Emily M. DeArdo

writer

hospitality

Living the Church Year: Assumption Party!

Catholicism, food, hospitalityEmily DeArdoComment

So we’re gonna start with the real-ness, here:

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Realness, people. It’s even blurry because I was tired, sorry bout that. :)

But also the sign of a good party, if there are lots of dishes and plates and cutlery and cups in the sink…..it means people ate and drank and made merry!

So, when I wrote about Feasting last week, I didn’t mean multiple courses and all sorts of fancy dinner accoutrements and fancy things like that.

No. What I meant was a dinner in your home with other people!

It doesn’t have to be complicated! You don’t have to have everything perfect!

Let me tell you what I did.

First: Invite the people

My table only seats four adults (unless I put the leaf in, which is at my parents’ house). So inviting three people was the max I could do for a sit down dinner. I checked with my friends, we picked a day that worked, which was also the day before the Assumption, so, Assumption Party!

Otherwise it would’ve been a late St. Dominic’s Day Party. :) OR a something something feast day party. :) We’re good at naming things around here.

Second: Figure out the menu

I didn’t want to make anything terribly elaborate. I always make Guinness Cake for dessert….

The cake, in mom’s cake stand, which she lent me! Thanks, mom!

The cake, in mom’s cake stand, which she lent me! Thanks, mom!

For dinner, I made Rachael Ray’s Drunken Tuscan Pasta, which is really yummy, and easy to serve to people. I don’t always like making pasta for a dinner party because you can’t really make it ahead. But then as I was making this, I remembered why I like it—it’s just so dang good. (I”ll give you the recipe.)

Third: Delegate

I didn’t do all of this myself. One of the guests brought sparkling water and a bottle of wine, and another brought the makings of an appetizer and a big, lovely salad, which she made at my place. It was so fun having someone to cook with in my kitchen! It’s so much more convenient here than it was at the old place, because I have an island instead of a “peninsula” sort of thing, so people can cook in multiple places!

Fourth: Make a plan

I wrote out my list of ingredients and went grocery shopping a week before (and then two days before, for the things I had to get sort of fresh, like the portobello tops) . The cake can be—indeed should be—made the day before, so I did that. That way all I had to do was cook the pasta when people were here. A few hours before everyone’s arrival I chopped rosemary, sliced mushrooms, and portioned out red pepper flakes into my little prep bowls. This just makes everything easier when people get there.

Fifth: Try to make it pretty

“try” being the key word here….

I used my pasta serving bowls, which I got at Crate and Barrel eons ago, but are perfect for this. I even dug out place mats and real napkins, because, hey, why not?



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And finally….

It doesn’t have to be perfect!

I didn’t have wine glasses. People drank wine out of mugs! It was FINE! We used the same forks for salad and pasta! It was fine! (We did have different forks for the cake, though, because I had enough for that!)

The house was spic and span because it was the first party in the new hours, and we had house blessing (one of the guests was a priest) and the guests hadn’t seen Orchard House before so I wanted it to look nice. But really, I still didn’t go nuts. I didn’t polish all the fixtures until they sparkled. I didn’t freak out about water spots on the windows from a rain storm.

The point of a party is to get together and have fun and celebrate!

So, yes, make sure your house isn’t, you know, unsafe! :) Make sure it’s hygenic! :)

Make sure it’s comfortable, that people have places to sit, but really, don’t worry about everything looking like House Beautiful because it’s not going to happen!

And even if I didn’t make dinner and we just had Chipotle take out, it would’ve been fun. If the food doesn’t turn out, or you burn it, get a pizza and just chill. It’ll be fine.

I’ve found that having people over to share food and conversation (and prayer!) is a great way to build community, to bolster your feelings, to feel that you’re not alone, and that living the Christian life is a pretty great thing to do. We need community!

So go out there and plan a party!

Summer Dinner Party

food, hospitalityEmily DeArdo1 Comment

I throw a dinner party a few times a year, and at least once during the summer. This year's event was last night. (And no, it wasn't as involved as Babette's! Still, that's a great movie to watch before you feed people!) 

When I say "dinner party", it's not like a Downton dinner party. (Does anyone have those, anymore, other than the queen?) It's much more casual. For one thing, my house is small, and my dining table is even smaller. I have four chairs, so that's how many people I can have for a dinner party. A party, sans dinner, can be more people, but not that many. (I only have so many spots where people can sit that aren't the floor.)

This one was a bit impromptu, but here's the menu: 

Fried Onion Dip with Kettle Chips

Green salad with French Vinaigrette 

Lemon chicken with cherry herb tomatoes

strawberries, cookies, and vanilla ice cream

One of the things I've learned over the years is not to make everything for a party. You'll see the dessert is all store-bought things that I can make fancy. 

 

I also plan out how things are going to go. The onion dip needed time in the fridge, and was also the most labor intensive, so I made that first. The chicken needed not only to cook, but to rest for 15 minutes once it was out of the oven. The salad could be made two hours ahead and left to sit at room temp until serving time. The tomatoes can also be served at room temperature, and will be made closer to dinner time. Nothing needs to cook in the same space (i.e., the oven) at the same time.  (And yes, I deleted things from the plan as needed!) 

I don't mind finishing things up when people are here. That's what the onion dip is for. They can eat and talk and chat while I'm doing the last-minute things, but I like to keep it to one or two at the most last minute things. So, the tomatoes being rolled around in a skillet? That's fine. Doing the onion dip with people around? No. It involves clarified butter, chopping, frying onions--no. I don't want to do that when other people are around. I'll burn something or myself. Better to make that before!

I also cook things I know taste good and can be made in my kitchen. (That's important. This probably isn't the time to test a new Julia Child recipe that will require every mixing bowl you have.) The only "new" thing on this menu is the vinaigrette, and you really can't go wrong there, especially when it's an Ina Garten recipe. 

As for drinks--I've noticed this can be a point of contention at dinner parties. I usually offer coffee and hot tea (loose and bagged, because I am a Queen of Tea), my homemade iced tea, and a soda. Sometimes we have wine, and I usually have some sort of diet soda around. 

I ask people if they have any food allergies/severe dislikes before I go shopping for the food. I don't want to kill anyone (obviously), and if people have a special diet, I can accommodate it (usually). For example, I'm not supposed to eat a diet high in carbohydrates, so if you have a dinner for me that's all pizza and pasta, I will eat it (because I love it), but it's not the best thing for me to eat. Ideally, I want people to enjoy the meal I'm making for them, and not eat it only because they're too polite to not! And, I'm Italian. Feeding people feeds my hospitable soul! I want them to be happy! 

The herb roasted tomatoes and salad

The herb roasted tomatoes and salad

 

Last planning tip: When you do as much prep as you can before the party, be sure to run the dishwasher too. It always helps to start with everything clean when the guests arrive, at least as much as possible, and an empty (as much as possible) dishwasher. 

If you don't usually throw dinner parties, I invite you to do it before summer's over, because this is really the easiest time of year to do it. You can grill! Toss some burgers and brats or whatever on the grill and let it go. Grab some tomatoes from the market (or even better, the farmers' market!) and serve them with mozzarella slices. Make some sangria and serve ice cream sundaes for dessert. 

onion dip on my set table. 

onion dip on my set table. 

 

How do you like to entertain? Game nights, dinner parties, bowling parties? Do you have any good party hosting tips? 

(Also: have you entered the giveaway yet?)