You should go into catering! No thanks.
“You should go into catering.” While I’m flattered by this kind and appreciative statement, after parties, the only response I can muster is, “Thank you, but I don’t want to work that hard.”
Parties, regardless of how much I love planning the menu, making the food, decorating the table, and just the general idea of making people welcome, are hard work and catering, I would think, is 10 times harder.
One of my first really big parties was a wedding reception for my sister-in-law. Poolside was transformed into a mosquito-netted, ladybug-laden, rose-strewn garden that looked like it had been plucked from the dream of a sleeping child. I found tons of tiny, adorable fabric insects that I hot-glued onto abundant yards of ivory tulle that I fished out of the discount bin at our local fabric store. I spent hours foraging ivy from around my house and then decided mid-way through to help myself to the over-grown garden as well. I hand-pinned the ivy around the perimeter of the ivory-covered tables, mixing the hodge-podge of roses and other blooms intermittent. I gathered the massive miles of netting and knotted it to a concealed hook in the ceiling and then attached grasshoppers, lady bugs, dragon flies, butterflies, and bumble bees to the gossamer fabric; there was something very sweet yet sophisticated about the look- at once it was ethereal, whimsical, and elegant in an innocent kind of way.
I designed the cake (garden themed) and had a local bakery make it and though I was fairly inexperienced at giving parties of that size, we were successful with what seems today like a dated menu of stuffed mushrooms, mini crab cakes, melon wrapped in prosciutto, spinach dip with toasted pita triangles, mini loaded baked potatoes, chicken satays, fruit skewers, tomato bruschetta, and mini beef wellingtons. If I had to do it again, there isn’t much I would change except maybe the menu would get an infusion of current inspiration. For example, the stuffed mushrooms would become mushroom tartlets, the bruschetta would become fig and goat cheese crostini, and I’d probably deconstruct the mini wellingtons. If I changed anything, I’d expand the garden/ mosquito netting theme to include the guest tables, chairs, and the invitations.
I’ve done many, many parties since with different menus and themes, different sizes, and almost any occasion you can think of and regardless of the amount of work involved, I loved every one. I’m very attached to the private experience of hospitality, the opening of my home, the breaking of bread, the idea that whatever I have is yours. And though it’s fun to think of bringing the warmth, kindness, and happiness of parties to strangers, I am too in love with the intimacy and specialness of the personal celebration of family ties and friendship to ever seriously consider catering as a career.
Carmelized Onion, Mushroom, and Gruyere Tartlets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
16 ounces white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup white wine (may substitute chicken broth)
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten together (for the egg wash)
Handful of parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft and all of the liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to pull up all of the browned bits, and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Unfold the thawed sheets of puff pastry and cut out circles using a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass, placing the rounds evenly-spaced on the baking sheets. Using a very sharp knife, make four small scores around the perimeter of the dough, about ¼ to ½-inch from the edge. Top the rounds of puff pastry with a small spoonful of the onion and mushroom mixture, trying to keep the filling within the score marks. Top with the shredded Gruyere cheese. Brush the edges of the dough rounds with the egg wash. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 15 to 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Makes about 16 tartlets