Our Luxury Dinner Party
(AKA The Would-Have-Been PFB #3 Post: Had I Made the Cut)
(AKA The Would-Have-Been PFB #3 Post: Had I Made the Cut)
This past Friday, as 12 o-clock rolled around, I stopped changing the kids’ beds and ran to my computer. I logged on to see if that coveted trophy would be attached to my Project Food Blog profile. But alas, it wasn’t. I was bummed, wondering how I missed the mark. I was confident (in a non-conceited way) of my efforts and my post, and had felt pretty sure that I would at least make it past this round.
But I didn’t have time to wonder why and cry over not making the cut . . . I had to jump into action. That’s because I had followed the advice of the Food Buzz editors, who suggested that it would be a good idea to start planning for the next challenge, the Luxury Dinner Party, in the event that I’d make it to the next round.
I obliged and now I had a fridge full of food, seven friends coming at 4:30, and a little girl sitting in her kindergarten class making place cards for our dinner table. I wiped away my tears, got a hug from my husband, and promptly headed back into the kitchen. There were sweet potato fries to be made, apple bunuelos to get in the fridge, and chimichurri sauce to be whipped up.
Tonight it would be a South American inspired ‘luxury’ dinner. Notice that I place luxury in quotation marks. That’s because I need to clarify just what luxury means to me.
When posed with throwing a luxury dinner party, it was the word luxury that made me cringe. You see, when I think of luxury, two words come to mind – time and money; neither of which I have much of at the moment.
For those who don’t know, I’m a mom of four young children ages 7, 5, and a pair of 3 ½ year old twins. To me, luxury is the opportunity to go to the bathroom without having someone burst through the door asking for something (cat included). Luxury is getting the kids to bed early enough so I can spend a few moments alone with my husband before I plop into bed totally exhausted. Luxury is finding the time to remove the final bit of toenail polish that I had applied during my self-pedicure three months back. Luxury is splurging on ice cream for the kids on a warm Saturday afternoon. Now, that is what I call luxury.
But, my trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary revealed something else.
1. the use and enjoyment of the best and most costly things that offer the most physical comfort and satisfaction.
2. anything contributing to such enjoyment, usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.
My response to definition No. 1: I don’t have the luxury to consider enjoying the ‘most costly things.’ Without going into much detail, the economy has wreaked havoc on us, and I’m on a strict budget. I have set my weekly food budget so there would be no caviar, high-priced wines, or expensive cuts of meats. I couldn’t blow my weekly food budget on Friday night’s meal – I had a family of six to feed the rest of the week.
And, as for the ‘physical comfort and satisfaction' that Webster’s notes, well the best I could even ask for is the quiet I seem to get when I drag the pile of laundry into the living room to be folded – the kids immediately find something else to do, far away from the laundry.
When planning this Luxury Dinner Party, I had to keep the following in mind: I didn’t have the luxury of toiling away in the kitchen for hours, preparing a multi-course meal for friends. I had school drop-off and pick-up, soccer practice, religious education, playdates, weekly meal-making, lunch making, etc. etc. etc.
And, while I dream of the luxury of an adult-only meal, let’s face it, at $20 an hour for a nanny, I wasn’t going to pay someone to come watch the kids while I sat with adults in the other room. Heck, my guests have kids too. And, when it comes right down to it, we didn't want to exclude them.
Now on to definition No. 2: I had a problem with “usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.” I see nothing unnecessary about a meal enjoyed together. In fact, a meal together is a luxury we enjoy each and every day at breakfast and in the evening as we face each other around the dinner table and discuss the day’s events.
To find a definition I could relate to, I had to read the third definition listed in the dictionary's luxury entry:
3. the unusual or emotional pleasure of comfort derived from some specific thing.
My response to #3 – I agree. Eating a delicious home-cooked meal with family and friends definitely provides me with an emotional pleasure.
So, I guess the results of my Luxury Dinner Party would be representative of how I defined luxury.
I set to planning the meal – inspired by the warm late September nights, I opted for something outside – where the 8 kids could roam free, and the adults could keep an eye on them from a safe, quiet and relaxing spot on the patio.
My menu would be South American in theme and would include empanadas, sweet potato chips and chili lime tortilla triangles for appetizers followed by a grilled skirt steak topped with chimichurri sauce, roasted corn with chili lime butter, and mashed sweet plantains. For dessert, it would be apple buneulos, using the apples from our backyard.
My menu consisted of foods I could prepare a few days ahead of time – such as the empanadas, and easy to prepare dishes when the guests were on hand – such as the grilled steak and corn or the roasted plantains. I assured myself that I would have the luxury of sitting down with my guests and enjoying the meal.
