Sunday, August 14, 2011

We Live to Serve

That's a quote from the book "Each Little Bird that Sings."  It's the story of a young girl named Comfort who lives & helps out in her parents' funeral home.  It is a sweet and funny story, mixed in with etiquette tips & recipes for funerals.  Did I mention it's a kid's book?

It got me thinking about the party you don't want to plan (a funeral wake) and what I've learned about catering them.

1. How many carts do I need at Costco?
The family won't eat much.  They probably haven't eaten since it happened, so count them up & divide the number of people in half.  Now, how much food to buy for everyone else?  Well, people fall into two groups: the stop-by's and the won't-go's (not that you want them to).  The stop-by's eat, chat, and go.  Count them in with a one to one ratio.  One person, one meal.  The won't-go's eat, chat, chat some more, and eat again.  Count them as one and a half meals each.

Here's that again:
Family... (10 immediate family members/2 = 5 meals)
Stop-by's...(30 people= 30 meals)
Won't-go's...(20 people= 30 meals)

My total ends up with 65 meals.  It's okay if there's extra.  When the family decides to eat again, it will be nice if there are leftovers in their fridge.

I will need two carts at Costco.

2.  What should I serve?
I got the same advice from everyone when I asked what to serve: Keep it Simple.  Remember the family that hasn't eaten all week?  Yeah, they might not have hollandaise on hand.  I'm fortunate to have a good relationship with a restaurant so I cheated and ordered some food to cut down on my cooking.  Even if you didn't spend your early 20's working at Rutabegorz, I bet there's a restaurant that can make you some snazzy salads.

Here's a menu suggestion:
Sandwiches.  Easy to eat; most people will eat the basics.  Chicken salad, tuna salad, turkey, ham.  You've got variety; you're good.

Wraps.  People love wraps.  Maybe it's because all of the veggies are hidden.  Turkey & avocado, hummus & artichoke, garlic chicken & feta.  A nice part is you can make the fillings ahead of time and just roll them before.

Salads.  When people offer to bring something, suggest a salad.  Be specific on what kind of salad you want them to bring.  Of course, they'll probably just bring what they want anyway.

Fruit & Veggie Trays.   Maybe the widow will walk by and pick up a carrot stick.  Be ready in case she's thinking about it.

3.  Double the dessert.
One more calculation for you: take the number of people you expect and double it.  I served mini-desserts because it makes me feel better to say "well, they're so small" even though I just ate twelve.  Going mini?  Go overboard.

Does the deceased have a favorite cookie?  Make trays of them.  If not, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal are standard.  Brownies seem like the traditional wake food, but cakes are popular, too.

4.  Bring on the hooch.
People who are sad drink.  People who are celebrating drink.  Either way the wake mood goes, have booze.  Beer's probably a little tacky in some circles (not mine, by the way).  Have some decent-enough wine.  Spike a lemonade or two.

Water, iced tea, and soda are fine.

5.  Decorations liven up death.
There certainly shouldn't be balloon arches or tissue pom poms, but you need something to put on the tables.  Flowers have been arriving all week so feel free to use them for entry tables, counters, wherever.  I wrapped some mason jars in fabric and arranged some flowers I picked up for centerpieces for the tables.  Even though the tables & chairs were hodge-podge, everything felt like it went together once it was disguised with a tablecloth & centerpiece.  

Get a bunch of matching tablecloths at the party store.  Normally I don't like the plastic disposable tablecloths, but no one is going to want to clean up after.  Roll them up with whatever plates, cups, etc. were left on the table and toss them.  Clean up, done.

A necessary party component are plates & utensils.  Nobody wants to do dishes...well, my mother would want to do dishes.  But no normal people was to do dishes.  Party City sells china-looking plates.  Most are $9.99 for 10, but a thrifty shopper might be able to find them on sale.