Picnic in the Park

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Ever since I moved in with Payam I’ve been a stickler about making a meal plan. Every Sunday I faithfully write it on white board in the kitchen for everyone in the family to see. I’m kind of obsessive about and it has been becomes a source of stress for me. Mostly this is because I have kids who like wildly different foods and I’m pretty much guaranteed to have at least one person unhappy with me every day of the week. It’s like planned failure every damn day.

Why do I care so much? I don’t know. My parents served me fish sticks and I survived. But I guess I’ve got some lofty ideal in my mind and I’m having trouble letting that go.

If I ask the family for help with the weekly plan that doesn’t work either. Everyone in my house is a visual eater (including Payam) which means they can’t imagine what they want to eat unless they can see it.  They swing open the pantry door and hem and haw but nothing ever comes to them.  They stand in front of the refrigerator: same story with cold air wafting out.

A fully photographed menu would work awesome for them but I’m not up to creating that. I’m a graphic designer and photographer by trade but it would be epic amounts of work.  Can you imagine the weekly versions? TV commercials also work amazingly on them but I’m not up for eating pizza or fast food every night of the week either. Did I mention that one of the kids loves Olive Garden and the other does NOT. One of the kids loves In-N-Out and the other does NOT. You can guess which one is which.  Bottom line: I’m never going to make everyone happy.

Payam says to make what I want and call it a day. I’m trying to work on that. Some days I win at trying and I even get compliments on my cooking (which is like heaven opening and harp music playing). Most days I don’t win.
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One of my weekly plans was a picnic dinner. It was actually kind of brilliant.  I’m often out walking the dogs around dinner time and I noticed that the weather is absolutely lovely around six. The heat of the day has finally dissipated and the light is really pretty and golden, shining through the trees and making long shadows. It’s really a great time of the day to be outside and not inside cooking.

And the dogs love it too!

I decided to cut my losses, get drive-thru fast-food that everyone likes and meet up at the park. We took the dogs, leashed them to a nearby barbecue and had a perfectly nice dinner with no one complaining. It was golden.

picnic-3Then we played soccer…picnic-4and took a walk around the lake…picnic-5

The kids were happy and didn’t spend the whole time arguing with each other…

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Dogs were walked. People got exercise…picnic-7

Pokemon were hunted… it was just really, really nice. picnic-9

I’m not proud of the fast-food part.  It was delicious like only McDonald’s french fries and a two cheeseburger meal can be, but of course I wish I had packed gourmet sandwiches that were a bit more healthy or even picked up some take-out that was a little less cholesterol-filled but it was quick and easy and most importantly, family-pleasing.

I’ve since organized a healthy homemade sandwich picnic for the beach and that went a little less smoothly (sand, dogs, chaos…) but it was still was really nice. I’m working out the kinks. But if I can write anything about this experience it is my old mantra that I write about over and over here. I must make the effort. Getting outside for dinner before winter sets in is totally worth the pain in the neck of planning it.

Is there a support group for meal-planning? I’m thinking I should start one.

Chinese Night

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We have dinner parties now and then because you know, we’re grown-ups and stuff and I can actually cook now so it’s fun to have friends over and show off.

I remember when I used to have parties like this I would always make sure my mom was coming and she would cook. I’d do everything else up to the nines because of my party-planning sickness but leave all the cooking to my mom who would be sweaty and exhausted and taken advantage of.

Well, guess what? I don’t have to do that anymore! I actually focus more on cooking and less on having the right decorations and the right playlist of theme-related music, the right costumes etc etc…which is huge because I used to waste a lot of unnecessary time and energy on the minutia of a dinner party and drive everyone crazy.

I still drive everyone crazy but they have a lot more patience when they are rewarded with tasty food.
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It all started with my tablescape job. I wanted to create a tablescape around this old Japanese rice urn I bought at a thrift store ages ago. I love this dish. It is perfect for rice or taking food to a potluck. It’s heavy and sturdy and it comes with a lid! And it looks cool which is the most important thing if you are me. Of course I thought it was a Chinese urn when I started out but quickly figured out it  was Japanese when I googled it and it showed up here. But I made Chinese food and not Japanese food because I am no good with raw fish. Sushi is way out of my league.
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As usual, I was in too much of a hurry actually cooking to take pictures along the way. I’m frustrated with myself too because making these pot stickers is super photogenic (as you’ve probably seen in my Instagram feed) but add guests and taking pictures sort becomes secondary.

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Payam humored (the crazy) me and drove me to a Chinese market so I could pick up a free newspaper as my table cloth. I know it’s kind of weird and maybe dirty seeming but I thought it was cool in a gritty, urban way. It brought the theme to the table and you can’t beat the price. Of course in the beginning I had visions of red raw silk but the newspaper turned out to be way more economical and less stain-attracting.

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Then when we were out picking up drinks at Bev Mo I found these buddha beers. They had to jump in our cart if not for drinking then for the possibility of becoming the cutest vases ever!!! They were perfect and even actually tasted decent, said the beer-drinking guests who are not me.  It was fun. Everything came together and we had a great time.

And that’s pretty much it if I leave out the part where I was super emotional the day before and almost cancelled the whole event before it even happened. Heh.

I’ve figured out that this is my typical mode of operation. I like to plan things, big things! But then if I perceive even the slightest hint of failure I blow everything out of proportion and cancel the whole shebang in a heaping pile of ugly crying. It’s terrible. I kept this trait from Payam for the longest time but it has come out with a vengeance and now he knows the real me.

Sigh.

BUT! I am learning this about myself and Payam has been so encouraging. This time instead of cancelling in a huff like usual I decided to just go through the motions and make it happen. I took my failures head on. I was prepared for people to come to my event and be polite but secretly wish they weren’t there and leave as soon as it was acceptable. I was prepared for my food to be cold and untouched. I was even prepared for my newspaper tablecloth to be made fun of. I was prepared to vow to never do another party again unless people got down on their hands and knees and begged me to. That was my attitude.

You know what? I’ve written this post before. I’ve been in this learning curve so many times!! If I learn anything in my lifetime it is this: If you put out the effort, you will be rewarded. This is my new mantra. Every time I put out the effort as a hostess I always am so glad I did.

Nothing else but effort matters. It doesn’t matter if food burns or you forget to make a salad or a dessert. It doesn’t matter if you forgot to clean the cat box or put out new clean guest towels or your sink had cat prints in it. It doesn’t matter if you have put on a few pounds in the last year and you aren’t the slim, sleek hostess you want to be. It just doesn’t matter! Nothing matters except putting out the effort. That’s what people want. That’s what people appreciate.

Everyone who came to our dinner party had such a great time. I had such a great time! Usually I’m a stress case and I can’t sit down and talk but I did this time! We all talked for hours.  We ate, we laughed, the kids played minecraft….Nobody made excuses to leave early. All the food got eaten (well, if you don’t count the potstickers that got eaten as a midnight snack by someone I won’t name.) and everyone was happy. I was so happy.

I guess that means I’m not vowing to never throw another dinner party again. In fact, I might already be plotting my next one. It might even be an exact repeat of this one except with cucumber vinegar salad AND a dessert this time. Heh!