Entertaining in Style...Without Flashing the Cash
Goodness knows where Irish people got such a name for hospitality and cheer. No doubt we surely have our own share of miserable anti-social misanthropes as well. But, there must be something about the old stereotype that rings true.
It is really only since I have seen the country "through the eyes" of my English husband that I have begun to "get it", but there really is something in the stereotype. I suppose to put it simply, it is about the "craic" – I see the English have even begun to purloin that word now – cheeky beggars.
So what is the "craic?" It is easier to say what is involved in the craic than to actually define the word. The craic involves company – you really cannot have the craic on your own. It often (but does not have to), involves alcohol. There is always animated conversation and "putting the world to rights," and for some reason, in Ireland, a good night does not really earn the name unless people start singing, or perhaps, better still, play an instrument.
Hence, in little pubs across the land, impromptu "sessions" occur. This is a beautiful example of how something ancient and piecemeal can be spruced up and dragged into the modern age.
But, the pub and pub life is not always appropriate to the occasion. I hesitate to say anything to contribute to the decline of the pub. They have a lot to contend with – cheap supermarket drink, the drink-driving laws and tough economic times are a potent and toxic combination.
Hopefully, the tourist trade and the love of conviviality will ensure their survival. But, in the meantime you want to meet your friends, to entertain them and show hospitality towards them but your purse strings are drawn very tight? How can you go about it?
The first thing that has to go is the crazy flash competitiveness that gripped the country in the recent (though it seems a long time ago, now) boom time. This may seem obvious but it is easier said than done.
Maybe, even dare to bring the subject up when you are with your friends...you know...examining the point of a get together...isn’t it primarily about the company, not about keeping up with the Joneses? So, once the show-off factor has been dealt a death blow, you can think of strategies to keep your party within budgetary limits but at the same time, make it memorable.
The barbeque has caught on, of course, weather-dependent as it is. If this is what you want to do, it has the advantage of a degree of simplicity. No-one is going to be stuck in the kitchen for hours before the event. There is a shared element to the cooking and we all know the male penchant for this type of cooking.
I would say it is fine to ask people to bring a pudding, but when someone I know suggested guest bring their own meat to their barbeque, I thought no, this is taking thrift too far – this is of course, a personal view.
Form and nurture a relationship with your local butcher. Ireland is blessed to still have small shops and the local butcher is a great start when organising a barbeque. Many also provide a service where they make up plates of cold meats. Some also work in conjunction with a local person who makes up salads. All you need is bread and if you bake your own – all the better. Soda bread is delicious and homely and, importantly, quick to make.
One-pot cooking is another good idea – though if you are also catering for vegetarians this needs to be at least 2-pot affair. Chillies, curries and hearty casseroles are great for a kitchen supper. If you have a basis like this, it is simple to add rice, salads and bread.
If people are bringing a bottle this will help with the alcohol supplies, but think about using fruit punch – with or without alcohol as a greeting drink. Check with your local pub or supermarket about hiring glasses for the evening.
Think about the sort of party you want to throw and think about the best (and worst) parties you’ve been to. Some people much prefer a small gathering and find it a strain to socialise in a big group. Others just need any excuse...my sister tells me that Eurovision parties and match parties have become a big thing in Ireland. The country is mad about sport and your party has an instant hook to hang from.
Think about whether or not you are going to include children and if you are, the provision you are going to make for their supervision and entertainment. It can also be a good idea to think about using a local taxi firm – one pub I know ensures all their weekend customers get home safely...by giving them a lift! Get planning, as we all know, that is part of the fun.