|Grandma in her kitchen, 1951|
I know not everyone will think this sounds like a charming relic from the bucolic past. But my mother's memories aren't of harried aunts swirling around a hot kitchen, or of stale gatherings she was anxious to escape. She remembers the parties as lively and fun, a chance to play with her cousins' new toys and also show off her own. For her, the food came second to the company.
Potluck mashed with obstacle course
I always loved the notion of a mobile dinner party, and wanted to try doing one with friends here in Chicago. Progressive parties were popular in the 50s, but have since faded from fashion. With the slow food movement gaining momentum, I figured now was a good time to ask people to hop on their bikes and spend the day together enjoying some of our favorite recipes. When I asked several friends if they'd like to be in on it, I received a few confused looks. "So, like a potluck?" Or worse, "Will someone be selling insurance?"
Well, no. Progressive dinner parties are like potlucks in that everyone contributes, but a little more sophisticated. Here's the deal: there are usually four courses to the meal (appetizers, vegetables, main course, dessert) and each is served at a separate household. The tricky part is in the preparation. Planning a dinner party is hard enough, but how do you serve up delicious fare when you aren't entirely sure of when your guests are arriving? There's only so much that can be done in advance, unless you're ok with having soggy, lukewarm dishes. Saving all the to-dos for the moment your guests arrive won't work either, since who knows what shape you'll be in after enjoying a cocktail or three during the first course. My enlisted dinner companions and I weren't sure how we would pull it off, but we wanted to try. Think potluck mashed with obstacle course.
|My messy kitchen, 2011.|
We sampled as we went, and everything came out ok apart from the leek tart - it was so artisanal that I wasn't able to find all the correct ingredients in the local grocery store. I figured we'd just wing it on the morning of the dinner (if you think that sounds like an ominous hint for how the dish turned out...you're right on).
l-r: roasted rosemary potato and beet salad, farm style green beans, sweet potato fries, incomplete leek tart
Course One: Appetizers, 4pm
Our friends B. and R. supplied course number one, the appetizers. One the menu: creamy pesto cheese torte, cuban mojo deviled eggs, blue cheese stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto, smoked salmon red bell pepper appetizer, walnut goat cheese red bell pepper appetizer, champagne and cucumber moijios. Their dishes were delicious and photogenic:
|What a crew! B. inherited these dudes from his grandparents|
Course Two: Vegetables, 7pm.
Course Three: Entrees, 11pm
After several hours of eating, talking and drinking we were a jolly bunch by the time the main event rolled around. We shared a laughter filled cab ride to J. & M.'s, our last stop, in which B. and I sat on the floor of the cab-van. I'm afraid my state affected my documentary efforts, but the food was lovely. We had pulled pork slow-cooked in vinegar, olive oil cole slaw, and Portuguese rustic rolls. J and M very kindly also supplied dessert: gelato from the parlor down the street, with fresh coffee. Here's my one food shot of the delicious pulled pork, mostly eaten:
Though the preparations may have tested our teamwork at moments, we delivered successfully. And it was lively and fun - we spent hours together and yet it felt like a new party each time we arrived for the next course. Plus, we had these two characters to close the night with:
|Gravy & Biscuit, J and M's extraordinary Siamese cats|