Thursday, September 29, 2005


Over The Hill

Saturday, September 24th 2005 marked a milestone. I hit the big 4-0. So what better way to start my midlife crisis than to start a blog like all the other cool kids have?

Seven years ago when my partner (I'll just call him "The Squeeze") turned 40, I had a huge bash for him with friends and family at our house. Nearly 100 people turned up, and it was a blast. All the food and drink you could imagine. Bonfire on the lake, the whole nine yards. It was a good time. People still talk about it. But really, it's time to move on, folks.

So we decided to have a party for my 40th. Since our yard has become a bit of a jungle, I really didn't want to have a yard full of people looking at my pathetic "neglect garden", so we decided to rent a hall near our house. Just a small community centre type of deal, but it worked for us. Naturally, Saturday the 24th was our first choice, but the hall was already booked. We opted for the afternoon of Sunday the 25th. The hall was only $150 compared to $500 for the Saturday night. Can't complain about that.

Being a total control freak (I'll be the first to admit it), I let The Squeeze type up the invitation, and I quickly stepped in and made some corrections. We...ok...I e-mailed and snail-mailed all of the invites and started making lists.

First up - liquor permit for the hall. By rights, it should be a fairly straight-forward process. I've applied for a few in the past, how much could the process possibly have changed in...oh, about 20 years? Well, not too much, really. We filled it out in The Squeeze's name, since I planned to be somewhat polluted, and in no way able to be the responsible permit holder if the police had to come in for some reason and speak with the person in charge. About a week after dropping the permit application off at the local liquor store, I received a call from a woman asking for some clarification. As this community centre had a fenced yard, I had indicated on the application that alcohol may be consumed outdoors. She had a problem with that. She informed me that I needed to write a letter to the local municipal clerk's office, the fire department, the police department, the board of health, and the liquor board. I also had to include a drawing of the building and the yard, indicating fence height, location of the washrooms, etc. I was not amused. Especially after asking someone at the provincial level if it was a problem to have alcohol outdoors in a fenced area and being told that it wasn't.

About two minutes later, she phoned back and said, "nah, don't worry about it". As it turned out, she was the person at the liquor store who types out the permits and if the provincial powers-that-be didn't have a problem with it, neither did she. Oy!

RSVP's were requested by the 17th, and as is usually the case, we didn't hear back from about 1/4 of the people, so I had to send some follow up e-mails and make a few phone calls. Is it that hard people??? When it was all said and done, we were expecting about 70 or so people.

As a part of my business we arrange catering and staffing for a variety of functions, so I secured a few servers for the party and decided that I would prepare the food myself. How much work could it possibly be? Well, the planning all went rather smoothly. Since I planned on a variety of appetizers and barbecued burgers and sausages, I decided that we could go with disposable plates and cutlery. We're a pretty informal bunch. I bought stacks of dinner and dessert plates, cutlery, napkins, serving trays, plastic cups, etc. As the time drew closer, I began making my list of food and supplies needed. I purchased all the non-perishable food items a week in advance to eliminate some of the last minute running around. Then I had a thought. Since I was using real wine glasses, I decided that I didn't like the idea of plastic glasses for the mixed drinks and beer. So The Squeeze and I went shopping. First we looked at a rental place and discovered that we could buy glasses for about the same price we'd pay to rent them. We bought 8 dozen glasses and 8 dozen coffee cups while we were there. If we were going with real glasses and wine glasses, we couldn't very well use styrofoam cups for the coffee and tea.

Here's the food list:

Thai Chicken Satays with peanut sauce
Stuffed Mushrooms
Tortilla pinwheels
Smoked salmon with chive cream cheese on cucumber slices
Spring Rolls
Sushi (California Rolls)
Meatballs with honey garlic dip
Devilled eggs with caviar

Variety of cheeses, kielbassa and crackers
Veggies & dip

and the big hit....
Chocolate fountain with fruit, cookies, marshmallows, etc.

The main course:
Chicken Burgers
Veggie Burgers
Oktoberfest Sausages
Potato Salad
Macaroni Salad
California Mixed Salad

and for dessert:
Birthday cake (Thanks Shan!)
ice cream
platters of mixed squares, cookies, tarts

It all looks good in theory. The Squeeze has always been of the opinion that I cook for an army. As we were expecting 70 or so people, I decided to cook for about 4 armies. I knew that Saturday would be a huge preparation day, so I decided to close my shop for the day to allow me to look after all the shopping, prep and cooking. Thank God for good friends. The Squeeze and our friend Rich looked after groceries, beer and liquor pick-up and I did several individual stops. Farmers Market for all the cheese (I got a bit carried away...spent over $100 on cheese), a little Asian take-out place for the spring rolls (another $100 or so), a little mom & pop bakery for all the desserts (over $100 again). It's starting to add up. Since I finished all my stops, I dropped in on The Squeeze and Rich at the grocery store and helped them out. We had two carts FULL. About $300 there.

We got home and dropped off all the food and while The Squeeze and Rich headed out for the booze, I began the cooking. My good buddy "Xena" came over to help. She was on a chopping mission. Any vegetable or food that needed to be chopped was her baby. I began boiling about 5 or 6 dozen eggs for devilled eggs and the potato salad. I got the cream cheese filling made and assembled the tortilla pinwheels. The Squeeze and Rich got back from the liquor run and The Squeeze started cutting up the 8kg of chicken thighs for the satay. That's a hell of a lot of chicken! Then our other friend Karen came over to help out. I worked on the peanut sauce for the satays and man, did it smell good! Karen rocked at the stove as the designated stirrer (not to mention the hard boiled egg peeler).

