Monday, March 2, 2009

Letting the Good Times Roll

This crazy, hectic life we live often finds us spending more time with our technological gadgets than we do having a conversation with friends. You want to gather the group, but you are a tad nervous about throwing a party – you just don’t have the time. Good news; it’s the little impromptu bashes that turn out to be the most fun!

Case in point, my dear pal, Diana, and I recently found some time to grab lunch and catch up on things. While chatting about mutual friends, we realized that neither of us had been in touch with our buddies in weeks. We decided, right there and then, to gather the gals for a glass of wine, a munchie or two, and some good old fashioned girl talk.

Well, the idea grew and grew, as did our guest list (written on the back of a check deposit slip) and before we knew it, we were hosting a Fat Tuesday Party!! Invitations were ordered from my cell phone, the menu was initiated and the plan was sealed.

Live crawfish arrived by overnight delivery. Old taste traditions were updated preserving the “Looweezeeunna” flavors. The gals turned out in full regalia and we let the good times roll!

The secrets of success, when hosting a party, lie in making all of your efforts look effortless!

When planning a party, I focus on what I’m really, really good at, and I defer to the talents of others in those areas that I find more challenging. For example, I relied on my friend Maureen of PaperMpressions to create an invite that would set the tone for our Fat Tuesday Party. I suggested one that was a little fussy, very festive and girlie-girl whimsical. The invitations that Maureen creates are as informative as they are gorgeous, leaving nothing to the guest’s imagination in terms of theme, what to wear, whether to drop by or arrive promptly and how, if at all to RSVP; her invites lay out the fun in a nutshell. The secret here, is that you want your guests to be relaxed when they step through the door, and the instrument that makes this happen is the tell-all invitation.

Another secret is to say, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. During our morning walk, I mentioned the party to another dear pal, Cindy. She stopped in mid stride, turned toward me and enthusiastically stated, “I’ll make the gumbo.” I said, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. One dish crossed off my list. Two days later, she received her Bon App├ętit Magazine and offered to make their recipe for Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with yummy – (and I mean YUMMY) Caramel Sauce – from scratch!! I replied, “YES” and “THANK YOU”. Another dish crossed off my list.

Diana order 30 pounds of fresh crawfish and sent me an email asking if I knew how to cook them. I wrote back, “Nope – but we can figure it out.” And we did – in front of the whole gang, which, as it turned out, ended up being the entertainment at the party. Between boiling, draining, shelling, picking out the meat, and hysterical laughing, we kept our guests busy for quite some time.

I made Clams Casino, and figured out how to shuck clams, by saying good bye to three fingernails and hello to a box of Band-Aids – not bad for a first effort. I found pasteurized lump crabmeat for the crab cakes. They were presented on a platter, each topped with a handful of mixed spring greens tossed with only a bit of lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I called it Upside Down Crab Cake Salad.

My friend, Ann Marie, whose daughter attended school in New Orleans (during Hurricane Katrina), asked me if I would like to borrow her Cajun cookbooks. I said, “YES” and “THANK YOU” and found a N’Orleans Style Red Beans recipe in her Junior League of New Orleans cookbook titled, Crescent City Collection. Another dish crossed off the list.

My challenge was to duplicate one of my favorite eat-out-at-the-restaurant dishes: etouffee. My favorite is served at a little restaurant called “Louisiana Purchase” in Banner Elk, North Carolina. They offer Seafood Etouffee, Shrimp Etouffee and Crawfish Etouffee. I have eaten them all – several times. The day of the party, I experimented with several different recipes, kept the jar of hot pepper sauce nearby, and produced a delicious dish that featured seared diver scallops dunked in a sherry-laced sauce and (oh baby, baby, baby…) was it good.

Diana topped off the evening with her made-to-order beignets, lavishly smothered with confectioners’ sugar and served warm from fryer to basket.
The gals all caught up with one another and vowed to stay in touch more frequently. Oh, by the way, the date was set for our next get-together; Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. I’d better call Maureen to get the invitations started - Ole!

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