Friday, July 29, 2011

Hold On Hold On Playlist

Hey friends, here is a feisty little playlist, perfect for a Game Night or just knocking around with friends. Happy weekend!

1. Little Bit/Lykke Li
2. Ooh La La/Goldfrapp
3. Tenderness/General Public
4. Gates of Steel/Devo
5. Pinball Number Count/DJ Food
6. Street Scene/Steven Perri & Zouman
7. Hold On I'm Coming/Sam & Dave
8. R.A.M.B.L.I.N./Sasquatch & the Sickabillies
9. Unless it's Kicks/Okkervil River
10. The Grey Estates/Wolf Parade
11. Hysteric/Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12. Hold On, Hold On/Neko Case
13. Castaways/Shearwater
14. Life in a Northern Town/Dream Academy
15. Yellowcake/Kaki King
16. Academia/Sia
17. Again & Again/The Bird & the Bee
18. Tire Swing/Kimya Dawson

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oil and Vinegar Infusions

Read on to see how our newest contributer Cara Valla, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscurro, is ready to throw a dinner party any night of the week:

If you're busy like I am, keeping your fridge constantly well-stocked is near impossible. When guests drop by unannounced, my secret for entertaining is a pantry of unperishables; I always have what I need to whip up something special at a moment's notice.

The first two places I turn to for some amped up flavor are oils and vinegars. Flavored condiments are easier to come by these days, but they're often pricey. Give some infusions a try yourself - the delicious flavors will be almost as sweet as the bragging rights.

The Basics:

When choosing the base oil, you want a mild oil - virgin olive oil is a popular choice. There are two ways to infuse flavor into oil - with heat or with time. Oil can be heated, infused, cooled and enjoyed within an hour - but it may alter the flavor of the aromatics slightly. In the case of a lemon oil, a cold infusion may take a few days, but in my opinion it'll have more depth of flavor and lemony brightness. It's up to you! You can experiment with different herbs - usually only a few sprigs per bottle will do the trick - but keep in mind that you don't want to use anything with a high water content to flavor the oil if you plan on cooking with it; it'll make the oil spit as it heats.

Vinegar takes a longer time to absorb flavor, but it is soooo worth the wait. I recommend using a white balsamic, apple cider or champagne vinegar as the base - white vinegar tends to be too harsh. The general ratio of vinegar to herbs is 2:1, but can be altered to taste.
Cold-Infused Lemon Oil

4 cups Virgin Olive Oil
4 Lemons

Peel each lemon carefully, removing as little pith as possible with the skin. Discard the lemons (or save them for some lemonade!). Add the lemon skins to the oil, seal the container, refrigerate, and allow the flavor to infuse for 3 days. It really is that simple!

Hot-Infused Garlic Oil

4 cups Virgin Olive Oil
8 whole peeled Garlic Cloves

Add ingredients to a saucepan and heat very very slowly until the garlic just barely starts to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Now you have aromatic oil AND delicious roasted garlic. Amazing.

PLEASE NOTE: Garlic can harbor C. botulinum - so be sure to consume your garlic oil within 10 days, or freeze it and use it at a later date.

Cold-Infused Strawberry-Basil Vinegar

1 1/2 cups Strawberries, stemmed
1/2 cup Basil Leaves
peel of one Lemon - pith removed
4 cups White Balsamic Vinegar - at least 5% acidity, to keep fruit from spoiling
1/4 cup Sugar

Wash the strawberries, rip the basil leaves by hand, and gently mash together in a large, clean and dry container. Add the lemon peel. Pour cold vinegar over the mixture, cover and store in a cool, dark place for one week, shaking it every few days.

After one week, strain out the fruit and reserve the vinegar in a saucepan. Add sugar and simmer the vinegar for 3 minutes, but do NOT let it boil. If any foam comes to the top, skim it off with a spoon.

Let the vinegar cool to room temperature, bottle and enjoy!

