My beautiful mama turned 60 last month, and the only thing she asked for was a dinner at home with her family. She asked Rachel and me to cook. Now, you can say a lot of things about Rachel and me. Two of those things are that we never turn down an invitation to throw a party, and we just can’t help but give the party a theme. We wanted to give this party a theme that would ring in this milestone decade by celebrating everything that happened in the last decade of my mom's life. At some point during party-theme brainstorming, Rachel and I said to each other, "There is no shame in taking a literal interpretation!" Thus, the decade-themed dinner party was born!
In a decade-themed dinner party, you choose 4 -5 milestones that define the decade for the guest of honor, then you build a menu from those events. Ideally, each milestone will be celebrated in its own course, so we're talking about a 4 - 5 course dinner. You can choose fewer milestones or keep adding if you are pumped to put on a proper feast. Ideally, the courses will reflect the milestones in chronological order, but this is your dinner, so you can do whatever the hell you want. This could be a surrealist decade dinner in which all the life events are mixed up. We didn't do that, but you totally should.
Anyway, we stuck with five milestones that occurred in my mom's life since 2006 and used them in chronological order to inform the appetizer, fish course, meat course, cheese course, and dessert. Another five course set-up could be hors d'oeuvres, appetizer, entree, salad, dessert. You could also keep it simple and just do five desserts in a row. If you choose to do that, please invite me - that would be my dream dinner party.
Naturally, when you are creating a five-course meal, it's always awesome when you have sous-chefs. In fact, I somehow managed to not cook anything for this meal because the other cooks in the kitchen were so fantastic. Maybe my big secret is that I am a terrible cook, but I am really good at getting other people to make things for me. You'll never know. Rachel was, of course, the most adorable tomato-and-fiddlehead-slow-roaster I could have dreamed up.
And my lovely sister-in-law, Katelyn, did so much more than clear the tagine away from the stove. She cooked the entire fish course!
And Cider the dog... was very quiet as we worked in the kitchen. That is important, too.
Ok, real talk. When planning a fancy dinner, never underestimate the power of the menu. The more pages your menu has, the fancier your dinner seems. That's just science. Also, after the dinner the guest of honor has a keepsake. Menus: don't forget about them. That's real Queer Martha advice. Use it wisely. Use it all the time. We printed off a menu to place on each plate. The images that follow are each page of the menu.
The appetizer course, barbecue to represent my parents' move to Austin, TX in 2006 (that's them in a magazine!), was far and away the easiest course to prepare. How did we make barbecue so simple, you ask? We picked it up from a barbecue joint on our way out of Philadelphia! We even ordered ahead so we didn't even have to wait in the shop. Two hours later it was sitting on our dinner plates. BAM. No shame in taking the easy way, my friends. No shame at all.
Home-made (by someone else):
In the above photo, Rachel is caught managing the playlist. This is Queer Martha Advice #2 - Music is magic. It's part of the three M's - menus, music, and mood lighting. It's what I am going to start calling the para-meal. It's everything surrounding the actual stuff you put in your mouth. They food can suck if you got killer para-meal going on.
For the decade-themed dinner, each course had it's own playlist. During the Austin appetizer, we played my parents' favorite acts from ATX including Bob Schneider, Carolyn Wonderland, and Toni Price.
Ok, during the second course we got serious. Katelyn made the most delicious teriyaki salmon, and I whipped up a pot of blue sticky rice to go with it. This dish matched my brother's wedding colors. The play list consisted of my brother and sister-in-law's first dance song, the mother-son dance song, and other songs we remembered dancing to at their wedding, including Come On Eileen, naturally.
Let me talk to you guys about the blue sticky rice. First of all, Rachel seriously doubted my instinct that the blue sticky rice was going to be the hit of the night. She thought that everyone would be totally grossed out by it. Rachel, it turns out, hates fun. She was wrong - the blue rice WAS the hit of the night.
If you want to incorporate funny colored rice into your next soiree - decade-themed or not - all you have to do if follow this recipe, and add a few drops of food coloring to the water. The rice sucks it right up. And remember, never listen to the nay-sayers who want to take the color out of your life! Novelty is the parent of joy.
The big take-away from the third course is that if you have the opportunity to photoshop your parents' faces onto colonial bodies, do it. The play list for this course was a mix of classical music written between 1760 and 1780 and early Americana that would have been popular during the American revolution. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we already had this playlist made up for a colonial murder mystery we hosted a few years ago. Never pass up a shortcut, you know?
The fourth course, the cheese course, was a natural fit for my and Rachel's wedding. My colleague Tony pointed out that, "accompanied by fruits" was also a very fitting description for our wedding. He has a good point. The playlist for course #4 was all Django and Edith. Again, this was a playlist we already had.
Finally, we finished with little baby cakes for dessert. The playlist here was full of songs that included the word baby: Baby Love by the Supremes; Always Be My Baby by Mariah, obviously; Baby by Justin Beiber made the cut; Be My Baby by the Ronettes; Somebody's Baby by Jackson Browne. This was maybe my favorite playlist.
This was a very fun dinner to plan. An unintended result of the decade-themed dinner party that throughout the evening you have constant conversational prompts. As each course rolled out we got to reminisce about a big event that happened in the past 10 years. I recommend it!
And if you can serve funny-colored food during your dinner there is no way it won't be a hit.