Thursday, January 3, 2013
A New Year's Resolution: Forget losing five pounds and running--I resolve to party!
Not long ago, I went down to Spears Furniture and ordered this semi-custom bench to go in front of the faux fireplace in our living room. You see, we've always had a problem with seating during parties, and I figure a bench is just the ticket. I saw a photo of just such an arrangement in a magazine, and had one of those "Aha!" moments.
I do this all the time--think about making space comfortable for entertaining, that is. Hell, I tore out and remodeled an entire kitchen with it in mind. The irony is that I actually am terrified of throwing parties.
For one thing, I kind of suck at it. I'm a pretty good cook, if I say so myself, but when I try to do it for more than two people (my normal state of affairs), things begin to go awry. Casseroles are burned on the outside and runny on the inside. Turkeys don't thaw in time. Dishes are either too salty or have no flavor at all. Portions are too small, meals take too long to cook and land on the table too late, or I run out of servings too soon. The list is endless.
But it's not just the food. I seem incapable of taking care of guests' needs and visiting with them at the same time. It takes so much concentration to pull off getting several items of food and drink onto the table at the same time that I find myself irritated when people start to bother me with conversation while I'm trying to do it.
And! And! I always want to go to bed long before the guests want to leave.
I swear, I get the vapors just thinking thinking about the stress.
And yet, I love the idea of entertaining, if not the act itself. I love my friends and I want to invite them into our home. Is that so hard?
My sister Amy complains of the same dilemma and thinks that she and I were born without the party gene. Maybe that's true. I know that there are people who not only never break a sweat over inviting dozens of friends and acquaintances over to their homes, they actually appear to enjoy it. So perhaps it's like brussels sprouts--there is a small population of people genetically predisposed to dislike them, and no matter how much they try, they are never going to acquire a taste.
Or it could also be that, like brussels sprouts, some of us are not so genetically predisposed, but have never properly acquired the ability to throw a party and to do it with pleasure. (I'd settle for being able to host something without having stress that is more proportional to, oh, I dunno, averting a nuclear war.) I suspect that, like cleaning a house, it is something at which I could be successful if I just study on it a bit. A little thought, a little organization, and most of all, a little applied practice and my fantasy of having the gift of hospitality could turn into a reality. So I have decided to declare 2013 "The Year of the Party." As such, this year I resolve to do the following:
1. Throw more parties.
Practice, practice, practice may not get me to Carnegie Hall, but it might help me learn to do this. I'm not sure how many parties this needs to be, though. Is one a month too many? Too few? I'll just have to see how it goes.
2. Serve food that is stress-free.
I think the Crockpot and make-ahead items are key to this. Research will be required. I'll keep you posted.
3. Develop a party master spread-sheet.
I got this idea from a dinner conversation I had at the Garden Writer's Association symposium in Tucson this past summer with Diana Kirby (of the blog, "Sharing Nature's Garden"). Diana told me she throws an annual Christmas party for over 100 people, and thinks this is fun. She keeps a spread sheet of things to do, recipes for food she likes to serve, how much she needs, and when to prepare it. I think this is a terrific idea. I suspect that making a similar set of spread sheets will will help me prepare in an organized, timely fashion so that by the time the guests start arriving, I am mellow and relaxed, with the food practically serving itself.
Walu and I kicked off The Year of the Party on January 1st by having some neighbors over for green chile stew, which you see percolating away in the photo above. (Notice how clean and organized that kitchen looks. I planned it that way.) I did a little light housecleaning in the morning, put the stew on after lunch, threw the cornbread and brussels sprouts in the oven together about a half-hour before everyone was to come over, et voila! The whole affair was more laid back than a cat in sunlight.
I'm going to start working on my master spread sheet this week, and one the first things I'm going to enter is the easy, make-ahead green chile stew we served. It took about twenty minutes of preparation earlier in the day and tasted fabulous. I tweaked a recipe that my sister Amy gave me. The original is one called "Beef and Bean Chile Verde" from Eating Well, but I've changed it up a bit by using pork loin instead of ground beef, and adding potatoes, chopped tomatoes, and green chiles. I also slightly changed some proportions. Oh hell, I changed most of it. What can I say? I like to tinker.
Green Chile Stew
Put in large crockpot:
2 pounds pork loin, cut into 1" cubes (you can sear the outside if you like, but I just threw it in there raw; I also trimmed off excess fat)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3 red potatoes, cut into large chunks
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 16-ounce can green enchilada sauce (I used "mild" because I like taste more than heat)
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans
1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles (I used mild)
1/4 cup water
Cook on high for 4-5 hours, or low for 8-9 hours, or until the pork is tender and easily shredded with a fork. Serves 5-6.