In May, I'm going to be co-hosting a cooking class called "The DIY Dinner Party"*. In the school auction brochure, the tagline for the event is, "Impress without Stress!"**
During the class, I plan to give the attendees some helpful tips for making that simple but compelling statement a reality:
Don't use a dinner party as a place to experiment with a new recipe. Go with something tried and true, so you have confidence in your food.
Keep the guest list manageable for your menu. If you are planning a series of plated courses, for example, make sure you have elbow room and comfortable seating for the group around a dining table. For larger groups, go with a buffet and allow the guests to spread out among several tables.
Expect people to offer to help, and have simple jobs ready for them to do.
Pour plenty of wine and cocktails for the guests, but keep your own consumption to a minimum until the dinner is firmly under way.
Above all, prepare as much as you can ahead of time, so you can enjoy the festivities yourself. Sitting down and eating with your guests is the most impressive entertaining accomplishment of them all!
I should totally take that class.
On Monday, I sent my husband an email.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com Re: Birthday dinner party Can I throw you one on Sunday night? Was going to invite [list of six people]. xxoo From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Re: Birthday dinner party That sounds nice. Are you cooking or catering? From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Re: Birthday dinner party Cooking!
On Tuesday, I sent out an evite.
I meant to invite those six people, but then I remembered a few more people he really likes and that we hadn't seen in a while and I thought how it was actually really short notice and a holiday weekend so most people would probably say no so it would be better to ask a few too many than not have anyone show up because how sad would THAT be for a birthday party, right? So I emailed 16 people instead of 6.
On Wednesday, I pulled out a bunch of cookbooks and spent hours drooling over photos and recipes. I literally had stacks of them all over the family room. I jotted down ideas for a multi-course gourmet meal, complete with passed appetizers. My husband had requested a whole fish be in there somewhere, even though I'd never cooked a whole fish for him in my life. No problem! In fact, that could be, like, the theme of the dinner:
On Thursday, I checked on attendance.
10 people had said yes, four had not replied and two said no. I texted another couple and invited them, too. Note: our dining table seats 8.
On Friday, I went to the liquor store.
Because of course, the only recipe I bothered to test ahead of time was the cocktail one.
On Saturday, I was on a roll. I shopped. I made dip, salad dressing, and Parmesan crisps. I made the vanilla ice cream, the caramel sauce, and the puddings. We had carrot cake and presents and celebrated my husband's birthday as a family until the kids ditched us.
On Sunday, I realized I was about to serve bacon-wrapped fish to an observant Jew and a vegan.
I had another, much larger, test version of the cocktail, opened up some wine, put out the appetizers, answered the door, and hoped for the best.
The Mixed Tuna Carpaccio
The (fortunately) vegan-friendly mixed green salad
The salmon was good, but the mashed potatoes were AMAZING!
They loved it all. My daughter, bribed to be my sous chef, turned out to be a master of carpaccio creation and a plating genius. We squeezed into 15 folding chairs around the dining table, and no one seemed to mind the bumped elbows and interludes between courses. Food disappeared and glasses were filled, then filled again. Once the party started, I was too busy to take photos****, but not too busy to catch up with old friends. We told stories and laughed and mocked my husband a little before wishing him happy birthday with a single red candle in a bowl of hot, molten chocolate decadence.
And somehow, even though I pretty much ignored all my own advice, I did manage to impress. The stress part still needs some work.
Hung out with Blake Griffin and his deltoids after dinner**.
Stopped to smell the roses (and see them glued onto floats and rolled through the streets of Pasadena):
Roared my head off with 93,358 of my closest friends...
...and my amazing sister.
Having this time with her was the absolute best part of the whole spectacular, ridiculous, calorie-laden, magical marathon of overdoing everything that is the holidays at our house. The memories we make for our families together are worth every minute of each sleepless night, and I could never pull it off without her***.
The End (of 2012)
* Doing my essay in pictures is probably going to lower my grade even more, but honestly? If I had to write it all down in words it would be summer vacation already and this blog would never get back into gear.
** We scored highly enough on my husband's "Clipper Quiz" to win court side seats to the Christmas night game. I don't think there are words in the English language to describe exactly how thrilled and elated my son was with this gift. For like, weeks, after. In fact, he's still grinning like an idiot right now.
*** For example, she took almost every single one of these pictures, since my camera was buried under a mountain of piled-up paperwork I'm going to get to sometime next week