Hot-Infused Tarragon Shallot Vinegar 

2 shallots sliced thinly
2 sprigs of tarragon
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2cups Champagne vinegar

Simply add your herbs to a clean and dry container, heat the vinegar to nearly boiling (190degrees if you have a thermometer), pour on top of the herbs, seal and let cool to room temperature. Place in the fridge and watch lovingly as flavors intermingle for 2-3 weeks. When you're satisfied with the flavor, strain out the aromatics, pour the vinegar into a shiny new container, and add a few decorative aromatics to the bottle for presentation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Throw Down: Game Night

One of the simplest parties you can possibly throw is a Game Night. Get half a dozen people together, bring out a stack of board games and some quick snacks, and you're set.

Games are one of a host's greatest allies - perhaps third behind popcorn and a working stereo system. More interactive and engaging than tv, less stressful than trying to revive flagging conversation, they take the pressure off of you as a host. We can't be scintillating all the time! Thankfully games are there to refuel our brain engines.

If you're working on building up your collection, here are some suggestions of games that play well with others. But first . . .

House Rules
Have some. Make them up and stick to them. You're the boss! The house rules I enforce on Game Night are simple: 1) The youngest person goes first. 2) The winner gets to pick the next game we play and the next snack I bring out, and gets a cocktail or mocktail made to order - in other words, the winner is waited on hand-and-foot for about 10 minutes, and gets to rule the next 30 minutes of our lives. I'm a fan of stakes like these - it keeps things interesting without anyone having to place any money bets.

Simple Strategy Games

These are all fine games to crack open on a balmy night, as the sun sets and you sit on your porch with a tall, cold drink in hand, preferably one with mint leaves. They're also great in winter, gathered near a pellet stove with a hot toddy or some spiked hot chocolate. They're perfect for a crowd of old friends, sedated by a big dinner, comfortable enough to trash talk each other.

Games of Knowledge
If you have a bunch of smartypants friends, these games are probably familiar to you. Scene It? is a fun and fast-paced movie trivia game with interactive DVD content. Trivial Pursuit is a classic, but one that should never be played with more than two teams unless you've been taken hostage inside a bank vault and might not be rescued for days. Also, unless you are a senior citizen, don't even attempt to play the original version of this game - it's 32 years old, and boy does it show! This goes doubly if you are a person who has played the original version so many times you have essentially memorized all the questions, because then your friends will openly despise you.

Games of Skill
These are games that reward quick thinking and your ability to shout out an answer first. Show off your cultural knowledge, drawing skills, impressions of famous people, and uncanny mind-melding abilities. This is the kind of game to play with extroverts, theatre people, performance artists, and moderately drunk people. This is the wrong kind of game to play with people who are on the verge of an acrimonious break-up. Tensions run high!

Celebrity gets bonus points because it will cost you nothing but little scraps of paper. Follow the link to the rules and you can play this game anytime, anywhere.

Games of Coordination
These cultural phenomena are perennial favorites. Build a teetering tower out of blocks of wood, or tie yourselves into a big friend-pretzel. These games are jolly good fun, and not in the least bit mentally taxing.

Years ago Jenga released a truth-or-dare version; questions and dares would be written on half the blocks, and the one you pulled determined your task. It's easy to make your own truth-or-dare version - either by writing your own dares right on the blocks - or by writing numbers that correspond with a key, so that you can easily modify your game in the future.

Getting-Know-You Games
Oft-overlooked, these are some of my favorites. Loaded Questions is a fun, all-ages game, where you guess who answered what. Scruples is a game that requires you to guess how your friends would behave in a tricky ethical situation - and ironically, the game is more fun when people lie. These are great icebreaking games, perfect when you have a few new people in the group; the best strategy is to get to know them fast. These games are also some of the most memorable. It's been 6 years and I can still recall my 10-year-old cousin Neil's answer to the question, What is your ideal pet? Answer: A chicken that will never die.

Sample Menu:

Baked brie and grapes

Featured Cocktail: Oreo Speedwagon
Throw 2 oz. kahlua into a blender along with 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream, and 3 oreo cookies. Blend and pour over ice. Makes one totally decadent serving.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Take that, Summer: Barbecue Recap

Ah, summer grilling. The smell of propane setting you on high alert, then the warm, wafting aroma of  gently-browning ground sirloin filling you with relief; We are not on fire, we are about to eat a lot of meat! This should pair well with the six beers I just had. Excellent.