With the adult menu set, I began to think about what I could serve the kids that would fit in with the so-called South American theme. I thought a roasted chicken with the mashed plantains and corn would do. But, as we were discussing the party plans early in the week, Nicole wrinkled her nose at my suggestions.
It was that cute little nose wrinkle that got me thinking.
With 8 kids to be at the party, they surely outnumbered the adults, so why shouldn’t they have a say in what they eat? With an age range from 3 to 7, there was a good possibility of a mutiny when it came to dinner. I could just see it now, just as the adults were sitting down to dinner, the kids would scream, “Yuck, I don’t like the mashed plantains,” or “I only like chicken that is crispy.” I would then be obliged to find something to settle the kids down and fill their bellies. (Actually the $20 an hour nanny is sounding pretty good right now!)
Since the goal was to allow the adults to enjoy a sit-down meal with each other. So, why not let the kids decide on their menu? As long as it wasn’t hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was OK with what they chose.
My kids started to run down their favorites: lasagna, Tigaroni (AKA rigatoni with cauliflower and baked breadcrumbs on top), and Sloppy Joe’s.
Then, Nicole screamed, “Black meat!” (FYI: Black meat is what they call the meat for tacos).
“Yes,’ the other three chimed in.
So black meat it would be. Grayson then inquired, “What about appetizers? We can have empanadas, but how about fruit on sticks, too?”
Then, Addison reminded us about dessert. “I want candy cherries for dessert.”
"Yes,” said Keely, “Candy cherries on ice cream!”
And, so it was. The kids menu was decided upon. Now, they moved into action.Nicole had seen me playing around with the menu template to be used in Challenge, #2 so she wanted to make a menu. She pulled out the easel and began to write down the kid’s menu. (Notice the Buick Lacrosse logo on it.)
Then on Wednesday evening as as I made my way into the kitchen to make the empanadas, the kids arrived one by one to help Recently I had made 200 lamb empanadas for the San Francisco Lamb takedown contest, so they were well-versed in the process of making an empanada. As I rolled out the dough, Grayson pulled up a chair and began to place teaspoons of filling on the dough then folding it over and crimping the ends. Nicole arrived, followed by Addie and Keely. Everyone had the chance to make a few before heading off to sleep.
As Friday neared, the excitement did as well. My kids love parties. They love being involved in the planning and preparations so on Friday afternoon, after school pick-up, they jumped into action. Grayson helped set up the kids tables, then set both the adult and kids tables.
“Mom, are we eating alfresco?” asked three-year-old Addison, who knew the word ‘alfresco’ from one of her Fancy Nancy books. Nicole was in her room carefully planning what she would wear, and the Keely continued to ask again and again whether I had purchased the candy cherries for dessert.
The guest arrived, the drinks were poured and the kids ran off together while the adults sat back and relaxed . . . we had captured our luxury. As darkness fell and the kids ran around out back playing flashlight tag, the big kids reveled in our last few moments of luxury – a glass of wine and good conversation . . . with other adults.
As I see it, I serve up a luxury dinner party every night – we plan the meals, make them from scratch and sit together at the table discussing the day’s events. And this past Friday evening was no exception.
In the end, I may not have advanced to compete in the Luxury Dinner Party challenge, but I am comforted in the fact that my family – and friends – consider me a winner.
I successfully completed the PFB Challenge #3, the Luxury Dinner Party – even if I’m no longer an official contestant.
Now on to planning our next party, the Annual Everage Pumpkin Carving Party! Bring your pumpkins, carving knives and your appetite!
Thanks to all who voted for me during the past two Challenges, in particular to those who posted encouraging words on my Royal Asian Meal post. Good luck to all those who are still in the race!
I hope you keep reading Edible Tidbits, and take the time to visit the Everage 6 at www.FamilyEats.net, where we connect with the food we eat and the family we love!
Source: Nuevo Latino, Douglas Rodriguez
2 cups butter
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 stick cinnamon
½ tbsp unflavored gelatin
1 ½ tbsp cold water
¼ cup boiling water
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the apples and the cinnamon stick and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the cod water. Stir inn the boiling water to dissolve thoroughly. In a separate mixing bowl, gently beat the egg yolks and the sour cream together. Stir in the gelatin mixture.
When the apples are tender, fold into the gelatin mixture. Transfer to a clean bowl, let cool, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the apple mixture from the refrigerator and make 35 to 40 small balls using a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop. Place the flour in a bowl, roll the balls in the flour, and refrigerate again for 10 to 15 minutes.
When ready to serve, heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees F in a large pan or skillet. Roll the balls once more in the flour, then in the beaten egg. Roll in the flour a final time and fry in the hot oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning to fry on all sides.
Drain the paper towels, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve immediately with whipped cream.
Yields 6- 8 servings