The Sunday after the election, fifty-some people are dropping by my house in Vermont between 1 and 4 P.M., for, among other things, Bad Hombre Chili and cornbread.
Here’s how this came about: Sometime between compulsively watching episodes of Samantha Bee on YouTube and when the 217th friend said to me, “I sure will be glad when all this is over,” I had the following thought: This is a great opportunity for a party.
Up until I decided I wanted to throw what I’ve been calling the “Phew!” party, I was anxious pretty much non-stop. I know I’m not alone. This election season has most of us brooding, bewildered, fatigued. We spin endless terrifying “what-ifs.” And we feel helpless.
Planning this event has mitigated—in a tiny, no doubt inconsequential way—that helplessness. It’s been a big-ass relief, this series of familiar actions: planning, lists, prep, phone calls, emails, making a playlist. And the timeless kitchen choreography: the percussive chopping, the stand-mixer moving from thwack to whir while beating butter and sugar “until light and fluffy.”
I am certainly still brooding, but it’s no longer non-stop. At times, I switch off NPR and drag out Richard Saks’ Classic Home Desserts, The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, and Marcy Goldman’s A Passion for Baking. I compare their chocolate cake recipes, their devil’s food cakes. Why? Because I’m thinking, “Okay, what filling or twist could I use to make one of these into some kind of over-the-top Nasty Woman She-Devil’s Food Cake?”
It’s true I go back to fretting. It’s true this could be construed as sifting while Rome burns. But I don’t think so.
We have parties to celebrate, sometimes to mourn, markers of significance with like-minded, like-hearted people. As we eat and drink, we contemplate, or remember.
But this election transcends such designations like reunions, weddings, promotions, wakes. It’s nothing if not unprecedented. It is, one hopes, once-in-a-lifetime, like a comet. Once I started thinking of “getting through it” as a legitimate and collective accomplishment, of course that was the perfect party rationale. Because if the election and how freaked out we are about it is basically the only possible topic of conversation, and if we are all going to be glad when it’s over (assuming it will be over, and please, let’s just assume that that is the case, shall we?), isn’t processing this when it’s done an infinitely more party-worthy occasion than, say, a birthday? Birthdays and holidays come once a year, every year, year in and year out. This, God help us, will not.
My boyfriend—he lives in New York, I in Vermont—decided he was down with the “Phew!” party. We’ll have it at my much-larger place in Vermont, on the Sunday after Election Day, and he’ll come up a few days early. It will be a big, easy-going, open-house kind of affair where everybody could just decompress. We’ll provide food and non-alcoholic beverages and when guests ask what they can bring, we’ll say, “a decent red,” or “a six-pack or two of some nice local beer or ale.” We decided we’d clean out the wheelbarrow, its summer duties complete, and fill it with ice.
The food, of course, would be themed. This meant I now had something creative and reasonably positive to do with all my pent-up anxious energy. Every time someone I liked said, “I can’t wait for the election to be over,” I could invite them. And they would say, “What a great idea for a party! I’m so glad you’re doing this!”
Here’s how the menu looks at this moment:
Bad Hombre “Taco Truck” Chili (with all the fixings—sliced avocado, grated Vermont cheddar, cilantro, a couple of kinds of homemade salsa—so you can rig it yourself!)
A Basket of… (wedges of Skillet-Sizzled Buttermilk Cornbread, because it’s one of my favorite things to make and also because before I lived in Vermont, I lived in Arkansas, and both Bill and Hillary have eaten and loved my cornbread… plus, I’m thinking, “Make America Grate Again” Carrot Muffins)
Marinated WikiLeeks on a Bed of Spin (That would be spinach. Okay, it’s reaching, but do I care? I do not)
Tiny Hand-Pies (Will definitely do some savory, maybe some sweet)
And the sweets?
Nasty Woman She-Devil’s Food Cake
Deplor-apple Crumble (an idea from a friend of my penpal Sarah Rankin), probably with homemade vanilla ice cream
Caramel Brazile Nut Bars
Well. I went online and Googled “cat-shaped cookie cutters.” Yeah, I found ‘em. Yeah, I got two. Yeah, though it has been many moons since I rolled and decorated cookies (eighteen years as an innkeeper, in which every December, guests got their own heart-shaped gingerbread cookie with their name piped on it, took all the romance out of that fancy cookie thing), I am making a big honkin’ batch of really good, rolled-out cat-shaped butter cookies. I am going to ice them, with pink royal icing. I’m thinking I’ll pipe on little chocolate ganache whiskers.
And I will lay out a big platter of those kitty-cat cookies, and put a little sign next to them that says, “Grab one!”
I mean: Here we are. If ever there were a time for involvement and concern, this is it. But: If ever there were a time to take a breather, give ourselves and those we love care and respite and solace, this is also it.
For me, having a party, this party, will do both.
Plus, when else am I going to make cat-shaped cookies?
Are you thinking about a post-election party? What would you serve? What songs would be on your playlist?