For the last few years, I've pretty much lived in a state of exhaustion, the kind that cries out for Geritol and afternoon naps. Last fall, a heart arrhythmia wore me to a frazzle, and I just couldn't cook or entertain like I had in the past. But I come from a long line of stubborn Southern women, the kind who refuse let go of the things we love. And food is one of those loves. It's nourishment, yes, but it's also fraught with emotions.
I am fascinated by the psychology of food. We all know that scratch recipes are labor-intensive--and labors of love. If there's no time to sift flour and grease pans, the obvious answer is to buy a pre-made cake. Nothing wrong with that, of course, even though these desserts carry a stigma. Aunt Bunny might take offense if you serve her a Sara Lee pound cake, because the food we serve isn't just nourishment; it's an emotional barometer, a secret window that reveals how much we care. In Aunt Bunny's world, a cherry pie from Kroger is the mental health equivalent of a person who has lost interest in life and won't comb her hair (though it may really mean that Aunt Bunny is a royal pain, and when you serve her a too-perfect, assembly-line dessert, you are also serving up a delicious subliminal gesture). Psychological undertones aside, if a bone-weary person wants to party, she has two choices: put on her jammies and binge-watch Orphan Black or gild a Stepford cake. For me, it's a simple decision. I'll drive to the grocery and push my cart up and down the aisles, looking for inspiration.
By keeping the menu and accouterments simple, you can set up a table in ten minutes, with time left over to entertain your guests.
What You Need:
Flowers and/or cuttings from your yard
A Store-bought Cake
plates, forks, napkins
a cheerful tablecloth
plastic trash bag
vase and fresh water
To save time and energy, start with a color scheme. It makes things easier and provides much needed focus. Napkins or a favorite tablecloth might jump-start your party planning. I began with three bunches of pink Alstroemeria (three bunches for $12 at the grocery). I also splurged on pink tulips, mainly because I couldn't resist. Now that I had a color scheme I searched for a pink cake. It had to be small because leftovers somehow end up on my hips and thighs. Carrying around "dessert weight" can lead to regret, and regret can lead to emotional exhaustion. :-) Luckily, I found an itty cake.
The next step is well-known among bloggers: shop your house. I have a small dish room, and I plundered it for a pink tablecloth and napkins. For a vase, I used a large Mason jar. In the kitchen pantry, I gathered more items: a rattan cake stand; forks; white dishes. My motto is simple: You can never, ever go wrong with white dishes. On my way out of the house, I grabbed the happy-as-can-be living room pillows.
My porch has two seating areas, so I combined them.
I put the flowers in the jar, then went into the yard and cut some greenery. (Note: to prevent ants from raiding your party, be sure to rinse all yard flowers and cuttings in water.) Wearing disposable plastic gloves, I shaped the vine around the cake in a circle, making sure the plant didn't actually touch the icing or cake, then I cut some tulip blossoms and set them on the vine, also keeping the flowers from making contact with the icing.
You know that old saying: Keep the area tidy, cleaning as you work. If you trim the flowers, place the bits in a trash bag. If you're using paper plates and plastic cutlery, discard the wrapping. Before guests arrive, blow off your porch (I use a battery-operated blower for weaklings. It has a short life, but it's quick and easy). Before serving, remove the floral garnish and save for another decorative use.
For easy refreshments, place bottled water in a galvanized tin bucket and add ice cubes. Or substitute water with sodas and/or individual wine bottles. For a touch of elegance, use pottery dishes and stainless cutlery (sterling might require polishing, and it's not favored by exhausted cooks). I adore cloth napkins (these are by April Cornell). Paper plates and plastic cutlery are an extra expense, but they make clean up a breeze.
Grab a plate, fork, and napkin.
And let's eat cake.
And let's eat cake.
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