I miss the roses—profusions of them in silver bowls—and the warm light of candles and incandescent bulbs in pretty lamps, the white dishes and sparkling glasses, the colourful platters and bowls for serving the food, all setting the stage for another black & white party at our place. But it’s the red, red roses that I miss most of all.
March in Calgary is a bleak month, with winter all around and spring still a month or two away. The landscape is shades of brown and grey with some patches of dirty white snow. Even when the weather is mild and warm, the threat of snow and storm is there throughout the month. Way back when, we used to escape to green Vancouver with two other couples for a wonderful weekend of walking on the grass and smelling the flowers; pouring rain, which was often the case, didn’t deter our frolics nor diminish our delight. With this infusion of green and colour, we would return to Calgary with the internal fortitude to stay the course until our spring arrived a month or so later.
But our lives changed, and our Vancouver weekends faded into memory. So at the beginning of the new millennium, I decided to greet the Ides of March with something more than just depression. To defy the drab exterior landscape, a party with a black and white theme—inspired by the famous Black & White Ball at the Plaza Hotel in New York in November 1966—would be just the thing. The colours are dramatic, and every guest already has something black and something white to wear. Or so I thought, but one of the guests said the only thing he owned in black were biking shorts and in white, a t-shirt. So that’s what he wore while the rest of us dressed to the nines for this dressy affair.
I’ve always said the fun of entertaining is threefold: planning and preparing for the party; talking, laughing and eating at the party; and remembering and reminiscing about the party.
Planning for them—in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2006—begins as our parties usually do: making the guest list of 40-45 family and friends, then finding the perfect notecards for the invitations, writing them by hand and mailing or delivering them to the guests. The next step, deciding the menu, presents the challenge of finding dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and cooked—preferably in the oven—in the opening hours of the party. Growing up with three meals a day and no snacks between times, I get hungry so I always serve a full-meal buffet. But I like to cook and I like to cut out recipes from newspapers and magazines, which is where I start the hunt for the perfect main. Once that’s chosen, the accompanying dishes and dessert quickly fall into place.
It’s a couple days before the party and time to shop for, then prepare the food and clean the house from top to bottom. The day of the party arrives and setting up the dining and living rooms gets underway: the dining-room table with its white linen tablecloth and napkins (I can’t bear paper napkins and always prefer restaurants that have cloth napkins.), a stack of white plates and a brass bowl of cutlery, the Italian serving dishes (Every time we went to Italy, we brought back a platter or bowl splashed with colours; I love them.), white and red candles in their silver candlesticks and finally the pièce de resistance, red roses spilling from silver bowls—on the table,
on the mantelpiece and on the little table in the big living-room window.
At 5:50 pm, the hosts, dressed and a glass of wine in hand, are ready to welcome the guests as they start to arrive at 6 pm. Everyone positively glows with glamour and good will as talk and laughter fill the house. Everyone eats heartily of the baked salmon or beef wellington or chicken tagine or cassoulet and the vegetable
s and salads.
Everyone finishes the meal with a chocolate dessert of some kind in keeping with the rich, lush theme of the black & white party. Everyone says goodbye at 10:30-11 pm, and the hosts gather the glasses and dishes to begin the cleanup. Believe it or not, I enjoy putting the house back in its serene order, all the while reliving the party that sped by in a whirl of black & white and red, red roses.
What’s a lovely house for—and ours is lovely, I think—if not for making it a welcoming home for your family and for your friends?
Talk to you next week.