The Heart of Dinner Parties

I’m an awkward person, I think, at parties – this wasn’t always true, but lately with life mostly revolving around getting to and from work and not letting my Husband starve to death (he’s skinny as a rail, so it’s ever-impending), there has been less real party-style socializing. So I was really happy when so many people – 7! – decided to come to my house and eat.

I picked menu items that I felt would fill out different spaces in the menu, just in case everyone aimed toward a particular type of food – I started with a fresh farro salad with kale, sweet potatoes, and onions that was lemony and refreshing. I went with both a veggie main dish – quiche with roasted tomatoes and spinach – and a savory one – melt-off-the-bone mushroom parmesan pork chops from the Crock-Pot. Finally, because I received TONS of dessert recipes from the wedding and am always scared to leave sweets sitting around the house, I whipped up the appetizing Triple Peanut Butter Cookies that everyone was raving about.

Only one of the seven folks who came had seen the house before, so part of the fun when folks arrived was walking them around and listening to the “ooh you don’t live in an apartment anymore!” which is, after all, a very nice feeling. It was extra nice because I spent my Saturday, in between cooking, cleaning this place to within an inch of its life. My lovely friend T commented that the place was “very clean” and I basked in the glow of such a statement – no one applies that statement to me or things I touch, ever.

The conversation turned to familiar topics – they all are still studying at the school I just finished my degree at last year, so I got filled in on who was teaching what classes, and what had been a ridiculous amount of work and what had been incredibly rewarding. I bugged friends about their trips home for the holidays, and their upcoming plans, and I put in a bid for them to move closer to me, rather than living walking distance to school. All the normal things. Husband took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to make a fire out back in the firepit, burning crispy pieces of our christmas tree; the branches made loud crackling sounds and flared alarmingly. He, as one might expect, had so much fun.

While I always wonder if people are comfortable, warm, at home in my home, I also am realizing that the home itself can help with that. The bright colors on our walls, the small kitchen where we still find a spot for everyone’s dishes, all were perfect for creating the potluck atmosphere where even first time guests knew their way around.

Also, as expected, the food was amazing. In addition to my dishes, there was root beer chicken (the sweetness soaked into the meat and made it tender), jalapeno turkey bacon cheese dip (perfect noshing while waiting for everyone to arrive), lasagna cupcakes (perfectly designed to be portable in a party setting, and super savory with sausage and cheeses), mashed potatoes (I don’t know what he did to make them so buttery, but I’m not sure I want to know – they were too good that way), with banana-chocolate bread pudding and mini apple pies for dessert.

I ate some of everything, and thought a lot about all the fancy restaurants where the chefs I’ve been reading about this month work. They have “tasting menus,” 5 or 8 or 10 tiny dishes they serve for hundreds of dollars, all carefully designed and decorated. This food took over the entire dining room table, and everyone’s forks and plates were mismatched, and we crowded into the living room to eat and chat, but it was the best tasting menu I could imagine: most of the foods edged toward the rich and savory, but you could have just a small bit of each and enjoy all the flavors, from the warm earthy farro to the crisp wonton wrappers holding the lasagna; from the soupy mushroom cream sauce over the pork chops to the crunch of the peanut butter candy in the cookies. All was food that you wouldn’t want to eat every day in such quantities, but that in the moment you wanted to eat all night long.

There were many things left over, so I busted out some bargain christmas-themed plastic containers and bugged everyone to load up with at least one more meal’s worth before they left – like the feeding of the 5000, we still had our own packages and plates to load into the fridge when everyone went home.

It was delightful, in short. I intend to do it again. Any tips from veteran potluck hosts for how I could do better next time??

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