20 Apr Tiny Party Food
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.4.22 – Easter Monday
Generally I am late to the party on whatever the cool kids are into so, for once, I’d like to get ahead of the curve and launch a new fad myself. Allow me to introduce you all to what I am calling the “Tiny Party Food” movement.
This is not to be confused with the “Tiny Food” movement from a few years ago which had people serving doll-sized food on dollhouse furniture. That was more about art than eating. This current food mood of mine is, I feel, a sustainable approach to daily sustenance.
Over here at my place I have discovered that, if left to my own devices, my preference is to live on hors d’oeuvres. Not as a snack before dinner. As dinner. Also lunch. Crackers, bread rounds and pastries with fun toppings other people serve to “tide you over” till the main event have become, for me, the main event.
I say “become” but the truth is I’ve always been inclined to turn up to a dinner and pre-emptively hoover up the corn chips and guacamole in such a heroic fashion that by the time everyone sits down to the proper meal, I am quite full, thank you. A decision I usually find myself at peace with because nothing much beats a good guacamole. She’s a tough dish to follow, so I don’t.
At the supermarket now I’m not even visiting the pasta aisle or glancing at the chops. I’m buying soft blue cheese, pears for slicing and honey for smearing on lightly toasted bread. Also avocado (which I’m allowed because I’m not saving up for a house) and chopped tomato with basil leaves for flavour and also because it makes it look like a party.
Party food is, I see now, my comfort food. Sure, it can also be macaroni cheese or laksa or chicken nibbles – a big bowl of easy-to-cook steaming goodness that is the dining equivalent of snuggling under a duvet.
But tiny party food provides a different kind of comfort, one infused with childhood nostalgia.
Back in the 1970s my mother was the queen of the cocktail canapé. Vol au vents, smoked oysters, stuffed mushrooms… Ridiculously fiddly food that took a whole Friday to prepare before a Saturday party, and was then plated up on trays and handed round to guests by me.
Don’t imagine a scene that is too elaborate – this was a small town filled with salt-of-the-earth good folk, not a scene from Downton Abbey – but everyone would be in their glad rags and smelling good, and my parents were always at their charming best when they were hosting a bit of a do.
There was a thing my mother made with a metal mould that hooked onto a handle. Shaped like a butterfly, she would dip the shape in batter and cook it in a pot of hot oil, then the next day she’d fill it with creamy mushrooms.
This, I now realise, is when I started scoffing snacks in sufficient quantities to constitute a meal. Leftovers from my rounds with the tray and therefore broken-hearted if there weren’t any. I remember being taken aside and warned not to look so sad-eyed when one of the grown-ups took the last of the mushroom butterflies off the dish I was holding. My Hungry Orphan vibe was not contributing to the evening’s conviviality.
And so here I am now with a tin of smoked oysters which I am sticking to crackers with a dab of cream cheese. I highly recommend it. Tiny party on.