Friday, March 20, 2009

Entertaining Disasters

Things are moving along in preparation for our dinner party on Saturday night. Several of the couples will not be able to attend due to the fact that we needed to postpone for a week while I continued to recuperate from pneumonia. As things stand there will be 16 guests instead of 20. It doesn't matter to me whether I'm cooking for 16 or 20. The dinnerware/flatware situation is not quite as complicated.

Over the years I've picked up all kinds of extra plates, bowls and serving pieces from Goodwill. I've got plenty of cabinets to store them but someday I was a real butler's pantry to keep everything in one spot.

At one point in my life I was scared to entertain. I'd be a nervous wreck. My old friend Annie was the most terrific hostess and she gave me some good advice. First she said, "Look, these people are getting out of their houses for the evening and they don't have to cook, so it's going to be pretty hard to disappoint them." True.

Then she said that the big secret was just to be organized and prepared. If you do much of the work ahead of time you're much better off. That's true too.

Photo from my archives.

What I do is make lists and a timetable. There's a grocery list, a copy of my menu and the recipes. I check the recipes and see if there's anything in common and how much is needed. For example, for this party I'm making several recipes that call for dice green bell pepper. So what I do is diced up all the pepper the day before and put it in a container in the fridge.

I prepare certain dishes ahead of time and heat them after the guests arrive, or prepare them shortly before their arrival and keep things warmed in the oven.

We decide upon a signature cocktail for the evening and I make up a big batch. For a Texas Barbecue I made Texas Tea which is similar to Long Island Ice Tea. This time around I'm serving cajun/creole and I'm mixing a large batch of Hurricanes.

No matter how organized you are disasters have a way of happening at the worst times. We had about 30 guests arriving for my daughters graduation party when the oven decided not to work. Yikes! I had two large pans of lasagne that needed to be baked. My plan B was to fire up the grill and cook them over coals. Luckily the cranky oven finally decided to work.

We've had some other classic disasters, including the first Christmas in our first home. We'd invited the family over and were so proud to show off our new house. Unbeknownst to us when they built the house a large rock was inside the sewer pipe leading to the street. After three weeks of flushing, toilet paper had packed itself around the rock and the pressure busted the pipe. We were busy inside and had no idea the pipe had burst.

OMIGOSH...our guests arrived in late afternoon to the sight of sewage and toilet paper floating around our yard! Talk about mortified.

The one thing about entertaining disasters is that they give you some great stories to tell for years to come.

I'm sure you've had some disaster doozies and I'd love to hear about them.


Anonymous said...

Mmm, nope. No disasters that come to mind, but I do love your countertop there in the photo.... looks like the same granite I had when we lived in Maryland. Can't wait to put it in our current house too.

I'm sure the party will go smoothly and everyone will enjoy.... what fun!

The Blue Ridge Gal

Heidi said...

nope, non that I can think of... we have never had a dinner party. :) But sewer in the front yard is never good. :)

Ali said...

The night before our Halloween office party my fridge died, I had made tons of food too. It was a real bummer.
Over the years I too learned that lists are the way to go. I used to get totally stressed out and would end up a wreck when the party finally started. Now I think if something goes wrong, well I have something interesting to blog about.
I love your blog!

Piecefulafternoon said...

Not really a disaster - but it was the blizzard that started on Thanksgiving just as 19 of Don's relatives were arriving for our first-in-our-own-home family dinner. Almost everyone had driven for miles and miles, bringing their part of the dinner. We ate in a hurry and the snow ws getting so bad (as it can in Wisconsin) no one wanted to stay for dessert. I have made a dozen pies and not one bite was taken of them. I was crushed - watching them as they all trooped down the stairs into their cars. The ones that lived 15 minutes away took an hour to get home - the farthest away (at 2 hours driving) took almost 5 hours to get home - they should have all stayed and eaten pie and spent the night. Just after they left the electricity went out so we bundled the babies into bed, and settled down for a long wintry night.

We ate pie for a looong time.

Vee said...

No disasters this time for you! I love that you think ahead. I would probably find myself chopping peppers three different times. And it's great that the drink is set...not a lot of choices, which would make it a real nightmare.

Have a wonderful time hostessing, Suzanne! I think that you and The Farmer must make fantastic hosts!

bv said...

as you said, disasters make a party memorable. i keep it all very simple and rustic which suits our life style... our toast is 'here's to those that are here, here's to those that are there and next time those that are there need to be here.' i am wondering, do you share your email address?

lifeinredshoes said...

