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Monday, May 13, 2013

Brunch - A Survival Guide

Smoked Salmon with Asparagus Ribbons, Radish, and Roe

 My partner P and I love to throw a party - what gay doesn't?! No surprises here, we always enjoy an intimate 3-course dinner with close friends, a costumed Halloween bash, even a bubbly holiday soiree, but what we live for is brunch.

Brunch presents its own unique set of challenges to hosts of any caliber or orientation. The day-time setting means a flexible time frame, so schedule wisely and watch the mimosa intake, you’ll need stamina. It also means no mood lighting or dark corners in which to hide, so don’t forget the BB cream and brush-up on current events. Then there’s the food, is it breakfast, lunch, some awkward straddle dish in between? do your guests have special dietary needs?and what on earth do you serve to keep all your foodie friends from throwing shade? Not least of these challenges is the pressure of expectation. As brunch is pretty much an institution in our culture, if you throw a bad one, they take away your gay card (not kidding)!

All this in mind, we set out last weekend to host our annual spring open house brunch. Through the trials tribulations, bumps, and bruises came many lessons learned and this post.

What follows is our 20-something-urban-proletariat Brunch - Survival Guide, if you will. These are the do’s and don’ts, a brief how-to for anyone hoping to host brunch and make it out alive.

Brunch - A Survival Guide

The Guest List

Brunch Flowers
Invite just anybody. Skip the friend who always bring 4 strangers who sit around, drink too much, talk only to each other and complain about the lack of salsa....we all know that girl....

Think outside the box. Do you have a hippie aunt who lives in town and would make great conversation after some Sangria? How about the neighbors with whom you rarely speak but look like they have some juicy off-color stories to tell? Everyone loves an invite and a group setting like brunch, fueled by food and drink, is a gentle way to expand everyone's' social circles. Choose wisely and you could end up with a stimulating social calendar for the rest of the year.

The Food

 Serve tired traditional brunch items - quiche is over, no one likes stuffed peppers, NEVER serve club crackers or anything that looks like cheese from a parent-teacher conference, and avoid the pre-packaged version of anything you can easily make from scratch. The only thing worse than having leftovers is the talk around town about your store-bought crescent rolls.

Choose your menu carefully and make it cohesive. We try to select items that are a nod to the season or a particular cultural culinary tradition, that way it doesn’t matter if they fall more into the breakfast or lunch bucket, they’re always relevant. This time we went with the following menu, think Spring in Italy and you'll get the drift...

- Parmigiano, pancetta, and broccoli raab savory bread pudding
- Polenta cakes & mozzarella w/ rosemary brown butter 
- Arugula, fennel, and orange salad w/ ricotta salata
- Spring pea & spicy lemon spread over grilled crostini
- Smoked Salmon w/ asparagus ribbons, shaved radishes, and roe on pumpernickel points
- P's famous charcuterie and cheese plate (bresaola and a buttery prosciutto always in attendance)
- Grilled cilantro-chimichurri beef tips with Siracha aioli

P's Charcuterie

The Drink:

Give your guests free reign in your liquor cabinet. Your less inhibited friends will end up making a scene, or worse a mess, and you will run out of provisions before you know it - The ultimate sin for a brunch host.

Choose signature cocktail offerings intentionally. This limits the risk of over indulgence due to heavy handed refills, and gives you better inventory control. While we always offer the basic spirits and mixers to more traditional drinkers, this time we chose to start the day with a Bloody Mary bar featuring home made mix (obviously) and various accoutrements including Old Bay shrimp, Seaside cheddar, candied cayenne bacon, and cornichons. For the latter part of the day we changed it up, and switched to mint tea vodka spiked Arnold Palmers. As long as you refrain from going too highbrow or exotic with your ingredients, you will avoid offending anyone’s taste or sensibilities.

Garden Table

The Setting

Put everything in one place. Drinks, food, flatware, and linens all in one place equal one thing - cattle call, ain't nobody got time for that. 

Position hors d’oeurves, cocktails, and hot items in various locations throughout your home. Especially if you live in a small urban space like ours, it’s important to keep people moving and avoid congestion. Placing seating away from food sources encourages guests to explore your space and keeps the conversation fresh with the natural to and fro between refills.  

This technique also allows you to play more freely with decor. Whether it be peonies and hydrangeas in rustic table top flower arrangements, mismatched serving vessels, or vintage ombre-silver glassware and art deco linens, distributing them around the home instantly expands the opportunity for creativity beyond a single tablescape and can allow you to highlight multiple pieces that might not otherwise look great together.

We even like to separate cocktails from bottled beverage choices and tend to put wine and beer outside when the weather permits. It draws people into our garden, providing an additional setting, and gives people a reason to linger outdoors.

Parmigiano Pancetta Bread Pudding with Broccoli Raab

The Execution:

Do it all alone. You will get sucked into cleaning up spills and refreshing olive trays. You will ignore your guests and resent your co-hosts if you let the upkeep get the best of you. Remember, nobody likes a host stomping around with b*tch face.

Hire help ($100 on Craigslist will get a slew of willing responses) or designate a friend willing to assist and help spread the serving and maintenance duties - After all you need to enjoy yourself.

Bloody Mary Garnish Bar - Candied Bacon, Cornichon, Seaside Cheddar, and Old Bay Shrimp


We may be only budding lifestyle authors, but our friends will attest we throw a brunch on par with the experts (just make sure they've had a few mojitos when you inquire). 

We hope you found our "Rules " helpful and perhaps a little more practical than from others more seasoned or broadly published in the field (side-eye to you Martha, Giada, Ina and Nate). 

No matter the scale nor the budget, a successful host is smart about planning and the guest list, makes intentional food, beverage, and decor choices, and always keeps in mind the ultimate goal, to have a good time!

As you might expect, we have an opinion on everything from etiquette to Étouffée. So if you have any questions or want more info, don't hesitate to ask -

The Menu in Detail

still to come....I'm barely recovered as it is...

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