Miss Maria Hold-the-Eggs did not, as her pseudonym suggests, actually “hold the egg”, and went and got herself all kinds of up the duff. As in preggers, mit kinder, knocked up, in a family way, riding the baby train, all blowed up on baby... in any event, she failed the rabbit test, all right, in a big, bad kind of way.
Which is great for a lot of reasons, the least important of which being that it gives me a fabulous excuse to stop with the dour posts about OCD, antidepressants & other mental mishaps not otherwise specified/diagnosed. So it’s a win-win for you, dear reader, too; A soft pink palate cleanser to wash away the existential soup pain.
Because Miss Maria Hold-the-Eggs is one of my all-time favorite people on this planet, her pregnancy gave me a great excuse to co-host a Sunday party-- like I’ve ever needed an excuse to do that-- and with a tremendous amount of help from her lovely sisters, we threw the parents-to-be one really fun fete. No games, no crustless cucumber sandwiches and no estrogen-only requirements for admission, oh no. It was rock and roll, a burger bar, a boatload of beer and champagne punch and boys and girls from all sorts of creative provenance. In short, it was a really fun party to welcome our newest future ‘poloozian to her fold...and we all seriously cannot wait to meet her.
I’ve been asked before how it is that I throw parties for large amounts of people without killing myself (and, more often, the cat), and I think this party made for a really great template anyone can follow to have an easy time of it. Here is a list of some of the things I have on hand and some of what I have learned from a year and a half of steady on-the-job training...
Settle on a menu five days in advance, and fight the urge to change too much after you’ve already made your decisions. Print out 2 copies of the recipes-- one set for your trip to the store (ingredients purchasing) and tape one set to the wall in your kitchen and take down as you complete them. Things to consider: what will be an easy item to have for people to eat as they arrive and you finish up? What dishes will be easy for people to eat if they’re standing up? What can be eaten/ served over a period of time, as people show up? What can be prepped ahead of time and only requires assembling on the day-of?
If you’re offering a dessert, consider ordering cake, pies or other pastries. If you like to make dessert, do as much of it as possible the day before. I make sure that when I make ice cream, for instance, that the base is made and refrigerated the night before. I spin the ice cream when I wake up and then I let it freeze until I’m ready to serve it. I find that if I don’t finish this ahead of time, I’m too frazzled to finish by the time everyone has finally eaten their main course.
(make beautiful music)
Make a playlist of current favorite tunes and throw in some classic rock. Even if they won’t admit it, everyone likes a little Stones. Make sure you have 4-5 hours worth of music and put the playlist on auto-repeat, just in case you find yourself listing to port and still drinking a Stella at 2am.
Construct a bar (use a card table with a tablecloth over it if you don’t have any other table available) and put it at the far side of your main room-- this makes people circulate through the room rather than stick to one place.
God/ the devil is in the details: stock the bar with a mix of glassware (I like champagne flutes, double old-fashioned and smallish stemless choices). I buy enough of each to cover 3/4 the amount of expected guests; there are great, inexpensive options sold at IKEA and at CB2. It’s nice for the environment to serve beverages in actual glass and it makes even the most casual of parties feel special.
Make sure you have a large vessel for flat water-- I like this one from Williams Sonoma-- fill it up with water, ice and lemon slices and no one will bother you for water all night. I also like to put out a few decanters of bubbly water just for fun (use a vessel with a thin neck for the carbonated stuff so it stays bubbly throughout the party). And make sure you put out (no jokes please) a bottle opener and a corkscrew on the bar.
You don’t have to overdo the booze-- a self serve choice of beer and wine and/ or one type of signature cocktail is fine. There is no need to buy every mixer and every type of alcohol. Simplicity is nice and it’s festive. I like doing a champagne punch (we served a version of this one at the shower) or providing a pitcher or two of juice along with Vodka. It makes a pretty table, too.
