Hosting a July 4 barbecue in my East Northport backyard used to be a proverbial piece of cake. Not anymore! Few eat cake in public. My guests are gluten free, nixing carbs and making white sugar sound like the Black Death.
Back in the day — maybe only five years ago — my guests chowed down when my husband grilled classic Fourth fare, and I set out accompaniments.
I didn’t know how easy I had it as a hostess because nobody asked: Is the shrimp cocktail from reliable seafood sources?
Are the deviled eggs from cage-free chickens?
Is the mayonnaise in the coleslaw and potato salad light?
Is the corn Long Island farm-to-table?
The beef organic?
We’d end with a chocolate rush of s’mores, fudge sundaes, brownies and high-octane iced coffee.
I didn’t need to know whether the coffee beans were conflict-free. Or the cocoa count in the chocolate, which is now touted as a health food, just as Woody Allen predicted in “Sleeper.” (In that 1973 sci-fi comedy, a character in the future talks about the uninformed past, when deep fat, steak, cream pies and hot fudge were thought to be unhealthy.)
Sure, I’ve tried to accommodate the new foodies, fad dieters, suddenly vegan and PC eaters. I myself became lactose intolerant and now ask what’s made with dairy. I can eat without worry only when I’m invited to a kosher home and know there won’t be any dairy on the menu.
More important, we should preserve our environment, enhance health, protect food workers and encourage humane animal practices.
But it’s frustrating. What can I serve that everyone will eat? How much research must I do?
For example, a longtime Far Rockaway High School pal stopped eating red meat. So I served chicken sausages. But because I didn’t know whether the casing was a pork byproduct, my friend filled up on salad, which I won’t serve now even though the romaine-lettuce scare is over.
My friend Felice Solomon from Plainview is a partial vegan who eats fish. I served her salmon, which she enjoyed. I got lucky; she didn’t ask whether it was fresh, frozen, farm-raised or wild.
My son David evolved as a political and ecological eater since he moved from New York City to Los Angeles. He attended a recent Hollywood gathering where a party planner “introduced” the menu, citing country of origin, calorie counts, politics, and vowed that nothing was genetically modified, contained additives, steroids, growth hormones or antibiotics.
But there’s nostalgia in my backyard about the days of irresponsible eating. My husband, Herb, had guests salivating last year describing his mother’s chopped chicken liver cooked with fried onions, garlic, hard-boiled eggs, slavered in chicken fat and served on seeded rye.
His culinary moment coincided with my serving dry mock liver made of chopped mushrooms, string beans, peas and tofu on gluten-free chips. Guests claimed it was tasty, but a lot was left over.
The pressure to eat properly in public is making us sneak eaters.
I stopped at a Queens deli not far from the Long Island Expressway and spied my friend Tom Bloom from Merrick eating a mile-high sandwich of chopped liver and pastrami on club bread.
“Listen Carol,” he pleaded, “if you speak to Steffi [his wife], tell her I was eating water-packed tuna on whole wheat.”
I won’t out him if he keeps quiet about my rare roast beef with Russian dressing on rye with a potato knish.
Reader Carol Cott Gross lives in East Northport.