Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Not to Plan a Party Menu by Laura Alden

LUCY BURDETTE: Speaking of writing fast, Laura Alden offers this lesson on how important it is to pay attention to your husband when you're writing! (And Laura, we're all waiting for our invitations!)

LAURA ALDEN: My husband and I moved into our house ten years ago. To my husband,
this means it’s a perfect time to have a party. Now there are parties
and there are Parties, and my husband figures that if you’re going to
have a party you might as well have a Party. As in, invite friends and
family from near and far, get a keg, killed the fatted calf, and serve
it up with all the fixings.

We first discussed having a big shindig in February. Back then I was
frantically busy trying to work through the first draft of PTA Mystery
#4. At dinner one night, my husband casually mentioned that he’d like
to have a Party this summer. “A what?” I said vaguely. “Sure. Sounds

In early May, I was frantically busy trying to finish the final edits
of #4 before the May 15 deadline. He asked if I thought early July
would be a good date for the party. “Um, this July?” I asked vaguely.
“Sure. Sounds great.”

Then the other day I was starting to work on the synopsis for PTA #5.
My husband said, “We should probably start thinking about a menu.”

I blinked at him. “Menu? For what?”

“For our party.”

Though I didn’t actually ask, What party? I came pretty close. “Oh,” I
said. “Right. The party.”

He gave me a look. “You remember that we’re having a party, right?”

“Pulled pork,” I said quickly. “You cook a great pulled pork.”

He smiled modestly. “Well, it’s not bad, but the recipe could use a
little tweaking.”

While he went on about the ratio of vinegar to barbecue sauce, I
mentally lined up a list of easy-to-cook foods. Easy was crucial, for
while #4 was on my editor’s desk, the synopsis for #5 was due June 15,
and I really, really needed to get started on writing the first book
in my new series, the bookmobile cat mysteries. (Pen name, Laurie
Cass.) After my husband settled on how he was going to make the
perfect pulled pork, I asked, “How about grilling some hot dogs?”

“Okay, sure.”

“And the potato salad from that restaurant supply store is excellent.
Their spinach dip is good, and what do you think about getting some of
their vegetable trays?”

He eyed me. After umpteen years of marriage, he knows me pretty well.
Which is nice come Christmas, but he also knew perfectly well that I
was trying to weasel out of anything that remotely resembled cooking.
“It’d be nice if you made those shrimpy things.”

I bit my lower lip. The shrimp puffs were tasty, and I could make them
ahead and freeze the little buggers, but making enough for a Party
would take half a precious Saturday, at least.

“If you make those,” my husband said, “I’ll make baked beans.”

A marriage is made of many things. One of them is knowing when to bow
to the inevitable. “Deal,” I said.

Moral of the story? Pay attention to what your husband says in
February. You just might find yourself spending a Saturday in July
cooking shrimp puffs.

Laura’s debut novel, Murder at the PTA was an Agatha Award finalist for Best
First Novel. Her third book, "Plotting at the PTA," will be released
in early July. JRW tried to get her husband's pulled pork recipe, but he claims he doesn't use one! But here is the link for Laura's shrimp puffs, straight from the Food Network.

Laura says: Nothing fancy; just don't overfill the muffin cups. First time I made
this the bottom of the oven was a monstrous mess...


  1. SO funny! And may I just offer party tip for GUESTS? If you bring something to the party that you want me to serve---well,,,ohhhhkaaay...but at LEAST bring a dish and utensils for it. A person came to one of our parties years ago, saying, oh,I brought some delicious whatever it was.
    Can I use your oven? she said. And I need a platter and some serving spoons.
    SIXTY PEOPLE were coming, and she wants my OVEN?

  2. Hi Laura! How does Eddie the Cat feel about parties? Is he a party animal?

  3. Laura, you have restored my faith in the fact that there are many kinds of people - the main two types... those who make party food from scratch and those of us who know full well our guests enjoy what the stores have wrought just as much! Thelma in take-out-laden Manhattan!!

  4. Hank, I had one of those on Thanksgiving - what are they thinking??
    I think we all have our own threshold for homemade vs storebought. I don't mind filling in with a precut crudite platter (to which I add some stuff)but heaven knows what's in some of those giant Costco tubs of potato salad or cole slaw.

  5. Oh Laws - YES, Rosemary!!!! Do not, oh please, come across my threshold with a tub of pre-made potato salad. it scares me.

  6. Funny but true, Laura! It's the same with people wanting me to do community things. I'm absorbed and don't pay close enough attention and it sound so far off...

    Oh, Hank, no! Come to a party and want to use the oven for something? Where was her brain?

  7. So true, Laura! When the date sounds far away, I always think I'll have plenty of time and everything will be under control by then. Oddly enough, it never quite turns out that way.

    ~ Krista

  8. When Mr. Right made The Party noises last spring, I did at least have enough presence of mind to say "after the book goes in." Which to him meant that the next Sat, three days after deadline, would be fine. Well, it will be -- if Laura brings the shrimp puffs.

  9. Laura, tell your hubby we're still waiting for the pulled pork recipe. I made that once and it was a huge huge hit, but i didn't write the directions down. and the baked beans too--mmmm, love them. My aunt used to make them with bacon and rings of onion on top of the casserole.

    I'm pretty fussy about prepared foods, though there is a deli in Key West called Franco's on Upper Duval St that will make killer stuffed bread if you ask. We like either cheese and spinach or broccoi rabe, or cheese and sausage. slice those puppies into rounds and guests fall all over them!

  10. Sorry for the delay in replying -- I'm at a conference today for my day job. (We're on lunch break right now.)

    Hank, I'm sure you were the picture of politeness when your guest asked to use your oven :) (Gack!!)

    Darlene, when Eddie was younger, he used to enjoy guests very much. But now he's a MAE (middle-aged Eddie) and spend the entire evening hiding under our bed.

    Thelma, there's nothing wrong with serving store-bought food to guests. I'm sure of it. (Just don't tell my mother!)

    Linda and Krista - yah, at almost 50 years old, you'd think I'd understand calendars, but somehow I just don't.

    Kaye, the shrimp puffs are yummy, though it took me a couple of tries. I keep thinking about using homemade biscuit dough instead of the package stuff...but somehow I haven't gotten around to that yet :)

    Leslie, let me know the date and I'll...I'll try and remember to bring shrimp puffs - if you have an oven for warming them up!

  11. Gosh, I wish I lived closer, or had unlimited plane privileges! Those shrimp things don't look half bad!

  12. Laura, August 18. Of course, on Aug 18, we might not actually want to turn the oven on -- but for you, and shrimp puffs, anything!

  13. Kaye G.; I'll keep a few aside just for you!

    Leslie; sadly, I have a previous obligation on 8-13. Wonder how well the shrimp puffs would fare in the mail? :)

  14. I have my book club meeting a week from today, and I need to serve dinner, too, for a dozen people. Why did I choose June when it's my busiest time of the year? It's no ones fault but my own. I always seem to think I'll have everything under control - next month, or the month after.

  15. I need to form the same relationship with my calendar that Hank has with her clock: pencil in anything at least two or three months later than I think I can do it. And then maybe I would actually not be in a panic.

    Laura, you're a star. And if I ever have another party, which at the moment with the looming deadline, seems unimaginable, I'll try the shrimp puffs...

  16. Excellent tip! My husband has been so great to me throughout my 30 year teaching career and now my writing career. I got to make my own deadlines for this first novel, but the publicity part is another story!