The thing I love about barbecues is that they're for everyone, young and old; the kids can run around blowing off steam until they're as chilled-out as the rest of us in our meat comas. I was pleased this time around that my friend's grandmother stayed for hours, happily noshing and chatting, and we also found ways to keep our friends' kids occupied.

Bartending was a snap - I pre-mixed my own cocktails and taped labels to the pitchers explaining what they were, how strong they were, and what might be good to mix in if you want to dilute them. We also had plenty of beer in the cooler and Joey's phenomenal sangria.

Grilling was also a snap - because the guest of honor did it for me. Rachel is a great and fearless griller and was happy to take it over. Important life lesson: You can't be good at everything! If you have friends with skills that put yours to shame, don't be afraid to delegate.

Girrrrl, don't even try and talk on your cell phone at
my graduation party.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cheap and Cheerful Playlist

Hey y'all, here is a playlist perfect for a barbecue, a sweltering day at the beach, or riding with the top down.

In its original form, this list was a glorious 17 tracks long . . . but iTunes, in its chronic inadequacy, only carries 11 of them. Sigh.

If you're interested in having this playlist in its entirety, here it is with Amazon links to the missing songs. Enjoy!

1. Brother/Toad the Wet Sprocket
2. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa/Vampire Weekend
3. Midnight Party/Tipsy
4. Wildcat/Ratatat
5. Cha Cha/Balkan Beatbox
6. Heartbeats/The Knife
7. So Alive/Love and Rockets
8. Toxic/Local H
9. Cheap and Cheerful/The Kills
10. Hate to Say I Told You So/The Hives
11. 12:51/The Strokes
12. Sex on Fire/Kings of Leon
13. Call Call/The Faint
14. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger/Daft Punk
15. Electric Feel/MGMT
16. Sweet Disposition/Temper Trap
17. My Girls/Animal Collective

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Champagne Tasting

Friends of mine are selecting some champagne for their wedding. Their mission: To find an affordable wine that people will actually enjoy drinking . I joined 10 other friends for a tasting at their house. This is an ingenious idea for a party; the hosts supplied the wine, the stemware and the ballots, and the guests were encouraged to bring light snacks and snarky comments to share.

Here are my unilateral rulings:

Price: $4.99 
Like it!                         
This wine is serious arm candy. Fun to be around, pretty to look at, not too challenging.

Barefoot Cellars Moscato
Price: $5.99            
It's like you smell a seductive perfume, turn around, and behind you there's an octogenarian wearing nothing but fruit on her head. Oh, dashed hopes!

Price: $6.99
I have just been assaulted by bubbles on steroids. This wine is gangbanging me.

This is like making out with an old man who has been sucking on cough drops.

Price: $11.99
Like it!
Nice and crisp. Bubbles are effervescent, not too strong. I can dig it!

Price: $11.99
Meh is the perfect word to describe this wine. Did I just drink something? Don't know, don't care.

Price: $5.99
Love it!!
I am as excited about this as I was about my first flavored lipgloss. It's fun to be a grown-up! You can drink candy all night.

If you're on the hunt for some cheap bubbly and want to do further research, I asked the Proprietor of Summerlin Wine & Spirits and all-around wine expert, Jen Toth, for her suggestions:

"Cavas are the way to go for sure. There's a Spanish cava called Segura Viudas that's really good. Also Codorniu. Prosecco is another option. Somewhat good is Zonin Prosecco - I give it 3 stars out of 5. Cupcake makes a prosecco which will come down in price with quantity - and that label's slammin.'"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's Your Name Again?

Oh, look, there she is . . . that cute girl you have been introduced to 12 times . . . whose name you STILL can't remember. Worse, you're standing there talking to a friend, only seconds away from the harrowing moment when they gaze at you expectantly, waiting for you to introduce them.  You begin to sweat as your mind races: WHAT is her NAME? What is MY name? Dear God, is this what having a stroke feels like?? 

