The holiday season is looming, and you may well be planning to hold a party for friends and family. House parties are a great way to bring friends together and to mix and match - old friends with new friends, old foods with new.
Here are a couple of things that may make that party more fun.
No.1, do something different.
No. 2, cook something different. I recently tried to do both for a recent bon voyage party for old hiking and dining friends Karen and Bob, who spend six months in Stateline and six months in New Zealand in a house they bought on the spur of the moment while biking the country. They just sat down and wrote a check.
So they were the first guests. Then came Robin and David, old hiking friends of Bob and Karen. Susan and Michael were next on the list, old friends of Bob and Karen (she's an Iron Man athlete). Then to mix it up, Ingrid and Bob, local folks who have been involved in government and private business. They would be new to the basic group. Then Maggie and Chris, younger than the rest of the guests, bouncy and vibrant. Finally, an old journalistic hiking friend, Rodney, from Mountain View, Calif. He shared the onetime foreign correspondent life with me.
Obviously, it was a diverse mix. Michael is a contractor; David is a building craftsman and snowboard instructor. The first Bob is an architect who built many of the condos around Heavenly Mountain Resort. The second Bob was an industrialist who retired after selling his second self-made corporation. Robin is a busy middle-aged women who tosses pots, builds gardens, and enjoys hiking and camping. Maggie is a journalist, and Chris a carpet professional. Susan works for South Lake Tahoe government.
Toss 'em together and see how it works.
Then there was the dinner. Karen and Robin decided to make an array of bruschetti - rounds of baguette coated with olive oil, toasted and topped with fresh mozzarella - and a variety of other things. Susan did a tossed green salad. Ingrid brought a fantastic flower arrangement, along with wine and a couple of beers for her Bob (he has a special taste in beers). Karen brought a cheesecake and fresh berries to garnish it with.
Almost everybody brought wine, including Rodney, who came up with two red wines, one that sold for $22, the other for $4. Seemed like a perfect chance to have a mini-wine tasting, so a sign was printed out: "Which is the $4 wine, which the $22 wine?" Most liked the $4 wine best - figure that out.
A complete bar was on hand, but based on past experience, it was doubtful if any guest would want the strong stuff (and with the exception of me and one guest, everyone drank wine).
For the main course, I decided to attempt to relive my past life in Europe, where cassoulet is a favorite party dish. It's not common in the United States, and needs some special foods, such as confit, which is a demanding item to make. Seems you need goose or duck legs simmered gently for a couple of hours, allowing the juice to collect, among other complications. Beyond my skills, I turned to Charlie Abowd at Adele's, who ordered six pairs of duck legs complete with confit.
The rest of the cassoulet was simple: chopped onions, navy beans soaked overnight, a lamb shank, some quality sausage, chopped tomatoes, thyme, butter, etc. Stick it all together with the confit ducks' legs and simmer and simmer and simmer.
Still needed was another variation in partying. In this case, it turned out to be a performance of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," his last and perhaps most gentle play. Too long for a party, it was decided that Act V would serve, with the guests taking the roles of Prospero, Antonio, Ariel, Caliban and so on.
The reading was after dinner, before cleaning up, while guests were still cheerful and uplifted by the quantities of wine (14 full bottles, thank you all!).
Few of the guests were familiar with "Tempest," but that didn't seem to bother anyone. If the reading was not professional, it was personal and fun.
Some great lines in that Act V include: "O wonder! How many goodly creatures here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in in't." Then Prospero's epilogue speech, which ends with "As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgences set me free."
Well, somehow the dishes got done, the pots cleaned, the empty wine bottles discarded, and all the final hugs hugged. All agreed that the play had been fun, the cassoulet something different (although Rodney said his was better without the confit).
The only snag was the five leftover frozen duck legs with confit. If you'd like to make a cassoulet, contact me. Only $5 for each two-leg pack.
- Contact reporter Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.