A Dinner Worth the Weight

Baked Elements. This recipe requires more a little extra effort than most, but it is well worth it. Enjoy!>

I love hosting dinner parties. From the menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation, to the cooking and eating with my friends and family, there isn’t a single aspect that I don’t enjoy.

Okay, okay. I exaggerate. I admit that there are a few steps that, on occasion, I’d rather avoid. If I’m cooking for a few of my picky eater friends, menu planning is a day-consuming endeavor. Short on time? Wish I had bought the pre-peeled and diced butternut squash. Family isn’t getting along? Let me excuse myself from the table — I’ll come back for leftovers. Grocery shopping for a 3-course meal for 5 guests? If only I had 10 arms.

When I was growing up, grocery shopping was one thing and one thing only: my father’s weekly get-out-of-the-house event. Each weekend he would devise a list, carefully written in aisle-by-aisle order beginning with produce and ending with frozen food, of enough required and requested goods to feed the family throughout the week. After paying at the register (always with a check), he would push the cartful of bulging brown paper bags (always double bagged) to the parking lot, move the bags to the trunk of the car (always a hatchback), and drive home. Easy peasy. With the suburban conveniences of wheeled carts and cars, my dad never struggled with groceries. The hardest part was unpacking the bags, filling every nook of the pantry closet and refrigerator, which you can imagine is barely physically demanding.

That was my notion of grocery shopping… until I moved to the city. Does anyone in NYC who prepares most of his or her own meals at home go food shopping merely once per week? Is it physically possible to carry everything you eat in one week in two arms? I find myself picking up goods from one store or another nearly everyday. I buy my apples and bananas 2 or 3 at a time, yogurt by the quart, plus a bag of lettuce, a pound of meat, and a chunk of cheese because that’s all that I can comfortably carry.

Grocery shopping makes hosting dinner parties in NYC quite difficult — a fact that I remembered last weekend when I decided to pick up everything in Manhattan, on my way home from work, that I needed for the next night’s dinner of Baked’s Cheesy Focaccia with Sauteed Spinach and Onions, some roasted yams, chard and cipollini onions, and an oven roasted chicken. After a subway ride, a bus ride, and a quarter-mile walk home with a 5-lb bag of bread flour, a bottle of olive oil, a 4-lb chicken, sweet potatoes, onions, lemons, among other things, I wondered why I ever moved to Brooklyn, why I offer to have people over for dinner, why I commit to making such elaborate, heavy things.

The next night, after a whole day of tending to Baked’s glorious focaccia and preparing the rest of the meal, my happy taste buds, satisfied stomach, and wonderful dinner companion reminded me why. And, oh, I’ll never again forget.