Some people recommend using mnemonic devices (Kim cleavage!  Jenn jean-skirt!  Larry lazy-eye!) but if you're having this problem, it's already too late.

You could discreetly sidle up to your host and ask for a reminder, or take the self-effacing route of saying, "Geez, I am SO bad with names, what's yours again?" - but your panic attack tells me either the host is in the other room, or you are tired of being known as That Guy With the Early Onset Dementia. What to do?

Option A: Whip out your wallet

"Ok you guys, I think we should place bets on who has the most awful license photo. I'll be the judge! Hand 'em over."

Option B: Propose a drinking game

"Oh hey, you're just in time. Guys, guys, drinking game. How many famous people can you think of with your first name? First one to get stuck has to chug this. I'll go first: Boris Yeltsin."

Option C: Neutralize your opponent

Painfully cute girl: "Oh hey, guys, how's it going?"
You, simultaneously: "guyshowsitgoing JINX!"

Not only do you not have to remember her name, you would be a fool to utter it even if you did. No jinxer worth his salt would unjinx his jinxed just like that! You, my friend, just bought yourself some time, and suddenly, remembering her name is everyone's problem but yours.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Throw Down: Summer Barbecue

Summer's here and your friends are clamoring for a barbecue. Here's your guide to keeping it classy, making sure your guests leave with full stomachs and no weird tan lines.

Safety First:
Here are a few emergency items you'll be glad you thought to bring outside. If you grill a lot, consider storing these in a handy go-kit.
  • Wet wipes or some antibacterial soap. It's bad enough that you got dragged through the mud in tug-of-war, the last thing you want now is dirty fingerprints all over your hot dog bun.
  • Sunblock. Having some on hand is extra-thoughtful. Personally, since I am so white that I could get a sunburn from eating a bag of Salsa Verde Doritos, I swear by Banana Boat Kids Tear-Free 50 SPF. My boyfriend prefers the spray-on waterproof sport sunblock. Either way - having a bottle on hand helps your guests make it home with no regrets.
  • Bug deterrents. Start with a bug bomb - they're surprisingly effective, especially on a day with little wind. I recommend Raid Yard Guard Mosquito Fogger. I don't know if I can vouch for the claim that it "keeps bugs away up to 6 hours!" but like dandruff shampoo, you only notice it when it stops working. So far this summer my outdoor events have been remarkably bugless. For those whose veins seem to be full of mosquito aphrodisiac, have some bug spray on hand. Try OFF! Family Care (just be sure to apply away from the grill, people! This stuff is flammable). And if the party is going to push on through the 6-hour warranty, invest in some citronella candles.
Quite simply, you need many folding chairs - Ikea makes these which are great - and at least 2 tables - one for food, one for drinks. You need a garbage can. And unless you want to chase people out of your yard and run around packing things up as the dusk thickens, consider investing in some lighting.

Strings of paper lanterns are elegant and so popular right now. However, they require an electrical outlet, and I don't know how fancypants your backyard is. Sun jars are a cool alternative - they store up solar energy all day, and glow on into the evening. The most low-tech option is placing votives in waxed paper bags. Weight the bags down first and don't be stingy with the kitty litter; little airborne bags of flame are considered a declaration of war in most countries.

Ok, on to the fun stuff!

If I had put a tablecloth on this, you never would
have known it was a crappy old stereo box.
If you have serious acreage, go nuts!  Set up a volleyball net, bring out a bocce set, or put that red-meat aggression to good use with dodgeball or a watergun fight. For smaller spaces, Mexican train dominoes are great since they won't blow away too easily.

If you're tempted to bring a frisbee, see if you can remember a time when a barbecue frisbee game did not end with an innocent bystander getting whacked in the head while eating. You can't. Barbecues and frisbee are like rival sports fans when each has had a beer too many. Keep them separated!

Sample Menu:
In addition to burgers and dogs and sausages, reserve a little grill space for veggie burgers and buns. Set up a tray of sliced cheese, veggies and condiments - think beyond the usual ketchup and mustard and try some sauces with a little kick, savory flavor, or creamy deliciousness - like the guacamole recipe below.

