Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Moveable Feast...How to host a luncheon and an open house at the same time (Hospitality EVENTuality)

This blog focuses on the host’s need to be flexible...
It all started with a simple request from my oldest daughter, “Can we have a Christmas open house for our friends?” The other locally-raised siblings got on board. After a series of emails, the time was set for 5 PM – 7 PM. Thereafter, the family would open stockings and “real presents,” eat dinner, and partake in our free-for-all White Elephant escapade.  It sounded like a perfect plan.

Then, the sibling who had originally vetoed a lunch menu/time, reconsidered: his partner’s parents were now able to come--but only earlier in the day. At that point, the open house transformed to a sit-down lunch.

Well, not exactly. Some of the guests were coming from the beach and couldn’t promise a 1 PM arrival, predicting more of a 3 PM arrival.

Let me stop here and confess that I became frustrated. And I expressed my frustration to anyone who would listen. How was I supposed to host a lunch for some and an afternoon open house for others? Many configurations plagued me: Should we sit down or stand for the soup? For the meal? For the desserts? Should we serve at the table, from a buffet table, or from the kitchen? Will the 1 PM guests still be around when the 3 PM guests arrive? If so/not, how many chairs and tables do I need? Needless to say, my micromanaging skills failed me; and in the end, I had no choice but to succumb to entertaining outside my spreadsheet mentality of timelines, set-up configurations, and tone control. Without much common sense, but with sheer determination to be less determining, this was how the event enfolded. Nb: The use of the passive voice indicates my lack of control.

1. lunch... When guests arrived, we secured their drinks and showed them to the buffet table full of plates, utensils, napkins, and appetizers. People stood, sat, and wandered around the house.

2. lunch...When it seemed that most people had arrived (though it was hard to tell because of the RSVP method), we broke out the long table, added the extensions, and packed as many chairs around as we thought we needed. People sat and were served their choice of soups. (One couple had to leave at this point but were dying to try the soups that they smelled on the stove. To my credit and their delight, I ignored my dining room guests and doled out the two varieties in the kitchen before the couple had to dash to another holiday engagement.)

3A. lunch...With soups consumed by the seated guests, we invited them to the kitchen for the main course’s self-serve style. Conversations continued and laughter escalated.

2B and 3B. open house...Sometime after the first crowd was eating their main course, the beach group arrived. People left the table to greet them and insisted that they backtrack to the soup course. More chairs were squished in, soups were served, and they were invited to graze the original table for leftover appetizers and the remainders of the main course (that had been brought in from the kitchen.) Because most people had eaten, the beach group were assailed with reviews of the food—mostly good, I’m pleased to report.

4. lunch/open house...When some people had consumed seconds and everyone had consumed firsts, we served desserts at the table.

People got up, hugged, and began to leave. Someone who had left before the soup and was supposed to return, never came back. If you ask me how many people I served for each course, I really couldn’t say. All I can accurately report is that we had lots of fun and hopefully, will have lots of good memories. A week plus later, I can see by my numbered report that I'm still trying to organize this semi-chaotic event in my mind. Perhaps, instead, my efforts would be better spent reflecting upon a few hospitality lessons for me to learn.

1. People trump food.
2. Organization should facilitate guests’ good time not dictate behavior.
3. As a host, I’m not responsible for (or in control of) the whole event.
4. I can’t have fun at my own party if I see myself as the event organizer, rather than the host.
5. Once I stop taking myself so seriously, it’s a better party...for everyone.

The next time that schedules and emergencies threaten to alter my perfect entertaining plan, I promise to move with  the moveable feast.

Here's what I put on the menu cards displayed on the appetizer table:
Holiday Lunch 2009
mozzarella roll ups w/ basil, red pepper
deviled eggs
chicken liver terrine & crackers
crescent spirals w/ heart of palms, cream cheese, pimento
prosciutto wrapped figs
brie, salmon, dill bites
phyllo cups with cheese, raspberry, almond slice
phyllo cups w/ salmon spread

shrimp and crab bisque or butternut squash soup

turkey salad, croissants
beets with mandarin oranges & vinaigrette
corn & bean salad
mac ‘n cheese

toffee bars or key lime bars

A few recipes...
These two soups make a good pair...
shrimp and crab bisque
Use this recipe... these changes.  Substitute shrimp and good quality crab meat for the lobster. Never use half and half.  Use heavy cream instead.  Use homemade chicken stock to which I added some fish sauce.  If you're going to freeze this, leave out the shrimp and crab.  Add after you thaw and reheat.  Everyone loved this.
butternut squash soup...See Dave Lieberman's recipe on The Food Newwork. I used canned pears and added a can of mango.  Everyone loved this also.
turkey salad...See Ellie Krieger's recipe for curried chicken salad. I used leftover turkey instead.
toffee bars Virginia Rohrer
Giant Hershey bar, 1 c. brown sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 c flour, 1 cup butter
Mix together sugar and margarine. Add egg yolk and flour. If it is sticky, add little more flour so that you can work the dough. Pat into pan evenly (15x12). [I doubled the crust and used 4 Hershey bars.]  Bake 350 for 20 mins. Break up giant Hersehy bar and spread on top. Sprinkle with finely chopped nuts. But into squares before they are cold. You can put the entire pan in freezer. Freeze and then take out and put in a tin to store.

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"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf