Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
There were about 15 guests and it was a lovely affair. The purple decor, games, favors, prizes, and the entertainment were wonderful to behold. And the food! A wonderful repast if there ever was one. And I have to say that Octo-woman was partly responsible.
Last month, I told Gretchen that I would like to provide the sandwiches, vegetable and fruit trays, and the beverages for the party. I was astounded and delighted when she agreed.
Usually, when there’s a family gathering, nobody asks me to bring anything. I don’t know why. Maybe they don’t want to wear the old lady out. Or maybe they don’t trust the batteries in my smoke alarm. Or maybe they’re tired of rutabagas and wheat germ.
Whenever I ask “What can I bring?” the answer – quickly delivered – is usually “Nothing!” So when Gretchen said “Yes” to my offer of home-made comestibles I was determined to live up to her confidence in me. Gretchen would be proud of serving the world-class culinary delights I would soon create. Her guests would be talking about them for years afterwards.
First I planned the extravaganzas – with a little help from the internet. I decided on three kinds of sandwiches — ham salad tea sandwiches, turkey and Havarti cheese on potato buns, and tuna salad on white bread stylishly cut in triangles. Wow.
Next came the vegetable tray. After looking at all the beautifully arranged trays on the Web, I knew I had a minor problem. I only buy food at Costco and Costco doesn’t sell every kind of vegetable. No radishes, green onions, cauliflower – but they do carry at least 6 kinds I could use: carrots, celery, peppers, pea pods, broccoli, cucumbers. Problem solved. See? Problems are just opportunities in disguise. For the dip to put in the little bowl on the tray, I would buy Costco’s Artichoke/Jalapena dip.
Then came the fruit. Just like with the vegetables, the fruit trays shown on the internet are too dazzling to ruin by eating. The instructions said to have at least 5 kinds of fruit so I planned to buy whatever was available when we got to Costco.
For beverages, I decided on the casual elegance of Diet Pepsi, sparkling cider, and water. They will “pair” well with the food and help wash it down in case anyone should gag on it.
Pretty soon, as the month wore on, I started mentally composing my responses to all the compliments that would be coming my way. I didn’t want to look like I was showing off – but I had to be prepared when they raved about the food.
I decided on something simple and modest, like, “Why thank you. Cooking is my life. I enjoy preparing feasts like this so much, but I really have to credit Martha Stewart for the styling tips. Thank goodness she’s out of jail.” I felt it had just the right balance of humility and generosity, plus it would show good conversational skills by accepting the praise while at the same time, deflecting it by introducing the subject of jail.
At last the day came when daughter (Big) Gretchen and I would make the trip to Costco so I could stock up on what I’d be needing for my kitchen adventure. While Gretchen went to the pharmacy, I eagerly hurried through the store filling my cart with ingredients.
When Gretchen caught up with me, she studied my cart intently. “Mother”, she said, “Why are you buying a 15 pound ham?” “For the ham salad”, I explained. “But those 15 guests aren’t each going to eat one pound of ham salad.” she insisted. “Well, they will when they taste it”, I replied.
And so it went. Behind my back, Gretchen kept sneaking stuff out of my cart and putting it back on the shelves. I caught her in the act with the Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. It comes in packets of four bottles each. She was lifting one packet out of the cart and I yelled, “Stop. We need that.”
“Mother, two or three bottles is enough for 15 people. Eight bottles would be enough for a half bottle apiece. Some people don’t even LIKE sparkling cider.”
But I held firm. “When will they ever have another chance to drink it served in those purple paper cups?” Anyway, who’s counting? There are only 3 kinds of people. Those who can count and those who can’t.
Somehow we got home with most of my purchases intact.
That was Friday night. I spent most of the next day, Saturday, doing the prep work. The shower was to be at 1 PM on Sunday and I knew full well that I would be missing Mass Sunday morning. No way could I get my masterpieces fresh and ready to unveil in time.
Meanwhile, daughter Gretchen had sent out an urgent email telling several females to show up for a “work party” in Grandma’s kitchen at 11:45 a.m. I didn’t feel it was a vote of confidence.
At 11:45, sure enough, Little Gretchen, Elizabeth, Josie and Big Gretchen arrived aprons and knives in hand. But too late. Aha! I already had a head start on the sandwiches. I proudly showed them trays of the 36 ham salad tea sandwiches, 36 turkey and cheese on potato buns, and the 6 tuna salad sandwiches (on white bread stylishly cut in triangles).
I was about to double the batch of each type of sandwich when daughter Gretchen went to war. “Mother, STOP MAKING SANDWICHES. None of the ladies will be eating 10 sandwiches apiece.”
“Well, all right for now”, I grumbled putting away the remaining ingredients. “But I’m keeping an eye on the supplies and if the sandwiches start getting low, I have enough to make three more batches.”
I was relieved to see that besides my contributions to the buffet, daughter Susy provided deviled eggs, granddaughter Elizabeth presented two kinds of salads, and Little Gretchen brought muffins and a cake. So maybe that would help control the emergency when they ran out of sandwiches.
Somehow, all the food got transported next door where the shower was to be held at Big Gretchen’s house. I kept my apron on knowing that at any moment I would be called upon to run back here to augment the trays which had been so sorely deprived.
As it turned out though, we didn’t need any more sandwiches. We still have 52 of them left. Even the dogs are getting sick of them. As for the vegetables — I’ll be making them into soup. And Big Gretchen says I can use her juicer for the remaining 15 pounds of fruit. Maybe I can freeze it.
Reflecting on this makes me realize that perhaps I should try to curb my over-enthusiasm in the kitchen.
One time, many years ago, I gave a party when my friend Aline turned 50 years old.
After the party was over, we were staring at enough leftover food to feed a football team. “I guess I just don’t know anything about how to cook for a crowd”, I said morosely.
And Aline said, “No, Patty, you DO know how to cook for a crowd. The trouble is, this WASN’T a crowd.”