Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Good Time Was Had By All

You will allow me a bit of a smug, good feeling today.  These higher-than-normal highs are always interrupted by life's normal bumps and bruises, so I promise this one won't go to my head.  But our inaugural North Carolina party last night was damn good!

Not that some major adjustments didn't become necessary as the hours leading to the event wore on.  Early in the morning there was a true disaster:  one of the cakes I had made a week or so before and frozen--the chocolate one--slipped out of my hand as I picked it up off the counter and landed, splat, face down, on the floor.  Unfortunately, it had thawed out, in all its moist, oil-and-buttermilk richness.  Not only did I have a hideous brown-black mess to clean up, but I had to whip up a duplicate and fast--it had been promised as a surprise to mark the birthday of one of the guests.  Thank God the day was still young.

The purpose of the party was to show off the new deck, so we were all set up for outside.  Zero hour was 4 PM.  At 3:30, the heavens opened and a downpour ensued that lasted most of the rest of the evening.  As the first drops fell, we switched gears and set up inside, moving the dining room table up against a wall to create buffet space, clearing coffee and end tables of their knick-knacks to make room for plates and cups, and moving chairs to unaccustomed places so lots of people could sit more-or-less convivially.

We learned several useful lessons.  One: we will never, ever, plan another outdoor party here for the middle of summer.  It's too hot and the weather is too iffy.  It's enough like the tropics to expect a thunderstorm in the afternoon, as if it were a "rainy season," but it's still temperate enough not to guarantee such a storm, so you're never really sure what it's going to do before it's done.  Two: the house has room for 30+ people to mill about and feel comfortable.  As hosts we sometimes had to break up groups who gathered in crucial spots next to the oven, say, or who blocked a thoroughfare, but that was the worst of it.  Any more than the number we had would be a bit on the sardine side, but we'll probably never encounter that problem.  (And besides, we want to graduate from these cattle-call get-togethers to smaller, more intimate dinners.  I take it that isn't done here very much, but I think it's because people have been intimidated by one guy in particular who fancies himself a "gourmet" and apparently has dinner gatherings that include all the starch of a nun's habit.  Not fun.  I cook good food--sometimes even fancy--but I'm more in the Julia Child tradition.  If the souffl√© falls I'll serve it, call it a savory pudding, and pass the wine.)

And three, not least:  we have some pretty great neighbors.  I don't know the religious or political beliefs of a single one of them and I hope it stays that way.  Though none of these people are native to the area, they seem to have been infected with the wonderful local habit of smiling and waving first, inviting friendship rather than argument.  You quickly grow accustomed to greeting a group of strangers in a waiting room, say, as they look up and smile as you enter.  That really is the biggest and most pleasant surprise we've had here--how everyone is just plain nice.  It's a quality that makes for a really fun party.

Oh. And the food, especially the pork, was a hit.  And that chocolate cake? To quote one guest: "The best chocolate cake I've ever had!"  I saw no reason to mention that I'd had extra practice.

12 comments:

nan said...

sounds perfect, Ralph!

Peewit said...

I have been quiet of late as I have been busy but it's just typical that I go away for the weekend and come back to two posts. Like London buses you wait for ages then they all come at once!

I'm now going to go quiet again as I'm off to Venice supporting my Daughter's orchestra tour there. I'll catch up on the blog in Early Agust

Ralph said...

It's either feast or famine in these parts, Peewit, though I am getting more chances to write these days. You do such cool things with your family! Venice must be old hat to you by now...enjoy.

Perovskia said...

That is so awesome! I loved this post. There's something to be said for a successful party (kudos on whipping up another cake!). I love the Julia Child outlook; amen to that.

And think of it this way, you won't plan an outside party, so when you plan it inside and it's nice weather out, it'll be a bonus to have that extra space, should you need it (but between you and me, I like smaller, more intimate gatherings as well).

Ralph said...

Agreed, Perovskia. We have to do what's done here so we'll always have at least one big neighborhood party a year. But I'm more partial to smaller get togethers.

Paula said...

Please share your chocolate cake and pork recipes. In many respects we share relocation experiences. I've gotten to know and even like many of my neighbors, despite our political, social and religous differences, because they are so warm and welcoming. You chose the water, we chose the bike trail, and by doing so we ended up in seemingly conservative enclaves. It sure ain't the 60's no more, but we ain't in our 20's either. Laissez les bons temps roulet!

Ralph said...

Beautifully said, Paula. And it's really true that I don't know the politics of anybody here except one guy. He's somebody who forwards ugly emails. Lately thought I think he's gotten feedback, from me, for sure, and perhaps from others, and he's going out of his way to be friendly. We always did like him and his wife and were disappointed to get those stupid messages. It's very different here from DC where everyone is so politically attuned, it being a company town. And it's pleasant.

Here's the pulled pork recipe: http://daysoftransition.blogspot.com/2009/06/food-friday_12.html

And here's the chocolate cake. It's from Ina Garten, who in turn credits somebody named Beatty: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beattys-chocolate-cake-recipe/index.html I made a chocolate cream cheese icing for it. Just for good measure, here's my carrot cake, which I also served at the party: http://daysoftransition.blogspot.com/2009/03/food-friday_13.html

Marchbanks said...

I don't remember whether you have pecan trees on your property, but if you do, keep an eye out for windfall branches. Since it's related to hickory, pecan wood makes excellent smoker fuel. Pecans are what someone I know calls "self-pruning," and I've fed my smoker for years on wind-fallen pecan branches.

Ralph said...

Marchbanks, thanks for the idea. We don't have a pecan here, but it would be worth a try. Climate change may just make it possible this far north. (Might as well make the best of it....)

Helen said...

Hi there! I once dropped a turkey, stuffed and ready to consume, on the floor ... I wish it had been a cake!

Mim said...

Ralph,
Thanks for the recipe links.. love your pulled pork recipe.How does the heat in NC compare to DC heat?
We are burning up here in central VA... perennials, garden, other shrubs in big trouble... little rain. Hope you are enjoying the water there off your property.

Ralph said...

Hello, Mim! Nice to hear from you. I think the summer weather here is about the same as in DC, basically hot and humid. But we feel more exposed to it here, I think because even though we are on a very wooded lot, the area where the house was built was cleared and has no trees. The deck is wonderful because it provides an unobstructed view of the water, but that lack of obstruction means there are no trees between us and the water to provide some shade. As a result, the deck is unusable during the middle of a summer day. And with all the glass on the house, you can actually "see" all the humidity--in the morning the glass is literally dripping with condensation.

We do get out a couple of times a week for a boat ride, though...