She outdid herself

This past weekend was The Soiree of 2011* and it was spectacular, spectaculoso, spectaculovelicious, etc. My aunt fairly outdid herself.

Each soiree has the same general outline: a noon lunch extraordinaire on the veranda, an activity, dinner out, and Sunday morning brunch. The specifics of these events are top secret. My aunt likes to build excitement by sending us photos of all the boxes arriving on her doorstep. Bonus activities: some sort of verbal game, a divvying up of my aunt’s hand-me-downs (this can be uproarious funny—like this time when another aunt waltzed around the room with her jeans down around her ankles), our gifts to her and hers to us. (Yes, she gives us a gift. I wasn’t joking about the outdoing herself part.)

This year, the noon-time meal lasted nearly four hours. There was vichysoisse, a shaved summer squash salad, and the star of the show, paella.

While my aunt stirred and simmered and seasoned, we stood around the pan and kept up a worshipful commentary.

Only one person, my mother, assumed the correct position.

She’d probably like me to tell you she was checking the flame, not worshiping, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Do you know how hard it is to cook while surrounded by a bunch of opinionated Mennonite cooks? Considering the high-levels of stress under which she was operating, I’m surprised my aunt didn’t whack anyone with a clammy lobster.

But indeed she didn’t and all the lobsters made it into the paella and then onto our plates and into our tummies, yummy, yummy.

After we drained our mugs of coffee and scraped the last bit of brown sugar frosting from our plates, we piled into cars and shuttled across town to the not-yet-disclosed entertainment…

…which turned out to be an art studio where we dabbled in oil paints and created a red flower each. (Hospital scrubs courtesy of my doctor aunt.)

The instructor had the habit of walking up behind you and painting on our paintings, which irked my aunt, mother, and I to high heaven. Clearly, the teacher was an instructor and not an artist because what artist will paint on another person’s paintings? That’s right—they don’t. So when the instructor bore down on my aunt’s painting, she screeched, “Don’t touch it!” And when she encroached on my space, I struck a discreet but effective defensive pose and timidly squeaked, “I’ll do it myself?” And thus I kept my painting instructor-stroke free.

The art session made me kick myself for not taking art all four years of high school. I never got to oil paintings, and oil paintings are a heck of a lot of fun. This I now know.

By the time we walked into the restaurant at 8 o’clock, I was, amazingly enough, beginning to get hungry again. Our dishes came family-style, so we got to sample everything which made us all glow with happiness and contentment. Beef, shrimp, oysters, chicken, salads, and vegetables, oh my. And then panna cotta, cheesecake, tiramisu and red velvet cake, oh my my. Completely sated, I slumped back in my seat and wished I might magically be floated home on a cloud.

It was at dinner that my aunt told us she had called all our husbands and asked them six questions. They had to email her the answers and the following morning we would try to correctly guess their answers. Whoever got the most answers right would be declared the winner.

These were the questions:

1. What is your wife’s most annoying habit?
2. If your wife had to choose between three cities to live in—Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco—which would she choose and why?
3. What is your favorite way to have a potato prepared?
4. Which of your wife’s girlfriends do you find the most attractive?
5. What color does your wife wear the most?
6. Where was your first kiss? Be specific.

the winner (but I came in second)

There was much howling and hooting as each new question was revealed. But we weren’t allowed to say the answers until the Sunday brunch.

Sunday morning we all gathered in the sunroom for coffee and chit-chat (it’s becoming a tradition) and then a walk to the bakery for breakfast breads. Brunch was yet another feast of eggs, bacon, paella, fruit, coffee, juice, and more breads and biscotti than was decent (but I’m not complaining, no, no, no).

We took turns answering the quiz questions while my aunt checked our answers against what our husbands wrote. I got all of them right (except number 3—potatoes fried in bacon fat, huh?—and number 6 because he got it wrong) (oh, and except number 1, though I got it right on the second try, which was my first guess but I second-guessed myself, duh), but it made me inordinately happy that we got number 2 right. I said, “San Francisco because La Brea Bakery is there,” (which was wrong because La Brea Bakery is in Los Angeles but how am I supposed to keep that straight when I’ve never been there?), and then my aunt read his answer, “San Francisco, because there are cafés and bakeries,” and I was all like, “Aw shoot, my honey knows me!”

Before we left drove away, there was an assortment of Jeni’s macaroon ice cream sandwiches in honor of my birthday.

Exotic flavors included Earl Grey, scarlet (I never knew scarlet was a flavor) and orchid vanilla, pistachio, and my favorite, salted caramel.

Oh, and there was a rousing chocolate taste testing. We tasted with such enormous dedication and thoroughness that you would’ve thunk our lives depended on it. Though I forget which one came in first…

Did I mention there were babies in attendance? A girl and a boy, twelve and thirteen weeks respectively. My aunt couldn’t have lined up better in-house entertainment if she had tried.

This handsome butterball was a cuddle bum—he’d melt into the arms of whoever was holding him.

And this one has the habit of sucking her right thumb while holding the top of her head with her left hand. I can hardly stand the sweetness!

There is something special, nay precious, about getting together with the women (and nursing babes) in my family and talking our fool heads off for twenty-four hours straight. What a luxury. What a gift. Thank you, auntie hostess dear.

*Previous soirees: soiree of 2009, soiree of 2010

This same time, years previous: painting my belly, roasted butternut squash salad, a jiggle on the wild side, stream of consciousness, my beginnings


  • Jennifer Jo

    Mama Pea, I'm flattered that you're impressed with the painting, but then you didn't see (because I didn't post it) the group picture of us all holding are almost-identical red flowers. You could do it too, promise.

    Kate, Thank you.

    Marie M., No, Mama Pea is no relation. Sad, but true.

  • Mama Pea

    You are sosososososo fortunate and blessed to have a family who lives close enough together and shares the love and caring for each other to do something like this each year.

    Your red flower oil painting is unbelievably gorgeous! This is the last time I will be coming to your blog. You are so talented in so many ways that I simply can't stand it any more.

  • Anonymous

    And let me guess….there's just no possible, earthly way for me to be adopted into the family next year just ahead of this heavenly event?

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