Dinner parties happen with some consistency and frequency in the house. Usually it’s to commemorate a special occasion but sometimes we have people over to thank them for their friendship and fill our house with noise and cheer. It’s the kind of noise reserved for good friends spending time together, laughing and sharing stories. Each menu is crafted for the occasion, focusing on local, seasonal goods brought to the table one course at a time. Food and friendship brings us together, but there’s always something special waiting for them when they get here.
In the days leading up to the dinner, I start taking notes relating to the season. A pen and stack of paper sit on my lap as I plan out the meal and ingredients needed. I turn to magazines and books for inspiration, but often the only inspiration I need can be found at the market down the street. So I scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind and slowly narrow it down. I head to the market and start crossing items off the list, occasionally altering my choices depending on what is stocked and fresh.
Saturday starts off slowly. Over a coffee I begin breaking down the day. Time issues, cooking schedules, prep and planning. As the day winds into the afternoon the main is usually ready for the oven and resting until needed. Dessert is well under way as is the soup, which is simmering away and building flavour on the stove. By mid-afternoon I’m putting the finishing touches on the hors d’oeuvres and things are moving along nicely.
With a couple of hours to go until our guests arrive I start muddling, mixing and making the cocktail for the night. I pull out my shaker and bar tools and start muddling the cucumbers and agave nectar. Almost methodically I work step by step until I have the flavour just right. I pour myself a glass and settle in. The first taste hits all the right notes. Now, with my glass still close by, I make a pitcher full, altering the quantities to make enough for everyone. And seconds.
The last minutes of the day feel like the calm before the storm, when things get silent and still before the clock reminds us how little time we have left. We are moments from a flurry of activity in our house. My wife has the mood set, table prepared and night’s music in rotation. She dims the lights and tries the cocktail. Instant love. We share our last moment alone together over a drink. And then the doorbell rings and the ritual settles in. She heads to the door while I stay in the kitchen, stirring the pots and looking over everything one last time. I can hear the voices in the distance and the mood is light and cheerful. I line up ten rock glasses and pour the contents of the pitcher into them, each one the same as the last. I top them all with a dill sprig and add a quartered lime. I load them on a tray and wait while they continue to filter in.
By now some of our guests approach me. I smile. “Hey! Welcome to our home! Glad you could make it tonight. Help yourselves to a cocktail, it’s especially made for tonight!” We like to start things right. We let them know all our dinner parties begin with a drink. It sets the tone for the evening and lets them know they’re in good hands and they’ll be taken care good care of. [The Boys Club - my new favorite blog]
In my home, it looks more like last second runs to the store, wondering if we even own foil yet, trying to finish cleaning up the apartment and a dozen other things that have us running around 'til the moment the door rings (if we're lucky!).
Things I'm noting:
- It is easier on a Saturday! I get home from work around 6:30 - so having friends for dinner at 7 is a trip!
- It is SO nice having John there to help. At first, he'd mix drinks for guests as they arrived (because he's good at it! and because it buys me time.) Then, I'm sad to admit it, but sometimes I'm sending him to the store 2 minutes before our guests are due. But most lately, he's been making dinner sometimes - and it is delicious! Either way, having a guy to help balance, whether it's just me, or me and meg, is wonderful. And he's gosh darn good at it too!
- I have got to plan out the menu/drinks the weekend before - and shop!
- For the weeknights we do have friends over (and even the ones I'm just cooking for Meg & John), I've got to find ways to prep the night before and cut down on time. Eating at 9 just isn't fun for anyone on a Wednesday.
- It would be incredible to have a "moment" before guests arrive to just enjoy with John and/or Meg and calm ourselves. That is a new goal. :)
- I love inviting people in and making them feel cared for. I want to become better at the "caring" part.
- Sometimes, with good friends, it's okay to be a bit of a mess and just share a meal. And thank God for that!!!