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Dinner for 23 -- Part 2

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Well, actually, it turned out to be dinner for 25 (plus one kid with swine flu quarantined in her room with Ramen noodles).

The day of preparation went as planned--except that Wegmans did not have any decent organic grapes. I got the usual look, and a few comments, from people as I pushed my cart through the supermarket--a cross between shock that someone can fill a cart so full, and curiosity as to what could possibly be occurring in my household to warrant buying so much stuff. Granted, I did have eight boxes of drinking glasses, since I never have enough and I want to avoid buying plastic cups.

By lunchtime I made an executive decision that I was going to make punch. I don't think people make punch enough these days. My decision was based partly on the fact that I had a half a container of grape juice taking up too much space in the fridge. I decided to try making ice cubes out of lemonade, with a single leaf of lemon verbena frozen inside. The lemon verbena was glorious in the garden--but I hadn't used any all year, and since there actually was snow this morning, it was only a matter of days before it was dead and gone. I don't have ice-cube trays, so I filled up my tiny muffin tin with lemonade and lemon verbena and put it in the freezer.

By 4:00 the house was sufficiently straightened up and I was ready to start cooking and making the final preparations. Certain kids who were supposed to be reporting for duty to help were screaming from the basement while playing Wii Bowling. I had just put the cut and oiled potatoes into the oven to begin roasting when, at 4:20, the birthday girl (my mother) arrived. I thought for sure that, for a change, she wouldn't arrive early because someone was bringing her who knew I needed the full prep time allotted--but no. In fact, according to her companion, she had been ready to leave her house (10 minutes away from mine) at 1:00.

So I quickly put out all the drinks (nonalcoholic, of course): Sparkling water, sparkling cider, lemonade, and punch made from grape juice, sparkling water, lemonade with lemon verbena ice cubes, and some cranberry goji berry juice. I had worried that the lemon verbena leaves would turn brown when they were frozen, but they didn't. It was good punch!

For appetizers I put out olives, smoked almonds, Brie, Petit Basque cheese, and sliced baguette. By 4:50 (remember, the party was supposed to start at 5:00), everyone had arrived except my brother--who is usually the last to arrive. By the time he and his family arrived at 5:30, all the drinks were gone and dinner was ready.

By the time half the family was through the buffet line, I had the distinct panic that there wasn't going to be enough food. I even looked in my freezer to see if I had anything I could whip up quickly. Here is what was eaten: 18 steaks, 4.09 pounds of amazing wild-caught king salmon dripped with a chopped parsley, garlic, salt, and olive oil mixture, 5 pounds of multiple varieties of potatoes that were roasted with olive oil and butter (yum!), 6 bags of frozen green beans with 1 cup of toasted almonds, two full serving bowls of salad, and four baguettes of bread (two white, two whole grain) with organic pasture butter. Everything was gone except for a few green beans, a small bit of salad, and two steaks.

When everyone was seated at the table, eating and talking, I had my moment (with my feet up under the table) where I could sit back and just enjoy watching my family having a good time together. My mother was thrilled, and loved everything. The dining room was perfectly lit with low lighting and candles. Mark, a longtime friend of the family and a brilliant floral arranger, had made incredible, bountiful table arrangements. I was very happy that we all had this time together at the same table.

Dessert was her two favorites: hickory nut cake and lemon pound cake. There was enough for everyone. Everybody was happy and it all worked out.

When I took the girls up to bed (and myself, too), some of the older kids were still downstairs laughing and hanging out--without any alcohol! And when I woke up the next morning, all the dishes were done.

All in all, a great success. Next up at this same table: Christmas dinner. But I'm not going to think about that -- at least until after Thanksgiving.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.

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