Anniversary.

1 year ago yesterday I was hosting our annual Thanksgiving party.

1 year ago today I got a call telling me I needed to come home- my father was on life support.

1 year ago tomorrow I was sitting in Sydney airport when my sister told me he had died.

5 years ago on Wednesday, The Runner and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party.

This year, in many ways, has been by far the worst I have been through- losing my father is something that I will never ever fully recover from.  If the past year is anything to go by, I will think about him every day and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.  When you lose someone, they’re never really gone but it’s hard getting used to them not physically being here.  It’s been a difficult year learning that.  I can’t believe it’s been a year.  It’s surreal and sad and somehow seems really final.  Death is always final but it’s hard to believe it’s true. I’m sure the first year is the hardest- or at least I hope it is, so in some ways it feels good to have survived it.  It doesn’t make it easier but it feels like an accomplishment to have survived relatively unscathed.

On a different note, I also can’t believe it’s been 5 years since The Runner and I met.  5 years.  Half a decade, wow.  The last 5 years have been amazing in a lot of ways- it’s hard to argue that I’ve had a better set of 5 years (well, unless you count College but that was only 4 and it was a different type of amazing!)  I’m really lucky to have him in my life and if anything’s gotten me through the past 12 months, it’s The Runner and his support. 

So this week is pretty crazy- I’ll be celebrating the high and mourning the low. 

I’ll also be keeping myself busy with my new job and of course, planning our annual Thanksgiving party.  I keep saying it’s going to be far more low key than years past but having finally organised the menu actually doing some of the shopping today, I’m not sure if that’s true.  It’s definitely not true actually.  It is more geared toward finger food (which is actually more work than big dishes- doh!) and more of a BBQ.  This year’s menu:  Black Bean Dip, corn casserole, mini mac and cheese, caprese bites, mini sweet potato pie, mini pecan pie, and mini pumpkin pies.   Plus, turkey sausages and burgers on the BBQ.  Hopefully the weather cooperates…. Either way, I’ll be thankful to everyone who comes and thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and helped me- it’s been a tough year but the amazing friends and family around me have made a world of difference and I truly am thankful for them.

Save the Dinner Party!

SO I read in article in the New York times today and it really made me stop and take notice.    It was an article about the Death of the Dinner Party.  IT can be read in its entirety here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/fashion/saving-the-endangered-dinner-party.html?smid=fb-share

Normally, when I hear about the death of a concept or fad I ignore it or dance…. Well that was really only Jay-Z’s Death of Auto Tune, but that’s because it’s quite a good song.  But for some reason, this article touched a nerve. 

SO for those of you who are too lazy to read the article- which I understand completely- the premise of the article is that people aren’t having people over anymore for conversation over food anymore and that in fact conversation and manners are both dying out.  Basically the death of western civilization in my mind.   According to the article, “It is the idea that, having cooked for others, one will then invite them to table that has run into problems. ‘Conversation is in trouble,People have been brought up to express themselves rather than to exchange ideas.’”  Yikes.  So result #1, we’re not talking to each other anymore.  That doesn’t bode well for mankind.

 The article goes on to talk about the rise of technology and the fall of basic human decency– People don’t commit to plans and people don’t respond to invitations.  The article quotes Miss Manners, Judith Martin, as saying that “The influence of hand-held devices, has been disastrous for the social contract. ‘People don’t even respond to dinner invitations anymore.  They consider it too difficult a commitment to say, ‘I’ll come to dinner a week from Saturday.’’ Not only do they cancel at the last minute, they do it by text message.”  Again, how rude!  I’m guilty of it myself, because I hate talking on the phone-  literally, for years my job involved talking to people on the phone for most of the day so now, I’ve become phone averse and yes, I have cancelled on people by text.  But I feel bad about it afterwards.  And because of karma, I’ve had people do the same to me, and it’s annoying.  But I do believe that there is a special place in hell for people who don’t respond to invitations at all, and I don’t mean facebook invitations,  I mean actual email or phone based invitations (yes, I’m including texts).  It’s just rude.  I really want to grab them and shake them and ask what’s wrong with them, and then call their parents and ask what sort of monsters they’ve raised.  Seriously, it’s an email, reply back yes or no.  It takes two seconds and whilst some people have high stress, high powered jobs, most people should be able to take 10 seconds to reply to an email offering them free food.  SERIOUSLY.  There are only a handful of people I exclude from this rule, 1, Doctors and 2, The President/Prime Minister.  But I’m pretty sure that when Oprah emails Barack about coming over for lamb chops, he gets back to her.

