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Posts Tagged ‘entertaining fret or fret about entertaining’

We are on Day 2 of a serious Halloween Hangover. Carla – whose bedtime is a strict 7:30 – didn’t go to sleep until ten on Thursday, yet still woke up at six on Friday. She was off all day – due to tiredness, no doubt – and I managed to cajole her into taking an actual NAP Friday afternoon. It didn’t take much convincing, I just said, “Carla, you are taking a nap.” And she said, “Okay,” and fell asleep pretty much immediately.

Of course, we put her to bed at 7:30… and then, at ELEVEN PEE EM IN THE EVENING, she showed up downstairs saying she had never fallen asleep. First, I find it a little hard to believe that she was awake, by herself, in her room for three hours, entertaining herself. But stranger things have happened. And, after I gave her a melatonin gummy and snuggled with her a bit and then took her back up to her room, I noticed she had a cookbook open face-down on her bed, which she claimed she had read through during her non-sleeping hours. So maybe she WAS awake the whole time. Wait, there was a “first” back there and now I have forgotten why. Presumably there was at least a “second” in mind… Well, it is lost to the sands of time.

She woke up today at a more reasonable time, but she did NOT get the eleven to twelve hours of sleep that she requires. So we are watching Barbie movies on Netflix. Well, she is watching Barbie movies and occasionally directing my attention to something extraordinary (Barbie’s hair turned pink! There’s a mermaid!) and I am typing this blog post. Okay, in the time it took to write this MONSTROSITY of a post — be warned — Carla’s movie ended and I suggested she take a nap. She agreed without argument and went upstairs… only to reappear five minutes later, yawning extravagantly and claiming her nap was very restful and she was ready to play. She is now setting up a make-up salon in her bathroom, and forging her wares out of paper. Age six is a DELIGHT.

Halloween was fun, I think. We had a few friends over – the very lovely families of two of Carla’s school friends – and I continue to find entertaining absolutely exhausting. I enjoy it, though – or, at least, I want to enjoy it  I love planning the food and buying the wine and the actual conversation when people are here. But my little introvert soul gets so completely worn out by all these extra people in my space… I don’t know. Would it get better/easier if I did it more often? Could I possibly do less in preparation, and would that help?

I made soup and bread and a veggie tray, which seems like the bare minimum. Well, I could have bought the bread, but it really is the EASIEST bread recipe in the universe. I did order pizza, as well – that’s what the kids ate, but I ordered enough for every person to have at least three pieces. And then it all slowly burnt into molten, inedible bricks in my oven over the course of the evening, so I had to throw most of it away. Horrified grimace emoji.

I could have JUST gotten pizza, right? We went to a friend’s house last year for Halloween, and they had ordered pizza and a salad. And it was PERFECT. But… well, I guess I just can’t get past trying too hard. Like, people who order pizza and a salad are already In, and I won’t be invited In unless I prove myself through baking??? As though that is a normal or reasonable barrier to entry into a social group??? What is wrong with me?????? Eye-roll emoji.

Aside from feeling exhausted by entertaining, I have come to really enjoy Halloween. It has all the fun of The Big Holidays – decorations, planning, special food – without any of the pressure. I suppose if I handmade all of Carla’s costumes, as my mother did for me, it would be much more pressure-filled. But since I buy Carla’s costumed pre-made and only have to worry about doing an appropriately tiger-y face-painting job (she was a tiger this year, which hopefully makes the previous part of this sentence make more sense than it otherwise might have), it’s very low-pressure for me.

I love all the homes that decorate for Halloween – and there’s such a wide range. We have the people with a cheery pumpkin or two on the front stoop, and then there’s the family with an entire army of zombies or skeletons posed on the lawn. It’s delightful. Carla had a hankering for “something you stick in the lawn” this year, so we found a very nice collection of ghosts – ones you could hang up OR stick in your lawn! – at Target and that was really fun to add to our outdoor décor.

The ghost brownies I made for Carla’s class party turned out well and the kids LOVED them.

Halloween ghost brownies

I also made little bags of popcorn, which Carla and I decorated as monsters, and those were fun as well. (I just wanted the kids to have a non-sugar option.)

Halloween popcorn monsters

My candy-corn veggie arrangement did NOT turn out well; my serving dishes were the wrong size/shape and/or my veggies weren’t putting on their best candy-corn show, so I just did a tray of veggies in Halloween colors: a stripe of orange tomatoes, a stripe of cauliflower, a stripe of yellow peppers, etc. etc. I thought it was festive enough, but it turns out that yellow/orange peppers and tomatoes and cauliflower aren’t particularly popular, at least not with this friend group.

The pounding rain stopped literally minutes before our neighborhood’s designated trick-or-treating time, and Carla and her friends had a great time going door to door, despite the biting wind. Then they had an even better time handing out candy to the other brave trick-or-treaters – a group of mainly older/bigger kids that arrived in swarms. I remember being that weird age between Eager Trick-or-Treater and Too Old/Too Cool for Halloween, and felt very tender toward the Big Kids, especially the ones who tried, by wearing a mask or some other gesture toward a costume… but, well, also the ones who didn’t have a costume at all, but merely gave in, possibly at the last minute, to the overwhelming desire to prolong the youthful fun of Halloweens past/collect free candy.

