Thursday, 10 August 2017
We have a whole bunch of Significant Birthdays this year. On Saturday, a crowd of our Very Best Friends (apart from the far flung ones and those who are thoughtlessly away on holiday) are descending on the house to help us celebrate M's 50th. Are you having caterers? I hear you cry. No. Are you sensibly buying everything in from Cook or somewhere similar then? I hear you ask next. No.
No. In my wisdom, I have decided to make everything from scratch. So that's copious numbers of tuna and tomato quiches with marjoram and balsamic vinegar, vast vats of potato salad with apple, celery and shallots in a mustard mayo dressing (thank you, Mary Berry), a selection of cold meats and pate (OK, I haven't made these from scratch but I've still had to agonise over them- which ones to get, when to get them, how much should I get of each type, will that be enough for a bunch of (mainly) people with enormous runner's appetites), four loaves of warmed french bread (ditto not making but time-consuming in the thinking and planning bit) and bowls of watercress and sliced cucumber (we have grown the cucumbers- does that count as putting in the extra effort?). Pudding-wise it's trifle (easy to make and can be done the day before and shoved in the frigde), white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake (Mrs Berry again), two treacle tarts (Nigel), a raspberry meringue cake (got the recipe ages ago on one of those waitrose foodie cards and it's very good, ever-so-simple to make but looks satisfyingly impressive so shh, we won't tell any of the guests that). My worry is though, is that too many raspberries? Should I change it to strawberry meringue cake instead- thoughts please?. I'm also doing a fluttering of meringues to use up the whites from the trifle custard (see, everything made from scratch), and two big tins of chocolate brownies.
I've bought the booze and the soft drinks and M is in charge of the beer, which will be his own homebrew (needless to say it's lethal) and some other stuff. Modestly, I am not currently drinking so I expect to be the only sober one present. The photographs will be good.
I've been planning all this for days (while M has been busy wafting about in the heat with J in Italy looking for digs for her for this September). On Monday, not being able to walk far thanks to post half-marathon-Quadruceps-From-Hell (which saw me walking backwards down the stairs on both Monday and Tuesday, much to the bemusement of the dogs - Poppy sat on the second-from-top stair watching me with her head on one side and a curious look on her face), I sat down at the kitchen table with paper and pen and worked all the logistics out.
The whole of this week has been mapped with jobs to do on certain days. I'm halfway through the cooking. I went shopping after my run this morning and got most of the rest of the stuff that I didn't get on Monday because it was too early for things like cream to last. I also counted up the cutlery and annoyingly realised we were four knives short so I had to go and get those today too. How does that happen? How can a kitchen keep hold of its full compliment of forks while losing four knives mysteriously on the way?
I'm making chocolate brownies this afternoon (resisting the temptation to eat any when they're all warm and gooey and squidgy and tempting) because they'll sit happily in a tin till Saturday, before driving to the train station to collect sun-burnt returning husband and thoroughly over-excited daughter, then tomorrow I've got to make the cheesecake and trifle (the fruit goes on on Sat to avoid pre-party bleeding - sounds awful!) and meringues. Saturday (after Parkrun, of course), I'll do the meringue cake, the potato salad, clean the house, sort the music playlist, move the furniture around because we're in the kitchen half of the house to keep the Gods Of New Carpets In The Sitting Room (mainly me) happy, dig out napkins, wash the cutlery and plates, collect the on-loan glasses from Waitrose, buy the fruit to decorate the various puddings, remember to defrost the quiches and bread, pick fresh raspberries from our canes to make a coulis (get me), wash the dogs (because you can guarantee both will have rolled in something unspeakable that morning. I always allow extra time for unseen-emergencies pre-parties. This has been learnt through bitter experience. When I was two my parents were hosting a dinner party and ten minutes before the guests arrived I did a poo under the table. Another time, my mother was busy making a chocolate chip cheesecake for a supper they were hosting for some important work colleagues when one of the cats jumped on the surface and spilt cat biscuits all over the place. They looked just like the chocolate chips and got mixed in with them.....you've guessed what happened (luckily, people commented on how lovely and crunchy the chocolate chips were. I had to leave the room), and a third time Poppy was sick on one of the chair cushions half an hour before M's boss, who'd come to supper, was due to sit on it - so you'll see why I always factor in an allowance for worst-case-scenarios), hoover the floor and try and make myself look vaguely presentable. I have no idea what I'm going to wear. Most unlike me. I've had no time to think about it. Of course, a large proportion of the guests are runners and it's Mo Farah's 5000m final slap bang in the middle of everything so I envisage a brief 15-minite recess to decamp into aforementioned freshly-carpetted sitting room to watch him race. Let's hope the carpet survives. With two dogs, three teenagers and a husband with a tendency to wander in with his gardening shoes on I'm fighting a losing battle with it, I know. It's only a matter of time before somebody drops something disgusting and permanent on it. Last time we had a new carpet fitted (after dithering about doing so for ten years so the kids could get older before we treated ourselves to one) Poppy weed on it within half an hour of the fitter leaving.
I haven't organised the parking yet. Our drive, while reasonably roomy, won't fit everyone in, so we've signs to make to direct guests elsewhere. Living on a country lane means there's no lighting and that puddles/ mud/ ditches/ crumbly edges of tarmac are more or less permanent hazards that exist specifically to catch out rural virgins, these are of course in addition to the badger latrine on the verge just down from the house which I noticed the other day is back in use, one might go so far as to say comprehensively so, as well as the occasional toad waddling underfoot trying to get from the ditch on one side to the lake on the other, and owls who like to sit in the trees above our gate and hoot loudly and without warning. Even I jump at them sometimes and I know this is a favourite game of theirs. There is also a very good chance that our local Vixen will be out too, screaming like a murder victim being strangled in the background. I think most of the guests are familiar enough with the way we live by now to know to bring shoes to change in to and torches to dispel any nightmarish nighttime myths and apparitions, but some of them haven't been here before.....
The last time we threw a big bash here it was fancy dress (you may remember we had everything from a haggis to several fairies and an elf turn up). A group of our chums shared a taxi from Romsey. The driver collected them, drove them here, dropped them off, picked them up at 1am and drove them back home without saying a single word about what they were all wearing, but when we had another do (not fancy dress this time) a few months later a different driver from the same firm remarked on the tameness of the dress code. Lord knows what they have written down next to our address :o)
By Sunday I shall either be a) exhausted or b) champing to get out for a nice, long, cleansing run.
Hope all are well?