The secret is in the preparation

So last week I was chatting with my family, and before I knew it I was offering to host Easter brunch at my house.  How do these things happen?  One minute you’re just shooting the breeze, the next you’re saying “Hey, why doesn’t everyone just come to my place?  I’ll organize everything!” as though you’ve been running a catering company your whole life.

Thankfully I had the advantage of the long weekend to which I had been looking forward for a while.  Now I had opened my big mouth, the planned four days of sitting around the house in pyjamas catching up on the antics of Charlie Brown and the Easter Beagle were officially out the window.  I rolled up my sleeves and began the task of tackling the garden to accommodate a dozen people.  Lynne’s newly acquired “fixer-upper” speedboat was up on blocks in the backyard so it was going to take some delicate maneuvering, fitting tables and chairs in an area that would not a) Be hit by direct sunlight; and b) Be enveloped by the faint smell of diesel thanks to the breeze wafting past the boat engine in their direction.  I had to buy a new patio umbrella (ka-CHING) as the previous incarnation had snapped in two when I left it up through the last cold front, and decided to add a shade sail (ka-CHING ka-CHING) for good measure.  Oo…and then I could get tablecloths, and placemats, and Easter baskets…

On Saturday it was time for some research.  How often do I entertain and create incredible dishes at home from scratch?  I had to Google salad recipes.  After making a shopping list three pages long it was time to hit the supermarkets.  I had foolishly not grouped the items by category in my list, so I found myself moving haphazardly between aisles, visiting and revisiting the same sections trying to make my way completely inefficiently through the recipe requirements.  One of the salads called for one-eighth teaspoon celery seed.  The only small jar I found cost over five dollars.  Seriously??  Was it really going to make all the difference?  Was everyone going to drop their spoons in disgust shouting “Where-oh-where is the celery seed?”  Would I ever use this stuff again?  Despite all the reasoning going around in my head, I couldn’t stop myself from throwing it in the cart on top of a growing mountain of groceries.  Steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs.  Suppose someone didn’t really want beef?  Chicken, salmon, cheese…  It was like the opposite of the loaves and fishes miracle come to life.  I had enough to feed five thousand where five loaves and two fish probably would have been ample.

My first indication that I may have gone a smidge over the top was when the bagger at the register suggested I get a second cart to handle all my purchases.  As the cashier merrily rang it all up and the total climbed like a trouper, I seriously began to rethink the celery seed, but it was too late – it had already made it into the safety zone and was being placed in a bag.  The seed would live to fight another day.  As we pushed my mortgage payment out the door I wondered if perhaps I had bought too much…

That afternoon it was Preparation in Advance Time.  I would not be caught panicking on Sunday morning as I had on many occasions past.  This time I would assemble as many dishes as I could the day before, thus transforming myself from a harried amateur into a Martha Stewart clone.  Potatoes and eggs boiled on the stovetop whilst an apple pie baked in the oven.  Horseradish Sauce:  Done.  Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Done.  Strawberries washed and halved:  Done.  By the time I had to get ready for my weekly stint hosting karaoke at Fidel Murphy’s, I had egg salad, sauces, dressings and potatoes cooling in the fridge.  I was a legend.

Several bad renditions of popular songs later, I was home and ready to complete my potato salad.  The clock ticked past midnight as I methodically chopped and cubed the chilled potatoes.  The really bright move was tackling the One Whole Onion whilst still in full makeup.  It didn’t take long for the fumes to waft up, rendering me completely blind as Maybelline’s finest ran like thick black paint into my weeping eyes.  I reached out in front of me and slowly felt my way to the nearest sink, flushing everything out of my burning orbs.  I made an executive order to go with One Half Onion to avoid permanent damage.  In went the mayonnaise and peppers; mix, mix, mix; and finally I made a space in a fridge full-to-bursting for the bowl of potato salad big enough to bury a Buick.

On the day itself I was calm and collected.  The tablecloths and placemats didn’t end up exactly as I’d pictured them, as every time I tried to arrange them, a strong gust of wind gaily thrust them into a merry dance.  Tape and mid-sized rocks held them down to an extent, but they would not stay still.  I gave up on the idea of my vase of lovely flowers taking centre stage as someone would have ended up with a faceful of daisies early in the proceedings.

Despite the smoke from the BBQ outside setting off the fire alarm inside and more leftovers than the food actually consumed, it ended up being a fabulous day.  The umbrella remained in one piece, the shade sail did its job, and the company of family and friends made it a wonderful event.  My best moment of it all?  My friend Carol who is definitely a Hostess with the Mostess saying without a hint of her usual sarcasm “I gotta tell ya kid, I don’t know what happened to you, but you did a great job and everything tasted wonderful.”

I think next time I’ll invite 20 people.  Ask me after I’ve finished with the dishwasher.

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