I hosted an “Open House” on a recent Saturday. Ostensibly, the reason was to thank all the people who stepped up to help us after I broke my foot during the summer. These people drove me to the store or to appointments, brought us dinners, or helped a little around the house. Not all of them were or are close friends, but they stepped up when one of my friends sent out an email requesting help. I know the help was given without expectation of reciprocation, but it was important to me to do something.
Also, I have wanted to have a party in this house ever since we moved in nearly four years ago. We have hosted children’s birthday parties, but those are vastly different. Guests of those tend to cry more, to demand more helpings or refuse food outright, and to converse more awkwardly than most adult guests (Child: “You have a spot on your face. Is that a boo boo? I don’t like pizza. I want Marshmallow Fluff.” Me: “Yes, it is a sort of boo boo. I don’t have Marshmallow Fluff. Can I get you some Goldfish crackers? Oh, look, almost time to go.”). The ex was not fond of entertaining, and was not a lot of help when we did. Oh, he would do things that I asked, but his help was rather grudging and generally executed in a fashion to indicate that I was bossy and taking things too seriously. So, it was with enthusiasm and a little trepidation that I decided to host a party by myself.
Including spouses and children, the guest list was nearly 90 people. I was relieved that about 1/3 definitely could not attend. Another 1/3 said yes, and the final 1/3 chose to keep it mysterious, which every hostess really appreciates. I prepared for as many as 40, assuming that would be too much but wanting not to be caught short.
The Open House was held from 1-5 so as not to interfere with company parties and other glitzier affairs. Plus it saved me having to prepare full meals for so many, and thus I could stick to snack foods. I decided to go with Tex-Mex/Southwestern foods for the most part, both to avoid the standard holiday buffet menu, and because it is food I’m comfortable cooking. I had beer, wine, sodas, iced tea & lemonade available. I wanted to have a mojito bar, but I wouldn’t put it past some of those kids to try making their own.
I learned a few things Saturday, and thought I would share them here:
1. I had a recipe for “Mexican Pizzas”. It called for spreading refried beans and cheese on corn tortillas, baking them for 20 minutes, topping them with sour cream, tomatoes, and avocado, then cutting them into wedges. Don’t try shortcuts. Given a lack of space for laying out many “pizzas”, I thought that guests might be able to assemble these themselves. I baked the tortillas alone for a shorter time, then cut them into wedges. As I was doing this to tortilla #15, I realized, “I just made chips. Fuck, I just made baked corn tortilla chips. No one likes those. Why am I doing this when I bought four bags of Tostitos? *sigh*” I put them out anyway, just in case. Apparently my guests thought something similar as evidenced by the depletion of the Tostitos and the substantial remaining supply of 99% nonfat baked corn tortilla wedges.
2. Food must be able to be consumed in 2-3 bites or less, or people will not pick it up. This is why I chopped veggies for a tray, assembled bite-sized creamy jalapeno tortilla rolls, made black bean and corn salad, and offered chips and queso and bean dip, etc. Stupidly, I momentarily forgot the rule and put out a bowl of red and green apples, which looked pretty and yummy. Not one person took an apple. If you want people to eat fruit, you will have to cut it for them. The bite-sized rule does not apply to desserts, however, as people will put in as much effort and time as possible into consuming those.
3. Built-in babysitters are handy. Ten-year-old girls love two-year-old girls who aren’t family. The big girls will play Barbies, peek-a-boo, and provide voices for stuffed animals – all things they would never do with other ten-year-olds, or for their younger siblings unless forced to by a parent. Seven-year-old girls are highly suspicious of two-year-old girls, viewing them as loose cannons likely to wreak havoc on their ponies, or else shameful reminders of their own recent toddlerhood. Seven-year-olds are very good at reporting rule-breaking by any of the child guests, if said rule-breaking offends the seven-year-old’s sense of boundaries. If they enjoy it, they will not report it. If you can legally borrow a couple of ten-year-old girls for babysitting duties during a family-friendly party, I highly recommend it.
4. I cannot effectively estimate alcohol consumption to save my life. Fortunately, I vastly over-estimated the need for alcohol between 1 and 5 pm, and so did not run out. However, I now have more beer in my house than I will drink on my own in two years. Given that the school is actively pushing DARE at my children weekly, I feel somewhat sordid for having this stockpile. Hopefully my children won’t turn me in to Sheriff Andy.
5. Sleep matters. One of the few right decisions I made was to go to bed before 11 on Friday night, rather than stay up working on food. I was at a point where I had to choose well-made appetizers, or a somewhat rested hostess. Actually, I’m kidding myself. I was so tired I was having trouble focusing on the recipe, and realized I probably was not safe holding my chef’s knife. So I went to bed. I worked like a fiend on Saturday morning, but I could not have done that on less sleep. Plus, who wants to be greeted at the door by me with dark circles under my eyes, excess-caffeine jitters, and the shrill laugh of a Catherine O’Hara character?
6. Children at a buffet act the way that adults really want to act: they are id made flesh. They go straight for the cookies, and will eat as many cookies as possible until an adult steps in and forces them to stop. They will occasionally grab other foods with interesting shapes, like baby carrots, and cheese cubes or flowers, but the nutritional value of these foods rarely enters into their contemplation. If you have a lot of children attending, hope that their parents get them out the door before they go completely bananas from the sugar-rush or develop intestinal difficulties from the overload.
The friends who showed up are all people I really like, and we had a lovely afternoon. Nothing was broken, there are no weird smells coming from the sofa in the playroom, and everyone made it home safely. I might not have another party for two years, or I might stick with a smaller dinner party next time. Certainly I hope never to have cause to have another “thank you for helping me through my days as an invalid” party in the future. Now that I am back on my feet again, and not the object of charity, it was a gift to me and my girls to spend time with so many friends.
I hope your winter evenings are warm, and your parties pleasant, and your hearts and bellies full. I am off to take a nap.