For dessert, nothing could be simpler than a big ol' watermelon - don't forget to bring the knife. If you've got little ones coming, bake up a tray of brownies straight from the box, and buy a can of Pillsbury Easy-Frost icing - we are living in the future, and it is glorious.

Try these recipes for sides if you want to win hostess of the year:

Featured cocktail: Joey's sangria
Click here for the recipe!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Apple Thief

I was so excited when my friend Kristen brought my favorite little guy, Wayne, to movie night - proving that Fantastic Mr. Fox is beloved by all ages.  We made sure the floors were swept since he tends to crawl around.  There wasn't much need to toddler-proof the house, as we already hide most of our breakables from the cat.  I grabbed some kid-friendly items - a molded-rubber lizard and a little squeezy koi fish, and he entertained us with his uncontrollable cuteness for the duration of the cocktail hour. 

I had a big wooden bowl of juicy apples on the coffee table - in two seconds, Wayne had lunged foward and taken his first big-boy bite out of a non-dissected apple.  We snatched the bowl away when we realized he was about to take one sample bite out of each.  Kid loves apples!  Luckily, he also loves blueberries which I had in abundance (at Minute 18, everyone popped a blueberry along with the guard dogs).

Once everyone had arrived, we all got comfortable on couches and floor pillows, pressed play and began to feast!  The Tyson's chicken was surprisingly delicious and kept its heat for the duration of the movie (it's really only a little over an hour long).  I sliced the Chinese pork buns in half so people could pace themselves.  The Hostess cupcakes were a fun surprise - I tossed them out right when they appeared on screen.  And my favorite big reveal was a bowl of rainbow sherbet punch (also kid-friendly) that I planted on the table at Minute 46, as Ash, Kristofferson and Agnes are conversing around their own punchbowl.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Masters in Sangria

Check out that gorgeous bowl of sangria. It was made by Joey Arbeely for a recent backyard get-together. I asked Joey for the recipe and instead I got an education. Read his article below, and you too can be a hero of summer:

Sangria is all about your personal tastes.  So really, all you need is a good understanding of the foundation of Sangria recipes and then the initiative and creativity make them your own.
For me, the most important thing is the fruit--it's lively, pretty and kind of sexy. For both white and red recipes I use oranges, lemons, limes as a rule. They soak up the color in the red and flavor and are ALWAYS visually bam bam bam.

Then you can get creative. Try apple slices, peaches, pineapple, blueberry, grapes (are fantastic but usually expensive), kiwi, strawberries, etc. Don’t try bananas…it’s just nasty. 

The measurements below are not fixed – play around with them as much as you want—trust me—making a project of creating a good sangria recipe is a party in itself. 

·            A couple bottles of white or red wine
·            Your choice of fruits cut into ½ wheels or wedges (just remember that they should be able to be eaten)
·            About 4 Tbsp sugar
·            1 cup Triple Sec, or Peach Schnapps, or Blackberry Brandy. Any liquor with a fruity taste is fabulous. Gin works well also.
·            4 cups fizzy lifting drink (e.g. ginger ale, pineapple soda, sprite, 7up, lemon-lime, pretty much anything sweet, fizzy and fruity actually… or plain like club soda.. NOT tonic water. 

Pour wine into a large pitcher and squeeze the juice wedges from the lemons, oranges and limes into the wine. Toss in the citrus fruit wedges (leaving out seeds if possible) and then add sugar and liquor or gin. If you have pineapple – add it now! Chill overnight. Add all other fruits and ice just before serving. However, remember that the best Sangrias are chilled around 24 hours in the refrigerator allowing the flavors to really marinate into each other. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guac-ing Out

Things that are true:

1. A party's not really a party until you break out the guac.

2. Guac is a real word. Some people think it's a dorky way of abbreviating the word "guacamole," which is an avocado-based dip and haven for lost tortilla chips, but it actually means, um --

Fine. Guac is nerd-speak for guacamole, which is in fact an avocado-based party dip/popular watering hole for the errant tortilla chip. I'm a nerd, okay? But even a nerd can throw a good party, and, let's be honest: everyone loves guac.

