007, AnniPotts, apple recipes, Boy-O, Dad, dinner party, family, Fleur, Food, Indy, Lucy, Mariah, Martha Stewart, Mom, Mr. T, Rosie, Sae, Sweet Pea, The Absent-minded Professor, The Auteur, The Duchess, The Family Homestead
Having a dinner party is a tricky thing. I am starting to understand why old etiquette books devoted entire chapters to the things. There’s so many little details that have work out just so, that I’m still figuring out.
I mean, first of all there’s the whole question of how many people to invite. Given that my ideal number of people would be around 9-10 (that’s about how many can squeeze semi-comfortably around my table), and given that not everyone you invite will accept, how many people do you need to invite in order to get the desired number of actual guests? For example, for my first dinner party I invited around thirty people, and ended up with nine guests, half of them my sisters.
When I was gearing up for my second party, I invited about forty people, and got about 16 yeses & maybes, but I didn’t get to the See Who Actually Shows Up part because I got sick, and the whole party was cancelled. So this time, since this was Try II for that dinner party, I started with those people, and assuming that some of them wouldn’t be able to make the rescheduled date, added two more. Only pretty much everyone accepted, and one person asked if he could bring his sister who was visiting from out of town. So then I had was expecting 15 people and two maybes, and while that would be a small party under other circumstances, you suddenly run out of room when you ask people to sit down to eat. Plus there’s the whole question of where do I get that many additional chairs (if I use the chair from the sewing room I have a grand total of seven dining room chairs). In the end it worked out just fine. Two people cancelled at the last minute, and one couple just didn’t show up (I’m pretty sure they forgot), so we ended up with a dozen actual guests, which perfectly fit the number of chairs I was able to borrow from Mom & Dad.
Which brings me to another tricky question: scheduling. Time gets tight with these things, particularly if (like me) you have a tendency to procrastinate. I thought I was being so clever this time around, picking a main dish that I could make ahead and reheat at the last minute, no-fuss side dishes, and appetizers that I could mostly make ahead. But cleaning the house took longer than I anticipated (I think partly because the bathroom was dirtier than I realized), and then gathering the chairs & card table I needed to borrow from other relatives turned out to be a lot more complicated than I anticipated. When I went over to Mariah’s house, I found her card table just fine, but the four folding chairs were nowhere to be seen (after multiple trips to look, it was established that I couldn’t find them because they were actually in the front room of Mariah’s friend’s house, still there from a recent book club meeting).
Then, when I wanted to run over to The Family Homestead to pick up chairs, I couldn’t find anyone to let me in because they had all taken a lovely Fall afternoon jaunt to an apple orchard. So chairs got pushed back later and later, until our ice breaker activity for the evening became coming with me over to my parents house to carry back chairs. Which was fun, but that was the time I really needed to be back at my house putting the final touches on the appetizers, and putting the no-fuss side dishes on to cook. So dinner ended up being served about half an hour later than I had planned, and I spent the first chunk of my party rushing around the kitchen instead of being out front welcoming people to my house and getting the conversation started. Which was not ideal, but since most of my friends know each other, mostly ok.
And then that brings me to the menu. How do you know which items your guests will love, and which ones they’ll pass on with a polite smile? It’s such a mystery to me. For example, one of the appetizers I made was a caramelized apple-onion tart that I thought was ridiculously good (in fact, I just had some of the leftovers for breakfast). I adapted it from this recipe, switching out the fancy cheese for good old fashioned sharp cheddar, and adapting this recipe for the crust. However, it took some persuading to get people to even try it, and even though the people who ate it said it was very good, there were leftovers from the first tart, and we never even touched the second. And then there was the ranch-flavored toasted walnuts that I thought would be a no-brainer crowd-pleaser. People barely touched them. One person said they kinda clashed with the wine, which is something that hadn’t occurred to me. But still.
I will admit that I got a little ambitious with the menu. I decided that I wanted to have an apple theme, mostly inspired by the cache of seasonal apple recipes on the Martha Stewart website, which I found myself somehow browsing one afternoon. Everything just looked so good, and before long I was seized with an irresistible desire to put together an entire menu based on apples. So I did. This is what we had:
Honeycrisp apples with sharp cheddar & crackers
Caramelized apple onion tart
Ranch toasted walnuts
Apple braised turkey legs
Sour cream smashed potatoes
Oven roasted carrots
Spinach & tomato salad
Vanilla ice cream with homemade apple butter
Homemade apple pie (supplied by L, who doesn’t have a nickname yet, but will soon, I promise!)
Apple dumplings (supplied by The Pessimist)
Iced tea (Constant Comment)
Sweet apple wine
Honestly, it was a very nice party. Even with all my last minute confusions and complications, the food was delicious, everyone seemed to have a good time, and we laughed a lot. After dessert, we played Apples to Apples (very appropriate). Some of the guests had to leave early (something about a 10k this morning), but a couple stayed late, talking about all kinds of things until the candles I’d lit burnt themselves out, I started to really feel how tired I was, and I decided to gently kick them out the door. (Me: Ok, I think I’m going to kick you guys out now.) And it was good.
I am not sure when I’m going to be able to have my next dinner party. It might not be until the Very Special Lucy Dinner Party when she & her husband (my cousin, who has no nickname as yet even though he’s the one I’m actually related to, but will likely be called The Auteur) are in town before Christmas. This would be sad, because I still have so many people I want to see who I haven’t been able to invite! I might be able to get something together in early November, but that’s also when Rosie is moving out (she’s moving into an apartment with AP), so the house probably won’t be settled again in time for a party. So we’ll have to see. But I figure the more I have these parties, the better I’ll get at them, and maybe by this time next year I’ll have them going like a well-oiled machine.
Yeah, we’ll see about that.
In the meantime, Indy just sent out the Family Pictures we took after The Duchess’s baby shower a few months ago. We’re missing our family in China (Big Brother, Sunny, Honey, & The Littlest Sumo Wrestler), but other than that it’s all of us still in this world:
From roughly L-R, it goes AnniPotts, Mariah, Boy-O, Mr. T, Sae (holding Sweet Pea), 007, AP, myself, The Duchess, Fleur, Rosie, Indy, Mom & Dad
My favorite part is how Sweet Pea is scowling at the camera.
Though maybe she’s really scowling at her feet. It’s hard to tell…