Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It takes a village

I should start here: I had a barbecue, I invited my family as well as my friends, and my dad took tequila shots with my friends and me. There. I'm not even sure there's any more to write. But of course I'm gonna.

It takes a village to have a barbecue, to celebrate a birthday, to close out the Best Summer Ever, to reluctantly ring in the beginning of fall. I love having friends and family over at my home, but sometimes I fear I've bitten off more than I can chew. I could go two ways at this point: stress out and plan every detail down to the second, or shrug my shoulders and assume it'll work out fine.

I always opt for the latter, and it always works out fine. I know I'm not the most organized party planner, and the fact is I can only do so much: I have high hopes, but don't always think about implementation. Besides, there's only one of me. But the places where I let things slide, friends manage to catch the slack. In the end, everything runs smoothly enough, and everyone has a really great time. It really shouldn't worry me: it's a party, right? It's about getting good people together, and having fun. The rest, we can figure out.

Last Friday was my birthday, and I chose to celebrate with a barbecue. At some point in the planning, I completely lost my mind and decided it would be a good idea to invite my mom and dad, my sister (who has her own account of the event), my brother-in-law, and their three kids to hang out with twenty or so of my closest friends. I figured, this isn't a wild kegger, we're all grown-ups now, my friends and family are all good people, how can this be bad? (Of course, there are tons of potential answers to that question.) I was kind of amazed at myself -- this kind of circle-merging is unprecedented -- but in the back of my head I was confident it would be a fun, albeit a little insanity-inducing, experiment. The very idea made me smile.

So for days, my sister, mother, and father had been asking me questions:

"What should we wear?"

"Is it okay if I wear shorts?"

"What should we bring?"

"No really, tell us, exactly, what should we bring?"

"Well, what do your friends eat?"

As if my friends are a different breed of human than the garden variety (well, actually they are, but not in that way). Turns out, they eat food. This went on and on. After much deliberation, the day arrived. I woke up early, ran around to do much shopping and preparation, and then guests started trickling in.

I feel like I was rescued over and over. In the early hours, how could I have moved tables and barbecues across the backyard without Julie? More importantly, how could I have taken out the potentially cockroachy trash that had been staring me down intimidatingly all day, without her moral support?

Then came the parents. Saeed was happy to help. New social situations take a little effort from him, so I had a perfect task waiting for him the minute he walked in the door: string extension cords downstairs through the living room window, so we can have music outside. He was all over that.

Meanwhile, things got interesting in the kitchen. A couple early arrivers were asking my mom all sorts of questions, but I needed her help. You see, I love the idea of a whole fish, stuffed with fresh herbs and lemon slices, and grilled. We had done this once before at my parent's house, and it was a delicious preparation. So, on Sunday morning, I went to the market and got a whole striped bass. The fishmonger scaled it, wrapped it in paper, and handed it to me. When I unwrapped it in the afternoon, I noticed that it was different than the fish we had grilled that long-ago day at Violet's: it was still intact. Not only was the head still attached, which I expected, but also it had things like guts inside. Yucky!

mom is rad

This was the first occasion of the day where I realized my mother was a genius, and also a badass. She calmly put on her gloves (she had brought her own), and proceeded to behead, disembowel, and phlebotomize this poor fish. It was incredible. Who knew that my mother knew the details of fish anatomy? Wow. I was deeply humbled.

It was funny having my parents take such an active role. Our approaches are very different: they were constantly asking me for detailed tasks, wanting to know what time things would occur. I guess I hadn't really thought of these things. They were kind of harried, but while I was running around, up and down the stairs at least 500 times over the course of the day, I was never really stressed. It was a party, everyone was here to have a good time, and they did. Dad was worried about running out of food and drink, but everyone contributed generously, we had food leftover, and right now, I have about 15 bottles of wine, hefty amounts of margarita fixings, and a cooler full of beer that I don't know where in my apartment to fit. No one went hungry or thirsty.

Julia hanging with the big kids

Some amazing things happened. 6-year-old Julia, who has been branded as a bona fide introvert, was socializing with the grownups! Initiating conversations with the ones she knew, getting friendly with ones she had never met before. At first she wanted to cling to me, and admittedly, it was kind of hard: I simply couldn't make refrigerator magnet sentences with her at that moment. But eventually she was working the crowd, spelling words with my coworker Reid, talking to another friend about the boy she had a crush on in kindergarten (!!). Such the little charmer.
taking the kumquat challenge

Saeed also shone bright in the charm department. Who knew our sweet little grump had it in him to be so fun and friendly! It started out with a challenge for a couple kids to eat super-sour kumquats straight from our tree. This was fun to watch, and I was amazed at my dad, but it was just the beginning. Brad had spearheaded the margarita making process. Saeed, who can smell tequila from miles away, approached young Brad and began tutoring him on how real men drink tequila. Soon, shot glasses came out, Reid joined the fold, and the real manly drinking began. I joined them for the first one, but this continued through the course of the night. I overheard him teaching them how to toast in Persian, and later on, he greeted them with a nonchalant "Hello, ladies..." Turns out, Saeed is a master trash talker.

Tons of food were consumed: just on the grill, we had Korean barbecue chicken skewers, grilled corn with lime and cotija, smokey grilled portobellos, asparagus, and red onions, carne asada. Torreh made a delicious blue cheese dip, and Violet brought a huge refreshing Shirazi salad -- diced tomatoes and cucumbers with generous lime juice and fresh parsley. Tons of drink was drunk: all sorts of beer, the rehashed vodka spa tonic recipe, wine in red, white, and rose, and more. And when it came time to clean it up, everyone helped out, making light work of getting the building back to normal.

The night ended with me and 3 old friends lazing on the couch. We were all at least half asleep, very cozy, and able to engage in conversation at the lowest level. Such a great highlight though, after all the people, the mess, the cleanup, the running around, to just share a simple moment with dear old friends like I haven't had in years.

There were a few friends unfortunately and conspicuously absent, but it still was a great night. I knew it would work out, but I couldn't have done it without my people.


  1. Sounds like a great way to end the summer - family, friends and good food!
    Another of my favorite Persian dishes is Khoreshte Badem Jun (I'm sure I am spelling it incorrectly, but it's delicious anyway).
    Have a great weekend.

  2. Your description of Violet the badass fishgutter reminds me of the crazy cleaver-wielding chef in the Little Mermaid. Poor little herb stuffed poisson.