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Surprise! It’s your last party

I have very little time to write this column.

I’m busy with other things.

Critical things.

Things that demand attention to details, strict attention to the clock. Worst of all: it involves planning ahead.

I’m not very good at these things, so I am under considerable stress.

It started a while back — maybe two months ago, maybe longer.

“There’s a special event coming up.”

“Oh, yeah, I know. Special.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“Uh … the start of the University of Denver hockey season? The Pioneers are highly rated, preseason, and I expect …”

“No.”

“Uh … Christmas?”

“No.”

“Chanukah?”

“No.”

“Ramadan?”

“No.”

“Well, that does it for major religious events. Uh … the Winter Olympics?”

“You don’t know what it is, do you?”

“Well, of course I do. But, you must realize, after my battle with cancer, I have a new perspective on life: every moment is special. This moment, for example, is incredibly special: You, me, here together. How about a smooch?”

“You don’t know what it is, do you?”

“Well … perhaps not.”

“It’s my birthday.”

Oh, gosh, you didn’t say super special. You didn’t say extraordinary. Why would I put your birthday in the same category as major religious holidays and the Olympic games? Compared to your birthday, those are just …”

“Cut the crap. My birthday is coming up, and you forgot … again.. And it is a particularly meaningful birthday. Do you know why?”

“Well, the mere fact of your birth is one of the most meaningful things I know of, and …”

“You don’t know, do you.”

“Perhaps not.”

“It’s my sixtieth birthday.”

“Aha, yes, I’ve had one of those.”

“It’s not an ordinary birthday.”

“OK.”

“So, are you going to do something?”

“OK.”

“What?”

“Uh …”

“I’ll tell you what: You are going to throw me a party.”

“My exact thought.”

“I want a surprise party.”

Let’s stop here. I am bright enough to understand why someone would think a 60th birthday is special. I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed when I turned 60, but everyone is entitled to an opinion. But (I pondered this as I gazed across the room at Kathy, disguising my confusion with a well-practiced, goofy, gap-toothed smile), how can I throw a surprise party for someone who just put in an order for a surprise party?

Beyond this, a surprise party requires skills I do not possess, such as setting something up weeks ahead of time, coming up with bogus plans for the surprisee, reserving space for the event, arranging for partygoers to arrive at certain times, concealing vehicles, and all the other nonsense that goes along with such a project.

No way.

“OK, well, I’ll throw a party. But, no surprises.”

And so, here we are, the day before the birthday get-together.

As I noted above, I am extremely busy — primarily due to my inability to do the things mentioned at the top of this column, i.e. plan ahead.

I am lucky to have invited anyone. I understand this is something that should be done well in advance, but I forgot about it and started extending invitations less than a week ago. People usually mail out invitations and request an R.S.V.P. Not me: I am too cheap and too disorganized. I called some folks on the phone, told others in person, sent out some e-mails. No doubt, I forgot a bunch of folks I should have invited. I informed all those to whom I sent an e-mail that I would get back to them. I didn’t. I have no idea how many people will show up. Could be 10. Could be 40.

People who do this kind of thing well also start producing the fare for the event well in advance.

Now, however, it is the evening before the party, and I haven’t started.

As a matter of fact, I am not quite sure what I will make. I am not much of a party kind of guy. I love to cook meals; I even, occasionally, have others over for dinner

But, parties?

My pal Mike Branch, aka The Michelangelo of Meat, and his wife, Berkey, are party maestros. Jack and Patty know how to throw a bash. Ronnie does well.

Not me.

So, I am struggling.

Here’s what I think I’ll make: Curried meatballs (nothing beats something sloppy that you can jab with a toothpick). I’ll form small meatballs out of a 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground pork, adding panko, egg, minced onion, salt, pepper and a bit of ground cumin. I’ll brown the little buggers, cool them down, bag them and pop ’em into the fridge. Tomorrow, I’ll whip up a quick sauce with hot curry paste, minced onion, minced ginger, diced tomatoes, a bit of chicken broth and coconut milk. I’ll toss the cooked sauce into a heavy pot and add the meatballs to warm them about an hour before guests arrive.

Bingo.

I’ll purchase some commercial pot stickers and whip them up on the stovetop as the guests arrive. I’ll make a hoisin-based dipping sauce as well as the standard shoyu, rice wine, ginger, onion dipping sauce.

I’ll buy several baguettes. Two of them I will slice into thin pieces and I’ll toast those pieces under the broiler after sprinkling them with olive oil. I will make a pimento cheese spread and layer half the toasts with the spread. On top of the cheese mix (shredded sharp white and yellow cheddar, mayonnaise, a wad of stone ground mustard, a dribble of hot sauce, salt and pepper) I’ll flutter some crispy bacon bits. Under the broiler the toasts’ll go.

I’ll slather the other toasts with cream cheese then top the cheese with a layer of classic tapenade.

I’ll buy a wheel of Brie. I’ll take it out to soften at room temp a couple hours before the party. I’ll have some slices of baguette and some crackers with the Brie, as well as rounds of Italian hard salami.

Why not provide an assortment of olives? Who doesn’t like a olive now and then?

I will pummel some garbanzo beans, add tahini, garlic, lemon juice salt and pepper to produce a hummus dip. Some people like pita chips, others like corn chips.

Then, I’ll finish off with a variety of tacky pinwheels — you know, white flour tortillas spread with a cheese base, with additives placed atop the cheese, the tortillas rolled, then cut into thin disks.

I’ll purchase a ton and a half of cream cheese, then whip it together with a half ton of sour cream to loosen up the cheese. On one pinwheel the cheese spread will be covered with smoked salmon, capers and shallot. Another will contain the cheese, Black Forest ham and minced green onion. Another will include the cheese, a bit of green onion and chopped green chile.

For drinks, cheap but palatable reds and whites a selection of nice beers, and soft drinks for the lightweights.

Lots of wine and beer. The way I figure it, if everyone drinks enough, they won’t care when we run out of food. And, further, when you get a crowd together and some folks don’t know others, nothing lubes the social gears like lots of wine.

I have a lot of work ahead. Ivy said she and my grandson Banzai (Dr. Destroyer) will come over in the morning and help out.

That should be interesting.

And tomorrow better be interesting for Kathy.

It’s the last party she’s going to get.