October 13, 2009
Late Friday afternoon, we had to say goodbye to our sweet old girl.
All things considered, our Lucky Dog lived up to her name. She didn’t have to suffer through a prolonged illness or regular trips to the vet. The two people who love her most were right there with her when she died. LD enjoyed an incredibly high quality of life right up until the very end, something we don’t take for granted.
But I’m still walking around like a zombie in her absence. Having an old dog, you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable. But as with any loss, I’ve found you can’t really understand what it will be like until you are there. Our whole family life revolved around that dog—coming home to let her out, feeding her, changing her diapers, baking her dog bones, rubbing her belly. She was my first pet, Jill’s faithful hunting partner, and a source of much joy and comfort to both of us.
Needless to say, we came home Friday to a very hollow house. A very hollow house that had been, up to that point, in the throes of preparation for a very large party the following night.
During each of the four autumns since my father died, I’ve thrown a party to celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali. My first was a small graduate school gathering in my tiny apartment in Tucson—I kept my mom on culinary consultation via cell phone and somehow managed to coax my tiny stovetop into making large pots of rice pudding (kheer) and my father’s favorite kidney bean stew (rajma). Jill came into town and poured drinks for everyone. My fellow writers wrapped the patio in lights, brought candles, decorated my sidewalk with chalk drawings. We stayed up late that night, sitting on the floor of my apartment, the conversation intimate, warm.
Since then, the logistics have expanded considerably but my intentions haven’t changed. I seek to honor my father, remember him, commemorate him, make him proud. As with all of my cooking endeavors, I work to earn my place next to my mother and every other kitchen goddess/hostess/Southern gentlewoman I watched growing up, gracious, willful, relentless. I like the hard work that comes with feeding forty-five people intricate food you made from scratch. I revel in the ache and feeling that I have squared myself firmly inside my heritage (albeit with a few first-generation twists).
This year, Jill and I considered, for maybe thirty seconds, calling off the party. But I don’t think it was ever really an option in either of our minds. What better time to have a house-full of people we love? Not to mention, what on EARTH would we have done with all of the food I had already made?
So, the show went on, as the show must do, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best one yet. You know those occasions when you can feel a place hum with love and good will? It was one of those. We saw the smiling faces of some of our favorite people, hugged them, fed them good food, and felt grateful for our life, with everything in it.
I’m humbled by two things right now:
- The beings I love, love, love with all my might and heart and soul and body, will die someday and I can’t control when or how. When they are gone, it will hurt irreparably.
- There are some truly incredible beings in my life.
My creative librarian colleague Heather, who manufactured the most beautiful cardstock-and-vellum labels for all of the evening’s food:
Or our dear friends Courtney and her husband John, who showed up at our house on Friday night with bags of Thai food and these votive-holders, which they crafted out of baby food jars, copper wire, and the loveliest quotes about light. I think they’re going to become a permanent fixture in our window:
My college roommate and talented artist Rebecca swathed the tables in sun colors, rose petals, flowers, and even incorporated pictures of our sweet girl at the last minute:
I could go on and on—indomitable photographer Sonya, whose good work you see all over this post, my beloved Jill, who cleaned our house from top to bottom, wrapped the fence in lights, and set out all of the rental tables and chairs, and the kind-hearted Meg of Maker’s Table, who served as our wine consultant, recommending wonderful bottles in my price range that would pair nicely with the evening’s spicy food.
Speaking of food, we set out quite a spread, if I may say so myself:
For appetizers, we had:
- Indian fruit salad with mango, pineapple, pomegranate, & star fruit
- Bhel Puri, a build-your-own Indian street food featuring spicy potatoes atop a bed of crunchy chick-pea flour snacks, onion, cilantro, & one or both of tamarind and coriander chutneys
- grilled Halloumi cheese atop mini-pitas with mango chutney and onion relish
- Lamb Koftas (spicy meatballs in a tomato/sour cream gravy)
- Saag Paneer (greens with homemade cheese)
- Channa Masala (North Indian-style chickpea stew)
- Sweet potatoes & green beans with mustard seeds
- Basmati rice pilaf
- Achar (cauliflower, carrot, & jalapeño pickle)
- Raita (homemade yogurt with grated cucumber & salt)
- Naan (which I purchased and I did NOT make!)
For dessert, I made Indian-style chai and served up little bowls of Suji Halwa, a kind of porridge made with cream-of-wheat, butter, cardamom, & nuts. Sounds a little strange, but it’s delicious.
I’m afraid I don’t have all of the recipes ready to post for you here—I cooked in enormous quantities and Sonya wasn’t always around to document the process. I plan to re-run some of these items and measure more closely next time, so if there are any dishes you are particularly interested in having a recipe for, please let me know.
In the meantime, though I don’t have photographic evidence of it, I did concoct a cocktail which we served at the start of the party. This drink was a HIT—we went through several pitchers of it before moving onto wine & beer with dinner.
A little bit exotic and very easy to make, this guava concoction paired well with the strong Indian food flavors that were being served; I suspect it would also work well with other Asian cuisines or Mexican food. If you’ve never had guava nectar, try it! It has a slightly puckery, but also sweet flavor, distinctive and likeable.
I think I’m going to christen them Lucky Dogs.
LUCKY DOGS (Guava Cocktails)
This recipe makes a pitcher’s worth, but you could easily adjust it for a smaller batch. Find guava nectar in the International Foods aisle of your grocery store, either in the Mexican or Indian section. Nectar can also be found in specialty stores of the same type.
4 cups guava nectar*
2 bottles ginger beer* (I love Reed’s)
1 cup vodka (want to try substituting gin—if any of ya’ll do, let me know how it goes!)
juice of 4 limes
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher, stir with a large spoon. Would look lovely garnished with a spring of mint and/or wedge of lime. You know, if you weren’t serving 45 people all at once.
* Chill these ahead of time or serve the cocktail over ice.