Now, November is upon us. And Thanksgiving is bearing down – more quickly for me than for you, because we are hosting Thanksgiving a week early (my husband is on call for the real holiday).

I am exhausted just thinking about Thanksgiving. Is this how I feel most years? Let’s see. I have been hosting Thanksgiving since 2010, and my memory of how I normally feel is that I face the holiday with pluck and enthusiasm. I should have it down to a science, what with my multi-page planning document and my detailed Week Of schedule. But this year, I just feel… drained. Not a good way to go into it, is it?

So, for the first time ever, I am considering asking for help. Gasp. Shock. Wide eyes. I know, I know. This DOES NOT sound like me. And perhaps it will not BE me, at the actual time. But the considering is the first step.

Let’s lay out my concerns/aversions to help.

  1. Differences in Technique: My mother-in-law – who has kindly and generously OFFERED to help – does things differently than I do. You may recall that I am Very Particular about things, especially when it comes to my kitchen. And I don’t want to micromanage, but I also feel very viscerally uncomfortable when someone is rummaging around in my cabinets or doing things differently than I would do them in my very own kitchen. You may be thinking, at this point, that I need to seek extensive therapy and should probably scrap the idea of asking for help. And perhaps you would be right.
  2. Space Constraints: Along similar lines: I only have the one kitchen with the one oven and stove and it’s much easier when I am the only person making the meal. It’s very simple to coordinate with myself, right? But if a whole other person is in my kitchen, chopping veggies and jockeying for the stove… well… that seems like a recipe for frustration/despair.
  3. Specificities of Taste: My husband LIKES the way I make things. Therefore, we have a very specific — I am avoiding the word “rigid” here — Thanksgiving menu, from which we rarely deviate. Could I really impose my specific dressing recipe on my mother-in-law, and expect that she make it exactly the way my husband likes it? That seems unreasonable. If she prefers, say, pumpkin pie or something chocolate for dessert… can I really expect her to make the pumpkin bars that are OUR (my husband’s and my) tradition? That seems very dictatorial of me/us.
  4. Some Sort of Mental Issue Related to Pride/Ownership: Again with the need for longterm therapy. I think somewhere along the line, I have absorbed this very strange and very stubborn feeling that I MUST do the entire Thanksgiving meal or… Or what? I lose street cred? I lose my Housewife Credentials? I don’t even KNOW. It’s just this weirdly pervasive buzz inside me that says I am the hostess, I need to provide the Entire Meal and do all the dishes and make it look effortless or else I lose. Lose what, again, I don’t know. Yet it’s THERE, inside me, buzzing away, making me feel like I am less of… something if I don’t do Thanksgiving perfectly and all by myself. This is one of those weird double-standard things that I apply ONLY TO ME, by the way – I fully understand and admire people who split the Thanksgiving duties among many, and I would gladly and gratefully pitch in with the cooking if I were invited to someone else’s Thanksgiving, and never for a single moment think less of the host. It’s some sort of weird Hostess Martyrdom that I’ve internalized somehow and I don’t understand it but nor can I rid myself of it.

Here are things working in my favor – by which I mean, that the following are present in my psyche makes me hopeful that I can get past my deterrents/aversions.

  1. I don’t particularly LIKE Thanksgiving. This is a little sad, because I think Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. But that was back when my parents did all the work, I think, and I just had to show up? It got less enjoyable in college, when generous friends and extended family members opened their homes to me for the holiday – and I spent Thanksgiving feeling deeply, guiltily homesick. More enjoyable again when I began to establish my own traditions with my husband. And now less enjoyable again, now that it’s just A Big Day of Work. Also, I don’t really like the food! I eat turkey literally only on this one day a year. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows are fine in very small doses, but I could take ’em or leave ’em. I loathe wet bread, so the dressing is something I make but never even taste. The only things I like about Thanksgiving are the mashed potatoes and gravy. And the gravy is SO MUCH WORK and the potatoes won’t be exactly how I like them because I don’t make them with goat cheese out of respect for one family member who REVILES goat cheese. The pumpkin bars are good, but really BETTER when my husband makes them and I don’t know if he will have time/energy this year. So. If I don’t really care about the food — nay, if I don’t really EAT the food — why am I so resistant to having someone else make it???? A question for the ages.
  2. This year will be weird, so it’s almost like Not Thanksgiving, which makes me… care about perfection less. Like I said, we’re having Thanksgiving a week early. My husband will be at work all day, so he can’t help even if he wants to. My sister and niece will be flying into town at some point, so I’ll want to spend time with them rather than in the kitchen. Someone will have to leave to collect my sister and niece, someone else will have to leave to collect Carla from school, so there will be interruptions during the day. The timing of the meal will be later than normal (because my husband will be at work), so it will feel more like Any Old Dinner than Thanksgiving. All of these variables are making it wholly UNusual, so why stick to the usual plan?
  3. Plus, we have a built-in Do-Over available to us if we want it. I mean, Actual Thanksgiving will still happen. So I could save Doing It My Way for the ACTUAL DAY.
  4. My mother-in-law really wants to help, so why not give her that pleasure? As a relatively new hostess (can I still say “relatively new,” after nearly ten years of hosting this holiday?), I think I revel a bit in being The Provider. I want my guests to sit back and relax, rather than work hard in the kitchen with me. But… I think it causes my mother and my mother-in-law mental stress and even emotional pain, to sit and relax. They want to help. They have MULTIPLE DECADES of prior Thanksgivings behind them, during which THEY were the hostesses, and they have so much experience and expertise to share, and they are so accustomed to being busy that I think they feel… useless and unneeded when I shoo them out of the kitchen. Part of me feels – rather harshly – like they should learn to chill out and accept that this is the next phase in their lives, that their role now is NOT hostess, but guest and grandmother, that they should let the next generation have a turn at planning the menu and taking care of them. But… a growing part of me feels really bad and guilty and selfish about that, and wants desperately to be more generous about sharing the hostessing. God, this is all SO VERY STUPID and yet it causes me GREAT ANGST. (Also, I am feeling VERY CRANKY TOWARD and simultaneously VERY JEALOUS OF The Men, who seem to be completely unencumbered by any of this, and at least ACT totally content to simply sit in the living room watching football. WELL. There will be NO FOOTBALL this year, Men!) (P.S., in case this paragraph confused the issue, only my in-laws will be here for this Thanksgiving. I just brought my mother into it because I realized last year that she feels kind of sad and unwanted/unnecessary/superfluous when I don’t let her help with holiday meal preparation, and that made ME sad and I have been reflecting on it ever since.)

