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This Saturday is The Dinner Party. I am sure as hell not planning much of a regular menu when I am so pre-occupied with Not Losing It. I am making things as easy on myself as possible, Internet.

So here’s my meager menu:

Dinners for the Week of April 16-21:

  • Today: Mulligatawny Soup
  • Wednesday: Tacos
  • Thursday: Crockpot BBQ Pork with Baked Potato
  • Friday: Out
  • Saturday: DINNER PARTY
  • Sunday: Crap, it’s Easter do I have to do something special? Maybe beef tenderloin.

 

I know YOU aren’t fretting about my dinner party, Internet. What’s on your menu this week?

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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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At 12:45 last night/this morning, Carla SCREAMED my name (well, she screamed “Mommy” which is pretty close to a name) and I leapt out of bed from a deep sleep, heart flinging itself out of my chest, trying to get away from what was certainly a murderer. And it might as well have been: Carla was cowering in the bathroom and refused to go back into her bedroom without me. She’d had a nightmare. She couldn’t remember what it was about, but the terror had followed her outside the cocoon of sleep. Poor kiddo. I sent my husband in to lie down with her but she kicked him out for snoring. So I went in to lie with her until she fell asleep. Pretty normal parenting fare.

But then she couldn’t get back to sleep. She wanted the lights on. No. She wanted to watch videos. No. She wanted to sleep with her bunny and bear. No (both in the laundry after an earlier wake up incident).  She would settle for her fox, but I couldn’t find it and I refused to turn on the lights. Eventually I located it under the bed.

She was too hot. She wanted to watch just one little video please Mommy just one. No.

She was Wide Awake.

I contemplated starting the day at two a.m. I quickly shoved that idea aside. I told Carla firmly but kindly that it was time for bed, she needed to lie down and close her eyes and try to sleep.

“I’m not sleepy, Mommy.”

CHILD. How?!?!?!

I scratched her back. I got her water. I sang her every song in my Lullaby-and-Adjacent repertoire. I even googled some lullabies whose tunes I knew but whose words I was unsure of. Then I googled some soothing music to play on my phone. (FYI – a large number of the “lullabies for babies” options on You Tube are the same collection of notes played in an infinite loop. Very boring.

“This is boring, Mommy,” Carla said.

“I know, that’s the point,” I told her.)

The repetition of the notes started digging deep ruts through my brain, so I kept stopping them and searching for new ones. I just wanted a playlist of soothing lullabies! Did I search for “playlist of soothing lullabies”? No. Eventually, I settled on a track that combined a burbling brook with some soft piano music. Finally – FINALLY – at 3:15 a.m. in the morning, Carla fell back to sleep. I went back to bed and of course couldn’t sleep. So I read a few entries in Swistle’s archives – very soothing – until I fell asleep. Then Carla woke me up promptly at 6:18 a.m. in the morning so I am very tired.

 

Sleep

What a restful night. (I made the executive decision to hand Carla my phone at 6:18 so she watched a couple episodes of Berenstain Bears while I slept for another hour.)

* * *

At camp drop off, I ran into someone who I see pretty frequently. I wouldn’t exactly call her a friend, for reasons that will soon be clear. Sure enough, she irritated the hell right out of me, right away.

“Oh, wow, you look tired!” she said.

Yes. Yes, I do look tired. And I have good cause for it. But for the love of Brie and crackers, WHY would you ever say such a thing to someone else? It’s not the first time she’s uttered that exact phrase to me (although it’s been a while, for some reason).

This person has a habit of making comments about my appearance or general mien, and it’s very off-putting, and I am not close enough to her to have a heart-to-heart about why she should STOP IMMEDIATELY.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?”

No, no I wasn’t. But thanks for making me self-conscious about my face.

“You look like you’ve lost weight.”

Is that any of your business? Or anyone’s business? Why are you monitoring my weight?

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?”

What…? Do I really look like I have time to nap?

Or, my recent favorite: “You seem pretty hassled.”

