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The Secret Ingredient? Great Friends!

Last night I hosted my first dinner party since  moving to the country.  It was an hour drive – each way – for my guests to come here and I am so very grateful that they were willing to brave the elements and share the evening with me.  Despite a comic series of near catastrophes, what a fun evening I had!

The idea of hosting the party came to me when I noted that among the brown paper packages of lamb in my freezer was one marked “roast.”  A whole roast?  How will I ever eat so much meat all on my own?  Roasts are meant for sharing and that is what I wanted to do with this lamb.  This was a celebration roast, a celebration of local food and of winter and of finding meat that came from an animal so well cared for before it went to slaughter that I felt I could eat it without too much inner torture (there is always some, a feeling that continues to grow and disturb me, but I’ll save that for another discussion…).

I initially thought to suggest holding this party in London at one of my friends’ homes so that just one person would do the driving – me – rather than everyone else coming here.  But I really wanted to share this lovely home I currently live in, especially the gorgeous view, beach proximity and welcoming woodstove.  It really is a perfect space for winter celebration.

Anyone who has read this journal even somewhat regularly will have gathered that I am not the most accomplished cook, and also that I lack confidence in my culinary skills.  For years the thought of cooking for others terrified me, and I am still left uneasy by the prospect. However, the point of this evening was not to show off my cooking skills but rather to have friends come together and talk and have fun.  Food is the glue that binds us, that brings us together.  My ideal is to cook together, and then share in what we created.  As such I proposed a pot-luck (and also to make sure that there would be at least something edible at the table).

The first minor catastrophe happened around noon.  I had taken the roast out of the freezer 36 hours before to make sure it was well defrosted, putting it in the fridge once ready.  At noon I took it out to weight it and take a closer look at it. The recipes I had been reading called from between 15-30 minutes (resulting in rare to well done) per pound.  The roast weighed 5lbs, requiring less than two hours to cook for medium rare.  Perfect, I thought, I’ll put it in the oven at 4:45pm and we’ll be eating by seven.

Then I unwrapped it.  Uh oh – what on earth was this thing?  It didn’t look like a roast to me.  For one it was full of ribs, had part of a leg and part of a spine.  Ick.  This didn’t look like any roast I’d ever seen before!  I called the people I bought it from and asked for clarification.  The response was “you defrosted the shoulder roast? Oh dear.  The leg is considered the roast of choice.”

Great.  Five hours before people were showing up and I was without an entrée.  There was no defrosting the leg roasts (which I found sitting next to where I had grabbed the shoulder roast from).  Darn it. (this was not the word I used at the time)

Deciding that I had to make due, and also knowing there would be plenty of good food coming in case this roast was a disaster, I got on the internet and did some research.  After reading a few options, I selected this recipe.  It was extremely simple, but required four hours for cooking.  Oh dear.  It was already 1pm and I still needed to run to the store to pick up a few things necessary for this recipe (specifically, the rosemary and capers), as well as a few other items for the party (such as wine, which I was beginning to suspect would be much needed).  Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t a 30 minute drive each way to the store.  There’s no just ‘popping out’ to the corner store around here.

Off I dashed, and home I arrived by 3:30.  That would mean dinner at 7:30-7:45.  Ok, not terrible.  There will be plenty of appetizers to tide people over.

The roast was in the oven by 3:45, at which point I realized that people would be arriving in just over an hour and I was in track pants and the house was a disaster.  I cleaned, I vacuumed, I rushed around and tidied myself up.  I put out several bottles of wine, figuring that if all else failed, at least people could drink wine and eat chips and that would keep them in a good mood!

Now, where was that wine opener?

People arrived shortly after 5pm.  Fortunately these are very good friends who know me well enough to expect that I won’t be organized, and will likely need help.  Quite frankly, hosting a dinner party on your own is a tremendous amount of work.  It’s been about a year since the last time I did this and I was quickly remembering why.  Without a partner, there is no one to send to the store while you make soup, there is no one who can vaccuum while you chop veggies, there is no one to walk the dogs while you set the table.  My grandmother always sets the table the night before a dinner party, but I was in Waterloo on Friday for a meeting and got home after a 12 hour day and went straight to bed.  My Thursday was similarly exhausting.

To  make things a little more challenging, one set of guests had to cancel at the last minute due to an attack of the stomach flu.  That meant one less dish.  I decided I needed to make something else, a winter veggie soup.  Did I mention it was 6pm?  So much for eating by 7!  Throwing Miss Manners out the window, I put my poor guests to work.  They rolled up their sleeves, washed dishes from my first round of cooking, chopped veggies, and worked at assembling the stereo.  To keep them happy, I offered drinks.  Drat, where did that wine opener go?

The stereo refused to work.  In storage for the last 8 months, it obviously decided that sitting silent was its new favourite thing.  Try as we all might, there was no getting it to play a CD. (Great, another repair expense!).  As for the wine bottle opener, we had no luck finding that either.  Then I vaguely recalled my roommate having the same problem this summer and asking friends to bring one along.  Too late for that.

Crap, crap, crap.  This is why I don’t entertain!  I went up to my bedroom, certain I had seen a wine bottle opener somewhere at some point.  Remember how I mentioned that my bedroom is getting out of control with disorder?  You should see it now.  I rooted around, pulled stuff out of deep storage, looked in my toolbox, and scratched my head.

About to resign myself to a complete disaster of an evening, I noticed the bottle opener sitting on a little side table.  What on earth it was doing there I’ll never know, but at least we had a way to get at the booze.

This was the turning point for the evening and from here on in, things went well.  Wine started flowing, as did music from an old boom-box in the kitchen.  Soup was soon bubbling away and by 6:45 everyone was in the living room nibbling on yummy appetizers and drinking and talking.  And laughing, and laughing.  Dinner wasn’t ready until 8:15 (sorry guys!) but I think it turned out quite well.  The lamb recipe surpassed all expectations, and the veggie dishes were very tasty too.  One friend brought a white bean dish that I am absolutely going to have to get the recipe for.  Yum yum!  Desert was fantastic artisan chocolates which went perfectly with a bottle of Taylor Fladgate I splurged on while in town.

While I was pleased with how the food turned out (that lamb recipe – a complete gamble – was seriously awesome), what really made the evening so wonderful for me was how much fun it was.  Everyone pitched in to help get the meal on the table and conversation flowed as easily as the wine.  What I had hoped for had come to be: a gathering of friend, centered around cooking and sharing good food and great conversation.

Maybe I’ll try doing this more often after all.


4 Responses

  1. That lamb recipe looks FANTASTIC..infact my mouth watered slightly when I saw the pictures.. my vegan New Years resolution might just have to be broken!

    • If the lamb ate nothing but grass…. doesn’t that make it kind of vegan? 😉

      Good luck with that resolution. I would love to be vegan, or at least vegetarian, but a strictly local diet depends too much on animal protein this time of year. I can survive mostly on fruit and veggies and grains in the summer and fall, but by deep winter the pickings are very slim. This is an issue I continue to grapple with…

  2. Glad the recipe turned out well for you and helped you settle into in your new house!

    • Well thanks so much for having posted it! That recipe saved the day, and will definitely be used again, and again! I’ve been enjoying the leftovers all week, and they’re just as yummy 🙂

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