Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'll get you my pretty... and your little dog too!

Obviously I love the dynamics of a dinner party.  However, there is something to be said for the freedom of a cocktail party.  Rather than chained to the dinner table, it is perfectly acceptable to wander. You can sit in the living room or head into the kitchen, pull someone into the den to gossip about a person who just arrived.  I don’t do that.  
Problem is, I rarely like cocktail party food.  Crackers, cheese, perhaps a little caviar, a few grapes; a girl gets hungry.  So, what is a good meal that fills you up without chaining you to a table? Sandwiches. 

Now, I did not immediately consider making a sandwich cooking.  Then I met the $9 California Connection from Central Market.  Roasted chicken breast, caramelized onions, sun dried tomato aioli, some kind of pesto, and cheese all on a toasted baguette....  I saw heaven, and it is wrapped in parchment.  I now own a cookbook dedicated to sandwiches.  

‘Wichcraft... I love the name, I love Tom Colicchio, I love everything from the inspiration for this restaurant, to the slow roasted tomatoes on the turkey sandwich. So this week some of my ‘wichy-est friends will be stopping by for a little salad on a stick (Iowa State Fair does this...who knew the mid west could be so creative), and the following ‘Wichcraft: 

Mozzarella and Provolone with roasted tomatoes and black olives
Roasted turkey with avocado, bacon, balsamic onion marmalade, and mayonnaise
Tuna and roasted tomato melt
Ice Cream Sandwich Cake

So turkey, tuna, and cheese; does it call for white or red?  
How about both. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sometimes the best way to make something happen is not to try.

Two weeks ago I tried to recreate the family dinner with four of my closest and dearest friends. 
Last night I hosted a gluten free dinner party with friends I didn’t know nearly as well, but we had us a family dinner:

One guest ran around the house without pants
One guest fell asleep
One guest arrived three hours late
One guest was too drunk to arrive at all
 And by the end of the night, two guests had drunk too much wine

One place setting was added Friday evening when a dear friend arrived home from Brazil with a year worth of stories.  

One late arrival was planned after Contending Grammy Nominee (aka CGN) booked a party outside the city.

Outfits for both of my kids were selected and ironed. 

A perfect timeline was organized.

The dear friend forgot that he is in his thirties, and after a day of heavy drinking and college football, was unable to walk straight let alone attend a dinner party. 

I was wiping down counters minutes before my guests arrived, and not dressing my youngest in the selected outfit. My guests were greeted by a toddler running around the house in a diaper, t shirt, and Vans.  

With Very Tired Doctor (aka VTD)  in tow, a gracious guest, Food Intolerance (aka FI), arrived with a lovely bottle of wine that we immediately enjoyed during cocktail hour with some Moroccan Bean Dip and veggies.  Dinner progressed wonderfully.  The food was gluten free and delicious; all epipens remained untouched. 

Just as we finished dessert, CGN called; she was in route.  After a quick hello, the droopy eyed VTD made his way to the couch for some football and snoring.   

It took some convincing, but CGN did finally opt to eat her plate at the table rather than over the sink.  Three guests returned to the dining room while others snuck second helpings of dessert and napped. 

Around 1:40 AM and halfway through another bottle of Chardonnay the horrid announcements were made:

“We need to leave.”

With dirty dishes lining the counters and the oven light still burning I retired to bed.

It was perfect and imperfect.  It was family dinner. 

The Party in Numbers:
  • Parties Completed: 3
  • Weeks Before Deadline: 49
  • Justified Purchases: 12 ramekins, 6 dessert plates, 6 teaspoons, 12 white wine glasses, theme appropriate salt and pepper shakers. 
  • Bottles of wine consumed: 2 ish

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dressing on the side...

We all have that friend who is a nightmare with the menu:

“I would like the Chef Salad with oil and vinegar on the side and the Apple Pie ala mode.
 But, I want the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top I want it on the side and  I want strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if you don’t than no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it’s real; if it’s out of a can than nothing.”

“Not even the pie?”

“No still the pie but not heated.”

Who knew When Harry Met Sally was so far ahead of its time?  Today, two of my close friends tote Epipens in their Prada bags, and recite lengthy and ultra specific orders more for the sake of survival than dramatics.  

