Maybe because I’m overly sentimental about the good old days but I don’t think I’ve ever had a non-holiday party without a theme. Planning a party is a good excuse to delve into a world other than the one you live in; you’ve gone somewhere else through the selection of food, drink, music and the attire you’ve requested your guests to arrive in.
My first actual theme party was for Mardi Gras, of course. Fifteen years after I escaped from my favorite city: 25, broke, heartbroken, emotionally wracked, I missed the place relentlessly through my marriage, child rearing and eventual divorce. So at 40, newly single and forging new friendships, I knew the way through people’s hearts was through their stomachs. That first party was small, including the English neighbors across the street (the food worked, they’re still my friends), a couple from up the street and a male interest. It actually became an event, the English neighbors (great cooks themselves) coming over the night before to help me cut okra and such while I stood over a pot of brown roux, Beau Jocque further energizing the air in my kitchen.
I worked for weeks to plan, shop, prep and cook:
seafood gumbo spicy boiled head–on shrimp,
jambalaya blackened fish
rabbit Creole *Lafayette lettuce
fried crawfish tail salad award winning bread pudding (See blog post: Chopped!)
All the above spread out on my kitchen bar counter buffet style and the CD player ramped up with my favorite juke box music from back in the day: The Meters, Marcia Ball, Louis Armstrong, the Neville Brothers, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. And I had plenty of purple, green and gold beads left over from previous Mardi gras for décor and adornment.
It was my ultimate self indulgence and I deserved it.
Just because you haven’t been to New Orleans or Brazil or Borneo or Vanuatu, or you weren’t around in the Mad Men days, doesn’t mean you can’t have a theme party for a particular area or era. I am driven by my own memories and usually have music in my collection to help get things off the ground but recipes and music are all accessible as air these days, so I say go for it: pick a theme and celebrate it. A New Orleans theme is particularly easy, there are so many great cookbooks out there for most of the above items I’ve listed above except *Lafayette lettuce, which is listed below because you won’t find it anywhere and every time I make it (from my days cooking in New Orleans uptown in the 80’s) people are mystified and cooing.
*Lafayette Lettuce (vegetable side dish)
(First off, for a food and writing blog you may have noticed there are no recipes. That’s because I don’t really do recipes. I cook. I read recipes, devour the idea of the recipe, then I cook. My daughter gave me a blank recipe book for Christmas last year. I get the hint, I won’t be around forever…so here’s how to make this thing –– it’s not a recipe)
Go get equal amounts of zucchini and yellow squash
Put on some Cajun music
Wash and grate squash with a grater you’d use for cheese
In a sauté pan, gently melt a lovely amount of unsalted butter (your store-bought Creole seasoning typically has a lot of salt, but you can use regular butter, just watch the salt) and toss in a bit of freshly crushed garlic
Add grated squash and stir
While squash is cooking, sprinkle in Creole seasoning a dash of Worcestershire and stir around to ensure even cooking; I use a rubber spatula
When squash is sweet and almost soft, turn up heat, and deglaze with some white wine
Turn down heat, and cook slowly until alcohol taste is gone and squash has absorbed all the liquid
Season to taste (more Creole seasoning if you’d like or salt and pepper and a dash of Tabasco)
Next up: Hula hula it’s time for a luau