Okay. So I think I have laid it ALL OUT for you. It’s ugly and doesn’t paint me in the best light and it probably doesn’t make much sense outside of my very specific brain, but there it is.

So what should I do? How should I approach this Thanksgiving? Business-as-exhaustingly-usual? Or welcome my mother-in-law’s offer to help? And, if the latter, HOW do I do that, given the constraints above? If you were ME, with all my neuroses and particularities, how would you make THIS Thanksgiving easier and more pleasant and less tiring?

At this very moment, the biggest part of me wants to make a reservation at a fancy restaurant and have our faux Thanksgiving THERE. But I don’t think there are any restaurants that offer faux Thanksgiving. I don’t even know if the grocery stores offer their pre-made Thanksgiving meals for sale a whole week prior to the real holiday. Can I even get a turkey that far in advance???? And, really, I don’t want my Thanksgiving Antipathy to ruin a beloved holiday for the rest of my family. So I am resigning myself to making Thanksgiving dinner at home as usual. But maybe not exactly as usual…?

Help?

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Let us rejoice! The dinner party is over!

I think it went well! People stayed until nearly ten, so that’s a good sign, right?

The biggest success of the night was using Meaghan’s GENIUS idea to put a plastic tablecloth down for the kids and then just scoop it up and throw it away once the kids were done.

Dinner Party Kids' Table

Unfortunately, I did not have a real cloth tablecloth long enough for the table-with-leaf. But that’s okay. We put down placemats instead. And I forgot to put the flower arrangements back on the table after we turned it. But OH WELL I think it was still okay.

The biggest flop of the night was the kids’ sandwiches. I think the ham and cheese sandwiches went over slightly better than the BLTs, but even my bacon-loving child refused to eat the bacon.

I don’t know why! It was good! It seemed like maybe three of the seven children ate ANYTHING. My child – for whom, you will remember, I made the sandwiches in the first place – ate only fruit. But what the sandwiches lacked in appealingness-to-small-children, they made up for in adorability. Also I will never make them again because it does not take a small amount of time to cut out a million circles of bread and lettuce.

 

Dinner Party BLTs 3

Let’s talk about the grown-up food.

It was a good idea to do a signature cocktail, I think. We made Dark and Stormies. Rather, my husband made them for people, and those who had one enjoyed it. (I had a gin gimlet.) We also had plenty of beer and wine.

Dinner Party Bar

We had a TON of appetizers. The hummus – from Costco – was barely touched, despite (or maybe because of?) the lovely paprika-oil I sprinkled on top of it per Lauren (I think I could have been more artful in my drizzling; next time) (my husband says the hummus was just Not Good). Barely anyone ate any of the veggies (which I bought and cut myself, except for the carrots; there were NO VEGGIES TRAYS to be found during any of my three trips to the grocery store!). Several people seemed to enjoy the cranberry relish (I sure did) and one of the guests brought chips and salsa, but we didn’t put much of a dent in that either. Basically, the appetizers weren’t a huge hit, I guess. Oh well. We had a whole bowl of cranberry relish to ourselves the next day, which isn’t a bad thing.

Dinner Party Cranberry 2

I know this combination of ingredients sounds weird, but it is SO GOOD.

The problem with having a secret blog is that it’s a little weird to take out your phone and get pictures of all the food before you serve it. Also, I wanted to get things on the table. So I have Before Pictures, but only one After Picture (courtesy of my husband).

My main panic of the evening was timing. (This is always my main panic. When do you start cooking something? When do you take it out? How forcefully do you push people to sit down? When do you clear the table? When do you serve dessert?) Everyone arrived about thirty minutes late. Which… fine. We all have small kids, things happen, not a big deal. (Except that in my plan, people arrived at one time, the kids would eat 30 minutes later, then the adults would eat 30 minutes after that. HA.) Of course, then the kids wanted to play, so they were really hard to wrangle for dinner. And then they kept slipping away from the table instead of eating their adorable but unappetizing sandwiches. Sigh. I have no idea what time we finally got them out of the kitchen and flipped the table, but by then the chicken was WAY overcooked.

