I love a good list. A good list is one that sets you up for easy check-off, that records accomplishment, and that keeps you organized right up to the last moment. Which is why, when I throw a dinner party, I make not one, not two, but three lists: the menu, from which all things flow, the shopping list, and the schedule.
The menu is obviously the most fun - days, sometimes weeks of brainstorming and creative fervor boiled down into the final decision. In this case, since we're going vegetarian, coming up with a main that would satisfy my meat-craving brother was my main puzzle to solve. I was paging through the December issue of Bon Appetit (which I am now receiving courtesy of a gift subscription from Sur La Table) and saw a polenta and wild mushroom ragout entree in one of their Christmas menus. Perfection! Meaty mushrooms, hearty polenta, and it doesn't require the last-minute attention that any pasta dish (other than lasagna, which lacks the desired elegance) would. Crisis averted.
Next up, the shopping list. My shopping list is organized by department (grocery, dairy, vegetables, and so on), each item noted with its anticipated provenance (typically either FreshDirect or Agata & Valentina, my two preferred shopping destinations). Anal-retentive, yes. But it also means that I'm rarely in the position of running out for ingredients at the last minute. Since I live alone (no one to send out while I keep on cooking) and in a third-floor walk-up (not isolated, but not convenient, either), it's important to have everything on hand.
Finally, the schedule. For tomorrow's New Year's celebration, I'm pretty much on task, save for a missed trip to the grocery store yesterday to pick up some vegetables and herbs. (I woke up late but couldn't skip doing my laundry, going to the dry cleaner, hitting the post office, or seeing Sweeney Todd with some friends.) I'll be headed there in a few minutes, once my FreshDirect order arrives - 11-1 was the only slot left on this very popular day.
And, finally, there are always the last-minute changes - our Rockette has had to cancel, since someone in the California show broke a leg. She's flown out to take over. We've also lost Faith from the guest list. So we're down to four. Quite intimate.