I'm not saying that throwing a tub of store-bought guacamole on the table will transform your next get-together (it certainly won't hurt, just make sure any store bought stuff looks nice and green and there are no weird/unpronounceable ingredients on the label), but a bowl of solid homemade guac certainly ups the ante in the party-throwing department.

Not only will both nerds and cool kids enjoy eating your homemade guac, but you'll also enjoy making it. It's fun. It's easy. You get to smash things. Avocados, tomatoes, onion, lime. Those are the basics.

Since it's summer and you'll want to be extra fun and awesome, you'll add some peach and some basil. Your guests will be impressed, everyone scooping and crunching and oohing and ahhing. Then you'll all be Mexican beering and yelling and dancing and laughing and generally having a phenomenal time. All because of the guac.

Basil Peach Guacamole

This recipe will feed a small crowd, but don't be afraid to double it - there's no such thing as leftover guacamole.

A trick for storing guacamole: before putting the lid on a tupperware full of guac, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole, so there is no air between the plastic wrap and the guac. This will prevent the guacamole from turning brown.

(Note: It's best to make this in the summer months, when peaches, tomatoes and basil are readily available.)

  • 4-5 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 peach, chopped into small pieces
  • large handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, working around the pit. Remove the large pit carefully, and scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin and into a large bowl (I find it easiest to use a spoon to scrape the flesh from the avocado skin). Mash gently with a fork, until the avocados are good and smashed but not completely smooth in texture.

Add the chopped tomato, onion, and peach, mixing to combine. Add the lime juice and basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with tacos or chips, or smear on slices of bread to liven up a ho-hum turkey sandwich.

Makes about 3-4 cups of guacamole.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unsolicited Nudity

Your party is in full swing, guests are happy, beer is flowing, love is in the air.  You bop down to your bedroom to retrieve something . . . and find it occupied.  Two of your jerk friends are totally making out - or worse - in your bed.  What do you do?

For starters, I'll show you what not to do.  Lindsay Weir is about to open the door of her room to find her current mega-crush getting back together with his ex-girlfriend all over her childhood bedspread:

Way to be lame, Lindsay! 

Let me tell you something. It's not always easy to be a host. Toilets get clogged, liquor stores close early, valuables get broken, rugs catch on fire, pets escape, tequila destroys the varnish on your coffee table - things happen that are out of your control, and you've just got to smile sweetly and let them go - or ask your guests to help you photoshop a missing cat poster and paper the neighborhood. 

However, it is your right as a host to never feel uncomfortable in your own home. And unless you're throwing a key party, it is your right to expect that people will not use your bed like an hourly-rate motel.

My advice: use a tone of voice that says "This is not nearly as awkward for me as it is for you . . . but it's close." Knock on the door and walk right on in. Say something glib like, hey guys, when I told you two to get a room, I didn't mean MINE. Let them know that you are the arbiter of cool, and this, dear friends, is uncool.

If you poke your head in to find your friends in flagrante, spare yourselves some embarassment and wait for them in the hall. As they come out you can hand them some clean sheets and send them back in to make up the bed. 

Have more of a problem with confrontation than you do with your bed getting action that doesn't include you? Neal Schweiber has your passive-agressive solution:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Throw Down: Fantastic Mr. Fox Movie Night

If you haven’t seen Fantastic Mr. Fox, you should. The voice work is superb, the dialogue clever, the characters instantly endearing,  and best of all, you get to spend some time living in the world of Wes Anderson – a world that seems a lot like the present day, but with ‘70’s technology.  A world I like to think of as Vinylpunk.
Might I suggest organizing a movie night around this fine film?
Movie nights can be as easy as emailing a few friends, renting a video on your way home, and throwing some popcorn in the popper. If you want to make it a very special evening, consider serving food that appears in the film. Here are a few favorites:

In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the menu practically writes itself. The villains, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, are each obsessed with eating one thing:  chicken, goosemeat donuts, and hard cider, respectively. I recommend throwing a big bag of Tyson’s chicken fingers in the oven and setting them out on a platter with a little mustard for dipping in. Goosemeat donuts are a tall order – if you happen to live near a Chinese bakery, pork buns make a great stand-in. If you don’t, consider resorting to actual donuts – or jelly donut-holes. Be sure to offer guests a choice of hard or soft cider.  A big bowl of apples is also in order, as the animals are usually crunching away on them when they are not actively engaged in stealing from the villains. 

