Service Auction

As Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approach, they get us thinking about what we can do for others.  We contribute to the Salvation Army Bell Ringer at the supermarket, we participate in food and clothing drives and we make someone’s Christmas a little brighter. I attended a service auction at my church and it was so much fun I held one in my home and invited some of my friends.  It was a night of laughter and socializing before the holidays get too busy.  Here is how it works.

I compiled a list of 20 to 25 questions which have a numerical answer to them. How many shoes are in your closet?  How many beds are made right this minute in your home?  How many bottles of wine do you have?  I emailed this to about 15-20 of my friends and asked that they answer all the questions and add up their score.  In addition to this assignment, I asked them to contribute a service to the auction.  One friend offered to babysit. Another offered to make lobster bisque for eight people.  Another friend offered a tennis lesson.  The night of the auction, all were asked to bring their score sheet and I compiled the service offerings and handed them out when they arrived.  I served light appetizers and drinks then we all gathered in my living room for the auction.

It was then explained that the score they received was the “dollars”  they had to spend on an auction item. One friend had 130 1/2 points and when we asked about the 1/2 point she informed us she only had half of a wine bottle at home!  The bidding became pretty heated as several competed for a specific auction item.  Another friend bid on a pool party even though she owned a pool herself. Often, if two people wanted the same thing they shared the item.  Two of us took advantage of the tennis lesson. There was no expiration date on the items – in fact two years after the auction my friend is still trying to plan that pool party!

Let’s face it – we are all pretty generous with are time and money but when do we do anything for ourselves.  We all had a blast getting together, catching up on each other’s lives and leaving with something that didn’t cost a thing!  Try it and you’ll be doing it every year.

Inherited Hostessing

 I was brought up in a home where my parents entertained a lot – my mother was a great cook.  She’d clean the house from stem to stern, bring out  her best china and silver and arrange her own flowers.  Her presentation was flawless, she had a wonderful knack for decorating and food preparation and she seemed to do it with ease.  My sister and I inherited this gift, or curse, depending on how you look at it and we entertain with a similar ease and enjoyment.  My brother doesn’t lack in the in that department either.

I’ve been married 29 years and except for a vacation abroad, I don’t think a weekend has gone by in all that time that my husband and I haven’t entertained in our home. Because we entertain so often we pretty much have it down to a science.  For this reason I thought I would share some of our secrets, our successes  and the stories from behind the scenes.

My husband loves to eat.  I don’t think a food exists that he doesn’t enjoy eating. Just to watch him eat a 5 lb. lobster is entertainment in and of itself. He is in charge of our social calendar and prefers to invite friends to our home for dinner. I wouldn’t say it is a totally fifty/fifty division of work but without him, it would be more of a chore than an enjoyable experience.  Every other week I am lucky to have someone clean my bathrooms and common areas of our home which definitely takes the stress out of entertaining. I work my larger party plans around the cleaning schedule. This was one luxury my mother didn’t have.

Our children have embarked on living their own lives away from home but they, too have inherited the bug for entertaining.  My daughters, Kate and Alyssa, do most of their own cooking. My son, Donald is quite a baker and certainly won’t starve if left to himself.  Alyssa actually hosted a holiday dinner party she prepared herself. She set the dining room table using my best china and silver.She insisted that her guests get dressed up, the boys in ties and jackets.  I arrived home to find the kitchen spotless.  I was very impressed.  I’ll blog about that at a later date.

TIP:Bring out the good stuff – the china and the silver.  They deserve to get out of the cabinet once in a while.

Golf Outing and Pot Luck

In New England, Fall is the prettiest season and one of the best places to enjoy it is on the golf course. The trees are a glorious reds, yellows and oranges and you can usually count on at least one seasonably warm autumn day to plan a golf outing.  We do it every year and it is one of the most fun times all year even if you don’t golf.  We have had many players who have never swung a club and are usually playing with a vintage set.  I usually limit it to 10 couples.

We play a nine hole scramble with one caveat – Each team must use everyone’s drive at least twice.  That way everyone feels they are contributing.  I mix up couples so no one is playing with a spouse and make the teams as even as possible. I collect $20 per couple and award prizes to the Winning team and the winners of the most accurate drive and closest to the hole for both men and women.  When the weather cooperates, most of us walk getting the most of the beautiful fall scenery and some exercise to boot!  At the conclusion of the golf we made our way back to our house for the pot luck buffet. The conversation was lively as we  laughed about our golfing “prowess” and vowed that next year we’d all take a lesson or two!

