Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

September 10th, 2009 browsing by day


Disasters In Dining

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

By now, I guess you have figured out that not all goes swimmingly with every party. I thought I would lighten the mood today with some of my past dinner disasters. No doubt Martha Stewart would concur that not everything goes as planned….

One of my most favorite mini disasters happened when Eric and I lived in a tiny apartment in Tampa and we had invited a co-worker of his to dinner. I had planned a lovely pork tenderloin…that was not cooperating. Instead of freaking out, I decided we should turn the dinner upside down – by starting with dessert. Everyone was decidedly happy and the party was saved.

Another night, same apartment. I had invited one of my best girlfriends for a special dinner in her honor. She brought her two daughters, whom I have known since they were babies. The menu included stuffed clams and veal medallions. Guess what two foods in the world my little darlings refused to eat? You guessed it….clams and veal. A lot of garlic bread was consumed that night.

I’ve already told you of my silly plan to make mini pizzas for a huge party, my pasta problem (thank goodness for Via Elisa!) and the paella fiasco. But there’s more.

Recently, I made a baba ganoush requested by my darling Eric. I have never made baba ganoush before, but how hard could it be? It turned out so bitter, I could not eat it. But not Mr. Eric – he thought it was yummy.

In my early years, I was nothing but kitchen disasters. The first one I can recall is when I was around 10 years old and thought I could make hot chocolate in the tea kettle. As you can imagine, my poor mother was scrubbing hot chocolate off the ceiling for years. Sorry, Mama!

Once, thinking that chocolate covered homemade marshmallows would trump plain ole homemade marshmallows, I dunked said marshmallows in hot, melted chocolate. What I ended up with was quite the melty mess.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but one year, after making a gorgeous prime rib roast, shrimp stuffed baked potatoes and brandied mushrooms for ten, the kitchen sink wouldn’t drain and our dear landlord was in Missouri. For two weeks. Not my finest hour for sure.

I could go on and on, but I will end with the most hilarious kitchen disaster of all. The college birthday cake massacre. My darling friend Vickie and I decided we would bake a cake for our dear friend Donna’s birthday. In these days, baking from scratch meant a jiffy cake mix, which we made and seemed fine. But the cake needed icing, so we whipped out the powdered sugar and mixed it with some milk and put it on the cake. The cake soaked up every bit of icing…what to do? Check the fridge – we have some frozen blueberries! That will be pretty! Time to decorate the cake with those charming candy letters from our childhood. Happy Birthday – check! Donna…not so much. Clumsily we broke all the letter Ds, Os and Ns….what are we going to do now? Vickie, the ever creative, came up with this cake greeting – “Happy Birthday Virgil Ray”…which caused a laughing fit the likes I have yet to see again. We laughed so hard we were laying on the floor, holding our stomachs.

There is hope for all who aspire to bake and cook. Keep trying and let me know how you are doing.

xoxo, Patti

The Perfect Dinner Guest

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Who doesn’t want to be thought of as the perfect guest? Everyone wants to be the guest that hosts clamor to invite. What is the best way to accomplish this? I’m going to clue you in.

1. Bring A Gift. This should be a no-brainer, but I never show up empty handed to a party. Ever. Your host/hostess has planned a perfect evening on your behalf, let her know you appreciate her efforts. Wine, cheese, a candle or a book you know your hostess would enjoy are all good. Anything she might have to fuss with is not (i.e. – loose flowers, puppies, a jello mold). It helps to have a little stash of gifts to grab at the last minute if need be. Just wrap a ribbon around it and you are good to go. Sending flowers the next day is a nice touch, too, if the party was particularly spectacular. Recently, we were invited to a party where we could view the Paul McCartney concert in Piedmont Park on a rooftop pool deck, catered in the most amazing home. That definitely warranted flowers the next day. Use your best judgement.

2. Don’t Arrive Too Early. I remember one party years ago a guest arrived as I was blow drying my hair. I was mortified and she felt terrible. Avoid this at all costs. Those last few moments before the start of the party are when I pour myself a little wine and take a deep breath. Every hostess deserves this bit of calm before the social storm. Let her enjoy it.

3. Contribute To The Conversation. Read the paper before you arrive, or at least glance at to get an idea of the top stories of the day. It couldn’t hurt to see a movie or a play now and again, either. The best guests know what’s happening. But, you never know what will come up in the conversation. We once had dinner with a co-worker and her husband who had had a role in a horror movie. Our mutual interest in zombie films fueled the evening and we all had a hoot of a time. If you aren’t interested in current events, be interested in something. And speak up. Trust me, as long as you don’t drone on, everyone will be interested in what you have to say.

4. Don’t Be Late. Be on time. This holds especially true if this is a sit-down dinner. Preparing a special meal for friends takes a lot of work and I know you would hate to be the guest that caused the souffle to fall or the flambe to fizzle. If you are chronically late, either you think your time is more important than that of those waiting for you or you have spread yourself too thin. People who are chronically late inevitably end up on our long list. I’m not sure how a host that takes three hours to get paella on the table fares in this situation, but I’ll get back to you on that.

5. Keep A Open Mind Regarding Cuisine. As I invite guests for dinner, I always ask about food allergies and dislikes. I’ve cooked for vegans, veggie haters and once, for two Haitian brides. If you are willing to eat just about anything (allergies excluded), you will be invited back again and again. There is nothing more satisfying for a hostess than seeing everyone devouring her meal.

6. Leave At A Reasonable Time. Is your hostess turning off lights and yawning? There’s your sign to exit the party. If it looks as if everyone is going strong playing the new Beatles Rock Band on the Wii until the wee hours, then you are safe. Have fun!

7. Watch Your Alcohol Consumption. Besides the danger of a DUI, you wouldn’t want to be the guest that decided to swim with the koi, would you? Be a free spirit, get a bit tipsy (if you are not driving) and twirl in the backyard, if you don’t think you’ll feel silly in the morning. Make sure you check yourself before you start dancing in the champagne fountain.

My darling husband summed it up perfectly: “ultimately it boils down to what makes a good person: a friendly countenance and an interest in people”.

All of you are my favorite guests!

xoxo, Patti