My friend Ryan O’Connell is one of my favorite people. If you don’t know who he is, hop on to Amazon now and check out his book, I’m Special, and come back here once you’ve bought it and read it. Not only did he write that book, but now he’s writing for fall’s most anticipated TV show: the reboot of Will & Grace. So Ryan’s a talented guy who has great taste in wine and even better taste in dinner parties: he loves my cooking. For his birthday, I told him I’d make him a dinner and he could choose the menu. He thought on it and came back with “spaghetti and meatballs, because I know you’ll do it really, really well.” His boyfriend Jonathan loves my Caesar salad, so we added that to the menu. Later I e-mailed to query about his favorite desserts and he wrote back: “My fave desserts are chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, and strawberry shortcake.” I combined a little from Column A and a little from Column B and chose my favorite dinner party staple, this flourless chocolate cake.
Everyone (Ryan, Jonathan, and our mutual friends Lara, Graydon, and Kyle) were all set to come over on Saturday night at 7:30 PM. So on Saturday morning, I set out for Gelson’s to get started on my food shopping when I had an idea: what if I documented the whole thing, from the food shopping in the morning to the moment everyone leaves at the end of the night? Sort of a timeline of how I pull off a dinner party? Wouldn’t that be an epic, potentially useful post for people who want to pull off similar dinner parties? Well, either way, I did it, so without further ado, I present: a timeline of how I pulled off Ryan’s Birthday Dinner.
The bar was set very low. I wanted to recreate the Olive Garden chocolate cake that we used to get for our non-birthdays, growing up (non-birthdays because my parents would lie and say it was somebody’s birthday so we’d get a free cake) and would keep in our refrigerator for the week. I’d eat it cold with a glass of milk and it always hit the spot. I wanted something simple like that, so I turned to Twitter. A follower suggested I make the chocolate cake on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa container. I was sold.
The idea of room service held little appeal for me until I was on a book tour for longer than expected (stranded in Austin for a bit by the hurricane) and suddenly I couldn’t fathom another dinner out with human beings. I enjoy human beings…but on a book tour you meet so many of them and talk to so many of them there comes a moment where you just want to be by yourself.
So on the night before I flew back to New York, I stayed in my room at the W hotel and ordered room service. Something about it made me feel giddy, like I was a kid doing something I might be punished for later. (And when my publisher sees the hotel room bill, that may still happen! Don’t worry, I didn’t order any exotic movies.)
The first meal that you cook in a new apartment is very, very important. We all remember what happened last time, don’t we? I attempted to inaugurate our Park Slope apartment three years ago with Edna Lewis’s fried chicken (fried in butter and lard) and didn’t get the fat hot enough. The result? Gooey, gloppy, undercooked chicken and a cursed apartment that gave us bad heat over three harsh winters. (OK, I exaggerate: I liked that apartment. But the heat did suck).