Back in SF and Bloomington, I was decent at throwing game-and-talk parties, with a good layout of hors d'oeuvre. Here in Boston, I fell out. Partly because the direction of my social life didn't lead to making close friends in the way I was used to, partly because my stuff spread out so that I didn't feel happy about having people over much. A couple years ago I got my living room clear enough for short term house guests, and then to have W over for dinner and anime, but I still didn't try anything party like. More recently I turned my second bedroom back into such instead of a storage room, which came at the expense of my living room, such that I didn't even have W over this summer.
But there's this Iron Blogger
thing, and our last two or three parties were at Sacco's Flatbread, which is loud, and eating out eats into our budget quickly. We were debating what to do for tonight's party, and I decided damn it, I was going to get things into shape, so we could save money and have a quiet environment.
And I did! Not even by punting stuff problems too much: some stuff went into empty boxes in a perfectly sensible way, though I do have one box newly labeled "junk to sort through later". I could have deployed all nine of my chairs in the living room, though as it happened I only needed four. At this point I could have house guests in *both* rooms.
Of course, if I don't get a local job soon, this will have been a last hurrah for the place, but still, cool.
It's also an object lesson in the negative value of having too much stuff; I'd have been happier with more parties or tete a'tetes and less stuff I barely touch.
As mentioned, I've got a distinct style; I've never cooked much for more than 2-3 people (including me.) Instead, lots of snacks, leaning toward the savory; any cooking is more like "boil dumplings" or "fry some sausage to cut up". It generally works well.
Tonight required some adaptation: I was hoping for two vegans (got one), two vegetarians (check), and one other omnivore (who forgot we were happening), so I aimed for a pretty vegan spread, plus one wedge of camembert, and some drumsticks I fried for the two meat eaters. Most of the food got eaten, which means I'm pretty stuffed -- probably bought too much for six people, and four people put a big dent in it, so... I dunno about the vegan sausages, that's not something I'm used to. I boiled one per the package, which led to it falling apart, but people ate almost all of it anyway; I microwaved the other, which mostly remained, though the vegan took the leftovers home. First choice would have been grilling, but my cast iron was busy with chicken, and I didn't feel like wrangling with my older pans.
Some years ago I'd discovered Mary's Gone Crackers for a party, as a wheat-free cracker for my wheat-free friend lyceum. They're actually really good in their own right, though pricey.
There's some selfishness mixed into my consideration: I aim for things that I'd be happy to have as leftovers. As a corollary I tend to be weak on drinks.
Introducing people to foods I've found is also fun. The 1.5 pound box of "Wild Wonders" tomatoes was almost completely finished. This is something Star Market has been carrying for a while: they're cherry-tomato sized (more or less) but heirloom in variety; the label just says "greenhouse grown cultivar tomatoes" but they're a lot tastier than a lot of greenhouse tomatoes are.
Setting up is pretty easy, at least when not doing a year's worth of de-cluttering in a couple hours. Afterwards... I could almost be tempted to use my dishwasher for the first time since the landlord installed it. Almost, but not quiet. Probably don't even have the right soap. And four people's worth of small plates isn't that much.
As for the party aims: success! We could all understand each other without fighting a loud restaurant's worth of noise. And I spent $40, which feels like a lot for 5 people (RSVPed) considering groceries) but probably still less than what four people would spend in a restaurant. Our budget was $60, so...
I dunno about vegan protein next time, if there is one. My first plan had been various flavored compressed tofus from Trader Joe's, which I know from experience are pretty tasty, but I balked at the price/lb. Though I guess they're about the same as the cashews. I guess at least one of the 'sausages' was mostly devoured, even if I feared otherwise.
We ate 90% of a 10 oz bag of pita. Yes, I weighed the remainder, and it's 1 oz. Also I cut the pita into 24 pieces and 2 are left. Though the other bag isn't quite 10oz, so the weights are a bit weird.
Oh right, one new thing! Usually I don't worry about healthy veggies for these things. Maybe baby carrots and cherry tomatoes, maybe occasionally a store tray of crudités. But this time I microwaved a pound of frozen broccoli, and added oil salt and pepper. I'm not going to try weight the wet remainder, but I'm sure we ate more than half. That's neat.
Tangentially, I don't know why both sets of parents I've seen close up try to get their kids to eat unadorned steamed broccoli to earn their desserts. It's much tastier with a bit of seasoning.
Tonight's crackers were TJ's Some Enchanted Cracker, tasty in its own right if totally different from Mary's Gone Crackers, and significantly cheaper. Also, totally consumed, along with the camembert.
The hummus isn't gone but greatly diminished (and it wasn't even the really good TJ hummus, which wasn't on the shelves); the chips vanished faster than the salsa. This is something I'd observed at ohanami parties: if I brought hummus it would get inhaled, while salsa would sit around, especially the hotter varieties. Some of the chips tonight were used for hummus, at least before that reminded me I'd been warming up pita wedges in the microwave but forgotten them.
Actually, yeah, I should make a distinct list of what hit and didn't:
+: pita and hummus (but maybe less pita... though if we'd had the fifth person we could have opened the second bag), runny cheese and good crackers, good cherry tomatoes, well-prepared broccoli, the dark vegan "Italian sausage" from TJ.
-: hot salsa, cashews (hard to judge, but I think I may have eaten most of what did get eaten, which wasn't a lot), the lighter colored sausage.
Plus there's various other things I could have tried. Dumplings, bread+oil, bread+butter, veggies and yogurt+dill dip (TJ European yogurt would work great for that), bread and salsa "bruschetta", frozen samosas (experimental), seasoned chickpeas (though not a finger food), chips and queso (not classy, but hey, not unpopular... dunno about this crowd, though), dates, or any other form of dessert.
I'd thought about just salt-and-peppered hard boiled eggs, but the TJ pre-boiled eggs felt too expensive, and I didn't want to peel a whole bunch myself, it's pretty hit or miss whether they peel easily.
One drawback of the evening: everyone coughed a lot when they came in, and I'd been coughing before then, though it faded. I suspect it was smoke from the fried chicken. But it wasn't that smoky: I really suspect cayenne powder on a high dry heat (I put some in the pan to get the underside of the chicken, but didn't bother adding oil.) Accidental chemical warfare...