We’re Having a Party!

I love socializing. I love feeding people. I love my friends. I love throwing a good party. There are several parties/food events I do every year, some of them more elaborate than others. I used to throw a New Year’s Eve party. We had what I used to call “The Gang of Eight” – 4 couples that got together frequently during the year. After my son was born I called us the Gang of 8.5. 🙂 One of our standard get-togethers was on New Year’s Eve. menuAlong with a few other folk, we’d get together at my house for dinner and watch the ball drop. Then a few years ago some of us began murmuring about being too tired to stay up til midnight. I remember one year where I think 3 of the females were actually asleep on couches and chairs after dinner – we had to wake them before midnight. *grin* NOT ME. But you knew that. A few years ago I made an “executive decision” – I moved our get-together to New Year’s Day, called it Brunch/Lunch and invited a few more people. It was still a relatively small crowd and we did still have New Year’s Eve with a small handful of folk (who could stay awake, or at least attempted to make it to midnight).

This year, between the college football playoff games and my new kitchen, I decided a more drastic change was required. I decided that we would FINALLY have our “come see our gorgeous new kitchen” open house along with our New Year’s Day luncheon. coffe labelsOnce I drew up the invitation list, I saw I had around 60 people on the list. I’ve posted pictures of the inside of my house and you should know that it would be an extremely tight squeeze to fit 60 people on my first floor without removing furniture – even WITH removing furniture. I think the only time I’ve hosted that many simultaneously was for my son’s bris, when I think we had between 60-70 people there (and yes – we took most of the furniture out of the living room and put in folding chairs). We got lucky that day because it was in March and we had some springtime temperatures and people flowed out onto the deck as well. But I wasn’t worried. I knew that on my list there were some who wouldn’t come (just because they don’t come), some who would be away for the holiday, and some who had prior commitments. New Year’s Day is NOT an original date for a get-together. 🙂

How do you throw a party for 60 people? I start by looking at the folk I expect to show up, and noting all of their dietary preferences. *grin* My mother used to stress-out totally about entertaining. She was an ogre on the days leading up to the entertaining, and the day-of she would practically have palpitations. spiked punchAnd that would be just for having the bridge club over to play bridge (12 people there for a specific purpose eating only munchies, coffee & dessert), long before this day and age when everyone has some food preference and/or allergy. So I make my list: gluten-free, diabetic, kosher, vegetarian, no alcohol, following the keto diet, on a lose-weight diet. Apparently I also have someone who does not eat nightshade but I didn’t know that until she was there and checking ingredients. Once I have the food restrictions, I begin on my menu. There must be enough food that all of those people will have a CHOICE of something to eat. I don’t want to have a pile of carrot sticks to hand out and say “here – you can eat this”. 🙂 (Do carrots have nightshade??? Something new to learn and consider.)

When I have my basic idea of food groups – appetizers, main course, side-dishes, desserts, drinks, snacks – I being selecting recipes. I have certain staples that work for large groups – roasting a turkey, large rectangular pan of quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese – plus the standard drinks. gluten free Paring the menu down to the selected dishes is the next step. The dish has to fit the mood, fit my loose kashrut standards (no pork, no shellfish, no mixing meat & dairy in one dish) and be tasty. For this party I decided that other than my main courses (turkey, quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese), all the other dishes had to be new and different – NOT like my other party menus. 🙂 And that meant – turn to the internet and browse!!!

