Farewell Cincinnati–THREE “Dinner Parties” in Four Days!
Somehow, I managed to throw two consecutive dinner parties for the price of one, and then a third two days later.
(If you invited five people and only one shows up, does that still count as a “dinner party?” I say hell yes.)
(Oh, yeah… if the food for the second party is only appetizers and booze, does that count? But of course, darlin’!)
First of all, betcha didn’t know that I used to write a food column for Streetvibes, which is an award-winning street paper published by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. (My column will be back starting next month!) My sweetie Andrew used to be the paper’s chief photographer, and has won an award as well. Such talent!
The week before last, Andy and I met up with the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Greg Flannery, and invited him over for dinner on Thursday the 28th ’cause he’s cool and so I could test my (second) recipe of the week on him.
Long story short… Greg was bringing a friend, and we later invited another person from Streetvibes, who asked if she could bring her two children. It’s like I blinked and suddenly I was going to be cooking for SEVEN people.
To fully get my money’s worth out of my Vegan Yum Yum cookbook, I decided to use it for the second time since bringing it home the previous weekend. This time I would try the Pad See Ew (which I have no idea how to pronounce), because it looked easy enough and was in keeping with the unofficial Asian-food theme for the week.
Andy and I planned and shopped and got the apartment ready, buzzing with nervous energy. Most of Thursday afternoon was spent making appetizers, which was fun. Creativity was just oozing, baby!! I’m very proud of myself for coming up with the appetizers on my own–a bunch of radishes in the bottom of the ‘frige turned into Smoky Radish-Tempeh Butter, which was awesome on crackers…
At the Party Source, where we got booze and cups, I got some shelled, salted edamame that I thought would make a lovely appetizer. Andrew nixed that idea because he said the children might not be as into snacking on soybeans as I am. Hmph. So I chopped them up, mixed them with minced seitan, mushrooms and garlic, and made Seitan, Edamame and Mushroom Wontons.
(Vegan Yum Yum has instructions for assembling wontons, you know… okay, I swear this post will be the last time I mention that cookbook! Well, maybe. It’s my new BFF.)
Meanwhile, I pressed and marinated tofu in a thrown-together peanut sauce for the Pad See Ew. (The recipe called for seitan, but the kind I bought–WestSoy, as I mentioned in the last post–was so blah that I figured it would be better in the wontons.)
Our guests were scheduled to arrive at 7:00. At about 6:40, I got a call from Greg–he was running late. I still wasn’t quite ready so his call made me breathe a sigh of relief.
Mostly there were logistical concerns to worry about. For example, the table in our temporary abode seats four, so we borrowed a much larger table from the building’s community room. But were there enough chairs?
Before we had time to look for more seating, Jenni, the other friend we invited with her two children, called at 6:45. Her daughter sprained her ankle, she said, so they wouldn’t be able to come. Aaaaagh!
Thank you, Andrew, for remaining calm, helping me move the big table back into the community room, and fixing me a martini.
A few minutes later, Greg arrived… if he was late I didn’t notice.
But he was by himself!
His friend broke her foot.
I don’t even know what to say. It’s like I blinked and suddenly I was going to be cooking for THREE people.
But our party of three was fun anyway. I made the Pad See Ew with Chinese broccoli–another favorite veggie of mine–along with garlic, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, and tofu.
Though not as flavorful as the previous VYY recipe I tried, we all enjoyed this dish. I was already buzzed by the time I started cooking (I heart vodka) so maybe I goofed up somewhere with the measurements…? Who knows?
Vodka happiness also kept me from frying many of the wontons. I fried a few in a large pot with peanut oil, then sat down to chat with Greg and Andy for a few, laughing and joking and being generally adorable.
All of a sudden, Andy looks up and gasps–the oil is smoking! Oops, forgot to turn the burner off. No big deal, I just almost caused a grease fire, that’s all.
Aside from the fact that he just doesn’t eat enough (ha), Greg was a great guest and it was wonderful to get to know him better. The three of us talked about travel and religion, while Greg practiced using his chopsticks… (“Oh, just use your emergency fork, Greg!” I teased at one point.)
When 4/5 of your dinner party cancels and you’re still happy at the end of the evening, it was a good party. :)
Though I made sure to send Greg home with leftovers, we still had plenty of wontons left, as well as marinated tofu, some apricot-ginger sauce I made just because, etc. The next day was Friday–Final Friday, to be exact.
Final Friday is a monthly art gallery hop held on–yep–the last Friday of the month in Over-the-Rhine, within walking distance of us. I knew my friends Brittany and Amber were already attending, and that they are always up for food and alcohol. Another friend, an art model named Julia, recently moved downtown. Hmmm. Maybe having a few friends over from 5:30 to 7 wouldn’t be so bad…?
