November 9, 2013
Last Saturday, I threw my seventh Diwali party.
Actually, it would be completely inaccurate for me to say that I threw this party and imply that I did it by myself. Hardly. One of the things I have finally learned is that not only can I not do everything by myself, it’s much more fun to let incredible people in my life help.
And so, friend-of-a-friend Laura designed the most perfect invitations, out-of-town friend Rebecca not only drove with her husband from San Antonio for the party, but also brought custom-made food labels that matched the invitations perfectly, Megan & Maconda made the house and backyard tables look exquisite with vintage glass, floating candles, and the loveliest arrangements of pink flowers, Greg & Sharon handled plates and napkins, finding the loveliest designs, and tied sparklers into bundles for the gift bags, and continued the tradition of being the deliverers of my last-minute “Oh crap I forgot this!” items.
My mom cooked a full half of the food served, wowing everyone with her chicken tikka masala and stuffed eggplant (yes, I promise to blog about those soon!), looked like a million bucks in the deep purple sari she wore, and charmed everyone who met her for the first time. Diwali marks the one-year anniversary of her living here in Texas, just 1.96 miles away from our house, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to say that. Jill, loving spouse of shocking efficiency, rendered the back yard a twinkling retreat, perfect for the day’s fall temperatures, helped clean the house, wrangle our child, and served as always-gracious host to the almost-forty people who walked through our door.
For his part, Shiv romped, flirted, played ball (pictured here with Rebecca’s husband, Aaron), and pointed up at airplanes passing overhead (his latest thing). He had a blast, and I hope everyone else did, too.
When I threw my first Diwali party, I didn’t think too much about why I was doing it or what I was hoping to get out of it; I had just lost my dad, and throwing the party seemed a way to honor him and the rituals of my youth, plus it gave me a project, something to do, which is helpful when you are grieving. Since then, though, I’ve thought (along with Jill) more deliberately about the intention behind the tradition we’ve created.
Our hope is to create something magical, to render our home a sacred space, one in which strangers can meet and connect, feel and share joy, and leave well fed not just in stomach but in soul. To me, Diwali is, in its essence, an affirmation of the belief that love is the strongest force in the universe; that, no matter how hopeless things seem, human goodness will always triumph. And each year, the people who we are lucky enough to have in our lives show up at our house and serve as living proof of that belief.
We billed this year’s gathering as an open house/happy hour, so we had plenty of beer, wine, & cocktails on hand. The two cocktails I served—Lucky Dogs & Cider Sidecars—proved to be incredibly popular and were easy to prep ahead of time.
For food, we had: the aforementioned chicken tikka masala & stuffed eggplants from my mom, a sev puri station that included sprouted mung beans (also a hit, also done by mom), some tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs that I made, roasted chickpeas, a cucumber/onion/tomato salad, carrot achar (pickle), onion pakoras (fried by—you guessed it! my amazing mother) served with tomato chutney, and saag paneer pizza, which was the hands-down runaway hit of the night.
Here’s how I did them, step by step (I was able to fit 3 “pizzas” per baking sheet & work in batches):
1. Garlic naan (Storebought from Whole Foods—I’m not THAT crazy!)
2. Homemade saag slathered on top (I made mine in the slow cooker overnight, which helped it thicken, keeping it from being too watery.)
3. Generous handfuls of pre-shredded mozzarella (don’t use fresh mozz, it’s too watery)
4. Cubes of homemade paneer sprinkled on top.
5. Into a very hot oven–500°–to get the cheese all melty, and then a few minutes under the broiler to brown everything.
6. A good slather of homemade cilantro chutney after the pizzas came out of the oven.
7. Cool slightly, cut into wedges, & serve hot.
(No pictures, they disappeared too quickly!)