It’s a form of torture. We all hate it, don’t we?
Forced to stand for hours, in uncomfortably intimate proximity to similarly tortured strangers and acquaintances. Shuffling from one foot to the other, attempting to extricate ourselves from the corner we’ve been corralled into by the clingy chatterbox, whose speech impediment is that every five minutes they have to stop talking to take a breath.
A form of punishment that would be frowned upon by Amnesty International ensues as we listen disinterestedly to their uninteresting monologue. Thankfully we know we’ll be released in just a few hours.
Little wonder several good big glasses of social lubricant are required to get through the average cocktail party.
Today’s cocktail party brims with wine and beer; the closest thing to a cocktail is a whisky and water. Party food has morphed over the last thirty years from plates to platters, then to charcuterie boards and now grazing tables. Soon, the stainless steel trough will take over as an easy, one-size-fits-all buffet option. A swill of baba ghanoush, tortilla chips, pulled pork, and vegan cheese. Colourful gluttony gone mad, I tell you.
Where has all of the finesse of tinned pineapple and tasty cheese on a toothpick shoved in an orange gone?
We all pine for the food of yesteryear. Beetroot hummus is trendy, bright and cheery, and, if you spoon it into a bowl of your own, a few of your guests, once three deep in chardonnay, will ask for the recipe. It has its issues though; how the hell are we supposed to balance this Levantine ambrosia on a flaccid carrot stick without streaking our latest Anna S creation? It’s a modern day dilemma.
So this begets the question: What food is best to sustain us through to the point at which we feel we can politely leave the party without taramasalata on our moustaches and harissa drizzle down our brand-new linen shirts?
Old-school finger food is the answer. The clue is in the title. Pleasant smile firmly affixed, glass in one hand, bite-size food held between thumb and forefinger of the other. It’s a time-tested formula used to stop guests from getting too pissed too soon. It doesn’t work with the pre-loaders (or ‘life and soul of the party’ as we used to call them).
The canapes should be no floppier than a blini. That’s the rule. Other rules include: mustn’t require two hands or a plate, and definitely not a fork. Should not shatter in or on its way to the mouth. Must not be so large as to smudge lipstick or require excessive gaping to insert, nor induce hearty mastication before swallowing. No sloppy sauce.
And that, drumroll please, is the science behind the mythical Kiwi Dip. We are all familiar with the scene: we lean slightly and move our free hand towards the bowl of chips. As our fingers extend we make a snap selection through practiced eyes, choosing the chip with the appropriate saddle in which to cradle the perfect amount of firm creaminess. Then one smooth action to finish and we are back to the “What do you do?” drudgery.
The nibbles of the past generally hark from the same source, the pantry. Back in the day when the call, “Gentlemen a crate and Ladies a plate”, went out, no one thought of roasting an aubergine or stuffing a zucchini flower and the parties were better for it.
There was little pressure to impress because the menu was usually the same. Rolls: sausage and asparagus. Cheese: with pineapple, creamed with celery sticks, and as straws. Vol au vents: with creamy mushroom filling. Red sausages: small for kids parties, bigger versions for the grown-ups. Pavs: nuff said.
We have transitioned from bucolic ‘she’ll-be-right’ menus to colourful, Gramable meze boards.
There have been a few casualties on that journey. A notable also-ran but now seldom-seen element of noughties parties is the once ubiquitous oil and bread partnership or, in better suburbs, the oil, bread and dukkah menage a trois. Likewise the bruschetta and crostini have suffered at the hands of the carb-averse. Scoffing Philly cheese topped with sweet chilli sauce using only a brittle lavosh is irksome, but is still popular in some quarters.
There are party food items that have stood the test of time. Who doesn’t love a mini-pie or quiche? The box of frozen savouries has seen a lot of action over the years, most often served with an unpleasantly sweet tomato sauce. Likewise, popular with the “If you can’t fry it, don’t buy it” mob, prawn twisters and samosas are resilient menu options.
Clearly then, the booze and the grub together save us from social purgatory by emboldening us and sating the hunger of the day. Once fed and ‘watered’ we quite enjoy talking to old what’s his name about whatever it is he does between weekends. Two hours later and we’ve grazed heartily whilst keeping well hydrated with a much better quality beer than the one we brought to the party. The tapenade stain doesn’t bother us as we guffaw loudly, too loudly, at the jokes we tell.
Despite our earnestly professed intentions we have overstayed the allotted cocktail hours and found ourselves with a small group of stalwarts trying, but really too full, to get the dancing going.
It’s nearly midnight as we try to maneuver ourselves into the Uber without dropping the ham sandwich we were told we had to eat. Our fear of carbs and processed meats has been driven from us, but will certainly return with a vengeance near dawn tomorrow.
We love parties.