Izzy (and Mama) Eat: The Gourmand Grows up...

Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Possessed: Party Pressure, Pitas and Memorial Day Madness

It happens all too often. A holiday is approaching and some cockamamie idea pops into my head, one that just won't disappear. This time I decided that Memorial Day was the occasion for a Middle Eastern-themed Garden Party. I hatched that plan after reading some recipes in Nigella Lawson's, Forever Summer. I thought the recipes looked simple enough and simplicity was what I was after, or so I thought.

So I wrote up a menu, sent an email out to friends and then got that feeling of, "Oh, no, what on earth have I gotten myself into!" The realization that I would not be sipping lemonade the whole weekend through had set in. Instead I would be plotting where to find the various ingredients I needed for the party and preparing them. Izzy became my willing (and sometimes unwilling) accomplice as we shopped, prepped and cooked for the party.

Memorial Day Menu (In my mind)
Hummus (easy, prepare night before)
Baba Ghanoush (easy, grill eggplants day of)
Za'atar Chicken (easy spice blend)
Fattoush Salad (simple prep)
Mini-Lamburgers with oregano and mint
Almond Cake
Whipped Cream
Side dishes, beverages, etc. provided by friends

Looks like a snap, right? Wrong! I purchased most of the items I needed for the party on Friday but the first issue was the Za'atar, because naturally this aromatic spice blend is not available at Jersey City's lovely, downtown Shoprite. I rationalized that it certainly merited a trip to NYC, not really a big deal. Then we spent Sunday visiting Great-Grandpa so I didn't really have time to organize or clean. The only items that I could muster the energy to prepare Sunday night were the Hummus and the Almond Cake.

Monday, the day of the party I was left with too many things looming ahead of me, from washing the backyard furniture to preparing the rest of the meal. Feasible I suppose but with the addition of homemade pitas (inspired by FarmGirl Fare), which I somehow convinced myself were essential to the entire party, I was sinking deeper and deeper into weeds. I couldn't nix the pita idea though since I had no bread alternative and Izzy was already smitten with the idea. When he said, "Mama, how about a make your own Pita Party!" Not that, but they would remain on the menu.

I spent Monday morning picking up some last minute items at the supermarket and then grilling eggplant for the baba ghanoush, marinating chicken, cleaning the backyard furniture and washing dishes. Meanwhile I sent Izzy out to the yard, with bucket and sponge, to clean the kiddie furniture. While there I discovered him collecting rose petals in heaps, in fact he was attempting to remove them from the neighbors' bushes. When I asked what he was doing he said, "I want to give them to my friends as party favors." How sweet, watch out Colin Cowie!

Afternoon found me finishing the lamburgers and baking the chicken in my all too hot kitchen. At the same time I made a test batch of pitas on the grill while working on other things and they came out nicely. I had dispatched a friend/neighbor to bring us another propane gas tank, sorely needed if I planned on grilling the rest of the pitas, and I feared the gas might run out.

When the guests began to arrive at 4 p.m., the chicken was out of the oven and the lamburgers were done. I had the dips ready to set out but still no Fattoush salad or fruit ready for dessert. When would I ever get to those, especially since I had 16 more pitas to grill. The dough was rising for them as the guests arrived and kiddie mayhem ensued. My only goal became to get those pitas on the grill so people could use them for all of the side dishes and appetizers that had arrived. Friends brought so many salad type dishes I gave up any notions of preparing anything else, Fattoush Salad, Fruit Salad, gone by the wayside.

As I began to roll and ferry the pitas from kitchen to grill, guess what, the gas ran out and my propane tank had yet to arrive. I stopped production and wondered how to proceed when thankfully, J., arrived with propane tank in tow.
I was glad to have the grill up and running because I also needed it to warm the chicken and lamburgers since this was supposed to be a sort of BBQ (isn't that what people expect on Memorial Day?) A few moments on the grill would add just the right touch to the meal. How could I have known that the smoky touch would turn into an all out raging grease fire caused by olive oil drippings?
With the fire under control, food on the table, people eating and kids running about, it finally started to seem like the party was happening. I nibbled as I worked but hardly had a chance to sit down. What was wrong with this picture?
In retrospect it occurred to me that the parties I envision require a small kitchen staff (at the very least, a sous-chef) and gardener. It is nearly impossible for me to amuse Isadore, cook, clean and serve and manage to sit down and have an enjoyable time.
Or is it? Perhaps it is merely a matter of better organization. If I had done more in advance I would have had less to do on the day of..Does anyone have the answers? Does a foodie need to compromise? How can I do it better the next time? Yesterday I vowed that when the mood strikes me next to have a party, I would only have hamburgers and hot dogs. Hold me to it!
p.s. Now that the kitchen is cleaned up and I have had the morning to recuperate, I am glad I did it, if only because I saw that Izzy had such a great time with his friends and it seemed that they did too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow! That's a whole lotta cooking to bite off. I think the ahead of time prep is the key, but then again, I haven't hosted a dinner party since the 90s, so who am I to say! Hats off to you for attempting (and pulling off) such an amazing Memorial Day party! It sounds like Izzy had such a great time.