Dinner Party Chicken

Not cooked at all yet… So much potential for nice, juicy meat… 

I ate it – even though I am still Avoiding Chicken – and it had a good flavor. It was dry though. I put it in the oven a bit early because my oven tends to take a little longer than recipes say it should… but that extra time plus the tardiness of the guests plus the herding-cats of children issue led to dry chicken. I wish I had thought to pour the pan juices into pitchers so people could use it as gravy. But I didn’t. OH WELL.

The potato salad was dry, too, which was hugely disappointing. I guess my potatoes weren’t cut into small enough pieces? It didn’t prevent people from eating it, at least. I am a little fearful that our guests (especially the four who’ve never been to our house before) might think that I am A Cooker of Dry Food, but… what can you do. It is how it is.

Dinner Party Potato 1Dinner Party Potato 2

The salad was very good and got compliments. I did not take a picture of it because I assembled it right before serving.

Carla had asked me to make a treasure hunt, so I did. That’s what the kids did while we were eating dinner. They had a BLAST, with only a couple of argumentative incidents. (Future Me: Do NOT tell Carla about the treasure hunt until it is time to BEGIN the treasure hunt or she will tell the other children and they will sneak around trying to find the clues without context and mess things up.) The actual treasure was: 1. Little rabbits that you put in water and “grow” from the dollar section at Target. 2. A washable Melissa & Doug tattoo. 3. Two mini Hershey’s kisses. 4. A fruit snack.

Dinner Party Treasure

The kids — ages 3 to 7 — really enjoyed this treasure hunt. And they did a great job of working together to figure out the clues. I made them go up and down as many flights of stairs as possible in hopes of wearing them out. I hope they slept well for their parents.

The fallen chocolate cake was the best part of the dinner. (It wasn’t terrible to cook, either, although I had an Egg Incident that necessitated me buying another dozen eggs and tossing eight perfectly good eggs that I’d screwed up during the separation process.) It fluffed up just as it was supposed to, and fell while it cooled just as promised.

My husband made whipped cream and I piped it into the middle of the cake and topped it with raspberries. It was delicious. Moist and chocolatey with a nice crunch to the outer crust. The whipped cream and raspberries were the perfect complements.

Dinner Party Cake 5

At least SOME cake was left to photograph.

I had to double the recipe to make enough for a ten-inch springform pan, and I made cupcakes for the kiddos with the leftover batter. The cupcakes turned out a little weird: the bottoms somehow evaporated, so that when you took the wrapper off, there was only the top half of a cupcake inside. Oh well. The kids enjoyed them anyway. I put a blop of whipped cream and a raspberry on each one. Absolutely the only issue with the cake was that I was afraid to “frost” it before the guests arrived; it was a good thing, too, because the whipped cream fell and we had to re-whip it. But piping it and topping it with raspberries was a little stressful. Overall, WORTH IT.

Dinner Party Cupcakes

I did not get a photo of them with their whipped-cream-and-raspberry toppers before the children descended upon them like locusts.

Next time, I might do the following things differently:

  1. Have fewer guests. (Although, really, it worked out FINE.)
  2. Find something (the only option is tacos) that Carla will eat that I can also make and serve to company. Or maybe pasta (as long as I save plain noodles for her)?
  3. Fewer appetizers????

For future entertaining, I would definitely repeat:

  1. The plastic tablecloth over a real tablecloth option for big groups/two seatings.
  2. The treasure hunt (but a SECRET treasure hunt, next time).
  3. Signature drinks.
  4. The cake.

That’s that, Party Planning Committee! Thank you for your service and for attending this postmortem. Next time, we’ll do even better!

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Party Planning Committee, you are the best. Thank you SO MUCH for your comments and suggestions on my dinner party post. I have taken them to heart and have come up with a Brand New Plan for the dinner party.

Here’s what’s happening:

  1. I have nixed the Tex-Mex theme entirely. I know! Shocking and radical move! (Two reasons: 1. I was VERY persuaded by Lauren’s comment that “dinner party+never tried before food… even the thought is giving me hives over here…” and 2. I really don’t want to do tacos for some reason, even though they are good.) (Do not fret, Ernie – I will make use of your seven layer dip recipe at some point in the future!)
  2. Per Committee recommendations, I am going to attempt “Two Seatings,” one with the kids and one with adults. I still don’t know exactly HOW I am going to accomplish this (enlist a guest to wipe down the table after the kids are done eating?) but maybe it will be an in-the-moment kind of thing (if you don’t know that “in-the-moment” fills me with visceral dread you may not have been paying attention).
  3. Per very gentle Committee comments, I am going to give the children tossable dinnerware and use my regular dishes on the adults.
  4. Per my own desire to not sully my dining room rug and my husband’s AGHAST response to the (perfectly reasonable!!) suggestion to cover the rug with something, I am ignoring my dining room COMPLETELY, unless it somehow becomes the drinks room, I don’t know.
  5. Per my husband, I am DESPERATELY, probably FAILINGLY, trying to Keep Things Simple and give myself less work. Nonetheless, I have already developed a multi-page Dinner Procedure Document along the lines of the one I have for Thanksgiving. And why wouldn’t I painstakingly plan out this dinner party, at which I will be hosting 17 people, rather than the maximum of 8 people I’ve ever had at Thanksgiving?

