parties writing

On Dinner Parties

8 February 2008

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Oh, I dearly love a dinner party — every single facet of it, from menu planning to wine pouring to setting the table. I’ve said before I could throw one every night and — truly — I almost wish I could. Even if just a few people come over, I plot out what I’ll make days in advance, simple meal or complicated.

The other night I took down one of my yard-sale cookbooks (note: though I probably should call these previously owned or gently worn, we all know they’re from yard sales and I should just be out with it!) and when I opened it to look up a cookie recipe, I saw a note in the margin:

C reduces sug. to 1/2 c., I read. Sweet enough as is.

I wondered who ‘C’ was — or is. Was this person, like me, a fan of sweets that weren’t overly sweet? Did s/he perhaps crave a sprinkle of salt across her/his ginger cookies? I didn’t end up making those cookies, but I liked knowing my book had been in other hands, had possibly been at the heart of other feasts, had had its recipes tested and adjusted by anonymous faces.

Then I started thinking about what one might read in my own cookbooks, if I were so inclined to write notes. It is one of my main regrets that I (still) don’t write down details of my cooking experiments even as I tell myself again and again that I really should you’ll wish you had later please just do it already. (The time factor, alas, is what prevents me most often). Usually I can only manage to scribble down bits of menus I’m working on, or a guest list, or notes like ‘check f. market for beets; if not, then sub green beans’ — though the memories of most of the parties I’ve thrown linger long after the candles have been blown out.

I did once write down the menu of dinners I’d given in some attempt to record them for the ages, and now I’ll find the evidence as I sort through stacks of recipes (never organized; I hear about people with recipe binders and I think, can you come over and do mine? because I usually just shove them into cookbooks, or to the back of shelves, if I keep them at all). I don’t write down the details, and I wish I would — I want to remember certain things: the way the clouds blew away Saturday afternoon to bring the sun shining strongly down; the blue tiles of the table and the way I laid it just so. Or the later setting of the table in the big room with flowers and flags and candles, and then the good dinner as dusk settled in.

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No, I instead listed just the dishes:

+ grapes, tom/mozz/basil, cheese/crackers
+apricot-red-lentil soup
+risotto with asparagus, baby leeks, and mushrooms
+green salad
+green and yellow squash with fresh basil
+watermelon pudding things with w. cream
+chocolate-dipped strawberries (!)
+champagne and wine of both colors

(this from a party nearly four years ago)

This bare-bones accounting is problematic because it doesn’t tell the whole story — which is that after the dinner guests went home, K and A came over for a late dessert and wine. Apparently there were some texture issues with the watermelon pudding (admittedly it was not one of my successful desserts, but I’d wanted to try something new!); they still tease me mercilessly about just how — err — gross they were.

And the menu for the first time my friend J brought over her girlfriend is another example. My room mate and I served sweet potato soup, salmon, spinach fettuccine, and a salad — all very nice things which everyone enjoyed very much. But what I didn’t write was how I instructed the boys to be on their best behavior (S, a constant dinner guest, brought the wine, and M, a college friend, made the trek into the city for the night; together, they were formidable and I was anxious they’d say something inappropriate) because it was our meetngreet, and I wanted to make a good impression. Also lacking in the menu description is my nervousness surrounding cooking the fish, because I’d only just started in my fish-forays and wasn’t really sure what I was doing.

But maybe it’s better not to share all the worry and thrill? It’s much tidier just to list the dishes served.

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One Thanksgiving I had 10 people over for dinner, from all parts of my life — my post-college room mate; three friends from high school now living on the East Coast; my best friend, down from Rochester; my Israeli friend; my brother, among others — and I remember looking round the table at all of them, each of us leading such disparate lives, yet bound, always and inextricably, by the food on the plates before us.

All this is to say that tonight I had two lovely ladies over for dinner, and I fed them:

To start, home made hummus, an Acme baguette, and olives

Then the main meal of wild-caught halibut with a tangle of mushrooms and shallots (for me, a nice slab of tofu); green beans sauteed with sesame oil and pine nuts; roasted cauliflower; a light potato gratin; and a green salad

To finish, a lemon tartelette, slice of opera cake, and pistachio macarons, from miette, because while I wished I could have made a delicious vegan apple galette (such as the one I wrote about for NPR), there were other pressing matters (Such as laundry. And running. And cleaning.) that unfortunately took up my time last night.

As a consolation, though, here’s a picture of it

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[Apple-pear galette, vegan, January 2008. Recipe here.]

We ate and drank and the sun faded down the horizon and we talked more and nibbled at chocolates and sipped tea, and all the dishes were washed and put away by bedtime (late as it was).

Oh really – can’t I have a dinner party every night?

  • susan g 11 February 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Congratulations on the new site. I’ll look forward to more and more. Oh, the recipe problem. When first married I kept a notebook with everything I cooked, evaluations, etc. I made discreet marks (+, -) in the coobooks. Now I’m experimenting with papers in the books: want to make, made with alterations, etc. Online I am trying to use delicious (with .’s) so hopefully I can find things again without having to print out (and organize??) what I want. (Yard sales? How about the wonderful give-away shed at the town recycling/dump? Great finds!) Meanwhile, I’ll look over your shoulder.

  • justrun 9 February 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I would come to a party or two! :)

  • Tigerlili 8 February 2008 at 10:49 am

    I just wanted to say I read your lovely Vegan Valentines column, and really love the look of the recipes there. But the thing that was so sweet about it was when you talk about your dear Dad, and how he would eat your creations up even if they weren’t quite to your taste.

    I thought that was one of the nicest things I ever read.