When I think about it, nearly every happy emotional memory I have is somehow connected to food at a special event. In Indian country, the next couple of months will be gloriously filled with joyful memories too.
Graduations, weddings, socials, powwows, ceremonies of every kind will compete for your time and energy to either attend or initiate. If you are hosting, the pressure is on just for a little while when you do the most important part—planning. Once done, you only need to go through the motions of getting it all together. I try to do this visually in my mind, it does help so I can relax and enjoy myself.
The challenge is usually fueled by budget. Decide ahead of time if this will be for a crowd, or under ten people. Will you be having a whole meal or a tasting? A sit-down dinner or nibbles? I have always preferred a buffet whether hostess or guest. However you choose to present the food, be unique and creative.
For example, a carved out watermelon for fruit chunks or salad. You can decorate either with edible flowers, nasturtiums work well. Fresh parsley is so pretty to decorate food with, potato or pasta salads, the edge of a cheese platter, etc.
I hate to admit it, but dips are always popular, just don’t overdo. Use footed cake stands to create height where you can; drag out those pretty platters, baskets, shells, gourds, bark trays—anything you have to hold food and make it look inviting. Do remember to line them so it won’t touch the food. Always have waste recepticals placed conveniently nearby, yet discreetly; this will help easier cleanup later. Now, “To theme or not to theme?” That is the question. For eons, Native Americans have been rightfully known for their hospitality and courteous nature. Friend, or even enemy, is always offered a repast when entering a Native home, true to this day. Keep it as Native as you can or want with décor, serving traditional foods in the mix.
Ask for help. If its easier to make what you do best, make lots of it. If a friend or relative makes something beloved by all, give them a chance to show off; just ask, they will probably be thrilled and flattered. Keep a drink station separate from the food. Consider an easy punch bowl beverage along with whatever else you’re serving. Freeze blocks of ice ahead of time; try mint leaves or strawberries inside of the blocs. The appetizers should be calculated as four to six per person and have both hot and cold.
A couple of easy appetizers:
Mix a cup of cottage cheese with a tablespoon of horseradish. Spread on saltines and top with a bit of corn relish.
Blanch open some snow peas and open one side. Fill with cream or goat cheese and dot with red caviar (they look like little canoes).
Cold raw clams on the half shell with a sprinkle of lemon juice, and a half teaspoon of chili sauce mixed with horseradish is the ultimate healthy rush.
Oysters grilled with an inch of bacon, a bit of parmesan cheese and some chopped jalapenos always top of the hot list.
I’m sure you all have your personal favorites. The more parties and events you give and attend should add a few more to your repertoire. Hope you remember to write them down. I have forgotten to do that a few times and am still sorry.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.