PPC, I know you are anxious to review the new menu plan. Here we go:

Appetizers:

  • Hummus (I bought a jar of tahini from Trader Joe’s before I decided that I am going to throw personal tendencies to make things more difficult than they need to be to the wind and BUY pre-made hummus [gasp!] from Costco)
  • Cranberry dip (I have made this before! It is delicious! It can be made in advance!)
  • Veggies (will I be able to bring myself to buy a pre-made/pre-assembled veggie tray from my grocery store? This is the kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger that keeps you coming back to my blog, I know.)
  • Pita chips
  • THAT’S IT.

Main Course:

  • Kids: (menu determined by What Carla May Actually Eat)
  • Adults:
    • Lemon chicken (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can marinade it a day ahead! The only variable is that I have never made it in such a large QUANTITY before, but I am hopeful it still cooks at a similar rate. I will put it in the oven right away so we aren’t waiting for hours for it to be done and it can come out and rest a bit if the kids are still occupying the dinner table.)
    • Lemon potato salad (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can make it a day ahead! It is cold and does not require cooking!)
    • Spinach and arugula salad (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can make the dressing and pickle the onions a day ahead! It makes me feel virtuous to include such leafy greens in my dinner plan!)

Dessert:

  • I really, really, reallyreallyreally want to make this Fallen Chocolate Cake. But I have never made it before. And the recipe doesn’t really seem to make enough cake for our crowd. (But I could make two batches and turn one into cupcakes for the kids.) Plus it needs to be topped with whipped cream… and, while I vividly remember my mother making whipped cream in the kitchen prior to dessert, I don’t know if I have the same kind of elegant confidence to pull it off.
  • Perhaps I will totally shock everyone and buy a chocolate cake from Costco instead!

Signature Drink???:

  • The last time this group got together (which was the first time, actually; we had been doing few-times-a-year dinners with one of the families, and then they included another of the families in one of those dinners, and then THAT family invited us and the first family to dinner and also included the fourth family) (if you didn’t follow that, I don’t blame you), the host had a Signature Cocktail. Which of course makes mewant a signature cocktail for OUR Originally I was thinking a big pitcher of margaritas, but I don’t know if those go as well with lemon chicken as they do with Tex-Mex stuff. So now I am thinking maybe Dark & Stormies? We have a set of copper mugs and they are fairly easy to make – just three ingredients. Or I could make up a pitcher of French Gimlets, which I would prefer (but I would also be fine with wine).
  • Or – and this is really oddball! – I could just put out bottles of wine and offer beer as an alcohol alternative and THAT’S IT. What?!?!?!

It’s coming together. I just need to actively resist my overwhelming tendency to make things difficult. (From whence comes this tendency, self?)

PPC, do you have anything to add? Am I forgetting anything? Overlooking any additional ways to make this hardereasier on myself? The party is rapidly approaching, so speak now or forever hold your peace!

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Thank you so much for coming! Welcome to today’s meeting! Sit, sit! Grab some coffee and a donut! But there’s no time to chat – although I do really like what you’ve done with your hair today – because we need to get Down To Business.

Today’s session of the Party Planning Committee is tasked with – surprise! – planning an upcoming party! A dinner party. Which I may have extravagantly set in motion with great enthusiasm and little thought to execution.

Here are the particulars: It takes place in two weeks. We will have eight adults and seven children, all under age six. Well, the children are all under age six; the adults are all under age 40.

That wasn’t a lot of particulars, I guess. Let’s see if I can add some Complicating Factors:

Complicating Factor #1:I do not in fact have enough seating for eight adults and seven children. I have twelve chairs and two tables. One table seats six or eight, if we expand the table. (Complicating Factor #1.5:If we expand the table, we cut into a doorway. Complicating Factor #1.75: If we expand the table, then that table seats eight and the other table only seats four.) The other table seats six people, but it is in my dining room, on my fancy carpet, which is my way of saying I don’t really want the kids to sit there.

Oh! I also have a small child’s table, with four child-size chairs. So maybe we can set up the younger crew (all around age three) at that table, and then hope that the bigger kids are less messy? That is asking too much, I know.

Okay, maybe this isn’t as complicated as I thought. That’s really my main concern: the seating.

So! Here is my proposed solution: FINGER FOOD.  My idea is that I make a bunch of appetizer-y food that people can eat easily while standing. Well, except for the kids. They will sit at a table, preferably NOT the table on my good carpet.

Complicating Factor #2:My husband doesn’t like appetizer-y dinners because he feels like they aren’t substantial enough to count as a meal. Which I 100% understand.

Complicating Factor #3: We don’t have a ton of counter space, so I am a little concerned about displaying everything. I will need some space to work and cook (space that people STAY OUT OF because I cannot deal) and then there will be serving space. We obviously have the two tables for serving space, but we also have a big kitchen island. When I have people over, I often set up the food on the island, buffet style. I don’t know if I would feel that comfortable with people eating so near the food preparation portions of the kitchen, but perhaps that cannot be helped; and maybe I just need to really be on top of my Advance Preparation game.

