The Most Marvelous Kind of Play

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There’s a part of The Secret History where a college professor and the protagonist, a student, are talking, and the professor is surprised to hear that the student considers his classes to be work. “I should think of it as the most marvelous kind of play.” the professor says (in essence, I can’t find the quote online, and I’m unwilling to dig through the book to find it myself). Technically, I’ve been working all day, but I honestly had so much fun, and enjoyed the reward so very much that  it never once felt like work.

I had my first ever grown-up dinner party tonight, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it went. I owe a great deal of my success to the fact that I put absurd amounts of time and effort in, but I had such a pleasant time that I wish I could throw a dinner party every weekend. Inviting people was easy, planning the menu was a wonderful game, shopping was delightful, and the actual cooking kept me entertained all day. I took Caroline B. to the market this morning (she’s lived in the area for more than a year, but she had never gone, and it was nice to see how much she enjoyed it. She mostly just browsed, but she did buy a little parsley plant, so now my basil has a friend), and I bought some frugal groceries (the essentials- kale, zucchini, and eggs. I had to work dinner party extras into my budget, and I’m proud to say I managed nicely. Most of my meals during the work are so simple, and consist of such cheap items that I am able to live very affordably if I manage to ignore the part of my brain that nudges me towards things like corn, and fancy farmer’s market hummus.). We stopped in at the Punjab grocery store on the way home to price meat, but the butcher wasn’t there yet, they didn’t have any ground goat, and their lamb was very expensive, so we left empty-handed.

When we got home I made approximately all the kale chips ever (I was so productive today! I actually made yogurt last night, so I woke up at 6:00 to put it in the fridge, and then I went running before the market (I think…I might run the Baltimore Half Marathon in October. Maybe). And I did laundry! And roasted garlic! And made nice iced tea! I tried to make a point of being productive because I didn’t do any homework, and I think I pulled it off. There will be time for homework tomorrow), and baked this week’s loaf of bread. I think I must have offended the Bread Gods though, because this loaf was my not the raging success that I’ve come to expect. There was a slight mix-up with yeast, and it was very hot and humid while the dough was rising, and the bread came out kind of…flat. It did rise, but it was just so wet that it couldn’t hold itself up, and the end result was a flatter-than-usual, dense loaf (but it didn’t burn!).

I meant to go back to the Punjab grocery, but I had to go to Giant for napkins (which we didn’t have, because we’re uncivilized), and pasta, and it just happened that their lamb was considerably less expensive, so much that I couldn’t pass on what was a much better deal. I love supporting local businesses, but I am a student, and lamb is such a luxury anyway that I couldn’t purposely pay $2/lbs more. I also bought a tub of vanilla ice cream, because while it’s less hot today than it was yesterday, I figured my guests would appreciate a cold dessert, (and because I saved on the lamb the ice cream fit nicely into my dinner party budget).

I’ve helped with lots of dinner parties before, but tonight I flew solo for the first time ever, and I think it went as smoothly as it did because I prepped everything that I could beforehand. I made a mise en place, and put all of my little cellophaned bowls of chopped onions, and minced garlic in the fridge so that everything would be ready as soon as it was time to go, and it made a huge difference.  I was slightly nervous, because the meal I choose requires that the sauce be made right before it’s served, and I didn’t really have a co-host to entertain while I cooked (Caroline B. was there, but I thought of her as one of the guests, since I didn’t consult with her before inviting people, so I didn’t want to inconvenience her), but everything worked out well. We don’t have a living room, so everyone just congregated in the kitchen, and I was able to play hostess and cook at the same time (everyone gets along really well too, which helped a lot).

Planning the menu was a lot of fun, but I kind of knew what I was going to make before I even invited people. It’s pleasant to play around with different ideas, but I have a dinner trump card, and I played it tonight- ground lamb with yogurt sauce. Boom. It’s easy, it’s delicious, and lamb is a special occasion meat, so it makes people feel festive. I toyed with ideas for mixing it up a bit (not that I needed to, since I had never made it for any of my guests before, but just for fun), and thought about serving it over couscous, or rice, but in the end pasta won out, and I served it with farfalle. Why mess with success? The whole menu was something pretty special, so I’m just going to cut to the chase and lay it out: kale chips, fresh homemade bread with butter and/or roasted garlic (the garlic was a big hit, which I found gratifying. It was a little detail, but I’m glad I made the extra effort, because having the heads of roasted garlic in little dishes on the table made it seem very fancy), ground lamb with yogurt sauce over farfalle, roasted zucchini with onions and bell peppers, cucumber yogurt salad (provided by my friend Emily and her husband Scott (it went really well with my stuff though, which was nice. We probably used a total of six heads of garlic for this meal, so vampires beware)),  and rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream. So yeah.

