Monday, February 13, 2012

Dinner Parties

February 13 2011,

This past month and a half, we have had four dinner parties at our house.

Our house is suited for dinner parties. The large living room that opens into the small dining room that flows freely into the kitchen. The basement with a pool table, a cozy couch draped with three of my bed quilts, a refrigerator stocked with sodas, candies and water, a television mounted on the wall, two "new to us" bar stools, four leather dining room chairs found at a yard sale that was more of a steal than a bargain, a microwave, a sink and a gas stove.

It works. The guest don't seem to mind that the living room wall still had plastered on them, but draped with the latest quilts that I wanted to show case, the dining room with five shades of color, because we still have not figured out a paint color yet, and the kitchen with a hole on one side where the stove use to be sits a weird square butcher block on wheels. People would come into the kitchen and not notice it until I was actually cooking and would ask the question why there was an empty whole in that area. It just did not make sense. We would explain that the gas stove had been moved to the other wall due to feng shui reasons, and we just did not find a need for another stove yet.

It's a house designed for socializing. Two previous owners ago, the daughter who grew up in the house said that they had many good memories in the house, including many birthday parties and even two weddings, so the tradition continues.

The first party was a after Christmas party. The week after Christmas and before New Year's. We don't throw a Christmas party because we are always at a family gathering, and the weeks before Christmas was always filled with parties. But the week after Christmas, is always dull and quiet. Everyone recovering from the excitement of Christmas. So why not?

This party was casual. It was finger foods and desserts, but it really turned out to be a full pledge dinner party thanks to everyone bringing something they made. At that party we had 20 people total, including 5 extremely hyper but well behaved kids.

The kids seem to enjoy it. The seven year old boy would hang downstairs with the older boys and would ask a million questions while he waits for his turn on the pool table. He would often ask hubby why he was not downstairs playing with them. Hubby would turn to him and say, "The boss won't let me. She's mean. She says that I have to be upstairs helping her." The boy looked confused but accepted it. I had told hubby before the party started that he needed to be upstairs to greet the guests and not hide in the basement playing pool. I know he knows, but I just needed to hear myself saying it again to him.

This boy's twin sister, we call her "Little One", would busily be hanging out with the non pool players upstairs and than getting bored and running downstairs and hanging out with the boys showing off her dance moves. Up and down tirelessly. The sister of the twins, a twelve year old, would plop herself on one of the wing chairs and quietly listening to the adults chit chatting, and occasionally interjecting sharing her thoughts. She loves that wing chair. Her own chair.

There was our other neighbor, a Chinese couple, with two adorable kids. Their quiet ten year old girl would trail with Little One giggling following her everywhere. Then her little five year old brother, Alex, a ray of sunshine.

He is the cutest thing I have ever seen. He giggles, runs up and down the stairs following his sister and Little One, and occasionally stopping to play by himself on the stairs. When he gets tired of that, he snuggles shyly next to his Mom or propping himself onto his Dad's knees, putting his arms around him and whispering to him all the secrets of the world.

It might seem as if the kids are a handful, but they weren't. At our house, the kids seem to find comfort and enjoyment. Running around here and there, stopping to take bites of food, as they continue on their final destination.

The parents seem to be getting a break too, enjoying their wine and creating small talks with each other. They don't keep too much of a tab on the kids, but that was fine with us. It was better that way. The kid's had free reign. If something spilled or break, oh well, it was easy to clean up and it was one less thing for me to dust. Nothing has been broken yet, but there was a spill. A plastic water bottled that had been left opened with a cap spilled onto the hard wood floor, one of the twins had accidentally knocked it over. The mother gasped and looked distraught. Hubby laughed. He said it was not a big deal, and it wasn't, it was just water and wood. I grabbed a few rags and wiped it up and the party continued. After that, the mother seemed to be more at ease.

The second party was the Chinese New Year party. This was a more intimate dinner party, Sixteen people total, with the same five kids. Originally it was twelve guests, but our Chinese neighbor unexpectedly found themselves available because their friend's had become ill. Our gain their friend's loss.

Our dining table sits only eight or ten people when expanded and we had to figure out the seating for the rest. A few days before the party, we had decided to buy a 6 feet folding table, but hubby came up with the brilliant idea of taking in the patio table from the outside. Viola. Magically, we had enough seating. We brought in the patio table, threw a big table cloth on it and it was another usable table. 