Oh, and here’s a possibly-not-but-I’ll-include-it-anyway Complicating Factor #4:The same group attended a dinner party at the house of one of the other couples and it was AMAZING. Not only do they have a stunningly beautiful house and kitchen, but the food (chicken parmesan, for fifteen people!) was delicious and photo-worthy. So I feel some pressure to not disappoint this crowd. I mean, our house is what it is (you KNOW that I am already wringing my hands about the fireplace) but the food/experience could be good or great or absolutely dreadful.

Now that you are properly briefed, our charge is to plan a menu that meets the following criteria:

  1. Easy to eat whilst standing up.
  2. Easy to (mostly) make or prepare in advance. I’d like to be Actively Cooking as little as humanly possible.
  3. Substantial enough to count as a meal.

My initial thought is that we do it up Tex-Mex style.

Drinks:I think I have this covered. I am going to make a couple of pitchers of limeade margaritas and buy some Corona and some Dos Equis and maybe also have a couple bottles of wine on hand (these people are drinkers!) and call it a day.

I don’t have any margarita glasses, so maybe I will find some cheap plastic ones – although an initial search turns up far too many plastic glasses for my needs; perhaps I will find some mediocre glass ones? Perhaps the Dollar Store has some options?

Food:

We will definitely do guacamole and salsa (either this one or this one or possibly both because I am a masochist), because I have made them before and because chips and dips are the ultimate finger food. I will have many bags of chips available for snacking.

For the “main meal,” I am strongly considering Taco Pizza, which is easy, something I’ve made many times before, and delicious. I’m envisioning one (or two?) large sheet pan pizzas that I can cut into squares for easy eating. The main problem is that I can’t really make it in advance. I can make the partsin advance, but I don’t want to assemble too early for fear of soggy crust.

Perhaps that will help my husband and his ilk feel more like we’re eating a meal?

In any event, I would also like to have some other appetizer-y things as options. I have been collecting some recipe ideas, non of which I have ever made before which is HELLA RISKY. Here’s what I’m considering:

Taco Cups:https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/taco-cups/ or https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mini-phyllo-tacos/

I am kind of thinking these would be for the kids. And they can have whatever else they want, but I would cook these first and feed them mainly to the little ones.

Pros:

  • They sound easy enough.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.
  • Doubled, the recipe makes enough that grown-ups can have some too.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before, and so I have no idea if they are actually good or easy or anything about them.
  • I can’t imagine Carla eating these, although maybe she’ll eat the meat out of the cups.
  • I’ve never worked with wonton wrappers before (well, not since I made crab wontons with my mom a million years ago).
  • I am suspicious about wonton wrappers being a good accompaniment for taco meat.

 

Taco Pinwheels:https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/taco-pinwheels/f55a4f16-0eb5-4a9d-ac5b-d75cd03b7ab7

Okay, this is my alternative to taco cups. For the kids, because they are way too similar to taco pizza. Unless I want to swap out the taco pizza for these instead… Hmmmmmm….

Pros:

  • They seem SO EASY.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.

Cons:

  • Not sure about prepare-ahead-ability with these guys…
  • Too similar to taco pizza to be an extra option for the grown-ups.
  • Carla will definitely not eat these.

 

Taquitos:https://www.foodiecrush.com/chipotle-chicken-taquitos/. or

https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/black-bean-cheese-taquitos/ or

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2019/02/taquitos/

Pros:

  • Each of these recipes sounds delicious.
  • None of our guests are vegetarian, but if I made the black bean and cheese taquitos, it would be nice to have a non-meat option.
  • They are PERFECT for eating while holding a plate.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before.
  • I don’t know if they would be good cold/cool… and I really don’t want to have something in the oven Every Second. I have never before this moment envied people whose kitchens have two ovens, but here we are.
  • I have no idea if I can prepare these in advance. Ideally, I’d make them a week before and freeze them but… I don’t know if that’s possible.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Wonton Biteshttps://www.com/light-tex-mex-shrimp-bites-recipe/

Pros:

  • These sound good and almost fancy.
  • They would be easy to eat.
  • I could serve them cold.

Cons:

  • Once again, I’ve never made these before. But I am going to continue listing it as a Con because it is.
  • Again with the wonton wrappers (although they “go” better with shrimp than they do with taco meat, in my mind).
  • Could I assemble these in advance? And, like, how farin advance? Okay, I actually read the recipe and it definitely says you can assemble them in advance… But it doesn’t specify how far in advance. I would guess I could do the wonton cups a day before and then fill them up right before the party. Sounds like a last-minute frenzy, no?
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE. If I decide on these, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for sales.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Cocktail:https://www.com/recipe/tex-mex-shrimp-cocktail

Pros:

  • What is it about shrimp that makes something seem fancy? This must be a very individual perspective, right?
  • Again, easy to eat.
  • Again, easy to serve cold.
  • Seems like I could easily prep these in advance. I might not include the avocado, because of browning purposes (although the lime juice might help… I wouldn’t really want to risk it).

Cons:

  • I’ve never made these before.
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE.
  • I would definitely need little cups/dishes to hold this.

 

Mexican Corn Couscous Saladhttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a48350/steak-skewers-with-mexican-corn-couscous-salad-recipe/

Note that I would only be making the salad portion of this recipe, NOT the steak skewers. Steak skewers are waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone.