Celiac Disease... Sickle Cell? No, Celiac.  Celiac Disease is the allergy to gluten, a binding compound found in most grains including wheat, rye, flour, and barley.  Sounds easy enough; don’t serve pasta and pass on the bread course right?  Well, these grains make their way into unassuming places like soy sauce and Worcestershire, even some vinegars are off limits, and let’s not forget those lovely processed foods that list ingredients such as stabilizer, starch, flavoring, emulsifier, hydrolyzed, and plant protein. A little confused?  Join the club.  

However, as a firm believer that one needs only patience, literacy and fire to cook a meal, I’m determined to pull off a gluten-free dinner party....  Yes, I am praying to God that everyone leaves in sound health.  (the fact that a doctor is on the guest list is purely coincidental)

Zucchini Vichyssoise 
Sauteed Asparagus and Snap Peas
Baked Cod in Parchment Paper
Chocolate Pots de Creme

In reality, don’t we all have a little intolerance in our lives?  Nothing some good food and wine can’t cure! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“I’m gonna shove this [blog] down your f****ing throat.”

Serena and I had similar feelings at the US Open this week.  I’ll get back to that.

Two and half years ago I stopped working full time to stay home with my kids. With all of my friends still working and none with children of their own I ventured out to a Moms group.  I remember being one of three moms sitting in a circle with our two-four week old babies.  All of us were exhausted and overwhelmed but nobody was comfortable enough to admit it.  Happy to break up the monotonous day of eat, sleep, feed the baby, I returned a week later to the same Moms group.  To my horror, I was the only attendant.  As I scrambled to get back to my car, the group leader offered to ‘talk to me one on one if that was what I needed.’ Haunted with memories of the school counselor, that was my final attempt at Moms group. Until yesterday. 

With two of my closest friends toting around babies of their own, it was time to give Moms group another try.  With a plan to watch Oprah (which I made certain TiVo was recording), my guests arrived at 4:00 carrying children, bottles, plastic containers of macaroni and cheese, toys and of course wine. 

After introductions and a toast with some lovely champagne, we occupied our kids and settled in for the ultra important Whitney Houston interview.  However, in place of our two divas were two men and a green court.  The network had the nerve to post the following: 

The Oprah Season Premiere with Whitney Houston has been rescheduled for 7:00 pm after the US Open.  

Are you kidding me?  Oprah picked the president... She can’t reschedule a silly tennis match? 

Sometimes the show must go on, but in this situation, the party needed to go on.  So, while one baby napped, two others played, and the 10 year old made $15 bucks keeping all of them in line, the moms sat around the kitchen table and enjoyed soup, salad, and Mexican brownies with a wonderful dessert wine.   As we discussed motherhood, family, careers, and the impossible balance,  hours passed by and still no Oprah.  With ending ceremonies and baby wise-d children, we ended the night without watching our show, but with a plan to meet up again for a regular group. 

Around 10:00 last night as I wiped down the counters I watched the Oprah and Whitney interview.  To be honest, I’m glad it was postponed.  I know I had more fun talking with my friends than I did trying to accept the idea that Whitney would spend days locked in her bedroom doing drugs and reading her Bible. Maybe she needed a Moms group. 

The Party in Numbers
Parties Completed: 2
Weeks before deadline: 51
Justified purchases: 5 (this week: white soup bowls, salad plates, serving bowl)
Bottles of wine consumed: 6 ish

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mom's Playdate

On the heels of party number one, party number two is scheduled for this afternoon.  Why so soon? Here are some hints: 

I live my best life now
I stay present 
Dr. Oz and the purple gloves... 

Yes, I am an Oprah watcher. 

I wasn’t always.  When I stopped working full time, a great friend of mine recommended Oprah, but I was adamant that I would never become a member of the cult.  I vowed to never begin my sentences with ‘Oprah said’ or ‘I saw on Oprah.’ It started out slow, but quickly took on a life of its own.  Soon I was de-cluttering, taking e- classes, and quoting Suze Orman (people, money, things)!  For party #2 I am hosting a mom’s play date. Three moms and four children, will meet at 4:00 this afternoon for the Oprah season premiere: the exclusive interview with Whitney Houston.  

