The way this works is that Stephen and Douglas determine a menu, based on their extensive collection of Indian cookbooks and Stephen's experience living in India for one or two months every year. They purchase the ingredients in advance. The guests show up in the early afternoon with knives and aprons, whereupon they are handed a xeroxed recipe and some basic ingredients and they go to work. I clear all my kitchen counters (microwave and toaster oven and countertop cannisters get piled on the pantry floor), cover the counters with cutting boards and cutting mats (I didn't know that cutting mats even existed, but when I saw them in a store I stocked up on a few), pull out many bowls, and have Stephen sharpen my knives. No matter what I set out in advance there will be many last-second requests for additional items, nearly all of which I can provide but some of which are deeply buried. This year's unexpected requests: A frying basket (I have one!), a large pot with a steamer insert (I have two!), ground ginger ("No, I don't have any ginger...oh wait, here it is."), and a ten-cup teapot (yup, I have one, although technically it's a china coffee server missing its aluminum dripper insert). At one point I had to point out to Stephen that I tend not to consider chickpea flour an onhand staple, but it's not clear whether he was actually expecting me to have some or whether he had just forgotten to provide it from his own pantry where it actually is a staple. There was also a moment when Douglas looked up from his eggplant preparation and said, "Oh, the curries are upstairs" and I said with a smirk, "I have something labeled 'curry powder'" but Douglas just gave me a look and headed on up.
This year there were ten people at the feast, including bconn who joined us from Seattle, as my guest. Usually it's my role to oversee my kitchen, providing people with items they need and cleaning up as we go, but as it turned out Brian preferred to serve in that role rather than as one of the chefs. Which meant I got to do some of the actual food preparation myself this year. We had the usual share of crises: My food processer turns out not to seal tight, so when you fill it with three kinds of flour plus hot water to make the fritter coating, the wet doughy mass leaks out onto the counter and floor. Brian was there to clean it up immediately, and I made a second batch of batter in three shifts in my vintage blender. At one point Michael, using my newly-sharpened knives, sliced deep into his finger. Man, that's a lot of blood. We bandaged him up and calmed him with a little bit of fine wine (I provided most of the wine) and the tamarind drink he was making was the most delicious ever.
Appetizers are served in my apartment, buffet style. Then we have a break to clean up downstairs and to finish off the dinner preparation upstairs. Then we eat upstairs sit-down formal, complete with grace from the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit (Stephen is a major Sanskrit scholar, which is why he lives parttime in India). After a leisurely meal complete with many delighted exclamations of how delicious the food is we head downstairs for dessert. Somebody brought a jigsaw puzzle this year, so that during breaks from preparation there were always a few people in my living room sitting around a makeshift table (large piece of wood over two tv trays) working on the puzzle. In fact, the evening could not end until the puzzle was finished.
It was all as wonderful as you would expect and hope.
Here's what we ate:
Acorn Squash Fritters
Steamed Sourdough Split Pea Cakes with Sesame
Savory Fruit Salad
Baked Eggplant Stuffed with Paneer and Herbs
Garden Vegetable Stew With Crunchy Fried Badis
Savory Saffron Pilaf
Madhur Jaffrey's Carrot Halwa Cake
Panakam (Tamarind Drink)
Wine, Chai, Indian Coffee
Brian was the newcomer, and I was surprised by his comment afterwards about his favorite moment. At the very end of the evening, when we were all relaxed and full of good food and good thoughts, Michael and Shannon and Jan and Brian were sitting around the nearly-finished puzzle and Stephen and I were stitting to the side in near-exhaustion. I started to sing Pleasant and Delightful and everybody joined in the chorus. Lynn and Tim came down from upstairs, enriching the harmonies, and then Douglas came down as well, singing along as he prepared the leftover bags for people to take home. When I finished Jan said, "Sing that other song with the same melody" so I sang A Soldier and a Sailor and we all wallowed in the music. That's what Brian said was his favorite moment, noting that he didn't have to do anything but sit and be surrounded by the singing. "As if it were the most natural thing in the world," I said, because it was and I hadn't even thought much about it.
I think this was mostly Brian's doing (I didn't specifically notice), but I had very little cleanup to do afterwards this year. Nonetheless, I was exhausted beyond belief the next day.
Now my apartment is back in order, and Stephen and Scooter and I have begun the week-long process of getting our things back to their home apartments (periodically, over the next few days, a wine glass or a pot will appear on my kitchen counter, or I'll find a fork in my flatware drawer which I don't recognize and walk upstairs with it). I've done the post-party laundry (tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, bar mops, rags used in spill cleanup) and finished off the half-empty wine bottle. I'm ready to start the new year, revivified.