Pros:

  • I could make this in advance.
  • This would be good served cold/room temp.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.
  • It has some  vegetables in it, which would be nice alongside all the meat/carbs.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before.
  • Corn and couscous salad does not seem like a particularly stand-while-you-eat friendly food.

 

Black Bean Souphttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55504/easy-black-bean-soup-recipe/

Pros:

  • I could make this very early in the day, which would help ease the pressure a bit.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before (although the recipe sounds verrrrry straightforward).
  • I would have to buy some small soup bowls/cups for people to eat this out of, because it’s obviously not a stand-and-eat kind of thing.
  • It’s not a particularly exciting food. I mean, if you told me you were serving black bean soup, I’d raise my eyebrows and utter a short, “Mmm!” but I wouldn’t be rubbing my hands together in anticipation or anything.

 

Should I scrap all these ideas and have a very simple Taco Party? Gimme Some Oven has a really good carnitas recipe that I can make in the crockpot… and I can make ground beef taco meat… and a side of black beans… and have all the toppings/shells out for people to make their own tacos…

Pros:

  • Easy.
  • Known quantities, since I’ve made them before.
  • Delicious.

Cons:

  • I know, I know; everyone loves tacos. But I’ve served them before at so many dinner parties (including to one-third of the guests coming to this party – not just beef tacos but the carnitas, too) that it feels so DULL.
  • I am already cringing at all the shredded cheese and lettuce and bits of tortillas that the kids will get all over the place.
  • Nearly impossible to eat while standing. The kids are going to sit no matter what (where though???). But there’s no place for ALL the adults to sit at one time, which would make some people feel left out.
  • I am fretting about how to keep the meat and beans hot. I could just leave everything in the various pots, but that looks so… unfestive. And I am not interested in acquiring chafing dishes.

 

Okay, Party Planning Committee. I am beginning to get mildly hyperventilatey at the enormity of this responsibility. So I have important questions for you to address:

  • No way am I making ALL of the above. I’d like to do one main, one kid option, one additional appetizer (or maybe two???), and the guacamole and salsa. What should I choose?
  • Am I crazy to do this at all? Maybe I just need to call and cancel. Initially, my husband and I had a misunderstanding about this dinner party, wherein I thought he was as gung-ho as I was, but in fact he thought we were having people over in the warm weather months when we could throw everyone outside, and he is concerned that our house just isn’t big enough for all these people. Which has ME worried that our house isn’t big enough for all these people. I mean, we don’t even have enough CHAIRS for Pete’s sake, maybe that is a Big Fat Red Flag waving at me to CANCEL ALREADY.
  • Am I overlooking something really wonderful and simple and perfect? I have considered something like Tex-Mex deviled eggs, but I a) hate eggs and b) have never made these and c) would refuse to taste them, so wouldn’t be able to tell if they were good or not. Ceviche, while fancy-seeming, is a no-go as well because I hate raw fish. And anything (besides salsa) that has tomatoes as a main ingredient is out because I hate tomatoes.
  • Is it okay for me to buy disposable dinnerware? Aside from the moral issue of using materials that will either become landfill/whale poison or will loiter in a recycling bin somewhere before becoming landfill/whale poison, which I am feeling quite acutely, is it a turn off, as a guest, to have to eat from plastic dishes? I don’t know if I have enough dishes to feed all the people I’m inviting (ANOTHER RED FLAG?!?!) although I am pretty sure I could scrape something together. But it would also be MUCH easier and would contribute to the appetizer-y vibe if I got something like this set of plastic appetizer plates and bowls and mini flatware.
  • WHAT IN THE NAME OF TACOS AM I GOING TO SERVE FOR DESSERT? Maybe this is something I can turn over to the guests when they ask what they can bring… although I’d love to make these tres leches cupcakes and you know I like Total Control over the food I serve.

 

Okay, Internet Party Planning Committee: ACTIVATE! Tell me what to do. Or, better yet, please send emergency catering services.

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It is really too late to fret about this now, because it’s HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, but that means I’m in Prime Fretting Headspace.

We are having Carla’s birthday party this weekend, and TWENTY PEOPLE will be here. Okay, eighteen. But that’s VERY CLOSE TO TWENTY. I have never had so many people at my house before.

Things that I am fretting over:

1. The Food: Because my husband has kindly and gently pointed out that one of the reasons I find entertaining so stressful, we are outsourcing the food. We are getting a big sandwich tray, along with some pasta salad, and some chips. I am TRYING to resist the urge to make homemade guacamole and salsa. We’ll see if I succeed.

I also really REALLY wanted to make macarons, but my husband gently and kindly persuaded me not to. And he’s right: they are time intensive and also finicky and I can imagine the feet not setting correctly and feeling frustrated and panicked. So. No macarons. Instead, we are ordering an ice cream cake.

Will we have enough food? Will people like it?

And what about alcohol? How much beer and wine do you need to buy for twelve adults? We don’t have anything resembling a cooler, so I bought two big plastic tubs from Target for $5.99 apiece that I’m planning to fill with ice and drinks.

