When parties become charmed

Since starting this blog, I’ve been thinking about why I’m so addicted to entertaining.

Discounting birthday and graduation parties I had at my parents’ house while I was growing up, the first real to-do I ever threw was while I was in graduate school.

After an unhappy first year of graduate school living in a chaotic, cramped, and dirty co-op where the cops were often summoned to end parties that went past four in the morning, I had finally moved into what felt like my first grown-up house. Never mind that eight people lived there, and that the only common area in the house was the kitchen, because every other space had been subdivided into a bedroom. I finally had my own rooms (two, actually) and a kitchen to cook in, and I was thrilled.

A few months after moving into the house I decided to have a Mexican-themed outdoor dinner party for about 20, taking advantage of our house’s tree-filled yard since there was not enough room inside. Although I was a vegetarian at the time—and a novice cook, to say the least—I figured that after a lifetime living in the South, and four years at college in San Antonio, Texas, I at least knew more about Tex-Mex cooking than my guests. And the beans, rice, and tortillas I was cooking had the advantage of being affordable on a grad student’s budget.

I knocked myself out cooking for days, making refried beans from scratch and preparing a rainbow of different salsas. Then, on the day of the party, as I was assembling the cheese enchiladas, I dropped the bowl full of enchilada sauce I had spent hours making, splattering it all over the floor. As I was frantically remaking the sauce and stirring up pitchers of sangria, I called my friend Lisa in a panic and asked her if she could come over early to help out. She arrived in a jiffy, and just before the first guests arrived, she and I assembled the last of the enchiladas in the casserole dish and I popped them in the oven.

That day was almost twenty years ago, and I don’t remember how well the enchiladas turned out, or what recipe I used for the sangria.

What I do remember is this. The weather was sublime and it was a beautiful night to be outside. I remember all of us gathering around an enormous tree stump in the yard that served as a perfect picnic table, to eat the food I had made. I remember that I was disappointed that the boy that I had a crush on wasn’t able to come and that I was sad about it. And I vividly recall that a friend’s new beau borrowed my classical guitar and sang beautiful songs while she (and everyone else) swooned. And as everyone packed up to go home, the well-lubricated guests seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the evening.

I still remember this night as an example of the magic that can happen when you’re entertaining. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens just often enough. It didn’t really matter how good the food was, or whether I served margaritas or sangria. The party took on a life of its own, and the evening became enchanted. It wasn’t anything specific that I did that made that happen, but it also wouldn’t have happened had I not taken the time to organize the party.

So what do you consider your greatest entertaining success? Have you ever thrown a party that turned out to have a certain magic about it?


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