In January 2009 Oprah came clean about her recent weight gain.  Apparently it was due to thyroid and her own nemesis: Red Hot Blue Chips.  Combine this with our formerly drugged out diva and we have the following:
Tortilla Soup with Roasted Chicken and Red Hot Blue Chip Shards
Salad with Avocado Dressing and Pont L’eveque Cheese
Mexican Brownies 
(We all know Whitney ate a few brownies over the years. These brownies are safe for the kids.)

What to feed these kids? To avoid cooking separate meals, I have a plan to use the ingredients above to make plates that even a finicky two year old can’t resist.  So, armed with new crayons and obnoxiously large coloring books, us moms hope to enjoy a glass of wine, some soup and salad while we contemplate if we too are every woman.  

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sometimes it's the family you are born into, and sometimes it's the one that you make for yourself.

When I think of family dinner, I immediately think of  sitting at a round kitchen table with my parents and older sister when I was five years old.  I can still remember sitting in a brown plastic booster seat and eating my favorite meal: spaghetti and garlic bread. I sat at that table for the first 18 years of my life.  Together with my family, I sat there for birthdays and holidays, through fights and bad report cards, (my D in 5th grade science caused a particularly awkward evening)  armed with my favorite dishes and the occasional burned bread. Regardless of this vivid  memory, it was not a mere thought as I hosted a revamped family dinner for four dear friends. 

After considering my husband’s Red Lobster memory with platers of popcorn shrimp, cheese bread, and fries, I came up with the following menu:

  • Fried shrimp with remoulade and cocktail sauce
  • A copycat recipe of the Red Lobster cheese biscuit with garlic butter
  • Traditional dinner salad, and by traditional I mean boring
  • Mediterranean fish soup with shrimp
  • Homemade chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate      shards.

As I stirred and served, I waited for a fight to break out, someone to cry, or someone to come out of the closet.  Nope.  I accepted that though dramatic, my life is not a sitcom.  So what made it a family dinner?  Maybe it was when a guest was unable to find a wine chiller and made one out of a stock pot and ice, or that the little brother was a no-show.  Or maybe it was the mere fact that we all came together. I wish I could say I had a revelation while eating and laughing with my friends, but in reality I had a full belly, a wine buzz and a smile. So I can’t help but wonder what forms a family? 

Party #2 is scheduled for.... tomorrow afternoon.

The party in numbers:

  • Parties Completed:  1
  • Weeks until deadline:  51
  • Justified Purchases: 2 (cloth napkins and a jazzy printed apron)
  • Bottles of wine consumed: 4 ish 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Family Dinner

We’ve all been there.  You’re the only sane one at the table, there are no accessible exits, and you are trapped until your plate is cleaned.  Stress, anxiety, and of course a horrifying story about you that required years of therapy that is now told as an anecdote for all table members to enjoy.  
So why do I insist on hosting family dinner? 
Because sometimes they work.  Sometimes, I finish dinner and am no longer convinced that my adoption papers are hidden somewhere in my parents room.  I'm convinced that these people are my family, and in some crazy way, they love and understand me more than anyone else.  
My husband, Michael, grew up with family dinners at Red Lobster.  I think he lucked out since public places don’t make for great scenes.  To celebrate the first of 52 parties this year, I have decided to revamp the family dinner.  Attending will be the second parents Michael and I adopted last year, Michael's brother from another mother and his wife, and finally the little brother I never had, (who happens to be more than a decade older than me).  We will meet over the weekend for my version of the Red Lobster meal.  I promise it will satisfy the seafood lover in all of us! 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Everything happens for a reason

Each cloud has a silver lining

Tomorrow is a new day

I have heard these phrases more in the past eighteen months than I have in my entire life.  And that's tough; I was in a sorority.  

I have decided that one of the few positives during horrid economics is the celebration of the home cook.  In 2007 I considered myself a pretty good cook.  In 2008 cooking was my coping mechanism.  In 2009 it is a passion bordering obsession.  So why not spend one year celebrating my favorite things in life: my family and friends, and the inevitable laughter when you combine them with good food and wine, and stir until the lumps dissolve.  

Beginning September 13, 2009, and ending September 6, 2010, I will host 52 parties.  Each party will host anywhere from two to twenty friends, I will do all the cooking, and never repeat a recipe.  I will work around food intolerances, personality intolerances, and still get the kids to and from school on time. 

I can’t wait to spend time each week with the friends and family I am so lucky to have.    

What do I need these cherished guests to bring?  

Just a bottle of wine.