Once everyone has a beverage and the food is comfortably within reach, hit play.  Invite people to sip and munch along with the characters - it's a food and drinking game!
If you feel like getting ambitious, here are a few more food items you might want to present as they appear on screen:

Minute 37: Mr. Bean is on the news and his fat slob of a son is eating chocolate cake. Break open a box of Hostess individually-wrapped cupcakes, and toss them at your viewers.

Minute 47: Banquet scene. Bring out a tray with crackers pre-topped with cheese, one per person, or pop the cork on some champagne at Minute 49.
Minute 48: Ash and Kristofferson break into the Beans’ and are distracted by Mrs. Bean’s Famous Nutmeg Ginger Applesnaps. Follow this link to the recipe adapted by Mario Batali on Wes Anderson’s website.
1: 17: In the final scene, the animals have broken into the supermarket. Pass around juiceboxes and join them in a big, slurpy toast.
After the movie ends and people are lingering, bring out the rest of the fancy cheese and crackers for snacking on. Consider bringing out some board games and spinning some 70’s vinyl – or a playlist of Wes Anderson soundtrack songs. Get cozy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Baklava Debacle

Here's something I was reminded of on Saturday: Baklava takes a long time to make. It takes an even longer time to make at 1 a.m. when you are smammered, and the butter you left out on the counter all day is the consistency of pudding and you are drunkenly fingerpainting it all over the phyllo dough and yourself, and your guests keep looking crestfallen when you say it'll be ready at 2 a.m.

Important life lesson: Make the baklava at noon when you are sober as a Pope.

But if life gets in the way, if you run out for a quick errand on the Fenway and find yourself in Red Sox game day traffic, if you get home late and realize you COMPLETELY FORGOT about the lamb chops when you made your food plan, and they are sitting in your fridge and not getting any younger . . . then you just roll with it. When the guests arrive, put down your spatula and enjoy yourself for awhile.  Make your baklava at midnight as a reward for the more tenacious souls. And don't beat yourself up about it. There is no wrong time to hand people gobs of butter drowning in liquid sugar.

Apart from that snafu, the party went great.  Guests ate hearty Lebanese food and drank champagne sherbet punch in the living room with Jewel of the Nile in the background, danced along to Neon's gyrations, and smoked apple-flavored tobacco by fairy light on the front porch, everyone lying in a happy barefooted heap in the cool of the evening. Lovely.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Arabian Nights Playlist

Click here for an hour-long playlist of songs for an Arabian Nights party. These songs will get you into a sultry groove and are a perfect accompaniment to hot summer nights and Moroccan mint tea. Enjoy!

(And thank you @BigM for figuring out how to ping and teaching me how!)

Here's the track list:

1. Prana Shakti/Desert Dwellers
2. Nomad/Niraj Chag
3. Desert (Thievery Corporation Remix)/Emilie Simon
4. Opal/Adham Shaikh
5. One Step Beyond/Karsh Kale
6. Bakara/Hans Zimmer
7. Montuno Norteno/Jomed
8. Jim I Nim/Moroccan Spirit
9. Ansari/Tartit
10. Ya Rayah (Sonar Remix)/Dahmane El Harrachi
11. Intil Waheeda/Hisham Abbas

Thursday, July 7, 2011


 A word about popcorn.  As a host you may be able to live without it, but I wouldn’t want to try. 
Ah, popcorn;  Nature’s little transformer.  What other vegetable has the power to sprout multiple arms, each one able to carry ten times its weight in butter? 
There is beauty in the simplicity of popcorn.  Popcorn kernals, olive oil, salt.  There is just no reason for you to not have all of those things. 
A bag of chips will get soggy or stale depending on the climate.  If you are left with chips at the end of a party and they are miraculously neither soggy nor stale, you will feedbag them to prevent thousands of empty calories from ending up in a landfill. 
Sure, chips have their uses – dips need a hand to hold.  But they are no substitute for popcorn.  Imagine friends stop by unannounced and all you have in your fridge are some moldy vegetables and half a tub of icing.  Voila!  Popcorn makes it a party.  Imagine instead that you throw a smashing soiree and your guests devour every crumb of your delicious spread  . . . and then the second wave of guests shows up at midnight.  Popcorn is there to save the day.  Or imagine that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s royal entourage breaks down outside of your house.  Popcorn for everyone! 

