Shoestring dinner party bliss

It’s morning. I hear the gritty, yet soothing sounds of snow scrapers outside shoveling the first snow of the season. Last night marked not only the first 10 inches of wintery white, but also the inaugural sit-down dinner party in our somewhat spacious (for NYC standards) 700-sq foot apartment.

Now, rewind to two nights prior, bedtime. J and I drowsy-talking, lights already off, about party prep details that had been left until last minute:

Me: How is this table thing going to work out? The soap party showed us that two tables plus 12 people don’t exactly fit into the kitchen.

J: We’ll just push the two tables together, six on each side, two on the ends.

Me: Well, since each table’s side holds 1 comfortably, 2 barely, I don’t see how pushing them together will make 6. At best that’s 4.

J: It’ll all work out, stop worrying. We’ll squeeze people in, we’ll sit on the floor in true Middle Eastern fashion (the dinner menu consisted of Turkish/Israeli cuisine to be prepared by our good friend Leeor.)

Me: We have to move the futon. And there’s that plank of wood in the closet. Oh, but plates and forks; we don’t have enough! I have to go to the thrift store.

J: Go to sleep.

Anyone who’s been involved in special events planning as a profession (like me) will assume the usual harried frenzy of working through dinner party preparations. I wanted ambiance, comfort and style at the outset. As the party careened into being and as Saturday disappeared into dusk, I pitched the fancy and started to focus on providing a chair, fork and plate to everyone. Pretty cloth napkins optional.

D-Day Deets

10 a.m. Coffee with good friend (who owns a car, one of the seven NY’ers who has one.)

10:15 a.m. Thrift store adventure begins. NEVER wait until day-of to purchase thrift store items, because thrift stores are fickle and you might end up with pastel plates if you wait till last minute. One exception to this rule: You know that your thrift store will come through. By that I mean, you’d better have a secret thrift store in your back pocket, one that no hipsters nor antique-foragers know about.

Luckily I do: $29 for one ginormous tablecloth, 9 adequately diverse dinner plates, 6 forks, 10 butter knives, lovely enamel serving bowl set, 2 decent carving knives and a sweet pair of wool gloves with fancy embroidery.

11:30 a.m. Laundry. This was a bit ambitious, I’ll admit. Although it was nice to wash the tablecloth found at luxurious thrift store before serving food upon it.

1:20 p.m. Snow begins falling. Sweetly at first, then wind kicks in for blizzard-like effect.

1:30 p.m. Back home from laundromat. Barely survived first snowfall, questioning my winter management capacities.

2 p.m. Time to tackle table situation. I moved the futon into the hallway/bike storage driveway. Relocated our 32 X 32” kitchen table plus a fold up card table of similar proportions into the living room where absentee futon lives. Large wood plank was a no go, warped from summer humidity in our uninsulated mudroom/closet. Small wood plank, perfect.

3:30 p.m. 96 X 32” table standing. Held together with various bungee cords in case of animated dinner conversations. I also shoved books along the perimeter of a second wood plank stuck in for extra stability (and to help level out the 1.5” slope from kitchen table to card table) making a flat surface for guests. Little did they know, below their plates and cups and elbows would be an array of fine books and magazines to keep them from becoming swarthy sailors with lurching dinnerware.

3:45 p.m. Chef Leeor arrives with groceries and traditional things and a laid back attitude. Chef stress happens eventually, but starting out the day with it is no good. Leeor had everything under control, especially with J as sous chef! The two of them ready to rock the kitchen released any anxious energy I had.

4 p.m. Hunt down three more chairs from neighbors. Practice sitting in each chair (to make sure it’s actually possible, with human legs and table legs and funny table seams.) Must remember to tell guests: DO NOT MOVE TABLE.

4:30 p.m. Wash nine new thrift store dinner plates and the stack of forks and knives scavenged from thrift adventure.

5 p.m. Dress table with Great Grandma Rose’s lace tablecloth. Napkins, silverware, cups and hostess gifts. Arrange entryway and coat room (our bed) to adequately accomodate 20 snow-covered and wet-jacketed people.

6:25 p.m. Put on holiday hostess jumper.

6:30 p.m. I realize simultaneously that we have 17 guests on the RSVP list, and only 14 settings AND my dish (cheese bourekas) is an appetizer, not dessert. Frantically don the apron while ditching attachments to sit-down civilized dinner contained at one table, and unfold pastry puff dough.

6:45 p.m. Pastry puff dough is not shaped like the bourekas recipe said. Instead of 12 perfect dough squares, I end up with 12 rectangles (which are hard to connect into perfect triangles.) Begin trimming my rectangles down to appropriate square shape.

6:57 p.m. First guest(s) arrive, one of which was not on the RSVP list. Final illusions of control fly out drafty window in the kitchen. I assign Guest One with door duty. Guest Two gets wine bottle opening duty.

7:15 p.m. It seems like a waste to pitch out huge stack of 1 X 2” slabs of puff pastry dough, so I grab my homemade marmalade and improvise a sweet, ravioli like boureka.

8 p.m. Guests seated and happy, a few cancellations dropped the guestlist back into my fork provision range.

10 p.m. Reflection time. Dance party transition. Sparkly Christmas light-up necklace makes dinner party success even sweeter.