I entertain so frequently that I sometimes fall into a rut. Left to my own devices, most of my parties will be some variation of one of the following:
- a retro cocktail party, with classic cocktails, a fire in the fireplace, Ella on the stereo
- a casual summer barbecue, with the CocktailHost grilling on balcony and me muddling fruit into cocktails in the kitchen
- a small three- or four-course dinner party for four or six
In part that’s because those are some of my favorite party styles, but each one is also tailored to some aspect of our apartment. The fireplace. The balcony with a gas grill. The dining room table that fits six (barely).
That’s one reason why I really enjoy hosting parties in other venues, or for a different crowd, or for a different sort of occasion every once in a while. Though it’s a huge help for me to rely on one of my regular party styles when I’m throwing together a shindig without much time to prep, I also want to keep things fresh.
This is all a long way of saying that I had the pleasure of co-hosting a party at my parents’ house in Houston in June. (Sorry for the long delay, Mom! I finally found my lost camera with the photos on it.)
My parents and a few of their friends are kind enough to read my blog, and when they found out I was going to be in town my mom asked me if I would throw something together. Who me? Host a party? Well, if you insist.
I knew right away that wouldn’t have access to all my fancy cocktail glassware and gadgets, and that I wouldn’t be able to stock up on obscure liqueurs or spirits at their suburban liquor store. I couldn’t even make an Aviation, since creme de violette hasn’t made it out to their neck of the woods yet.
The key, though, is to focus on what you do have. In this case, at the top of the list was my parents’ garden, which was completely overgrown with basil …
as well as fresh mint …
and edible marigolds, which make a beautiful drink garnish.
After I found a few cucumbers in the fridge that had come straight from a friend’s garden, the cocktail menu practically wrote itself.
Mom took care of the food, making her old-school “Gourmet Crab Ring” that she’s probably been making since before I was born …
Of course, since we were in Houston, we served it with crackers in the shape of Texas …
(Random aside: Does anyone know of any food products sold in the shape of any state other than Texas? In Houston you can find all sorts of crackers, tortilla chips, and even pasta in the shape of Texas, but methinks this is a distinctively Texan conceit. If you have a photo of food in the shape of any other state, please send it to me. I’d love to see it.)
At any rate, the party was great fun for me, and I think for the guests, too. It was a good reminder, though, of how I need to keep the temperature in mind when hosting a party. I’m so used to our perpetually chilly San Francisco apartment that I didn’t take into full consideration the effect of the 95-degree day on our guests. Next time I’ll serve more tall drinks on ice, like the Paloma, which was the most popular drink of the evening. (The recipe I based mine on is here, though I made a few tweaks and garnished it with those pretty marigolds.)
My favorite drink of the evening, though, was the simple but subtle cucumber-basil gin gimlet, which one guest (and regular commenter to this blog, though I’m not naming names) seemed to enjoy quite a lot. In this drink, it’s particularly important that the basil be spanking fresh, and you can’t get much fresher than leaving it on the plants in the yard until you’re ready to assemble a drink, then dashing outside to pluck off a few leaves at a time. Here’s my version of the super-summery cocktail:
Cucumber-Basil Gin Gimlet
3 thin slices cucumber
5 basil leaves
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 ounces gin (preferably Hendrick’s)
Splash of simple syrup
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber slices, 4 of the basil leaves, and sugar. Add the lime juice, gin, and a splash of simple syrup. Add ice to the shake and shake until well combined. Taste and adjust, if necessary, to suit your taste (neither too sweet nor too tart). Double strain, using both a cocktail strainer and fine-mesh sieve, into a chilled cocktail glass (a cocktail strainer alone won’t remove all the bits of basil and cucumber). To garnish, place the remaining basil leaf flat on one palm and slap it with the palm of the other hand (this releases the basil’s aroma). Float the leaf on top of the drink and serve.