|My invitation doesn't|
change much from year
I soon discovered that holding my party on the July Fourth holiday does not produce a very big turnout, as everyone has already committed to spending time with their own families. The key, it turned out, is to host the gathering the first Saturday after the Fourth of July. Everyone who isn't traveling on vacation is far more likely to be available, the fireworks are all half price at the stores, and people are still in the mood for an outdoor gala.
I decided to make it a potluck, with the intention of taking some of the intense preparation off my shoulders. Much as I love to host fancy dinner parties during the winter, this would be an opportunity for my guests to showcase their own family favorites to a wider audience. Of course, I would make something, but it had to be easy and keep well. I chose my favorite Maahs family chili, a beloved recipe handed down to me by the family of my first husband, Mike Maahs, more than forty years ago. Some might think of chili as more of a cold-weather staple, but I love this chili any time of year. And made with lean ground turkey, it hits all the right flavor notes without being too heavy for sultry summer weather. I had sixty guests that first year -- and I've never looked back.
This year I emailed my invitation on June 8, exactly one month ahead of the date of the party. Those neighbors for whom I did not have email addresses, such as the new couple who moved in across the street a few months ago, got snail-mailed invitations.
|The new roof, by Dream Home|
Remodeling, looked great once it was
|The crew chief, Lapaya, added|
this imaginative "conehead"
decoration to my smokehouse
roof. I love it!
The new HVAC system was also a challenge. I'd researched various alternatives for my ancient fuel-oil boiler system and hot-water radiators. I loved the radiators and their silent, comfortable heat, but they took up an enormous amount of space in every room of my small farmhouse. The fuel oil that powered them was expensive, and I also had the expense of an inefficient forced-air propane furnace in my guesthouse. In addition to fuel oil and propane, I paid electric bills for both systems and, with only two small window air-conditioners (one in my home office and one in my bedroom upstairs), I'd never had truly comfortable cool, conditioned air in my home the entire seventeen years I'd lived in Maryland. It was time for a change.
|John Bain and John Weckessser of |
Advanced Heating and Cooling
install a ducted unit in my small
|This twin bed recesses into the attic|
of my front porch roof
|Derek Hahn and his son, Jordan,|
of Hahn Home Improvements,
are working together
to build my new hobby room
In the angst-filled construction days leading up to my party I watched in wonder as the "yes" RSVPs began to mount. When the guests coming to my party topped 100 in number, I realized that I'd created an ambiance over the years that people seem naturally drawn to. I discovered that others want a family-friendly place to enjoy good food and drink with friends and neighbors as much as I do! I began to get really excited.
|Tables adorned with red cloths and|
patriotic flower and flag bouquets
grace the yard in anticipation
of my party
After work each night I busied myself with preparations. I made three kinds of sangria, a Greek-pasta salad, a carrot-turmeric salad, a blueberry-cucumber salad and a baked cashew-artichoke dip. I made my pot of chili and ordered small deli-trays of raw veggies, lunch meats, and sandwich roll-ups. I prepared the custard for my grandmother's old-fashioned homemade ice cream. Blackberry-sage would be this year's flavor. One neighbor smoked two entire pork briskets. Another made her famous lemon cake. A third brought me dozens of her wonderful deviled eggs. Still another made Jamaican barbecued jerk chicken with rice and peas.
On the day of the party, 121 people came to enjoy a perfect summer evening on my lawn. I was ecstatic to have such a wonderful turnout. The tables I'd set up as a "food court" on my patio groaned under the weight of all the delicious appetizers, salads, main dishes and desserts everyone contributed. The culinary imaginations of my guests knew no bounds. There were avocado pudding "boats" (avocado-infused chocolate pudding in hollowed-out avocado shells), bacon-and-caramelized onion mini-quiches, couscous-shrimp salad, and blueberry-strawberry "crustless" pie to name but a few of the offerings.
|On my patio, a festive "food court" was|
filled with the contributions of more
than a hundred friends and neighbors
More than twenty children splashed in my pool and tried their hands at badminton, horseshoes, Frisbee and soccer across my two acres. The mood was festive and the weather ideal.
As dusk approached, I lighted candles inside the house and tiki torches outside, creating a magical glow across the expanse of my little slice of paradise. When my old ice-cream maker gave up the ghost at the last minute, a neighbor rushed to my rescue and brought me hers.
|Once darkness fell, torches and candles|
gave the yard a romantic glow
|My cousin, Ian, and his wife,|
Sharon, are from my mom's
side of the family. A cousin
and her family from my
father's side were there, too