What? What does that even mean? Does it mean that I seem flustered and out of sorts and frustrated? Perhaps I am. Because if you MUST KNOW my child was having a Very Rough Day and just before you got in my face I had to put her on time out not once but twice and we are late for The Thing We Are All At and I am feeling hot and frazzled and a little crazed right now and I am at This Thing and so I am trying to put on a pleasant and capable and not on the edge of losing my mind face for the public while I try to regain my grip. So yes, I AM HASSLED. But do you really think COMMENTING on it is going to help? If you are actually concerned about my state of mind, aren’t there kind, friendly, gentle ways to ASK about it, rather than pointing out that I am not hiding my true feelings very well?

PANT, PANT.

I get that maybe she thinks she is being… friendly? Or… that she is trying to be A Good Friend, and thinks saying these kinds of things is an invitation for me to unload. But it does NOT come across that way. Am I being too sensitive? Too prickly? I just… don’t comment on people that way! I mean, I might say I like your shoes or your nail polish or your lipstick or whatever… but the closest I’ve come to saying anything about anyone’s actual appearance is something like, “You look so great!”

Maybe there are some people who wouldn’t mind this woman’s comments. Maybe some people would appreciate how observant she is about Every Single Aspect of their appearance and attitude. How in tune she is with their… whatever.

I am not one of those people. Well-intentioned though they may be, I find her comments to be invasive and rude. But again, we’re not close enough for me to tell her to knock it off. So I have started responding with single-word answers and perplexed looks in hopes of shutting down the conversation.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?” –> “Nope.” * confused look *

“You look like you’ve lost weight.” –> “Oh?” * bland smile, subject change *

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?” –> “Nope.” * perplexed look *

“You seem pretty hassled.” –> “I don’t know what that means.” * blank face * (To this one, though, she responded, “I’m going to take that as a yes.” STEAM IS ESCPAING FROM MY EYE AND NOSE HOLES.)

Exhausting. But it is not my job to teach another person how to properly interact with other humans. Good luck to her.

* * *

I was sitting in my kitchen after exercising this morning, in my sports bra, gulping water and trying to catch my breath after my strenuous twenty-minute exercise video and gazing aimlessly out into the backyard through the sliding glass doors, when a STRANGE MAN waltzed across my lawn. You understand he didn’t really waltz, per se. But he was in my yard, moving in a manner that implied he’d been invited. He had NOT.

He was wearing a bright yellow vest and was carrying some sort of tree-trimming type tool. I shrank away from the doors, hideously embarrassed to be in my BRA and NO SHIRT, and then watched from a distance as he prowled around my yard and then walked back around the house to the front yard. There he joined a few other young men, all in the same clothing, and they tromped across my neighbor’s yard and down the block.

I remember vaguely getting some sort of notice that some sort of workers might be in our area. But I don’t remember who they were or what they were supposed to be doing. And I CERTAINLY don’t remember that they were going to be in my BACK YARD, which seems a whole different kind of deal than doing whatever it is they were doing (inspecting trees/power lines? looking for alligators? scouting potential gold mines?) in people’s FRONT yards.

UGH. Seems like the least a person could do is knock on the door and ASK if they could peruse your back yard, right? Not that I would have answered the door – everyone knows that murderers always knock first and wear bright yellow vests to divert attention away from their murderousness – but STILL. There’s the PRINCIPLE to think about!

* * *

Tomorrow is a holiday but I am not feeling very festive. I love my country but so much about it makes me so sad and hopeless these days. And it is unbearably hot and steamy here. And I hate fireworks because they keep my child awake and make me worry about gunfire and fire-fire.

Okay, okay. My crankiness is making ME weary.

Let’s try to think of the positives: My in laws are coming over and my husband is off work and Carla doesn’t have camp. We will go to a parade in the morning. I bought some pretty red, white, and blue flowers. I have good food planned for us to eat. Also margaritas.

Well, crud. My attempt at brightsiding is not working, because now I am reminded that my grill is on the fritz (is that the right phrase? looks weird but I am on four hours’ sleep so a lot of things look weird) so I am going to have to cook hot dogs and ribs in my OVEN tomorrow. Yes, yes, I know. This is not the worst thing to happen to a person by any sort of measure. And I am deeply grateful to have both an oven and ribs/hot dogs. AND YET. I AM CRANKY.

Feeling grateful for the things I DO have does not mean I have to be HAPPY about the things that are BROKEN. (That last sentence seems perfectly applicable to the state of our country, too, doesn’t it?)

Blueberry cake. We will also have blueberry cake. There. I ended on a high note.

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It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

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