Two weeks prior to the Chinese New Year party, we did have another dining table that sat quietly in the corner of the garage collecting dust. We had spent the past few years trying to get rid of this beautiful solid table that opens up to sit twelve people comfortably, but could never seem to get rid of it. This dining table even went out to the Freecycle list, but nobody wanted it.

Then two weeks before the party, one of our client had said that she needed a large dining room table. Hubby offered ours and she accepted. It was a good thing, now we had more space in the garage. When the lady picked up the table, she fell in love with it. She said, "This just needs a light sanding and a new finish, and I can do it." We hauled it into her minivan and away it went, to a new home. It was as if, the table had been waiting for her, waiting for the right person. Of course we finally needed the table, but it was gone. It was the table's last revenge to us.

Chairs, sixteen chairs. We have six dining room chairs that came with the table, four leather chairs from the basement, two swiveling short bar stools (perfect for one of the younger kids), one rickety dining chair from our previous lives, and three wooden chairs from the dining table that we had given away. If we were desperate, we could have brought it the patio chairs or borrowed something from one of our neighbors. Embarrassingly, one of the wooden chairs broke on one of our guests. Luckily it wasn't one of the kids or Les, our 89 year old neighbor. We had a good laugh.

Then came the silverware, we did not have enough. Hubby proclaimed that we would make all our guests use chopsticks, because we were celebrating the Chinese New Year. I cringed. How about Les or the Iranian couple who probably have never used a chopstick before, and how about me? I can't scoop those itsy bitsy rice with a chop stick. At the party, half of the guests decided to use chopsticks, and the other half (including me) gave in and were given forks and spoons. No one asked for knives, so I was home free, we were short on knives.

In the middle of dinner, Alex said he had a joke. He asked, "Why is 6 [giggle] scared [giggle giggle] of [giggle giggle giggle] 7?" Of course most of us knows the answer to this joke. We've heard it many times when we were younger. Everyone asked, "Why?" Alex continued giggling and tried to continue with his joke, "[giggle giggle] Because, 7 [giggling uncontrollably] ate 9". Everyone on the table laughed. We were laughing not because of his joke, but because of his presentation. He repeated the joke a few more times, each time funnier. I think by the forth reiteration, his mother stopped him quietly.

Right after dinner and before the store bought desserts came out, I handed out two stacks of paper. They were the fortunes for the Year of the Dragon. It was a way to entertain our guests. Everybody excitedly look up what animal sign they were, and flipped through to find their fortunes for the new year.

Kristen, a beautiful lady struck up a conversation with Les. He has been widowed for 3 years, and misses his wife dearly. She reads his fortune and started oohing and aahing. She said, "Oh, you're going to have an exciting year! Women are going to be lining up on your doorsteps. It says here that you are going to have many romantic encounters this year!" Les brushed it off, but secretly was intrigued and excited for what the new year might entail. She continues to tease him throughout the night. She is fun and sociable, always the center of attention. I enjoy her presence because she mingles freely with the other guests and is able to strike up any conversation with everyone, even the kids. I would often stick her on drink duty so that I could prepare the meals without much interruptions. Looking back, Kristen and her husband are always on our guest list.

Chinese food is easy yet hard to prepare. Everything needs to be hot and on the table at once. We had five dishes that night, plus one very tasty duck brought by our neighbor. So that meant that I had to prepare five dishes at once. We had a plan. I told hubby to steam the fish in our illegal stove downstairs in the basement, while I juggle the rest of the dishes on the main stove. A few days before the party we had gone to a department store and strolled through the appliance section. Hubby said that maybe it was easier to buy another stove and stick it into the empty area in the kitchen. I rolled my eyes and told him that they probably could not get it delivered and installed within a week. So we scrapped that idea. We already had the gas stove downstairs, so why put another wrench into the situation.

The guests did not stay too late this time because it was a school night the next day. As the neighbor's left, I reminded the parents to send their kids over for the new year, where they would get their red "ang pow" lucky envelopes. At 10:30 P.M. , I got what I could fit into the dishwasher into it, and hand washed the remainder. By 12:20 A.M. on New Year's day, the dish washer was still running and the dishes drying on the counter. One of the many Chinese belief is that one must not wash on the new year. Oh well, it was only twenty minutes into the year and the dishwasher was almost done anyway.