What was really nice was how impressed and appreciative everyone was. I had been kind of nervous, and when people were late showing up I had some grim childhood birthday party flashbacks (yes, as a child I had not one, but several birthday parties where no one showed up. I blame being born in late December- everyone is all celebrated out. I also went through a challenging phase around that time where I didn’t tell people that it was my birthday party, I just sort of invited them to vague events, and then felt incredibly wounded when they flaked. But it’s best not to dwell, especially after my lovely party tonight), but things were just wonderful. I was praised to high heaven on the deliciousness of the food, and my mad hostess chops, and it went straight to my head, but I was mostly just over the moon that people were enjoying themselves.

The party broke up around 10:00, and I set to the dishes, which can be a very pleasant task after a party. I put on some Barenaked Ladies, and put away the food, and straightened things up so they won’t be in the way tomorrow morning. When I stop to think about it, I worked all day, but everything felt so pleasant that it was never a bother. I’ve been on the go since 6:00, and I’ve covered a lot of ground, but I feel more accomplished than tired (not that I’m not enjoying relaxing now that I have a minute to sit and reflect. Just sitting down and putting my feet up felt amazing). Tomorrow will be slower-paced, and I think I’ll try to sleep in a bit, but I had close to a perfect day today. I’m so glad that things are falling into place, and I’m making friends, and that I just get to be in Baltimore, working towards becoming a nurse, and ultimately a midwife. I’m very blessed, and tonight really reminded me just how lucky I am.

I somehow managed to forget to take pictures of the individual plates, but I got this one of the table.

And this one of the crumble, which was incredible. I was a little sorry that there wasn’t more rhubarb, but it was a hit, and people actually said they thought the topping: filling ratio was just right. I made the topping using a stick of butter (this meal was big on butter and garlic, so you know it was good), a cup of raw oatmeal, 1/3 cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, four tablespoons of brown sugar, and three of white. It was de…wait for it…licious. Delicious. 🙂 (And I used lime juice instead of lemon on the rhubarb, because limes are better than lemons.)

Caroline B. had the foresight to take this nice roommate picture. It’s too cleavage-y, but I think it’s otherwise good. I need more modest tank tops, but whenever I buy them, no matter where I live, they disappear in my parents’ house. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle.

A few months ago I remember telling my friend Riva that I’ve been looking for MY place, the place where I’ll fit in, and be at home, for a long time, and that while I loved Smith, it wasn’t it, but that maybe I’d find it soon, that I felt like I was getting closer. I’m not sure yet if this is it, but when I go to bed feeling as happy as I have lately it makes me think I must be onto something good.

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About turntowardsthesun

I'm a 23 year old Smith College grad, living in Buffalo, NY, and trying to figure out my life. I love to cook, and craft, and work out, and this blog follows my adventures while I do all of those things and more. Enjoy!

4 responses »

  1. I just reread the Secret History and you got the quote right, I believe. Your dinner party sounds so wonderful! I am very impressed by your ambition. We don’t have dinner parties often, but I am trying to develop a habit of having someone over for dinner now and then, in a more casual way. It’s always nice to cook for other people.

    • Cooking for other people is great. It’s so gratifying when they have seconds! I took a page out of Mum’s book and made a ton of food, just so I could rest assured that there would be enough, but everyone was so enthusiastic that there were minimal leftovers, so I think I hit the right balance. I had never realized before how nice it is to be able to tell people “there’s more of everything”.
      I’d love to have more dinners, but maybe cook for a smaller crowd, since eight is a lot to take on by myself. I’m sort of hoping to develop a reputation as a good hostess, and have people want to come over for dinners (not just in the “ooh dinner party way”, but in a “ohh Caroline’s dinner party” way). We’ll see how that goes.

      • I love being a hostess. Someday when we are less busy and less broke I want to entertain more regularly. In the meantime, I try to remember that spending time with pals is more important than being the best hostess ever, so I compromise with things like potlucks.

  2. That makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think things have to be fancy in order to be nice. I only wanted to pull out all the stops this time because it was my first party. I’m reading Little Women on my phone on the bus, and I think they’re all good hostesses even though they do things very simply. It’s mostly about making people feel comfortable. Potlucks are fun though. I’m very curious about what other people eat, so it’s always interesting to see what they bring.
    The big area where I’m worried about falling down on the hostessing job is alcohol, since I didn’t wind up buying any even though Mum and Dad told me I should at least get a bottle of wine. No one brought any either, because I apparently seem like a teetotaler (someone did bring a bottle of sparkling grape juice though, which I thought was very cute. No one wanted any, so it’s still in the fridge, but now it’s available for school night celebrations). It does seem like something I should keep so I can offer it, but I’m just not interested in building up a liquor cabinet before I even have a decent spice rack. It isn’t a priority.

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