The fun of flipping through any instructional book on the domiciliary arts is the glossy spread of photos that promise what you can accomplish, if only you’ll give it a couple hours. Be it a smart sweater shown on a totally indie rock girl, à la Stitch ’n Bitch Nation, or a bucolic setting of chocolate and toffee confections, à la the 1979 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, a map to the good life is often packaged in 320 pages or less.
In that vein, it’s hard to pin down what comedienne and domestic sexpot Amy Sedaris is packaging in her I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, but I want to buy it all. The colorfully illustrated tome provides a peek inside the domestic world of a woman who has forged a career for herself using only her cutting sense of humor, extraordinary baking skills and enthusiasm for derriere-increasing prosthetics. It is a guide to the lost art of entertaining, all wrapped up in the Sedaris brand of humor that enabled a successful TV and film collaboration with friends Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, topped off with the baking acumen that has earned Sedaris a secondary career in selling her own cupcake and cheeseball line to Manhattan-area bakeries.
And it is a world not unlike that of the late ’70’s Betty Crocker on uppers: Sedaris embraces the same photographic style, the same loud, multicolored backgrounds, as the homey backdrops in cookbooks of decades past. In homage to the charmingly outdated crafts pages of Highlights Magazine, she documents her aesthetically pleasing romp through a felt-and-pipe-cleaner landscape, showing that if you can dream it — an owl hunched among ominous mushrooms, a fabric croissant — you can make it. Going so far off the deep end, it isn’t hard to imagine that similar creations could grace an otherwise fashionable pad.
She also explores the many uses for discarded pantyhose (sachet for the bath, decorative screen for the living room).
Although her recipes are thorough and at times ambitious, she’s a definite proponent of winging it, as evidenced by her friend Paul Dinello’s recipe for zucchini fritters. Dinello explains, “I don’t use a measuring cup … I suppose I like the crapshoot quality of cooking without specific measurements.”
This, coupled with the Jerri Blank comedic flourishes and the retro visuals, make for an accessible guidebook. Whereas I always feel The Joy of Cooking is looking down on me, Sedaris proves a friendly coach who wouldn’t call you a failure if you threw in a towel on the spanakopita and opted to follow her recipe for the Juan Carlito mojito instead.
Like Sedaris’ attraction to the grotesque (as evidenced by her portrayal of the haggard Jerri Blank character), she exploits flaws to their full advantage in the household. While Betty Crocker or knitting books often display the nearly unachievable, Sedaris’ collection embraces whatever works for the host or hostess: I Like You isn’t Sedaris’s attempts to reinvent the spinning wheel, but a smooth collection of success stories (with a fair share of introductions like “My mother got this recipe out of a Playboy magazine” or “This recipe was originally known as ‘The NutSnacker’ by Kraft”).
Entertaining is a forgotten art for most, and adventurous cooking or crafty baking are seemingly obsolete for the hordes of us who work full time. But Amy Sedaris brings it all back in full, kitsch glory, and throws in some valuable etiquette tips: how to write the perfect invitation, whom to invite and how to plan the meal accordingly (she favors themed meals, and demonstrates how to cook for businessmen, lumberjacks, potential mates and the grieving).
Even those of us who are between ovens at the moment can enjoy a straight read through by virtue of Amy’s wit and the crossover between her and her sibling’s work. If you’re a David Sedaris fan, you may also enjoy brother Paul’s step-by-step instructions for creating the candy-filled “fuck it bucket” as referenced in David’s short story, “You Can’t Kill the Rooster.” Niece Madelyn, whose birth was detailed in David’s “Baby Einstein,” helps Sedaris model homemade jewelry.
Baked Alaska might be a little much for Sedaris’s demographic to get behind, but when it’s baked Alaska as illustrated by the woman who graced the pages of legendary make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin’s coffee table book, had a cameo on Sex and the City and tumbled with two friends on The Colbert Report, the endeavor suddenly seems — dare I say it? — hip.