The Squeeze had to meet a co-worker, so he took my car (and all my keys) since his truck was blocked in the driveway by everyone else. Moments after he left, the phone rang. It was the security company I use for my business. They called to inform me that the alarm had gone off in the shop and that there was a man and woman in the shop. Police were on their way. I told them to cancel the police (every false alarm call costs me $100...hmm...seems to be the price of the day). I called the shop, and my phone got answered. Turns out it was the building super, and there was some flooding in the unit next door, and the cleanout stack is in my shop. Looks like they had the wrong alarm code. I had to call The Squeeze back with my car and keys so I could go to look after that. So I had to drive to the shop, and as I'm driving there, I decided to call home and inform Xena not to cut all of the celery up (need some for the Caesar's!). I guess Rich was cooking up bacon for the stuffed mushrooms, and while we were on the phone, I can hear my smoke alarm going off in the background. Chaos. Utter chaos. So everything at the shop was taken care of, and I headed home.

The gang got the potato salad under way while I was gone (10 lb bag), and when I got back I made the filling for the stuffed mushrooms, and then it was time to cook the pasta for the macaroni salad. The recipe I followed called for 1/2 a bag of pasta to make 6 servings. I did the math and decided that I needed to make 5 bags to feed my crowd. It seemed to be a bit much, so I only did 4 bags (only!). It was at this point when I thought to myself "we have got WAY too much food". The Squeeze just stood back and smiled that little "I told you so" smile that he does which is surprisingly not offensive!

The worst part of the whole ordeal so far is that we really don't have much fridge space. We had a huge roasting pan full of cubed chicken marinating in coconut milk and spices, a huge bowl of hard boiled eggs, a huge pot of potato salad, another huge pot of macaroni salad and another large roasting pan of it as well. Luckily, we have awesome neighbours with a huge fridge. We were able to keep some of it over there, and Xena took home the roasting pan of macaroni salad to keep in her fridge for the night. I even went out to buy bags of ice to store some of it in our cooler.

We decided to call it a night and went to bed. Of course, I was so worked up, I don't think I really slept at all. Got up the next morning and prepped some more food (slicing cheese, etc). Xena came over to carry on with slicing and dicing. The Squeeze, Rich and our friend Dan loaded up the supplies and drove to the hall to set up and decorate. Then I had to leave to pick up the burgers, sausages, buns, milk, cream, juice, ice cream, etc. Then on to the sushi place for the california rolls, then to the hall to drop it all off. I got there around 1:00. The party was from 1 - 6. We had to be out of the hall by 7:00. I took a quick run to the house where Rich was skewering the chicken (and occasionally his fingers), Xena and Karen were working on the devilled eggs and God knows what else.

It was panic time. As I'm dropping things off at the hall, the place is filling up with guests and I'm running around like a lunatic. By 1:30 or so, Rich, Xena and Karen arrived and the party was under way. The servers did their thing, but I had a hell of a time letting go, so I didn't. I was running around the kitchen trying to get other things finished and I basically had to be kicked out of the kitchen and let the staff do their thing.

I got to do some mingling, chatting with friends, I had two glasses of wine, a couple of shrimp, a couple of california rolls, a bit of cheese, a sausage and about a tablespoon of macaroni and potato salads. For some reason I felt somewhat nauseaus for the remainder of the party. Bummer.

When the party was over, I discovered a few things. All that was really needed to have this party was that chocolate fountain (it was a hit - thanks again Shan!). We had so much leftover food it was disgusting. We would have done ok with 3 or 4 kg of chicken instead of 8. Should have had 2 or 3 boxes of burgers and sausages instead of 8 of each....ditto for the buns. 5lbs of potatoes would be more than enough instead of 10lbs. And 1 bag of pasta for the macaroni salad would have been enough instead of 4 bags.

Feeling as ill as I did, I wanted no part in leftovers. We didn't have the room anyway. The Squeeze (aka The Voice of Reason) decided to call one of the local area shelters to see if they would like to take the food off our hands. They were delighted. Rich and I took all the cases of frozen burgers and sausages, all the buns, the salads, the desserts, the juices and pop, everything that was safe (The Squeeze is a food safety fanatic) to the shelter. Several men from the shelter came out to unload the bounty from the trunk and back seat. I could tell that they were touched that someone thought of them rather than throwing all of this good food in the trash. One of the staff members asked what group we were from, and I just said "We're not from a group. We just really over-estimated what we'd need for my birthday party."
"Well thank you very much" the man said. "This is really very generous of you. Happy birthday."

As we drove back home, Rich asked me "So did you enjoy yourself today?"
If I was asked that before going to the shelter, I don't know what I would have said. I was too stressed out. I didn't really have time to relax and join my friends and family. I felt as if I was just taking short breaks before running off to finish the next chore. But all of that had left me. I thought of the men at that shelter. Knowing that my excessive planning and cooking will provide them with a couple of good meals took front position in my mind. Now THAT'S the way to celebrate a 40th birthday.

"Ya, Rich. I think I did enjoy myself today."

As I was reading along about the extra food I thought to myself that you could donate it to a homeless shelter! And voila!!! It's funny that you didn't really write about the party at all - just the prep and giving the food away. Did you at least get shnockered? ;-)
Sadly, that's about all of the party that I noticed. Running around before and during, and cleaning up after. Had a few minutes to visit with friends and family here and there which was nice. Had a good turnout. One of my nephews and another couple couldn't find the place, so they missed out. People need to read their invites and bring them along.
Didn't get hammered either. I only had 2 glasses of wine, and since I started feeling nauseaus I figured I better stop. I did receive several bottles of wine as gifts (even though it was a no-gift thing), so I'll be sure to get plastered at a later date!
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