Collaboration Pie

img_0022There are many good things about posting about food and cooking. Even if people disagree about my recipes, my tastes, my process, the comments and reactions tend not to get personal or nasty. 🙂 If I’m thinking about food, I’m NOT thinking about other aspects of reality. On many days that is the REAL reason I write about food. I like creating things and cooking and baking are creative. My friend Honour talks about the difference between cooks and bakers, that one has more leeway and room for error than the other. I’m still not sure I’m convinced about that, but again, it doesn’t (usually) get personal when we discuss it. *grin*

Today I want to write about leftovers and collaborating and when cooks and bakers work together. img_0023My husband does not bake – he cooks. Oh wow, he is SUCH a great creative cook. I love to bake and while I enjoy cooking now in my new kitchen, I’m nowhere near as innovative as he is. I’m getting better, but I’m not at his level by any means. I mentioned he brought home a store-cooked chicken the other night. That meant we had leftovers. We also had rainy cold weather all day Sunday, as well as other annoying reality. 🙂 I started thinking about cooking. I decided that a chicken pot pie would be perfect for dinner. I mentioned that to my husband and he agreed.

Now *I* was thinking more of the kind of pot pie I had growing up – basically a white creamy inside. I found a picture of one online to show you what I mean but we grew up on frozen pot pies, not home-made. It was something my father would make for us for dinner when my mother was at rehearsal. img_0024As we don’t mix meat and dairy, we use coconut milk to get our “creaminess”. I also thought I’d take my leftover steamed vegetables and throw them in too – sort of a vegetable chicken pot pie. I’d already decided to use the coconut oil for that hint of flavor while making the pastry crust. I was browsing recipes online and thinking about concocting when my husband came down with a piece of paper and said “This is what I plan to make for the pie.”. *grin* Of course his recipe looked nothing like mine (his had curry and more asian flavors) and he had no intention of putting in the leftover vegetables, only the leftover chicken. I told him his concoction sounded great to me and I’d make him a crust.

That’s what we did. I made up my pie crust using margerine and coconut oil (remember, no dairy). It was a beautiful flaky crust. It’s interesting – I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem making pie crusts (except for 2 crusts for our New Year’s Day party, but that’s a different story) since I first began. I use the recipe in The Settlement Cookbook. img_0025It says that the key to a good crust is very cold ingredients and as little water and handling as possible. That very morning as I listened to the radio talk show host, she was talking about making pies and bemoaning how difficult it is to make a good crust and how it took her so long to learn. I’ve just never had that particular problem and I know people love the pie crusts I make. Thank you Lizzie Black Kander and your fantastic cookbook (which is, as I’ve mentioned before, my #1 go-to cookbook).

The new kitchen gets another rave review here because while my husband was working on the stove, there was room for me to be rolling out the top crust. That NEVER would have been possible before the renovation. 🙂 I probably should have ‘over-ruled’ him about temperature and time (I’d have picked the higher temperature and the shorter time, which is more typical for pies) but dinner was delicious. Yay us!!
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Easy Red Lentil Soup

I first made this recipe back in September for my annual “Ladies’ dinner in the Sukkah”. The last 2 years, as it happens, the dinner has been in my dining room because it has been RAINING when we were supposed to be dining outside in the sukkah. Typically I make a dairy meal for this event for a variety of reasons. First, if I’m inviting folks who observe kashrut it’s easier for me to have something they will eat if I stick with dairy. Second, Sukkot is a harvest festival and vegetables and dairy seem much more appropriate. Third, some of my guests are vegetarians and so that pretty much says no meat.

My standard default meal starts with quiche, soup and fresh bread, and then I go from there. I’ve been making the same soup for the last few years – Ash’e Reshte (Persian Noodle Soup). I use the recipe from the “Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride” cookbook. It’s a very simple, quick recipe and tastes delicious. This year one of my guests followed a gluten-free diet so noodle soup did not seem appropriate. img_0016I wasn’t in the mood for a vegetable soup so I began searching for lentil recipes online. I found one that appeared simple, yet tasty – NY Times Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I read many of the comments (wow, some people really don’t hold back) and took them to heart as well. The ladies seemed to like the soup – it was all gone by the end of the evening, and I knew I’d found a new addition to my cooking repertoire.