This year I provided grilled pork tenderloin.  This is a real crowd pleaser, and if you purchase it at BJ’s or Costco you can buy a lot of them quite inexpensively. A friend served up marinaded chicken breast with white BBQ sauce.  I delegated  the rest of the buffet offerings to my guests. Our menu was minestrone soup which was a perfect party starter, serving it in paper coffee cups.  We had two appetizers, two salads, a vegetable casserole and cookies for dessert.  What was great was that it was the perfect amount of food  – we had plenty with hardly any leftovers. I always like that, I hate filling my refrigerator with leftovers that never get eaten.

I find that those who don’t entertain much tend to have too much food.  Either it is thrown out or put up as leftovers.  Either way it usually is wasted.

TIP: When the food is gone, its gone. Don’t bring out more to replenish because chances are your guests have eaten all that they will eat.

I would like to share two of the recipes from that night:

Summer squash casserole:

My friend, Mary Ellen is always asked to bring this – it feeds a lot and tastes yummy.  It coordinates well with most any entree.  Preheat the oven to 350 and spray an Oblong casserole dish.

Slice 2 lbs  zucchini and/or summer squash. Chop up one medium onion and add a cup of shredded carrot. Steam until tender, drain and set aside.
Mix 1 cup sour cream with a can of condensed cream of chicken soup
Add to this mixture the drained squash mixture.
Melt 1/2 cup butter or margarine and stir into 1/2 of an 8 oz bag of seasoned stuffing.
Spoon the squash mixture into the oblong pan and cover with stuffing mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes uncovered.

The White BBQ sauce can be used with pork as well and my neighbor Kristin actually marinade the chicken in it until ready to grill. She found this recipe in How to Grill Cookbook by Steven Raichlen We put the remaining sauce out to be spooned over the chicken if desired.

1 tsp coarse salt, or more to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbls. minced onion
1 cup real mayonnaise
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, more to taste

Combine the salt pepper, sugar, onion and garlic in a small nonreactive mixing bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a wooden spoon.  Stir in the mayo and vinegar.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt or vinegar as necessary.  Transfer the sauce to clean jar and store in refrigerator for 4 to 5 days

Hot Summer Night

Our first home was a small, two bedroom cape with no air conditioning, but we luckily had a large screen porch which we used practically non stop during warm summer nights.  We had invited four couples for dinner.  I reconsidered tackling the meal preparations in my hot little kitchen on a very humid New England summer evening.  Grilling wouldn’t be a comfortable alternative either.  I opted instead to serve a selection of cold but hearty salads I could prepare ahead.  To make it especially easy on myself I took advantage of some helpful items found at my local supermarket.

I purchased a two rotisserie chickens, some shredded cabbage, and a variety of seasonal, fresh fruit, and a large head of iceberg lettuce or cabbage (red, preferably).  Once home, I began preparing  the meal while my home was still relatively cool.  I prepared Southern Style Chicken Salad, a recipe I got from Bon Appetit Magazine years ago. I shorten the prep time but using the rotisserie chickens instead of simmering 1 lb. chicken breasts in 1 cup of white wine, fresh dill and pepper in a medium skillet.  I diced the chicken and added 1 cup of celery diced, 1 1/2 cup grapes and added the dressing comprised of 1/2 cup mayo, 1/4 cup sliced green onions, 3 tbls. buttermilk, 2 tbls. minced fresh dill (or a tsp. dried) and 1/4 tsp black pepper. The sides would be cole slaw using my friend Jane’s delicious recipe.  I like it because it is prepared without mayo.  The dressing is: 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup cider vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar or splenda, 1 tsp celery seed, 1/2 cup craisins, 1/2 cup walnuts chopped. Mix the dressing and add to four cups cabbage slaw(half green, half red). Refigerate until ready to serve.  The second side was a fruit salad prepared without juice if possible.

I then carefully peeled leaves off of the head of lettuce or cabbage gently washing them and careful to keep their “bowl” shape.  My edible plates I arranged on a platter when ready to serve.  Get your cold drinks ready, add an easy dip as an appetizer and sorbet with fruit for dessert and your meal preparation is complete.  When you  are ready to eat, have your guests fill their lettuce bowls with the various salads, grab a fork and a napkin and enjoy a cool and refreshing meal.  Remember, clean up is easy !!

TIP: It is tough to entertain in the heat so keep it easy.  Salads you can make ahead and serve easily makes for stress free entertaining.