How to throw a great party {hint: cook a little, buy a lot}.

As I mentioned last week, we decided to have a party.

The impetus behind this decision was a desire to appropriately thank a (relatively) large (and amazingly diverse) group of people who were instrumental in making our transition from the deep south to the midwest a good one. For our entire first year in Indianapolis, from the moment our cars pulled up to the city with all of our worldly belongings on a semi a day behind, we were the recipients of warmth, hospitality, generosity, helping hands, commiseration, and love. These people threw us parties, found us housing, gave us their houses, fed us, kept our kids, connected us to others, gave emergency medical care, took our kids to school, met us for blind dates, shared a love for good food, and called us when they knew we were hurting. At every turn, when in need and not, these lovely midwesterners were there to offer what they had to give. We knew that we’d stumbled on a fantastic group of first-friends, and wanted to adequately say thank-you.

But desire does not equal ability. I haven’t thrown a “grown-up” house party, ever. Not since our wedding, going on 10 years ago, have I planned an event on a scale larger than 8 to 10 people. I didn’t want to stress over details to the point where I ended up exhausted and sick (my kids took care of that part for me), so I attempted to keep a level head, lower my expectations, delegate responsibility, and have fun.

I was talking through my initial plans with my friend Kimberly. She gave me the best suggestion: pick out a few appetizer items that I knew I wanted to make, and buy high-quality prepared items for the rest. Even better, she suggested I get as many really good items as I could from cash-saving Trader Joe’s, and then splurge on a few of the truly artisanal items (high-end cheeses, olives and charcuterie) from our beloved Goose the Market. And that plan? It worked like a charm.

Especially since two of the appetizers on my menu were total flops. I tried a new recipe for savory madeleines — but got arrogant brave, and adapted the recipe to add a couple tablespoons of the amazingly sweet squash purée from some Butler Farm delicatas. They were a disaster. The recipe must’ve been printed wrong, because it called for enough salt to warrant a raised eyebrow in-process, and then tasted bad enough to confirm my suspicions. The texture was bad, the shape was lumpy, and the only place they were served was the trash can. Then, the day of my party (lesson to be learned: don’t try a new recipe the day of your party) I made a batch of zucchini mini-muffins from Food52, and they burned in my newly-aquired (cheap) dark-tin pan.

But my tried-and-true appetizers, like my beloved Tomato-Almond Spread, and a few new ones, like my pickled okra and some ricotta bruschetta, were total hits. From Trader Joe’s, I purchased several tubs of paté, baguettes, cornichons, entertainment crackers, pumpernickel pretzels, and St. André brie. A friend of mine brought a Tour from The Goose (see what I mean? It’s a party for her and she brings food to it?), and I purchased my very favorites from the promised land of cured meat: salmon pastrami, smoked duck breast, house-cured olives, salumi, and artisanal cheeses. It was a spread that I was proud to offer, and worthy of our guests of honor.

What do you offer to drink at a party for 35? Wanting to please all palates, but still being on a budget: for cocktails, we splurged on big, high-end (to us) bottles of gin and vodka from Costco, and offered limited but varied mixers, such as cranberry juice, tonic, and vermouth. Since good, local beer is relatively cheap to purchase here, we filled four growlers at Sun King, had one growler of home brew from a friend, and a case of Sierra Nevada Tumbler for bottle-drinkers. And for wine? It was cheap. I bought nine bottles from Trader Joe’s, the most expensive of which was $6. Since we still have six unopened bottles, I’ll take the hint that our friends prefer beer and cocktails, or they have higher wine standards than we give them credit for. For our non-partaking friends, I had Gerolsteiner and sparkling juices.

The ways I knew it was a good party (in my mind)? I was so content at the end of it all, I went to bed with the kitchen still a mess. And the next morning, my first thought was, that was a great party (but then my mood fell slightly when I remembered reason #1). The moral of the party-throwing story: if you can purchase enough high-quality prepared food, it won’t matter that two of your appetizer ideas fall flat. And, if you invite the kind of people who readily help newcomers, no one will even notice that your living room walls are only half-painted.


{The best of a measly four pictures (hey — it was really dark, and my camera is without a stabilizing lens):}

11 thoughts on “How to throw a great party {hint: cook a little, buy a lot}.

  1. Kelly, it just got cold today. All last week, the temps were in the 90s (record highs). Even most of Friday — but it rained a little that morning, and was really windy all day, and then by evening the weather was perfect. No humidity, and no mosquitoes (!!). No sweater needed, until very late (around 11pm). We were so thankful for great weather!

  2. Wish I was there. At least we were both eating amazing food this weekend. I’ll have to tell you about our french chef.
    Food sounded fabulous!! Yummmmm.

    1. oooh, can’t wait to hear about it. can we borrow her next time we visit?

      you would’ve had a blast here — there was dancing at a certain point in the evening…

  3. It was a most lovely evening and you’ve inspired me to put my big girl panties on and entertain more often. Or at least once a year. I wish Mike felt better and we could have stayed longer. We do so love to get our dance on! Never noticed the walls, either!

  4. Sounds like a lovely evening.

    And from having spent just a little bit of time with you, I wouldn’t care what you were serving, because your personality would be more than enough to make one have a good time! But everything sounds yummy and looks great in the pic!

    1. punkinmama, can I call you when I’m having my next pity party? ’cause your comment could easily make a girl’s day ; )

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