This past week the forecast had been for a major weather event of some kind – snow, rain, sleet, ice or all of that at one point or another. I thought that soup and biscuits would be a great Friday night dinner. Alas, my plans were derailed by work. No way I had time to make dinner. Fortunately my husband came home with a grocery store-roasted chicken. 🙂 We agreed that Saturday would be Red Lentil soup with fresh salad and fresh bread. I was out running errands so rather than baking my own bread or biscuits, I stopped into Panera’s and picked up an Asiago Cheese focaccia. img_0017I made the salad in the early afternoon and started on the soup around 5:30 or so, AFTER feeding the cats. There are priorities in this household after all. 🙂

The soup is amazingly simple, wonderfully tasty and was the perfect meal for a cold rainy night. I’ve given you the link to the recipe – I do suggest you read some of the comments. People have very different expectations for a recipe and you will want to find the comments that echo what you like to eat. I made these changes (and I wrote them down so I’d remember from time to time):

1.5 generous cups of lentils
4 curry leaves
3 generous tablespoons of tomato paste
6 cloves of freshly minced garlic

The first time I made it I grated half the carrot and diced the rest. Last night I grated all of the carrot. Neither time did I bother with the immersion blender. The first time I forgot the lemon at the end and this time I remembered – delicious both ways. Neither time did I add cilantro – I’m not really fond of cilantro. This recipe is fast, one pot and delicious!

It’s Going to Be Cold

So they say. I live south of the snow line for this latest storm – “Harper”. As is so often the case, people over-react to the forecast. I may be overly cautious as well, but at least my decisions impact only me. Way back in November 2018 we had a snow storm – quite a mess on the roads. Our governor did NOT declare a state of emergency and people went crazy in response. “How DARE he not declare a state of emergency??? We spent HOURS on the roads, which weren’t plowed, weren’t salted, blah blah blah.” Sigh. I know – that was heartless and condescending on my part. I’m not sure why people feel they have to wait for the governor to tell them to leave work early when it’s snowing and the forecast says more is coming. Seriously – many of us do work in jobs where we can just say “I’m leaving now” and leave. Percentage wise, fewer of us are emergency personnel than are NOT needed in a snowstorm. And if all of us who COULD leave early DID leave early – there wouldn’t have been such a problem. (Hey, don’t blame me – I worked from home that day.) Anyway, that was the governor’s first storm and the overwhelming verdict was that he blew it.

Now we have/had Harper. The vast majority of NJ (if not all of it by Saturday night) was below the snow line. The forecasts started showing that on Thursday, more so on Friday, and certainly by Saturday morning it was fairly certain that most of the state would get rain, not snow. We do NOT declare states of emergency for rain unless we are talking storms with high winds.forecast map storm harper We weren’t getting that forecast. But, the governor is a politician. If he was criticized for not declaring a state of emergency well by golly, THIS time he’ll get it right. He declared a state of emergency beginning at noon on Saturday, which meant all sorts of roads were off limits to various vehicles and certain businesses could shut down early in glee. I know this because I wanted to go to the library yesterday. I checked the hours to make sure it was open or that I could go after my grocery shopping, and saw a big alert that the library would be closing at noon due to the state of emergency and would not reopen until Tuesday. Sigh. The good news for me is that it was only 10:15 am so I had plenty of time but how foolish. At noon it was 43 degrees and sunny (I was out running errands). At 6pm it was STILL in the 40s. The rain didn’t start in our area until 9pm or so. Rain, not snow. Anyway, here we are in, I believe, a state of emergency. *rolling eyes more*

The forecast IS calling for dropping temperatures, for below-zero temps overnight and in the single digits most of tomorrow, with windchill “real feels” of below zero. My daddy brought me up right. hot tub with tarp I made sure the outdoor spigots were off, drained, and left open to drip. I double-tarped the hot tub. It does have an insulated lid but when it gets this cold, I look at the tub and see hot air escaping and it looks like little dollar bills flying up into the sky. So even though I can’t take a dip tonight now, at least I am giving the hot tub thermostat some assistance. My car is tucked inside the garage (I’m such a princess) and I put my husband’s car in the driveway. The big warning for tomorrow will be ice. If there is any water left on the roads tonight from the 12 hours of rain, the road might be quite tricky tomorrow.