“You say this is an authentic colonial delicacy?  We find this popped corn to be simply exquisite.  Do call for tea when you are in Windsor next.”

Buy yourself an air popper – they last longer than most marriages.  Corn popped in oil in a pan is unbelievably delicious, but requires all of your attention to get it to come out right – save that for a night when you’re sleeping in a cabin with no internet and board games that are missing half their pieces.
To dress popcorn, all you need is olive oil and salt – or if you want to get decadent, you could melt 3 Tbsp of butter with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, toss with popcorn and sprinkle salt to taste.
For popcorn so delicious you run the risk of biting off your own finger in a feeding frenzy, try
Pop ¼ cup of popcorn in your new air popper.  Once it’s popped, use your hands to transfer it to a second bowl.  DON’T POUR IT.  You want to make sure all those hardheaded little guys on the bottom stay in the original bowl, because the peanut-butter sauce would cause them to adhere to the popped pieces – you don’t want to lose a filling.
Gently melt ¼ cup of butter, 6 Tbsp. brown sugar, 2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter and 9 marshmallows (or 1/3 cup of marshmallow fluff) in a sauce pan, stirring constantly. 
Pour the sauce over the popcorn and use salad tongs to toss it – you want to toss it before it hardens or separates, which means it’s going to be piping hot.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Working the Door

It doesn't matter if the party you're hosting is a few people huddled around a sad bowl of chips, or a hundred people sipping champagne and watching rented swans strut about the lawn of your estate - the cheapest and best way to leave a warm, lasting impression is to greet guests at the door.

Anonymous, drunken dance parties are cheap to come by - that's what frats are for.  Anonymous, drunken guests are a whole lot likelier to raid your medicine cabinet looking for pain medication, and walk off into the night with bottles of 50-year-old scotch.  So do what you can to greet everyone and let them know you are so glad they could make it.  Practice your best super-excited-to-see-you! face:
Talk to new people as though they are your future best friends.  Take their coats and let them know where their coats are disappearing to.  Get them a tasty beverage.

If people show up before you even started making the guac, consider delegating - it's a lot less awkward for two or three people to make themselves useful in the kitchen than it is for those same two or three people to try and make small talk in a room devoid of guacamole.

In the halcyon days of yore when Polaroid film was only a dollar a shot, I used to take pictures of every guest and create a photo gallery on the wall.  Not only is it a constant conversation piece throughout the party, it helps guests avoid having to ask, ummm, what's your name again?  And the next day it helps drunken hosts who can't remember who the hell was at their house last night.

These days you can invest in an Instax camera from Fujifilm - which takes stylish little shots the size of a credit card, and prints them out instantly.  Or snap shots for later with your digital camera.  For the look of a polaroid without the price tag of the Instax (or the satisfaction of an image you can hold in your hand and slap on the wall), you can use the Shake It app for iphone. 

The Instax pix come out looking like this:

Notice she's holding a prop.  Little secret: Guests go nuts for props.  It helps them get into the spirit of the thing.  Depending on the theme of your party, encourage people to make use of props you provide - and maybe to create their own little scenes.

If it's your special day and you rented a larger venue and you just don't want to babysit the door all night, consider asking friends to do the greeting for you - or hiring someone to take pictures.  If you're leaning on your friends, pair them up so they have someone to chat with, and give each volunteer a half-hour shift - then their stay at the door seems less like drudgery and more like a little party-break.  I also highly recommend having a guestbook - or a photo guestbook - at the door; even if you aren't able to talk with each guest one-on-one, they'll know their presence mattered, and you'll have a great album to look through the next day.