I have a couple of old galvanized tubs that I fill with beer and/ or soda; I always buy a couple big bags of ice the day of a party which I fill the tubs with, and everything stays cold for at least four hours.
(plitter-platter of plates)
In the same fashion, keep a set of inexpensive, plain white salad plates on hand for entertaining. I have 30 of these from West Elm. I use them everyday, and they don’t take up much space in my kitchen. Additionally, I have a gaggle of appetizer sized plates for desserts, salads, or anything else I might need to serve, just in case, in addition to various sized platters and bowls. As long as you keep your tablewear in one color (I like white), you can mix and match sizes and shapes and fill in as necessary whenever you need to and it will all look cohesive. Which is great if you’re all OCD (and cheap) like me. And what’s really nice about the color-streamlining: you can change up the linens and tablecloths and it’s a whole new party.
(the preppie’s guide...)
Take a shower/ put on your makeup TWO hours before anyone is set to arrive. You will hate yourself if you don’t find the time to make yourself presentable, so just schedule it in ahead of time and stick to it, as the Orbitz gum girl says, “NO MATTER WOT.” I hate the bitch, but she’s got a point. Have someone else watch the stove for half an hour, already. And don’t forget to put on an apron once you’re dressed. It would be a shame to soil the Marni.
Be prepared to sacrifice an item or two in the interest of time, and don’t fret about it. Everyone will eat and drink and have a great time.
Choose a theme that’s easy to execute for a crowd. For the baby shower we decided that having a burger bar would be a fun and relatively simple thing to prep for a big turnout. No one does it better than Nancy Silverton, and we followed her advice here, to really great result. We also offered a couple of large green salads and potato salads for vegan and vegetarian guests, along with veggie patties for the grill.
The “It’s A Girl” cupcakes in the photo above were purchased the day of the event, which was one small way of taking the pressure off. I did make the above referenced (and below recipe-transcribed) honey almond cake a few weeks after the event, and it would have been a great thing to serve had I known about it at the time. The cake could have been baked the night before, covered and then had the honey glaze added just prior to serving. The pan, available at Williams Sonoma, makes the cake a pull-apart communal treat, just perfect for sharing at a party. And it has bees on it, so what’s not to love? P.S., if you’re really lazy (and flush with cash) WS offers a cake mix, too. No one has to know...
Honey Almond Cake (for Honeycomb Pull-Apart Cake Pan, Williams- Sonoma)
2 tsp. almond extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
16 TBSP (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted and finely ground in food processor
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP water
Bring all ingredients to room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour the wells of the cake pan; tap out excess flour.
To make the cake, in a small bowl whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract until blended. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce speed to medium, add the egg mixture and beat until well combined, about 1 minute.
Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk and beating each addition until just incorporated. Stop the mixture occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not over mix. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the ground almonds. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Gently tap the pan on the countertop to release any air bubbles.
Bake until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the honey glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the brown sugar, honey, vanilla and salt, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved, 2-3 minutes, Add the water, bring mixture to a simmer and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Gently tap the cake pan on a countertop, invert the cake onto the rack and turn cake right side up. Place the rack over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the top and sides of the cake with the warm glaze, including the areas between the pull-apart sections. Let cool before serving.
OK. There’s your incomplete list of party stuff. I’m sure I’ll add more thoughts as time goes by, but just know that parties are fun. And you should have fun throwing them. Your friends don’t care if it’s not perfect, they’re at a party, so don’t make yourself crazy. Prepare as much as you can in stages ahead of time, and if you imbibe, by all means, drink a cocktail before people start showing up. Light a bunch of candles around your house and show people to the bar as they arrive. Anything in addition to all that is just, well, gravy.
*********update 7/21/2012********* Izzy arrived more than a year ago, and we couldn't be happier to have her as a guest at soupapolooza!, that is when her parents are OK with blowing her bedtime schedule! She is the brightest, most wonderful spirit and we're so lucky to know her!