Sunday, December 30, 2007

Anatomy of a dinner party, part two.

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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Anatomy of a dinner party, part one.

For some reason, I have offered to host a dinner party in my teeny studio on New Year's Eve. So far, the guest list includes my brother and sister-in-law, my friend Faith, a pregnant Rockette, and said Rockette's husband - and those last two keep kosher.

Right now, the menu's looking like some heavy hors d'ouevre (which will allow me to make some things containing bacon, or meat and cheese or cream, without making anyone feel left out), then a soup (gougéres served alongside), a pasta, and a salad. Followed, of course, by an appropriately festive dessert. (Any suggestions?) After all, it is New Year's Eve.

Over the next few days, I'll be posting about the dinner party process, complete with lists, schedules, and brainstorming sessions. Throwing a party is complicated under the best of conditions, but in a small Upper East Side studio with little counter space, the planning becomes even more elaborate - but it absolutely can be done, and this week we'll all watch it happen (Touch wood.)!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ringing in the weekend.

Those who know me well know this: I am not a weekday morning person. I don't understand people who get up in the morning and run errands, go to the gym, or organize themselves in any way, shape or form before going to work.

Me, I prefer to hit the snooze button as many times as possible before shooting out of bed at the last minute, jumping in the shower, and hustling through my getting-ready routine. I do not leave time for breakfast, coffee, or stops at the post office. To all those who do: you are nutty.

That all changes on weekends, though. On weekends, my alarm wakes me with NPR, not a harsh, failsafe buzzing sound. I emerge from sleep bright-eyed, and bound toward the kitchen to put the kettle on for coffee.

All week I look forward to Saturday mornings, because Saturday is the day I get to relax on the couch with a cup of coffee, reading material in hand. It's eight o'clock in the morning, and I have nowhere in particular to be, save for right here, cozy in the snug warmth of my little apartment.

I think I love the ritual of the coffee as much as I love the coffee itself. Measuring the beans, their rich, cocoa smell wafting up from the bag. Grinding the beans, letting loose a screech that reminds me, inevitably, of childhood mornings (my mother being just as much a caffeine addict as yours truly). Pouring the hot (but not quite boiling) water over the grounds in my French press pot, and, finally, pressing the plunger and pouring the first perfect cup of the morning.

During the week, I behave myself and add Splenda and skimmed milk to my coffee. But on weekends, I get organic turbinado sugar and whole milk. At work, I drink coffee from little paper cups with plastic spill-prevention tops. At home, I drink from my favorite earthenware mug, which manages to be both dainty and capacious.

Is there anything better than coffee on a weekend morning? I think not.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Kitchen Lust: Pretty aprons for pretty cooks.

Anthropologie subscribes to a French flea market aesthetic, one which dictates that no household item, no matter how mundane, shall remain un-fancified. Tea towels are flounced and fringed. Doormats are creweled. And the humble apron is turned out in toile and needlepoint.

While my tastes run a bit sleeker in most of the house, I fully embrace this idea when it comes to my kitchen: since I can't renovate it, I have to cover its seventies cabinets and fake-wood linoleum somehow. Currently, I'm obsessed with the idea of a wall rack full of their aprons, feminine, flouncy things that hug your curves while protecting your cashmere. Unabashedly girly, they're practical, too, turned out in 100% cotton and machine-washable.

After all, if you have to wear something every day, and look at it in between, don't you want it to make you smile each time it catches your eye? Plus, if your apron is this pretty, you don't have to take it off to greet your guests.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Processed foods in other countries, part two.

So, remember how I showed you pre-poached eggs from France a couple of weeks ago? Well, last week I was in England (Manchester, to be precise) for my brother's wedding.

The wedding was on Friday, so on Thursday we had a Thanksgiving-themed tea: turkey sandwiches with cranberry jelly, pumpkin pie, cranberry scones, and the like. My mom and I were put in charge of assembling the cucumber sandwiches, and I couldn't believe it when Gisela, my new sister-in-law's mum, handed me this:

Soft sandwich bread, made crustless. Amazing!!! It's billed as being perfect for those pesky, picky kids, but what it's really suited to is speedy finger sandwich construction. No crust trimming equals no torn bits of bread, and no ruined sandwiches.

Cheers, you crafty Brits.
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