Amy Sedaris, was made just for you. Amy's take on being a gracious host is simple, straightforward, and scathingly funny (of course). But lest you think this is a book better suited to the humor aisle, "This is not a joke cookbook," Sedaris sternly warns. "I don't like joke cookbooks because I can't take them seriously." Indeed, her recipes (including one for her famous cheese balls) are perfectly serious and scrumptious, even if her etiquette pointers and game ideas are a little eccentric (blind-date suggestions: don't cry, don't assume he can read; kid's party game: "Jr. Cat Burglar: lock the kids out of the house and see if they can break in"). Die-hard Sedaris fans will delight in advice tidbits such as "How to Get This Look," which shows Amy all gussied up as a Greek goddess (in homage to her heritage), with step-by-step instructions for replicating the costume. And the pics of vintage style food spreads are a scream think hamburger buns bedecked with faces fashioned out of veggies, atop a crisp gingham tablecloth circa 1967. This mix of kitsch and comedy is kicky and silly, yes, but Amy's suggestions are as solid as they are unconventional-like her rules for enlivening a dish with color ("a red onion and pumpernickel croutons will jazz up any salad") and texture ("crunchy will always punch up soggy," but "never have bumpy and lumpy on the same plate"). The recipes within will make a party princess out of even the shyest novice, for I Like You never gets too complicated. "Because if there's one thing I am," remarks Sedaris, "it's clinically simple."  [BRANDY BARBER]

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