I think I learned the art of throwing a good party by instinct. Certainly my parents never entertained. Events in my childhood home alternated between family dinners with Granny and the annual progressive Christmas party the Homebuilders put on. “None of us housewives want to be burdened with planning an entire party by ourselves, and God forbid I would have a party and then have to clean everything up by myself!” My mother served the soup course for this dinner. Each hear she opened a package or 6 of Lipton’s french onion soup, and added a bottle of red wine.
(Wine was a rarity at our house. My grandmother was a card-carrying member of the WCTU, Women’s ChristianTemperance Union, and wine had to sneak in and then hide cautiously into our home, for fear Granny would see it and throw it away.)
I remember how salty that soup tasted, and the food encrusted dirty soup plates Mother had to wash the next day. “Could you imagine of having to clean up the dishes from an entire dinner?” my mother would whine, puddles of cooling scummy dish water slopped onto the floor.”
Needless to say, entertaining was not something I jumped into readily. Nonetheless, I began early. My first dinner party was in the Peace Corps in Nigeria. I was 22. A challenge lover even then, I decided to invite 10 Nigerians to a Mexican style meal. No internet, no cookbooks available, I had to prepare recipes myself. (And I had never cooked these foods, only eaten them.) Then I had to replicate the ingredients. Nigerian peppers were not the same as the Mexican ones I knew more about. Cheese was very different; actually not readily available. I plowed ahead.
In the end, the refried beans I made were great. Except I made enough for about 50 people. The Mexican rice was almost fine. It still had the Nigerian under-taste, and it still had its crunchy sand. The guacamole was wonderful. My poor steward had to go to three different villages to find enough avocados.
The disaster were the chili rellenos. The cheese did not perform as needed. It was gloppy and stringy. And the peppers I used were extraordinarily hot. Not even my Nigerian friends, accustomed to fiery foods could eat more than a bite of them.
But, despite the food problems, the party was great. People lingered at our house. Conversation was lively. I inhaled their effusive thanks! And our garden boy, who could barely afford food, ate refried beans for weeks.
Although I was intoxicated by the experience of entertaining, events intervened. Working full time with a crumbling marriage left me little desire to do much of anything else. In the midst of these travails, my self-esteem took a tumble. Eye contact became painful. I worried so much about what I could say to anyone, I opted for shyly glancing the other way to insure people would not address me.
I remember the first time I hosted three friends for mah jongh. I had my cleaning woman clean for two days. That distracted me, or perhaps fed into my anxieties for the evening.
After the Nigerian experience I knew food was critical. I planned and replanned the snacks I was going to serve. Crackers? Maybe Sue did not like Triscuits. Grapes? They tasted too sour. Iced tea? Which brand? Sweetened or not?
I was a bundle of nerves. I could not focus on the game and ended up losing all my betting money before the break. I was mortified. But the iced tea was sweetened to perfection and Sue liked Triscuits.
Mah jong entertaining, with only four players, meant I had to do it once a month. Within a cycle or two I was able to pull in a concealed singles and pairs hand just before refreshments, recoup the money I had lost that first week.
Over a few years I discovered tricks to gaining self-confidence. Now I loved throwing parties. Give me an occasion and the party went off without a hitch. I found two secrets to a successful party. One was the guest list. Invite a wide range of friends. Conversations could not be limited to the same boring topics every time because these people didn’t know each other, had to fish a bit to find things to talk about. And soon. parties jumped.
Food. The essential ingredient of any successful party. If all else failed, guests could fall back on talking about it. I did a chili party once. Potluck. And I threw in the rule, “make it paleo.” Guests discussed recipes until they found other mutual interests. I did a basic lentil soup and asked everyone to bring a cooked ingredient to throw in. But, since it was a Jewish gathering, I asked them to “keep it kosher” by avoiding meat, absolutely no pork. The only problem with this party was I had never cooked lentil soup before, so I did not realize how far one lentil went. Everyone went home with gallons of lentil soup leftover.
Now the time came to plan my grand opening for my new studio. I had to plan a party to remember. I went back to my formula. Invite a wide range of friends who didn’t necessarily know each other beforehand, and make the food good and plentiful.
Juanita’s Taqueria, the best Mexican food I have ever eaten, was a block from my new studio. I chose their soft tacos and guacamole. I ordered too much food, as usual. But everyone raved. And the mix of guests? It was hard to get the entertainment launched. Too many conversations that chose not to be interrupted.
And the start-off topic? My art. My kittens. I have come a long way with my art in the past 20 months. But, even more importantly, I have moved out of my reclusive, shy introversion. I talked to everyone at my opening. So many different conversations, so many wonderful friends who came to celebrate!
And do not believe my entertaining days are coming to an end. I am in the midst of planning monthly Sunday Soirees. These will be the first Sunday of each month. We will have a theme, a musician, a writer and hopefully an artist to help us focus on the theme. We will have potluck food, and, because I believe it is imperative to give back, we will have a charity for donations. Keep your eye out!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"