October is my favorite month to be alive, and, weather-wise, it’s one of the best for party-giving in Kansas City. But it’s also a month when our schedules are insane. Which is why I am offering some ideas for super-easy, casual ways to gather friends together this fall.
Whatever type of party you host, always remember the sense of hospitality you create (music! hooch! good smells!) is more important than the food you serve or how fabulous your house looks. Relax and savor spending time with your friends and family.
Sort-of-impromptu drinks and desserts
Invite people to come over on your next free Saturday night for drinks and dessert, starting at 8:30. Don’t make a big thing of it or plan it too far in advance. Early in the week, send out a text or an email invitation to your tribe of friends; you’ll be happily surprised at how many will accept, especially when you add the line “if you’re having dinner with people, feel free to bring them.”
The drinks/dessert format provides a fun, easy way to entertain a relatively large group, and gives you the flexibility to invite people up until the last minute. Keep the bar and food simple: mix up a batch of Fireball Apple Sangria, the perfect fall party drink (email me for the recipe). Have on hand the makings for gin and tonics, vodka sodas and rum and Cokes.
Serve two, maybe three desserts; bakery-bought is fine, but if you have time to bake, email me for recipes for a delicious apple tart cake and pumpkin cheesecake. You definitely will want to hire a bartender/helper to keep this party humming.
Everybody loves a pot roast
Here’s a small-world story. In 2012, I wrote a column in which I praised the virtues of a pot-roast recipe given me by Brian Justice, who draws the clever illustrations that accompany this column. Brian had clipped the recipe, called, simply, Pot Roast with Vegetables, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch about 20 years before. I was opining about messy recipes and in that month’s illustration, Brian incorporated a PDF of the actual recipe, grease-stained and dog-eared from use. The recipe had been submitted, circa 1992, to the newspaper by a woman from Edwardsville, Illinois, named Kim Niemitz. Fast forward to April, 2012. Her daughter is sitting in a beauty salon in St. Louis, leafing through a copy of Kansas City Spaces (What can we say? Quality publications—and recipes—tend to get around) and, to her astonishment, sees her mother’s recipe. She contacted me and I put her in touch with Brian, who struck up a friendly email correspondence with Kim, long-ago submitter of the his favorite fall dinner-party recipe.
So this is a roundabout way of suggesting you have your friends over for a casual pot-roast dinner. Brian/Kim’s recipe is a good one. Email me if you would like the PDF; I will send it to you (it is still readable) along with his pithy notes.
Since the roast is made with a mountain of vegetables, it’s all you need for an entree, along with some crusty French bread. The Barefoot Contessa’s endive, pear and Roquefort salad would be a brilliant first course. Should you have time to bake, the afore-mentioned apple tart cake—from food writer Molly Wizenberg—is a fine finish to this fallish meal.
Don’t call it a wine-and-cheese party
Is it just me, or is there something a little pretentious about the notion of a “wine and cheese party?” One pictures a gaggle of metrosexuals in hoodie sweaters, sipping and effusing about texture and complexity. It’s, well, cheesy is what it is.
All the same, there’s a lot to like about good wine and cheese. And it’s fun to explore new varieties and combinations with friends, in the comfort of a private home. The cool days of autumn are especially well suited for organizing just such a gathering.
Call six or eight like-minded friends and ask each to bring a bottle and a wedge to share. Choose a theme, such as cheeses and wines from the Piedmont region of Italy; the Loire Valley in France; or Goudas from around the world with California reds. You can then refer to your gathering as “The Loire Valley party” or the “The Gouda party,” which has a much more pleasing ring to it than “the wine and cheese party.”
Dial your good friend Joe
This is a fabulous solution for the time-challenged two-headed hosting unit. Invite some friends you are dying to see to dinner at your house next Saturday night. Live your busy life and don’t think much about your dinner party until Saturday morning when you call Joe’s Kansas City BBQ (perennially on every serious Best Barbecue list in the country) and place your order for pick-up. To feed eight, you want three full slabs of ribs, an extra jar of sauce and one quart each of potato salad, baked beans and spicy slaw. Order half-gallons if you want leftovers.
Then divide and conquer. One of you sets the table with your prettiest tableware. The other of you heads out to pick up the Q and swing by the liquor store for Boulevard Pale Ale (cold!), which tastes marvelous with the ribs. As soon as the food arrives, transfer the sides to civilized-looking serving bowls and the ribs to a platter. Behold, unbelievers—instant dinner party!
For dessert, carrot cake would be delicious and suitably autumnal. Buy one at a bakery if you don’t have the time or inclination to bake. But if you do, I have a recipe and I’d love to hear from you!
You’ve just invited some friends for a casual fall dinner. What to do about a centerpiece? Merrily offers these fast, un-fussy solutions:
• A bowl of clementines and figs
• Several small, tight clusters of orange, pink or deep-red roses, low but at varying heights
• A grouping of gourds and tiny pumpkins, clustered atop fall leaves
• A basket of polished apples and spruce twigs
• A bowl of pomegranates, with tiny branches of bittersweet tucked
here and there