The third party was a Super Bowl party. Of course we had to have a party right? We already had done two in such a short period of time, one more wouldn't hurt. It was a smaller crowd. Ten people total including three kids. Our Italian neighbor's, Les, Kristen and her husband, and hubby and I. This time it was easy. We ordered pizza. One large pizza for Kristen's husband who had to have meat, one small white pizza for hubby, he is allergic to tomatoes, and one barbeque chicken. We bought four bags of prewashed salad and two salad dressings. Surprisingly, our Italian neighbor whipped up a few things themselves, which was welcoming. They brought chips, guacamole (my favorite), cheeses, and a mango relish dip. Their twelve year old daughter and Little One as the sous pastry chef, made a banana cake that said, "Go Pats!". It was a yummy cake and everyone devoured it.

After pizza, hubby teased to the twelve year old, "We can't have that cake, it says Go Pats! on it, this is a Giant's household". The girl looks at her mother for help, but no help came. Hubby is always like that, he roots for the other team that no one else is rooting for. Finally I took the cake and cut it up. By 9:00, everyone was glued to the television, each of us secretly hoping that the Pat's would win. The game clock had thirty seconds left, and everyone still holding their breath. They did not win. Oh well. The party ended concluded shortly after that and everyone went home disappointed, except for hubby of course.

The fourth party was the next weekend. It was a small birthday party for a friend. I went to Costco and picked up salmon, the Korean supermarket for Bulgogi (a rib eye with a special Korean marinate), Kim Chee, pickled radish and two types of vegetables, asparagus and baby bok choy. Our birthday friend loves pickled radish and another couple who was expecting a baby soon loved spicy food.

Hubby likes salmon (he could not eat the Bulgogi because it had tomatoes in it) and the birthday lady was Japanese, so I made the miso salmon dish. The Bulgogi was introduced into the menu after the salmon because the husband half of the Iranian couple did not like salmon. Not much cooking, just broiling the salmon for fifteen minutes, stir fry the Bulgogi, even though it was better grilled (we still don't have a grill), take the Kim Chee and radish out from the fridge and plopped them onto a serving dish, boil the asparagus and stir fry the baby bok choy

Everyone oohed and ahhed. It was simple, good and satisfying.

For dessert I bought a store made Tiramisu. Our birthday friend's favorite. We put a candle on it, and sang her an out of tuned but in unison Happy Birthday.

When the Iranian couple had left and Kristen's husband and hubby were downstairs in the basement playing pool, I struck up a conversation with the soon to be parents about a Baby Shower. I thought to myself, I must be crazy, another party. But this one would be in the summer, sometime in June. I politely asked them if someone had offered to throw them a baby shower, and they said no. I continued asking if I could head it up. The wife gleamed, "A baby shower for me? You're so sweet!" I asked them about baby registry, guest list, and whether the husband wanted to be involved in the party or not. Sheepishly the husband said no.

So be it, a baby shower for our expecting parent's in the summer!

The conversation continued downstairs as they said their good byes to hubby, Kristen's husband, and the birthday lady, the wife shyly said that she did not have many girlfriends in this part of the world. She really didn't. We had met at a pool hall a few years ago and became friends. Women rarely go to pool halls, so most of her friends were male. She said she would love to have the males come to a baby shower. But would they, I thought to myself. These details will need to be sorted out in the months to come. We still have time. We still have time to strategize.

They said their good byes and we sent them home with a bag of goodies. I had put the two bites of leftover Kim Chee and the last bite of pickled radish into a Tupperware for her, and a box of Japanese Tiramisu cookie that she loves, chocolate chip cookies for the husband, and two baby bok choy that I had not used.

The evening ended early because it was a work day the next day. It was a good party, informal yet fun.

At the end of it, I told hubby, no more parties for at least a month. Hubby looks at me in agreement, but he knows better. He knows that I have discovered that I truly enjoy organizing, preparing, planning, and throwing parties. We'll see how long this last.

The dirty dishes are still on the counter and the sink, the dining table still with place mats scattered around it, but that can wait, I have a party to plan for.

Quilt & Bitch

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