Our turn to host a themed dinner party
Last week brought snow, freezing rain and icy streets, but there was a palm tree in my family room. A crude home-made palm tree with wrapping paper roll centres covered in crinkled paper lunch bags for a trunk and leaves cut out of green poster board.
Other items had been added to the room to create a Caribbean ambiance – seashells in glass containers of fake sand and printouts of Caribbean scenes propped up on the chest-level ledge that wraps around three walls of the room. The colourful parrot and the coconut shell wind chimes that reside in our gazebo in summer had been pulled from the plastic container that is their winter home and hung from the ceiling heating vents. A dollar-store floral plastic tablecloth covered a table serving as a bar. Reggae music played from the speakers attached to my husband’s laptop
It was our turn to host the dinner club. The theme was Caribbean.
There are eleven of us in the club. We have a dinner party once every two months or so, dependent on finding dates that fit everyone’s schedule. We take turns hosting. The host selects the theme and prepares the main course. The rest sign up to bring appetizers, soup, salad, and dessert, something of their own choosing in keeping with the theme. Many of the dishes have been ones we’ve never prepared before, but we haven’t encountered a bad dish yet. If that should ever happen, I think we would all have a good laugh about it and then continue on with the rest of the party.
We became friends when we worked together to help and encourage our children’s youth group. Now that the children have outgrown the youth group and gone on to their separate, although sometimes still connected, lives, the parents have formed their own group. The dinner club offers an opportunity for getting together on a regular basis and has provided a lot of fun and laughs.
We’ve been having dinners for two years now. We started with a Mexican theme, followed by French Canadian, complete with pea soup, tourtièreand sugar pie. We donned ceinture fléchée, a colourful sash that is a traditional piece of French-Canadian clothing of the 19th century. Most of us had these, our own or our child’s, and had worn them to Festival du Voyageur, the celebration of the joie de vivre of the fur traders who established the Red River Colony and the French-Canadian community in Western Canada, held every February in Winnipeg’s French Quarter.
We’ve had a Japanese dinner, a German dinner and an Italian dinner. Leis and cocktails with little umbrellas in them greeted us at our Hawaiian dinner. One woman wore a colourful flamingo dress, something she had in her tickle trunk, to our Spanish paella dinner. Her husband printed a picture of the Spanish flag and taped it to the front of a t-shirt bearing the name of a Spanish soccer player on the back.
We wore masks, elaborate make-up, and boas to the Mardi Gras jambalaya dinner and drank hurricanes. Our hosts for the roaring 20s party covered their windows with black plastic to create a speakeasy atmosphere and offered us candy cigarettes and mint juleps. Some of the women wore flapper dresses, headbands and boas, some of the men fedoras and suspenders.
We greeted our guests with Caribbean punch. We’d omitted the rum from the recipe and set the rum bottle beside the punch bowl, giving guests alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. The cooler beside the bar contained bottles of Ting among other soft drinks and beer.
For the main course, we served rice and red beans, oven baked jerk chicken, Jamaican curried snapper with coconut and lime, and Caribbean corn. We made two versions of the jerk chicken, one with hot peppers, one without. Some of the group can handle spice, some not. We served the curried snapper on its own, not with roti. And, as it turned out, without the curry. After carefully chopping and grinding all the spices earlier in the afternoon, we forgot to include them in the fish when we cooked it. It was still delicious.
Guests brought appetizers, salad and dessert. We had Caribbean chicken quesadillas and Caribbean shrimp with lime for appetizers. Both had a nice little bite. The all-inclusive salad contained a variety of fruit, cucumber and onions in a white wine and honey dressing. Dessert was a Haitian rum cake, served with vanilla ice cream.
I improvised a version of callaloo soup, using the tins of callaloo I’d originally intended to serve as a second vegetable. The woman who was to bring the soup called early in the afternoon to say she couldn’t attend. She and her siblings had been summoned to the hospital where their mother had been admitted earlier in the week with congestive heart failure. We continued without her, but she was never far from our thoughts.
There was an abundance of food. The next morning I delivered left-overs to our missing friend and her family. I am reminded of the bond our group shares. It is a bond that transcends the food and the laughter. The dinner club will be there for our friend with prayers, hugs, and helping hands.