Besides beer and wine, what’s appropriate to offer as drinks? I got some bottled water (although Target didn’t have EITHER Dasani or Aquafina – my preferred brands – and I had to buy Ice Mountain instead) and a box of fun-sounding La Croix. We have tons of diet soda already, but we don’t drink non-diet soda. Do we need to buy any?

2. The Décor: This is supposed to be a birthday party, so I want it to be somewhat festive. But I also don’t want to go too overboard. My ORIGINAL idea was to match the decorations to Carla’s dress, which is orange and blue and white.

 

Birthday dress

It’s from Gymboree and it looks like I’m going to have to IRON the hem.

So I got some navy blue plates and cups and napkins and tablecloth and balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner from Target. And some of those little poof things you hang from the ceiling. And a little banner for the cake. Man, Target really knows how to get you to spend a LOT of money on single-use stuff.

Blue party supplies

Image from Target.com

But I cannot find coordinating ORANGE decorations anywhere! Even my local Party Place only had about five orange balloons. I guess that will have to be enough.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did find the following from Amazon. But they are asking $12.95 for eight settings. Target charges $2.00 for 10 9-inch plates, $3.00 for 10 cups, $2.00 for 20 napkins.

Orange plates

Image from Amazon.com

Dammit, now I see that Target has orange party supplies ONLINE, so I could have ordered them! But now I am out of time! ACK.

And I was going to do blue macarons and orange macarons. But THAT’S not happening. So now I’m feeling like the décor will be half-assed.

3. The State of My House, Indoors and Outdoors: My house is my house, right? But whenever actual PEOPLE are going to spend time here, I start worrying about whether it is too shabby or too dirty or too cramped. Do we have enough chairs? No, no we don’t. Is there enough room in the living room? Nope, not at all.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we can divide our time between inside and being in the backyard. I mean, I am REALLY counting on being able to throw all six of the kids into the yard so they can play.

But the deck is… well, if we are being charitable, it is “distressed” at best. And the latticework that ostensibly keeps creatures from setting up apartments under the deck is very beat up. The long side that faces the yard has fallen in completely, and it looks terrible. But THAT’S not going to be different by this weekend.

And I have been spending ALL SUMMER searching for cushions for our rag-tag collection of seating on the deck with NO LUCK. So finally this past weekend, in a panic, I ordered some things that might (fingers crossed) work, and those are going to arrive tomorrow HOPEFULLY.

What if it RAINS? What in heaven’s name will I do with six toddlers? I suppose I could spend a couple of hours making the basement more child-friendly, and just toss them all down there.

4. Entertainment for the Kids: I think here is one area where I am allowing COMPARISONS to freak me out. We recently went to a birthday party where the kids were all playing outside while the adults were eating and drinking. And somehow THAT party has become The Benchmark, and I know – I KNOW – Carla’s party won’t measure up.

It was her best friend’s party. And they have different circumstances than we do. A much larger house and yard, for one thing. And a nanny-share situation that means they have a TON of toys. But the party included: a massive trampoline, a bounce house, a mini-swimming pool, and a sprinkler.

We just don’t have those things, and nor would I want ANY of them, really. But since we DON’T have any of those things, I am fretting about what the kids will DO outside.

My mother-in-law has apparently bought us some sort of sprinkling apparatus. We have a small water table. Carla has a little tiny play structure with a small slide and a little hidey-hole underneath. She has a table with benches and an umbrella. She has a mini-trampoline that one person can use. There are various balls and bats and a little lawnmower. I think the kids will have things to play with. No one is going to be standing in the middle of the yard, staring in boredom at the grass.

I didn’t feel like doing gift bags (is this the wrong way to go?), but I did get every child a bubble wand. So they can play with bubbles.

Is this enough?

I am fighting the urge to hire a magician or that guy who comes equipped with turtles and armadillos and an alligator.

5. The Mix of People: We have invited:

  • Family A: One of our closest friend families. One of our family friend families. A family of close friends.
  • Family B: Another family that we’ve known for years but don’t see as often.
  • Family C: Another family that we’ve known for years, and frankly I would LOVE to get to know them better, but until now we have only seen them when our parents and their parents get together.
  • Family D: My husband’s parents.
  • Family E: The parents of Family C.

So… Family A and Family B have met once or twice. Family C obviously knows Family D and Family E. We know everyone. But will they all find things to talk about? Will Family C feel awkward/left out? Will the Families of Parents feel like they are just there as add-ons? Will all our kids get along?

I am trying very hard to remember that MANY people are not as socially anxious as I am. And that Family A and Family B – at least – are super friendly and outgoing and can talk to anyone. And Family C is super nice and friendly, although I can’t speak to whether they are introverts or not.

The other thing I am trying to remember is that if I were the guest at a similar party, I would soothe my own anxiety by knowing I could just talk to my husband or play with my kid if it felt too awkward with the other adults. People DO this kind of thing all the time. They all said “yes!” when I invited them; they are grown ups; they know what they are getting into; EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Once I have made it through this list, I loop back to whether the house is clean enough. We are having a cleaning person come Friday to clean, and that will take care of surface things like vacuuming and toilets and such. But then I think about things like, Oh no! Our baseboards are still green! And, The grout in our tile is horrendous! And, Why haven’t we hung up those six paintings on the wall yet? But am I going to paint the baseboards or clean the grout or magically hang a gallery wall of paintings in the next two days? No, no I am not.

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