We plan on staying warm, cooking a yummy filling dinner, and not going outside!

Naptime

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2:45 pm Sunday afternoon. I’m sick with a virus (for the last 3 days). I think it’s time for me to emulate the wiser beings in the house, rather than do laundry or paperwork.
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Happy New Year

IMG_9978That title is both a wish and a description. I wish you and yours a happy healthy new year to come. And I am overcome with emotion from my wonderfully happy new year’s day brunch yesterday. I don’t even know where to start to tell you about it – it is such a whirlwind of activity and emotion hosting an open house for family and friends. I do know one thing for sure, however, that I have to tell you – and will say repeatedly – I could never have done it without my sister’s help. She and her husband and my husband worked and prepped and cooked and baked and cleaned through the 4 days it took to match this party to my hopes and expectations. 🙂 But of the 3 of them it was my sister who put in hours doing a lot of the manual labor and tedious tasks while I bustled about on more glamorous endeavors. My sister was my rock. Best Sister Ever.

For me, throwing a party is about family, food, friends, and, for certain parties, football 🙂 The football was a bit disappointing for this brunch but I have the best friends and family. IMG_9982Food is important but if you don’t have great friends who like to come out and meet and greet each other, you aren’t going to have a good time. I have to say that I am extremely fortunate in my friends. Everyone socializes and talks to folks they might not have met before. There was a lot of laughing and conversation and hugging and handshaking. My friends come with their happiness on high and share it around. I loved getting to see everyone and chat and to see them all having fun together. This party was billed as both a new year’s day party and a ‘come see the new kitchen’ party. *grin* More on that another day.

We were also fortunate in the weather – nearly 60 degrees and sunny in the afternoon. I always use my deck as my “walk in refrigerator” for my winter parties. I confess I was a little concerned about how WARM it was – if my desserts and drinks would stay fresh. IMG_9986 *grin* The upside of the warm weather was being able to set up the deck so folks could be outside and enjoying the sun!

The party lasted from bright warm sunshine into the dark hours, but the fun never diminished. Okay, for the cats the fun ceased completely once I brought out the vacuum cleaner that morning. 🙂 GC and BC disappeared back upstairs until the last guest left. WC attempted to hold her own in the sun room, refusing to budge so that I could clean the couch but she finally retreated upstairs when the first guests arrived. The 3 of them were quite relieved once I shut the front door for good. But as for ME – I’m still feeling the ‘afterglow’.

It’s STILL My Dream

I want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Do I need to add more to that? Is there any little girl who has seen The Nutcracker ballet and NOT wanted to be the Sugar Plum Fairy? Not for me Clara, or the Waltz of the Flowers or Chocolate or Coffee. I want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.

We went to the ballet last night with my sister and her husband. I LOVED seeing all the little girls coming in their best “going to the ballet” outfits. There were 2 little sisters in pink tulle with (fake) fur stoles and their hair up in ballerina fashion. There was a little girl in black and red plaid with a huge red bow in her top-knot. The little girl in front of me in her lovely black velvet dress with a white kitty on the front spent most of the ballet sitting in her mother’s lap. And *I* alternated between directing the live orchestra and clutching my husband’s hand in excitement.

After the performance several young ladies were gathered in the lobby to pose for photos. That is, once they had been collected from pirouetting and attempting en pointe. 🙂 Oh you have no idea how I yearned to spin and twirl too. I should have dressed for it. When the young ladies were finally in line, they were all cradling their very own Nutcrackers. It was wonderful.

I’d not been to a live performance of the Nutcracker in about 20 years. I asked my son yesterday if he remembered the ballet and how the tree GROWS RIGHT ON THE STAGE!!!! He said “yep”. Ahem. Thank you thank you thank you to my husband for suggesting we go.

When I grow up I want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.


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