I have blocked the disasters from memory, but yours takes the cake.
I also love to have people over, but that wasn't always the case. I too had the "what if I fail" jitters.I started looking to my stacks of magazines for advice and they offered the same as you have, BE PREPARED!
Now I also make lists, lots and lots of lists. All of my serving pieces are white, I can add any color I choose, doing the prep work ahead of time is a lifesaver.
Have a wonderful time, and take lots of pics to share!

belladella said...

Nothing dramatic comes to mind but I love having my family over for meals and such. It always leaves you happy and exhausted. I hope you have a great, great weekend!

bv said...

i just read yesterdays post and comments...yes, controlled burns would solve most of Calif fire problems but since the state is now in control of demos and environmentalist all common and practicle thought is thrown out the window. back in the day our fore fathers burned the sierra's every fall. but the southern city types know soooo much better.

Rue said...

Hi Suzanne :)

I wish I could come to the party! It sounds like a great time :)

When I was much much younger I hadn't mastered the dishes coming out at the same time so I had a habit of serving dinner 3 hours after guests would arrive. Not much of a disaster, but still embarrassing :(


Amy said...

I love collecting different plates..I think it's more me to sit down to a table and everyone has a different plate..I usually look for antique plates though, I'm into antiques..
I stress terribly when having a dinner party but it's all worth it when everyone compliments my food...I'd turn around and do it all over again in a heartbeat just to hear them compliment my food!! Makes me feel so good!!! Would love to have your recipe for texas tea and hurricanes..never heard of either one. You wouldn't by chance have a super great dip(cracker spread) recipe I could wow the Norwegians with do you??
Have a great time- your friend's advice was right on, everyone is getting a free meal- will be VERY hard to have them complain and if they do, don't invite them next time...hahahaha...

Suzanne said...

Di - That's Uba Tuba granite and there's a disaster story behind that also. The cabinet was in good condition, a medium oak color. We had the new granite top installed and it made the cabinet look like JUNK. Seriously, our daughter has a master's degree in commerical interior design. Why didn't we consult with her first. We had the cabinet refaced with a darker wood and door and it looks much better.

Heidi - Oh sure you've had a dinner party. Even having family over for dinner counts. No.... sewer in the front yard tends to spoil the appetite.

Alicia - Ouch, that hurts and I'm sure that all your co-workers were looking forward to that food!!! I have become a list person. Thanks for visiting I'm glad you like the blog.

Pieceful - Holy Cow!!! Too bad you didn't know me back then because anybody that knows me, knows that I will drive through blizzards for PIE.

Vee - Thanks. I will certainly try to get things done early so that I can relax and enjoy the party. I don't know for sure but our neighbors say that they have lots of fun when they come to our house. I'm glad.

BV - That's a great toast! Yes....if you look on my sidebar you'll see something that says, "View my complete profile". If you click on that it will have a link that says "E-mail". But here it is so that you don't have to go through all that:

Everybody else can feel free to e-mail me. I love to get mail.

Red Shoes - Yes, I have collected tons of plain white dinnerware from Goodwill for large dinner parties. Doing the prep work ahead of time is a MUST.

Bella Della - I wish you and Bella Fella were going to be sitting at my dinner table. It is QUITE a long ride though.

Rue - I had the hardest time with that also, but I've learned to cook some things ahead of time and keep them warming in the oven. I also have a warming drawer in my oven and I heat things to piping in the microwave. Your new house is going to be killer for dinner parties.

Amy - I've also collected lots of mixed antique plates (in addition to the white) in order to make a more interesting setting sometimes. I will dig out the recipe for Texas Tea and also include the Hurricane recipe at Monday Morning's Staff Meeting. Be sure to come back then. I'm going to be serving an awesome Italian pastry. Wait and see. I'll also look through my appetizer recipes for a dip/spread. But are you sure that Norwegians can be wow'ed???? HA HA HA. I have a Norwegian friend and he's pretty reserved. I'll do my best! Be sure to come back then. I'm going to be serving an awesome Italian pastry. Wait and see.

American in Norway said...

I am still at the point where I stress about it... however... I am better prepared & thus no longer have to yell at my hubby the entire day..: )

I am trying to force my self to entertain every few months just to practice a little...: )

Cote de Texas said...

I've had me a few disasters - just last year, overcooked the beef tender! air conditioning broke on fathers day a few years ago = we were literally sweating into the food - total disaster. Hope your party tonight was a success!!!! I'm sure it will be.

Louise said...

I can't top toilet paper in the yard! I think my worst was having a crowd over after church. Made a fabulous dinner, had everything ready to assemble quickly when I got home, had a main dish and side dish in the timed over, but forgot to turn on the oven. I set the time, but not the temperature. We ate out.