Monday, December 17, 2007

Party Planner Extraodinaire

Where or where do I begin? This weekend was a crazy long blur of baking and party planning with very little sleep.

Friday evening started calmly enough with a movie with Michele's parents, sister and two nieces who were in town for the weekend. I was thoroughly entertained by Enchanted - very funny and a great twist on the helpless princesses little girls seem to be obsessed with. Glad to know Disney has a bit of a sense of humor about the whole thing. Immediately following the movie I went home and continued baking. I made fudge, pecan toffee, truffles and possibly something else I'm forgetting at the moment. I didn't crawl into bed until long after 2 am, worried that my computer had just crashed and distressed about ruining a batch of my "never fail" fudge that never works the way it is supposed to when I make it at sea level.

But no sleeping in Saturday morning for me! I received a call not long after 8 am, just as I was trying to talk myself into getting out of bed because yes, a shower is necessary first thing in the morning. I am really glad I convinced myself to shower before heading to the church because contrary to my initial assessment of the day, I didn't have a chance to return home until after 10 pm!

You see, as I may have mentioned in the past, I am the activities co-chair for my ward.* My co-chair is one of the very few single over 30 males in the ward and I have wondered if our bishop thought this would be just the thing to change our single status if you know what I mean . . . . We've been doing this gig for almost a year now and despite our intention (or at least my intention) to keep things simple, it is hard to keep a Christmas dinner for 100 people simple. I arrived at the church at 930 am to meet our first wave of volunteers who were there to string lights across the vast gym. My intent was to unlock the closet containing the lights and get them going on their project and then go run some errands - pick up a few items for my dessert party, get a manicure or maybe go back home for some quick prep. How naive I was at that early point in an excessively long day. The thing about being in charge is you don't get to be the one to slip away because there are constant last minute decisions and dilemmas - large and small - that must be addressed. My co-chair arrived not long after I did from an early morning run to the flower district and we started a long day of consults and quick fix decisions that usually resulted in someone running to Bed Bath & Beyond which is conveniently located next door. I picked up cable ties, dish soap and sponges, priced extension cords (before we got the key to the magic electronics closet), tried to buy plastic cups and duct tape and was surprised to find these items were not part of the Beyond portion of the store. I made two trips and I think my co-chair made at least one additional trip that day. But those small oversights and set backs were nothing compared to what happened when the food arrived.

Operating on a limited budget and without a car or a convenient Costco nearby, I ordered all our food from my online grocer that just so happens to have catering options. We provided ham, rolls, potatoes and dessert and asked ward members to bring side dishes, salads and other holiday favorites. We unloaded the boxes and as we were trying to fit all of our purchases into the single undersized fridge in the kitchen I asked where the rest of the hams were because I could only see 4 of the 10 we ordered. After turning over a few boxes and opening the remaining bags that weren't nearly heavy enough to be hiding ham, I started to panic. I was not entirely confident that I had estimated properly on how many pound of ham one needed to feed 100 people but I was pretty sure that 20 pounds was not going to cover it.

After 40 minutes on the phone with the best customer service person I have ever worked with I walked away with a full refund on all the ham which returned $300 to my budget to go search the city for 30 more pounds of ham. This may sound like a lot but in planning this dinner I discovered that ham is very expensive!! Oh, and it is hard to find in Manhattan for who knows what reason. It wasn't yet noon when my co-chair and I raced outside to head to the nearest grocery store. As we stepped onto the sidewalk he turned and said, "you realize we are taking a cab, right?" And I heartily agreed as we chased one down to go 12 blocks to the much-acclaimed Fairway grocer. I have been hearing about this legendary Upper West Side grocery store for years but given the fact I have never lived in a close enough vicinity I had never experienced it for myself. Most of you probably take your large grocery stores with full size carts, wide aisles and plentifully stocked shelves for granted. New Yorkers don't always have such luxuries. I'm not saying Fairway is one of those, but is one of the closest things I have witnessed in New York to a "normal" grocery store. Except that it just wasn't - there were mobs of people, tight aisles and we were trying to weave through with an empty cart to the butcher in the back. We circled the meat section and came up with nothing.

This was my co-chair's neighborhood so he suggested we head next door to Citarella, a gourmet market specializing in meat. We hit the jackpot. There we discovered these beautiful 16 pound bone in pre-cooked hams just waiting to be heated for a church buffet. Relieved at our good fortune we realized that it was after 1 pm and neither of us had eaten anything up to that point and that meant our hard working volunteers were probably hungry as well. I suggested we pick up a pizza and as we stood in line my co-chair pulled out his iphone (while I seethed with jealousy) and found a Dominoes nearby and one more tap he was talking to a live person ordering 4 large pizzas. Heavily burdened with our 40 something pounds of ham (he thought we should get a little extra) that took only $200 of our refunded money, we grabbed a cab and swung by Dominoes for our pizzas. I waited in the cab and sent Tiffany an accusing email for planting silly ideas about me having some sort of chemistry with this boy after she met him at our swanky party last week. I held onto a slight crush much of the day but I am chalking that up to motivation to get endure the day and well, lack of better direction for my emotions. I think it was some sort of 24-hour type bug because it immediately disappeared when I saw him again at my dessert party. Because honestly, one of the things that I find most attractive is sensing a guy is attracted to me and that just isn't the vibe I was getting.

When we arrived back at the church with ham and pizzas, we were happy to see our volunteers had finished the lights in our absence. And they were extremely happy to see us walk in with pizza, so we had a nice pizza break which I believe was about the only time I sat down all day because immediately afterwards I was up and directing traffic again. The sister missionaries were around and helped set up centerpieces on the tables and hang snowflakes from the light canopy and at 3 our next wave of volunteers showed up to help prep food and finish decorating the gym. I enjoyed working in the kitchen with our relief society president who has to be one of the funniest and most offbeat relief society presidents I have ever encountered. She had me nearly doubled over at one comment.

Somehow, the whole thing came together in a timely manner and ward members pulled through with their part and showed up fairly punctually with dishes to fill in the buffet. We originally set up 10 tables with 8 chairs and we had to quickly add another 3 tables and finally added a 4th table so we would have a place to sit. I did get to go through the buffet and I was surprised to find there was still food left after seeing so many people walking by with plates piled high from sampling every dish on the table. The food all tasted great and we purchased way, way too much but after the Bishop's cautionary tale of running out of food last year, I was fine with that result. It was really hard to motivate to take the whole thing down but we once again managed to round up some volunteers and it went faster than I expected.

You would think that after I walked home through the snow I would have crashed into my bed from exhaustion . . . but no, I needed to get ready for my next party and I spent the rest of the night creating a new cupcake concoction: chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes which I later covered in ganache and ginger whipped cream. Another 2 am night.

And if I am going to avoid having yet another late, late night, I need to sign off and wait to tell you about the dessert party tomorrow. Enjoy these photos of the ward party for now:

*individual congregations in my church are termed "wards", nothing to do with hospitals.


lizzie said...

looks like a lot of fun...

autumn said...

How odd, the other day I had to purchase ham for 80 people, only my story isn't nearly so dramatic as I live by a Costco. Why is ham the end all be all at ward Christmas parties? Anwyay, it looks like a smash hit!

Tiffany said...

Too bad you will never EVER be released from that calling now that you've fed them so well!

critts said...

I cannot believe you managed to pull-off planning a ward Christmas dinner and your dessert party for the same weekend. Well done!

Beck said...

I'm glad you explained what a ward was - I was wondering!
And now I want to go to a gourmet meat store! We're thinking about driving to the Small City and watching Enchanted in the week after Christmas.

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