Monday, May 15, 2006

Convictions and Party Teas

It was Pirate Pete’s seventh birthday yesterday, but his party was Saturday (a friend had conveniently set their birthday party for Sunday before us). So, after much deliberation a bouncy castle called “Shark Attack” was ordered and the theme for the party set.

The whole week prior we had been holding our breath, would it or would it not rain? Saturday morning arrived with bright sunshine, and LL let a week’s minor tension ease away. Amazingly (or is that annoyingly (we’d just let the kids go downstairs (sigh))) the castle arrived at eight in the morning. It was a whopper, one of those two storey high bouncy slide thingies. Pirate Pete was literally a rubber ball of delight, bouncing off the walls in anticipation of getting out into the garden.

So, while LL finished off the cake (one of her motherly duties is making birthday cakes (this one was a masterpiece, a two foot long shark complete with mottled grey icing (I had, ehemmm, already tested the icing))) I got the kids fed and dressed and let them have a few quick bounces before dragging them off to their swimming class (which is usually not a chore, but usually there is not a two story bouncy castle in the garden). A quick turn around and we were back home for a fast lunch, after which LL and I turned into whirling dervishes of activity.

LL is in charge of tidying up. We long ago agreed that for guests and parties she does the clean up while I do the cooking. Reversal of those duties led to argument, I never got the house to the level of perfection she needed, she never did the food prep in the right sequence and it was always late. A good marriage is based on understanding each other’s strengths and levels of stress.

Yet I always struggle with party teas. I run a strict crunchy kitchen. We’re almost wholly organic, and experimental meals are understood. Its not always been easy, but we’ve got the kids to the point of a pretty varied palate. They know they have to at least taste what’s put on the plate, and more often than not they decide they like it (the way the rule has worked is they are allowed to not like it with no recrimination (sometimes they don’t like things for the sheer pleasure of not liking it)).

The organic bit is only partially green belief. I’m not entirely against the use of chemical fertilisers or medicines in farming, but I do think they get abused. We do have a duty of care to the world, and use of organic goods is a small part of that (if every person changed one bad habit, or used one different product, the result would be massive change). I don’t think organic goods taste better because they're organic. They allow me to know exactly what’s in what I eat, but more importantly organic farmers are far more likely to be better farmers, hence what they produce is superior quality.

Anyways, when it comes to a party tea I have to chuck a lot of that out. With 20 kids under the age of seven coming I have to produce large quantities fast, and it has to suit a wide range of tastes. That doesn’t mean stooping to turkey twizlers, but you can’t get organic white bread that comes in perfect square slices. I compromise my values somewhat to make a party tea the kids will eat.

This is based on experience. Early on I tried to make party food that was of the best ingredients and that would push their palates, but I failed. Only two stuffed mushrooms got eaten, by my kids, and the raft of open smoked wild salmon sandwiches on seeded whole wheat bread that were pushed to the sides of plates was depressing.

So, I make a party tea that I know will be eaten. I push it as far as I can dare, and use the best ingredients I can find, but… it’s a party tea. The kids love it, and I get to watch, satisfied, as 20 small faces shovel down large quantities of what I serve. There’s three types of sandwich, all in nice neat little triangles. Ham, cheese and strawberry jam. It’s for kids so the butter is slathered on nice and thick. Then there’s little cocktail sausages, not organic (why don’t any of my usual organic butchers produce those (I even asked one, he laughed down the phone)) but at least free range and herby (not a one left of those). Pizza, nothing fancy, just tomatoes and cheese, but I do them on muffins with a really good tomato sauce (anyone else use Seeds of Change, fantastic stuff), and a good buffalo mozzarella. Crisps, and here I have bowed to pressure and just serve Walkers, any thing else and most kids turn up their noses. However I do put out big bowls of fresh veg, lots of cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumber and sweet peppers (I know, lots of carbon debt).

It all came together at three with the arrival of the hordes. The weather, though a bit cloudy, had held off from raining. There was an immediate queue at the bouncy slide, and policing efforts had to be implemented. They were having a ball though. A treasure hunt was organised, an a few games such as Granny’s Footsteps. The tea went off as a picnic on the lawn, and I got my measures just right. A very little left over of everything. A bit more playing and ice cream and jelly was served (can’t get the latter organic no matter how much I search). Then the cake, replete with seven candles was brought out, and bits of grey iced chocolate orange cake were shoved into mouths.

We sent kids back to grateful parents well and truly exhausted, no injuries and only one small scuffle between two boys. Pirate Pete was happy and had a far too large mound of presents (I wish you could have the party and say no presents, but he’d hate me for it later in life… best not to give him too many reasons). It was good, and my convictions took control again.


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