Mary Beth Writes

How to Host a Dinner Party for 10 Adults for $42 - including the Wine, Beer and Birthday Present...

First make friends. Friends are definitely part of the Frugal Lifestyle although make sure they are not Judgmental.  You can’t afford judgmental friends.

So I have friends with whom I have been drinking coffee almost every Saturday morning for 15 years.  One of them announced that she would soon be turning 65.  What did I say say to that?

 "Let's have a party at my house.  What would you like me to cook?" Without blinking (seriously, this party got its start in under 45 seconds) MK says, "Those black beans you made for the MayaWorks sale at your house 10 years ago."

Honest to Pete. She’s been thinking about my black beans for 10 years?

"OK.  MR, you bring the birthday dessert and we'll figure the rest out later." (MR is an Empress of Welcome. She routinely organized banquet-type events at her church for hundreds of people for deacdes of years. She can bake one cake with a hand tied behind her back.)

Scroll forward to a Saturday evening in March.

  • Mr. and Mrs. MK arrive, bringing guacamole and fresh nacho chips which they had just purchased at their favorite Mexican restaurant. 
  • MP walks in with a platter of papaya, blueberries… and strawberries as big as gerbils.  Well, almost.
  • MA had asked what she could bring.  I said I didn't have any party decorations or favors. She arrived with a bouquet of sparkly whistle blowers left over from New Year's Eve, mini-castanets, and gum from the 50's. (She and her husband had just returned from a road trip, where they ate at Cracker Barrels. Lots of Black Jack and Beeman's Clove gum) 
  • MR arrived with a Birthday Cake to make you weep. Double high lemon chiffon with piped icing and star birthday candles.

So what had Len and I cooked that would feed ten?

Len bought 5 pounds of pork shoulder the day before. By the time we ate, it had braised and simmered for 20 hours with onions, garlic, and various herbs.  He siphoned off the fat earlier in the afternoon, leaving our crockpot heaped with the Pork of the Gods. 

I'd started with 2 pounds of dry black beans. By party time they were in a second crock pot (borrowed from our neighbor) and had cooked 6 hours with onions and green peppers (I buy them when they are cheap in August, chop them up, wrap small handfuls into plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. So nope, they weren't $2/lb. More like $.25/lb.)  And a lot of cumin. In my world, there is no such thing as too much cumin. Must have inherited that from some Swedish milkmaid who longed for a flavor beyond milk and rye.

I cooked rice with a packet of “Sazon/Goya, A unique Seasoning / con cilantro y achiote”. I get small boxes of these packs of flavors at my Pick n’ Save, in the Hispanic foods section.

We made pico de gallo (fresh salsa) from 1 cans of Rotel spicy tomatoes with corn (a handful, thawed, from the freezer bag), and fresh cilantro.

And tortillas.  I bought the Maseca in the Hispanic foods section and it cost $5 for 5 pounds; I used less than a fourth of it. Directions are on the bag (I think). An hour before the party started I made 35 maseca ping-pong balls.  They were on two plates, waiting for my friends to arrive.

We bought a big bottle of Cabernet on sale for $10 and a 6-pack of Sam Adams.  All of us will drink 2, maybe 3 drinks at a party. No one drinks to excess so it’s not expensive to have some on hand, knowing others will bring more. We also had non-alcoholic drinks, which were popular.

Friends arrived. Soon my friends were standing around the kitchen table patting tortillas. Our ethnic backgrounds are Irish, Portuguese and Scandinavian. It’s the American can-do in us that makes us laugh and try new things…

I cooked them on a flat, hot sandwich grill. No oil, just a very hot surface.

Some of the husbands have known each other for 35 years, others don’t know each other well at all – but were all good sports. Our dog was in the middle of everyone, sticking her head under any hand which would scratch her ears or sneak her a chip. Becky is a party girl.

When the tortillas were done we moved to the dining end of our living room. I’d set up a utility table covered it with colorful cloths, plugged the crockpots of beans and pork into an outlet, set the other options on the table also. Everyone helped themselves and yep, everyone went back for seconds.

The light and lemony cake was a perfect birthday cake.

Yep, there were presents.  Because no one wants to spend the money or time to shop for a “serious’ present – we’d decided the rule was $5 and under.  This made for a lot of laughs and one very helpful stylus for a smart phone. 

So how does this all tally up to $42?

  • Pork - $13
  • Tortillas - $1
  • Beans - $2.50
  • Wine - $10
  • Beer - $8
  • Seasoning - .50
  • Rice - $1
  • Rotel spicy tomatoes - $1
  • Cilantro - $1
  • Thrift shop hand-painted cookie jar with no lid - $2
  • Plant for the cookie jar/planter - $2

 

So here’s the thing.

My husband and I like fancy meats and wines as much as anyone and in an average year, we will have them ... once or twice.  Expensive foods and spectacularly complicated recipes deserve attention.  We will grill a steak when it is just the two of us at home; we savor the flavors in perfect cuts.

Sometimes we buy pricey meats when our kids are around for holidays.  It's Christmas, ya know?

Parties are different.  If there are going to be 10 people (or more) and we know they are going to drink a little, laugh a lot, tell old and new stories,– that is not a night for a hundred dollar meal.  That is the nice for bright tastes, a symphony of lasagna, chili or soups. Homemade bread and plenty of it.

If you can provide an “action food” – even better.  The freshly made tortillas. Asian chopped veggies rolled into wonton wrappers and then fried. Little homemade pizzas. Once we made from-scratch doughnuts.  Not hard, any ole cookbook can tell you how to make them  For less than $5 you can make a life memory for a dozen people.

Sometimes events just won’t work this way. A family member who IS judgmental will be coming to dinner, and they will think less of you if you serve a “peasant” food.  Figure this out. If you need to keep up defenses against people who don’t respect you well enough, well, plan ahead and figure out how you are going to buy that $50 hunk of animal. Or don't invite them over at all.

But when it comes to being with your friends, think Ethnic. Experiment with foods that have been delighting ordinary people for generations.

Because, frankly, you want the kinds of people in your live who will celebrate what you can imagine, experiment with, and produce.

Frugal means you spend your heart, time, skill, imagination, and love on people who will help you make an evening of full-blown fun.

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