 Hand in hand with this of course, people don’t know how to conduct themselves in a formal dinner setting and as a result, people aren’t buying china patterns and the kind of silver trays that were a staple of my childhood are falling into disuse and even being discontinued.   This does make me a bit sad, not because I’m worried about not having them myself- or even for my eventual children- although a decrease in demand will decrease the volume of options and patterns.  I know my children will have the same experience that I’ve had of seeing someone who knows how to entertain and who has the tools to do it set a formal table and polish silver and put together a nice dinner for 10 that involves cloth napkins and a soup spoon.   IF they don’t learn from me, they will from my mother.  I know my children will know the difference between a soft cheese knife and hard cheese knife; a white wine glass, red wine glass, and water goblet; and a grapefruit spoon, soup spoon, and dessert spoon- it wasn’t beaten into me exactly but I was taught and I’m glad I was because it’s made me a better person today.  But not everyone was.  A lack of appreciation for what goes into setting a formal table probably is another reason why the dinner party is dying out.  IF you don’t see the value in different spoons, finger bowls, napkin rings, etc, it’s unlikely that you’re going to buy them, which means you don’t have them, which means you can’t do it.  

“What is surprising is that fewer still see the point in accumulating china, silver and crystal at all, a truth driven home by the dwindling of departments devoted to table-top appointments at traditional purveyors like Tiffany & Company. ..Things like the classic Tiffany bamboo silver, designed by the midcentury design god Van Day Truex in 1961 and kept in stock for years, were discontinued some years back, part of a purge that swept away all but a handful of patterns.”

 Eventually it stops being important and that’s how we get to where we are today- ikea plates and paper napkins.  

According to the article, “What has also occurred, said David E. Monn, a prominent event planner, is that party manners have become so rusty from disuse, and guests so generally clueless, that a need has emerged for people like him to train socialites not to eat peas with a knife.”  Again, I’m not worried about my children not knowing how to conduct themselves but what about their grubby mates?  I’ve seen some of our friends eat, it’s not pretty and I Shudder to think their kids could be worse.

 Another side effect of people not entertaining anymore is that people don’t know how to do it and as a result they panic and they think they need to do something super elaborate rather than just serve basic food well.  So not true, the spaghetti and meat sauce I made last night was easy and I would have happily served that to a group of 6 friends.  Throw together a salad and storebought garlic bread and it was fine.  People are so scared of what to make, that they forget that they’re offering people free food.  Just serve anything that’s not going to kill them.  If they don’t like it, or if it doesn’t turn out well, they really can’t complain because they didn’t pay for it or lift a finger to make it happen.  May be that’s a really smug attitude but I’d hate to think that there are people who don’t entertain because they’re afraid of not knowing how to cook.  My grandmother always said if you can read, you can cook.  And I firmly believe that’s true.  IT’s sort of the point of this blog.   Water put on a stove will boil eventually, food put into an oven will cook in some way, shape or form.  Set a timer and trust a recipe.   It’s not important what you cook for people but just that you cook for them.  I believe it’s how you express love and friendship for those around you.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely two types of people in the world, those who enjoy throwing dinner parties and hostessing and those who don’t.   No extra credit for guessing which one I am.   But I can’t imagine that there are people who don’t enjoying GOING to dinner parties.  (I’ll get into the lack of etiquette on another day, because there was a related article on that – http://runway.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/28/more-than-setting-a-table-rules-from-experts/?ref=fashion).    In the main article, Alex Hitz is quoted as calling dinner parties, “The Great Social Equalizer”, he says, “Every single one was different…What they had in common was a sense of fun and community and gathering people together for good simple food.”  It is sad to think that we might be losing that- an opportunity to get together with friends and talk and come together.   Dinner parties, for me, at least are the low stress option.  There’s no bill to sort out at the end (and consequently no annoyance or discussions of how cheap so and so is for wanting to split things out to the penny), no one kicking you out or hovering to get you to leave before you’re ready (although when the host and hostess go to bed, it’s normally a sign), and you’re not paying stupidly marked up prices for bottles of average wine (but I also reserve a super special place on my sh*t list for people who bring cheap wine to my dinner parties, seriously, a couple brought a bottle of $3.99 wine to one of my dinners and as The Runner will tell you they will forever be branded accordingly), and you also don’t have to deal with other people’s annoying kids or annoying diners around you. 

For me, having people over means that everyone gets to relax and enjoy themselves (well everyone except for the host and hostess who have spent hours cleaning, shopping, cooking, serving, and then re-cleaning- but I do sort of enjoy that as well).  I agree with the article when the author writes, “Even the best restaurants don’t approximate the intimate spirit of eating at home…My favorite part of dinner is just sitting at the table talking for hours, and that doesn’t exist when you are at a restaurant…. We think there’s nothing better than sitting around the table with family and friends.”  Amen to that.

So I’m going to do my best to preserve the dinner party, that’s one of the reason why I started this whole He Runs, I Cook schmazzle.  Not just to justify my cookbook collection or to air my thoughts.  At the heart of it, was a desire to connect with friends and to do something nice for them.  To sit around a table with family and friends on a Sunday.  To reconnect, to share a joint experience and build a sense of community.  It’s not going to happen if we’re all sitting alone reading through our phones at Sushi Train, and it’s not going to happen if people give up and just go out to eat all the time—although so many major Sydney restaurants have closed recently, I wonder if people are really going out to eat….. Anyway, so that’s my promise for 2013, to keep the dinner party going and to make sure that it doesn’t die out on my watch!  I hope you can join me!