At 1:30 on Friday, I sent text messages and posted an invite on Facebook: “Alecia’s Super Last-Minute PRE-FINAL FRIDAY Open House!“
Leisurely, between phone calls and peeks at Twitter, I made more Radish-Tempeh Butter and chopped up the apricots and tofu to use as filling for gyoza wrappers.
I’m starting to see the appeal of Iron Chef, from the chef’s point of view–the pressure to impress people with your culinary skills, in a limited amount of time with a limited amount of food makes you get creative real quick. I looked at what was available and the ideas flowed, whereas if I’d been standing in the middle of a supermarket I’d have no idea what to serve.
By 5:30, I wasn’t even close to being ready, but figured everything would be easy with just appetizers and booze…?
Brit and Amber arrived at 6:30ish, followed by Julia and her friend Sandy a few minutes later. I realized that I am simply unable to entertain and deep-fry stuff at the same time. (Fry-Daddy??) I wanted to make the wontons and my new concoction, Tofu and Apricot Gyozas, in small batches so they wouldn’t be sitting around getting cold and soggy. But that meant I had to run back and forth to the stove, turn the burners on and off, watch the frying food to make sure it didn’t burn, etc., all while trying not to neglect my guests.
HAHAHAHAAAAAA!!! At times I felt so frazzled! All the running back and forth and trying to talk to everyone at once. And again I have to thank Andy for conversing with everyone while I was in the kitchen, even pulling out his laptop so he could show Julia and Sandy some travel pictures. He’s a pro at dinner parties.
The party lasted longer than intended, which was fine by me because it was great to catch up with everyone; I hadn’t seen any of these ladies since October (at least!). No offense to my manly-man Andy, but it was nice to have other women around.
And I think everyone liked the food. People kept grabbing the wontons and gyozas as soon as I set them on the table, before they had a chance to cool off, thus burning their mouths when they took a bite–kinda funny to watch. Both food and booze were gone by the end of our gathering–no leftovers! Yesss!
“So, when’s the cookbook coming out?” Brittany joked. Something to think about… :)
After everyone left, I ended up going to Julia’s new place for a bit and found out about her phenomenal sock monkeys! Her arty-craftiness makes me crazy jealous–she works with an art gallery, she knits, she sews, she has cool hair.
On Sunday, I made Rigatoni with Fresh Grape Tomato Sauce for our friends Jay and Cathy… Do I even have to tell you where the recipe came from? Sheesh.
Jay and Cathy are amazing people. Despite the fact that they have three kids and two dogs and their lives are naturally a bit chaotic, they’ve been so helpful to Andrew and me, especially while we’ve been out of the country. They accept mail and packages for him, kept his car in their garage, and store his stuff in their basement. I just wanted to do something nice for them to say thanks. Food, why of course!
Preparing for our next trip, Andy needed to pick up some stuff from their house, which gave us an excuse to go over there–and for me to make lunch for them.
(Does this count as a dinner party? There were balloons–leftover from their son’s birthday party a few days before–so I say yes.)
Cooking in their kitchen was…not fun. Not that there’s anything wrong with their kitchen–on the contrary, it’s a clean, spacious, well-equipped, homey kitchen. But it usually takes me at least two days to get the feel of a kitchen before I truly feel comfortable cooking in it, especially if I’m cooking for “strangers.” Don’t ask me why.
Also, I had this crazy idea that I’d just swoop in, take over, make the food, and let Cathy relax with her feet up in the living room until lunch was served. As if I were her personal chef. But I was too flustered to be trusted alone with sharp objects, and it showed. Cathy kept asking if I needed help with anything (how dare she?), and I kept saying no no no… until I finally admitted defeat and said yes. Then I felt bad for putting Cathy to work, which defeated the entire purpose of my cooking in the first place.
(Maybe next time I’ll bring homemade muffins and call it a day…?)
So this certainly wasn’t the best dish I’d ever made, and I’d like to blame the reasons above. The pasta was overdone, the sauce was extremely tart. The fact that Jay and Cathy were eating this mediocre dish made me cringe–how will I ever turn them into vegans with food like this? haha
It’s the thought that counts, right?
That was our last night in Cincinnati. The next day Andrew and I started our road trip to DENVER!
Why Denver? It’s a large city, close to the west coast, it’s sunnier (though not necessarily warmer) than Cincinnati, there are mountains and fresh(er) air and lots of outdoor activities…
We were thinking about leaving the US again, but we’ve missed it too much. Also, in Europe I felt slightly embarrassed that quite a few of the people I spoke to knew my country better than I did. So, I’ve been pushing for weeks to go on a road trip across our great nation to take a break from flying.
We’ll be back to visit Cincinnati, but probably not nearly as long–a week, tops. It’s time to find a new home.
I’m grateful that I got to say goodbye to and cook for some of the people we care about. I’m a woman of few words (when I’m speaking, that is) so cooking is a way to show my affection. And it makes me feel alive and needed and important.
Goodbye, City of Seven Hills.
Hello, Mile-High City…my name is Bang-Bang.