It is Saturday and Mark and I are getting ready for the paella party we are hosting this evening. Normally having twelve people for dinner isn’t a problem but both of us have had busy weeks.
I’m working hard to finish le Kitchen Cookbook, the cookbook I mentioned in my blog I’m obsessed with food, by Labor Day, and that is a stretch. Also, my brother has been away so I’ve been spending more time with my mother. And Mark has been totally immersed in his current projects. We just haven’t had time to think about the party until this morning.
We are in the kitchen, each of us totally focused on the tasks at hand trying to get everything done by five p.m., when everyone is due to join us, per Mark’s invitation.
I barked at Mark that five p.m. was a crazy time to invite people. “Who does that?” I continued. “Six or six thirty, I can see; seven is even better, but not five!” At this point I’m ranting to myself as I hurry to finish pies that I’d normally have made the day before—unlike Mark’s mother who would get up early to make certain that what she made was fresh, because she was a baker and everything she made was wonderful.
From the other side of the room I hear Mark’s calm voice: “As far as I remember, you were the one that edited the invitation before we sent it out.”
I don’t respond right away, trying to remember if that is true. Of course, it is! I say, “I think you should fire her!” I reply. “Clearly she’s an idiot.” I hear a chuckle and know that I haven’t overstepped.
My husband, who is far more relaxed than I am when it comes to entertaining, decided to get us out of the house early enough this morning so we could have breakfast at our local restaurant. We were sitting outside on their terrace, sipping our coffees when I noticed it was cloudy. I quickly looked at my weather app. “They’re predicting a 40 percent chance of rain starting at five p.m.,” I gasped.
Mark shrugged. “They could be wrong. But we can easily move everyone inside.”
Disappointed, I agreed. ”That’s true, but I had my heart set on a sunny day and being outside all evening.” Then I looked at the sky and announced, “It’s okay. It’ll be sunny.“
Off we went to the farmers market to buy fresh tomatoes, lettuce, blueberries, fresh-baked bread, and two bundles of those beautiful tournesol, sunflowers that show themselves in their full glory at this time of the year. (The word tournesol means turning towards the sun. In Provence you pass fields and fields of sunflowers all facing the same direction, toward the sun.)
As we were climbing back into the car, Mark said, “Look, it’s sunny!” I smiled, not at all surprised since I’d decided it would be.
My pies, apricot and blueberry, are finally ready to put in my preheated 350° oven for about an hour. When my timer dings, I open the oven to discover that they aren’t anywhere close to done. I reset the timer for thirty minutes and when it dings, I check again . . . and then again, to discover they’re still unfinished. They’ve been in the oven for two hours, so I change the timer to 15 minutes just to make certain I won’t burn them. The crust is beginning to get golden but the fruit isn’t cooked enough. It’s taking much longer than I expected but since I’m not following a recipe and I’ve been busy with other things, I’m not too concerned.
At this point the kitchen is so hot that I’m dripping! And the clock is approaching four p.m. I’ve finished getting the deck ready and setting the table. The cheese is on my cheeseboard, coffee ready to turn on when we need it, but my pies are still not ready; they’re closer but not there yet, and I need to take my shower!
My solution: place the apricot pie under the broiler so I can get the top to caramelize. Good plan, I say to myself as I close the oven.
I’ve moved on to finish the salad, when Mark walks into the kitchen announcing, “Something is burning!”
What could possibly be burning? Inhaling the strong smell, I dart across the room and yank open the oven. Sure enough the high points of my tart have started to blacken. I pull the pie out, examining it to see if I’ve ruined it. It’s burnt but not too badly. I can spoon apricot sauce over all the spots to keep it moist and sweet.
I still have the blueberry pies that weren’t quite done two minutes ago. I need to wait until the berries started bubbling since that’s the point they stop being berries and turn into the jam that makes this pie so good. The clock is ticking and I have to decide what to do. I keep the pies in the oven but turn it off. I’m hoping the pies will keep cooking without burning and, as it turns out, that is exactly what happens.
Ah! I finally take my shower and cool off!
Clean and presentable, I’m about to head back downstairs when Mark walks in with two glasses of wine. “Here,” he says. “We deserve this!” He is so right!
While I focus on my part of the party, Mark works away on his, the piece de resistance, La Paella. The actual cooking of the paella will happen outdoors in a large paella pan on our fire pit and only starts when all the guests have arrived and can watch the show. But it is the preparation Mark does that makes it so good! Mark has mastered it and moves around the kitchen without any hesitation; he knows what he’s doing and each time he does it, it gets better.
It turns out to be a great evening. We were finished and ready before our guests arrived, there was no rain, the pies were good, the paella delicious and dramatic, the wine continued to flow and the conversation was delightful! What more can you ask for—okay, maybe a few more hours to get everything ready.
The host and hostess enjoying the party
Note: the recipe for both the blueberry and the apricot pies will be included in Le Kitchen Notebook with the correct oven temperature 400°.
What about you?
Do you have a story about getting ready for a party that your guests knew nothing about?
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Having a party again is simply wonderful. Every summer, Mark, my husband, makes a gigantic paella and we invite friends to watch the process (trust me, it is a show) and eat the amazing results. The party always occurs between the 4th of July and the 14th, Bastille Day. Are you wondering why we make a paella to . . .