My Second Thanksgiving

Unfortunately this year I had two Thanksgivings.  Whilst normally, I wouldn’t be one to complain about a second turkey, second corn casserole, and more pie, this was an unexpected second thanksgiving under tragic circumstances.

Sadly, my father died on Sunday night in the US, the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving party, and the Sunday before Thanksgiving here in the US.  I’ll spare you all the details but when I got the call in Sydney on Sunday morning to come home, I had thoughts of a Thanksgiving spent eating hospital turkey with my Dad and siblings, joking as he recovered, about how he managed to get all of his kids together for Thanksgiving– not an easy feat for a family of half siblings like mine.   Sadly this wasn’t the case, and 5 minutes before I boarded my flight in Sydney, I got the call to say my father had passed on.  Needless to say, it’s been a terrible week.  I actually can’t believe it hasn’t actually been a week yet.  It feels like it’s been a year, or longer even.  I don’t know if this is a common feeling at a time like this or not, but it feels like months since I’ve been in Sydney and since things were “normal”.  This time last week, we had just picked up our new car, and just finished feeding the masses, and the most taxing thing on our minds was cleaning up.  Seriously, I don’t think I realised exactly how happy I was- I knew I was really pleased with my life, but I didn’t realise how good things were.  A big huge Thank You to The Runner for cleaning up by the way– the poor thing has been living on leftover cakes and pies from our party all week.

How quickly life changes.  Monday, I was in Miami, Tuesday, I was in Orlando, and Thursday morning I was on a plane to DC.   If you had asked me Thursday morning, I would have told you that it was hard to be thankful for anything this year, and after the 72 hours that I had, could you blame me? It’s Saturday night, now and I’m  at my mom’s house in DC and even though I’m still devastated, distraught and really heartbroken over losing my Dad, I realise I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

The biggest thing I’m thankful for- my family:  My memories of my Dad- the man he was, the person he helped to make me and the way he touched those around him; My Mom- her strength, her loving and supportive ways, the way that just being around her gives me the balance I need to feel better, the way that we’re so much alike, it sometimes scares people around us– including each other; My Sister- I think everyone needs a sister, especially one as wonderful as mine, spending time with my sister, nieces, and brother in law was beyond words- surprising my 5 year old niece with a trip to Disney and seeing the look on her face, priceless- and bittersweet since it’s something my Dad talked about all the time; My brothers and their strength, and my Aunts and Uncles as well.  I’m also thankful for my friends.  I’ve heard form people who I haven’t spoken to in ages and it really has touched me to know that they’re thinking of me and is helping me get through what has been a horrible time.

But enough of all that, since I’m tearing up yet again, I am really Thankful that I got to spend Thanksgiving with my mom.  Not just because of the yummy, succulent, juicily brined Turkey– but because it gave me validation that it really was as I remember.   Please refer back to my initial post on Thanksgiving for more information but, it really hasn’t changed much– ever at my mom’s house.  

It’s still fun and chaotic with three different china sets (and two random tea cups which apparently appeared from nowhere–here are two of the three sets- the third set is the cheap set, so not worth mentioning according to my mom– it’s still nicer than the $3 Ikea plates The Runner and I use for guests……)Image

 

ImageThere was also napkin folding- of course, and decorative butter which I will do a whole separate blog post about another day– because THAT is a post all for itself.  (Here’s a teaser, because I know you’re curious).  And more silver platters, trays, etc than I normal person should know what to do with, seriously – Mom, I know you’re reading, what are they all for?  You know you could have canapes for 500 people with the number of silver trays you have….. and what is that little silver oyster-y shaped dish for……. I digress again.  Although I will bring up the wine bottle caddy…..what and why?  It’s cute, but it takes up more room on a table than just putting down a bottle of wine– and you can’t say that it’s so that you don’t stain the tablecloth, because you have a wine bottle coaster as well.Image

My Mom made a soup- it was delicious- Sweet potato with red curry or something like that.

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 I was chastised for adding too much cilantro (coriander) garnish.  I also didn’t make anything other than the butter this year– apparently I shouldn’t have reminded everyone of the Waldorf Salad incident, they weren’t willing to risk it again.  My cousin made a lovely corn casserole– always a crowd favourite, only someone didn’t give her the full recipe, so it didn’t quite turn out- so next year we can tell the story of the fallen corn casserole which will be funny.

I love Thanksgiving at my mom’s house, because it’s a proper grown up Thanksgiving- yes, it’s Capt. Obvious speaking.  But it’s true, everything matches, there are actual tablecloths and napkin rings, and you can’t throw the plates away when you’re done with dinner.Image

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And, it’s a pretty good spread of food too (note, that’s on one of the cheap plates, so sorry if it doesn’t look as good)  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I hope you’ve spent it with people you love and I hope you treasured every moment with them.