Who needs fireworks when you’ve got 45 pieces of BBQ chicken?
In a momentary lapse of sanity, John and I decided we should host a party on July 3. We have a new house, we’re getting married…plus everyone would have the next day off! So much to celebrate! The problem? July 3 was the day after we’d be returning from a 5-day camping trip. We can do it, we told ourselves. We’ll divide and conquer, keep the menu simple, and just have fun! No pressure!
I know myself better than that. Before we even left for Montana, I had a party grocery list written out. During our trip, the few times I checked my email revealed that, surprisingly, just about everyone on the invite list was available and excited to party with us! As I added up the ever-growing headcount, there was a tiny pang of ‘UH OH’ in my gut. This was going to be a big one.
What do I do when I feel overwhelmed? I make lists! I love lists. Lists make everything manageable. Lists keep my thoughts in order. Lists feel good when you cross things off of them. I made some lists (what to do the night before the party, what to do on party day, which stores to go to for which items, etc.) and by the time we pulled Betty into the driveway on Monday afternoon, I was a girl on a mission.
One of my lists was simply the menu:
- John’s spicy BBQ chicken
- Corn on the cob
- Greek pasta salad
- Caprese salad
- Assorted cheeses, fruit, crackers, baguette, dips for snacking
- My famous key lime pie (yes, famous)
- My also famous ice-cream sammies
And how could I forget the Honey-Ginger Sparkling Lemonade with Rosemary that has become a staple in my household? It would be the perfect summertime cocktail mixer!
Don’t ask how long the grocery list was.
Let’s just say that by the time I got home, I wanted nothing more than to put my feet up and pour a fat glass of wine. Well, I did the latter, anyway…and hit the kitchen.
My two goals for the night were to bake two key lime pies and shuck all of the corn… the rest could be saved for Party Day.
People freak out about this pie. I started making it years ago, from store-bought key lime juice. Since then, I’ve gotten the ratios down and sometimes use a combo of fresh citrus juice. Instead of the classic cream topping, I top it with fresh fruit- whatever looks good. The “key” (hehe) to a killer key lime pie a la Amber is a homemade graham cracker crust. (I add stuff to make it magical. No, I won’t tell you what.)
The pies cooling, I started in on the pile of corn. It didn’t take long to shuck 25 ears, and I paused in the middle for some dinner and more wine.
I fell asleep with a big bowl of lemons on my mind.
Party Day! I got up early (gag) and got to work. I was so focused, that I had a batch of cookies in the oven before I had a cup of coffee in my hand. (This frightened John.) In between baking espresso chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate chip toffee cookies, I decorated the pies.
I always think they are so gorgeous when complete!
I was making good progress on the desserts, but my “things to make” list still included the homemade lemonade, Greek pasta salad, and caprese salad. I started boiling water for the pasta and sipped my coffee. Was it really only 9:15am?
This pasta is easy, yummy, and can be served hot OR cold. I like to use pasta with shapes, like fusilli (corkscrew). Once the pasta is boiled, you simply stir in the prepped ingredients. They are:
- Sundried tomatoes (in herbed oil), chopped
- Garbanzo beans
- Kalamata or green olives, sliced (I used the pre-pitted ones and this time, feta-stuffed)
- Fresh spinach, chopped
- Fresh mint, chopped
- Crumbled feta cheese
- Lemon juice
I use the oil in the sundried tomatoes to coat the noodles. Pre-seasoned for you! I add in garlic salt, crushed red pepper, and cracked black pepper. This dish is always a hit and it’s so simple to make- two thumbs up!
I spent the next hour squeezing lemons, wondering why making a double batch of fresh lemonade seemed like a smart idea on such a busy day. (It would become clear later when people made fabulous cocktails with it and I was rewarded with multiple variations of “YUM!”)
I decided to save the caprese salad until right before the party, so all that remained in the food department was assembling the ice cream sammies. I had two kinds of cookies, cooled and stacked. I had vanilla bean ice cream and also a new favorite, Three Twins’ Sea Salted Caramel. I like to wrap them individually so that they stay intact in the freezer as they firm up again. It’s also easy to walk around the party with a tray of them and let people just grab their favorite flavor. The process isn’t tricky, but you have to work fast.
- Step one- lay out a square of plastic wrap.
- Step two- smear a big scoop of ice cream on a cookie
- Step three- top it with another cookie and SMOOSH
- Step four- wrap it in plastic wrap and stick immediately in the freezer
Yum, right?! I used to make larger cookies which meant bigger sammies, but I always ended up cutting them in half. I believe the espresso chocolate chunk cookies with the sea salted caramel ice cream was the combination of choice this time. (Drool.)
John had his own list for the day, which mostly included the BAR area and his delicious and spicy BBQ chicken. It’s a multi-step process for chicken perfection, so with such a big batch to grill, he got a head start. First he seasoned and roasted the chicken in the oven (to be grilled later), and then he moved on to his secret sauce. I was reminded that I cannot divulge the exact recipe.
I spent a little time making sure the house was prepped for the fiesta. For the kids, I picked up some sidewalk chalk. How fun! Despite the lack of landscaping just yet, we had plenty of seating out back, in front, and lots of space inside.
I prepped all of the appetizers and sliced up the caprese salad components- heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. A drizzle of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, a little cracked pepper…Summer on a plate!
I’m happy to report that we got everything on our lists done- I was slicing the baguette as the first guest arrived. The party was a huge success– plenty of good drinks, awesome food, happy kids, and laughing grown-ups. A beer or two may have been shotgunned. The only casualty was one broken shot glass (and the tiny pink sandal that Cholula destroyed). Not bad for 35 people! As predicted, people freaked about the pie- and the chicken. I met a few new fun people. There were no fireworks due to the ban, but no one noticed.
John and I ended the night where we usually do- in front of the record player. I like to sit with my last glass of wine and peel through the albums, carefully selecting the perfect playlist.
In the morning, a tentative walk downstairs revealed that hosting big parties NOW is very different than a decade ago. Most trash was thrown away, dirty dishes were stacked near the sink, and the house was relatively in tact! We must be grown up. Then we walked outside to discover a chalk-written love note.
Not a bad way to start the day after.