Monday, July 21, 2008


I just spent three hours washing plastic glasses and glass platters, wiping spilled drinks and food from patio tables, and collecting stray paper napkins from bushes and shrubs. I’m pooped. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

The mess is due to the aftermath of my husband’s 60th birthday party. And cleaning up that mess gave me a chance to relive the party all over again. After weeks of planning and preparation, making invitations that looked like mini-menus, turning the backyard into a Spanish Bistro, and hiring a special surprise guest, the whole event seemed to pass by as quickly as the last six decades.

No matter. Cleaning up gave me the time to recall every detail of Tom’s milestone birthday party. For his Big Six-Oh, I wanted something special. But when I asked him whether he’d like to go away for a romantic weekend, buy the latest electronic gadget, or spend the day on the golf course, he surprised me.

“Cook,” he said simply.

Cook? I should have known, after living with him for nearly forty of his sixty years. His dream has always been to open a bed and breakfast one day and cook gourmet meals for the weekend guests. Instead, we’d host a small dinner party for family and close friends—and he could cook the gourmet meal.

Perfect—except it didn’t seem very special for this monumental occasion. How could I make his 60th something he’d remember until he was at least 70? Easy. Invite a real chef from his favorite restaurant to be his sou chef for the evening. But would Rodney Worth from the Peasant and the Pear—who’d just been named Best Chef in the East Bay by Diablo Magazine—step up to the plate, so to speak? Well, dreams do come true. Rodney appeared at the front door an hour before the party was to begin and the two chefs donned their white jackets. By the time the guests arrived for their “dinner reservations,” the sangria was mixed and the appetizers were ready to be served.

“Hi, I’m Penny, and I’ll be your server this evening,” I said, greeting our friends and family. Unfortunately, my waitressing left much to be desired, but I managed to pass out the food and drinks without spilling anything on anyone but myself. Soon everyone was seated at tables covered in red and yellow Spanish flags. They were free to don the decorative Matador hats or cool themselves with the black lace fans while they watched the chefs “bam” the paella ingredients into a pan the size of Madrid.

After we finished stuffing ourselves, I brought out the favors—party bags filled with “unusual” cooking gadgets. Each guest had to match wits with Tom to name the kitchen kitsch. After several glasses of sangria, not even our master chef could identify the syringe-looking thing (flavor injector), the Wham-O-looking thing (corn cutter), the giant cookie-cutter-looking thing (pancake shaper), or the spice-rack-looking thing (Beer Can Chicken Roaster).

Rodney and the guests are gone, the kitchen is piled high with sparkling clean pans, the patio is slick from a good hosing, and the rented dishes are stacked and ready to be returned. Yeah, I’m pooped from all the clean up. But I can’t wait until my husband turns 70, so I can do it all again.


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