What's that old saying about life happening when you're making plans? Yeah, that one.
Dan and I spent the holidays in South Florida with our family, planning to be back home in Brooklyn in time for New Year's Eve. We figured twelve days would be a nice long time to be with our relatives, and then Blizzardolypse 2010 hit New York and we were marooned down south for five extra days. I already had my end-of-the-year festivities figured out: a pre-New Year's Eve concert, then a party with friends in Brooklyn, where we'd no doubt drink a ton then shuffle home in the snow. Except that our flight was canceled and we couldn't get a plane home until five days later.
Sometimes it's hard to readjust when things don't go according to plan. Dan and I cursed the airports, the weather, Mayor Bloomberg, the inconvenience of it all. But then we realized we were being completely ridiculous, that most of our snowed-in friends back home would trade places with us in an instant if given the chance. Only jerks complain about 70 degree weather in December.
We had cute dogs to pet, books to read for hours on the couch, fresh avocados from a backyard tree, and adoring parents who said "that's wonderful!" when told that our flight was canceled. Why did we want to rush back to all that nasty snow when we could sun our pale limbs by the pool?
A vacation extension is a funny thing. We had squeezed in shopping and nature walks and movie-going into our allotted time and now we had several wide-open days ahead of us with nothing left to do other than watch more movies, and talk, and eat. Lots of eating. But not the "let's go out for a fancy dinner" or "let's make a huge spread of food" kind of eating.
Whenever we visit our parents, there's a small window of time at the beginning of each trip where I feel like a waited-upon guest rather than a grown-up child back at home. Snacks and drinks are offered, dinner reservations are made in advance, special meals are prepared. We only get down to Florida a few times a year and when we do, there's always a tiny undercurrant of nervousness and excitement that comes from being around people you love but don't see all that much. People who want very much to please you.
After we had been in Florida for oh, a dozen days, the thrill had sort of worn off and meals became more comfortable. We ate the kinds of things our parents eat on normal nights, the meals you put together after a long day at work. Hamburgers on paper plates. Roast chicken with mashed potatoes. One night, I made my favorite steak salad for my parents, introducing them to the brilliant combo of skirt steak, arugula, tomatoes, and blue cheese. And I discovered one of my mother-in-law's weeknight staples: grilled salmon with a side of frozen pierogis. Surprisingly delicious! Who knew?
And when New Year's Eve rolled around, we kept things just as simple at a party at our friends' house, where we noshed on guacamole and chips and smoked salmon on crackers, and went through a ton of cheapish champagne. There was a fire pit going and sometime after midnight someone turned up with the makings of s'mores. By 2 a.m., my hair smelled like smoke and my fingers were sticky with marshmallow and I was totally, completely happy.
All of these vacation meals tasted great because we were on vacation, of course, but also because they were put together with a minimum of fuss and were shared with people we love. Had our trip not been extended, I don't think we would have had that same perfectly-at-home feeling sitting around the table with our families.
And that's my dinner party resolution for the year ahead. To not worry about impressing people or serving just the right thing. I will cook what feels right, and focus on cultivating the kind of personal, comfortable atmosphere where people can let their guard down and just be themselves. And drink lots of cheapish champagne.
Happy New Year, everyone.