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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baby splats

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Last weekend's punishing storms were a matter of life and death for many on the East Coast. I wasn't one of those, and I know how lucky I was. This post isn't meant to minimize any of the real hardships that resulted--it's just frivolous fun, which can have its use in situations like this.]

Baby showers don’t come naturally to me.  Disaster, on the other hand, does, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when it made a memorable cameo appearance at the party I co-hosted on Saturday in honor of my 32-weeks-pregnant friend, Cat.

As soon as I heard Cat was expecting, I jumped at the chance to throw her a soiree.  She’s one of those people who always finds time to celebrate her friends’ happiness, no matter what’s going on in her own life.  I was excited about spotlighting her joy, despite my complete lack of shower savvy.  Cat’s friend, E, had the same idea so we teamed up.  We held a planning session by phone and I could tell right away that E would more than compensate for my deficiencies.

We picked June 30 as the date and a New Orleans theme in honor of Cat’s affection for Southern fare and her recent cravings for grits. I offered to provide venue, dessert, and a main dish of shrimp and grits.  E volunteered to take on a second entrée, paper products, and responsibility for inventing non-barf-inducing baby-related icebreaker ideas (the truly heavy lifting, in my book). 

I made the dessert days in advance but the main dish couldn’t be started until Friday night and would require finishing the next morning.  I came home at 9:30 p.m. on the 29th and immediately went to work in the kitchen.  At 10 p.m., biblical storms curtailed the power and with it, my cooking efforts. I went to bed feeling confident the electric company would have it sorted out by the time I woke up.  

My confidence was unfounded.  I formulated Plan B as I was getting out of bed: raid the nearby Harris Teeter and change the shower theme to “Prepared Foods.”  When I found the HT on life support and operating at Snowmaggedon levels of inventory, I began to realize the power loss was much more than just a neighborhood fluke.  

I drove another mile or so to a German bakery, hoping they might be able to throw together a sandwich platter.  “Nein,” said the owner, but he did offer to fire up a few dozen bratwursts on the outdoor grill they were setting up, if I could wait an hour or so.  While nothing screams “class” like serving  up a huge plate of wieners at a baby shower, I declined due to time constraints.  

I raced to Plan C: 1) contact my co-hostess who lives in Manassas; 2) see if she had power;  and 3) regardless of her answer, ask her to pillage grocery stores along the 20-mile drive to my house.  I sent my plea via text but malfunctioning networks made it impossible to know whether it reached her, so I plunged further into the alphabet.

Plan D: Find a way to revise the shrimp and grit tarts I'd planned to make.  The recipe called for cooked grits to be baked for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, then topped with a shrimp/cream/tasso ham sauce, and finished for another 10 minutes.  On Friday evening I’d cooked the grits, scooped them into muffin tins and got 12 minutes into baking them before losing power.  I wasn’t sure what to do with three pans of half-baked, unheated grit patties.

The shrimp was also fully cooked but I couldn’t prepare the sauce to accompany it and had no working oven in which to perform the last-minute marriage with the grits.  Inspiration arrived when I recalled advice a chef gave during a cooking class I attended in 2003: “No matter how badly you screw up, pass it off with arrogance.” 

I tossed the shrimp and ham together in a bowl, added mayonnaise, onion and parsley, and set the concoction on the table next to a plate stacked with the partially baked corn cakes. Voila: Deconstructed Shrimp and Grits! I sent E a text to tell her my main dish was saved.

Having solved the food problem, I tackled venue-related issues.  The cheery sunlight that floods the front of my house in the morning became my enemy when the A/C went on the lam.  I rushed to close the blinds.  This helped keep the house cool but darkened the living room to the point where it looked like I was hosting a séance.  I decided it was an acceptable tradeoff. 

I went outside to deal with the huge tree limbs that littered the front yard and blocked the walkway.  They’d landed harmlessly in the grass instead of giving my house an unwanted skylight or inflicting far worse damage.  I knew I was very lucky (though until power and networks were restored, I had no idea just how bad the personal and property damage was for many people.).  For once I didn't mind yardwork at all.   

Just after I brought the last branches to the curb, E arrived, bearing prodigious amounts of ice, thematically appropriate paper products, and three huge coolers.  I nicknamed her the “Port-a-Party.”

She’d made all sorts of New Orleans-style goodies, including red beans and rice and a vat of… shrimp and grits.  Apparently she got my first text but not the second.  Whatever our other hosting challenges might be, they wouldn’t include a food shortage. 

We wouldn’t want for good humor, either.  The guest of honor appeared wearing an ear-splitting grin.  So did every other woman who walked through the door, even the ones who braved two hours of traffic to get to Cat’s party.  No one seemed to mind the excessive “ambience” or the fact that the house was nearing sauna temps in spite of it. 

The power came back on five minutes after the last guest departed.  As soon as I reconnected to news sources, I realized my "normal" was restored in record time, while hundreds of thousands of people were nowhere near as fortunate.  Both the event and the day reinforced what I already knew, which is that only people matter.  And that sometimes sticks of Right Guard really *do* make excellent party favors. 


  1. I love it! I am honored that this splat is part of splatospheric. Like with everything, you made the most of the situation and focused on the good. It really did work out great in the end. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a wonderful baby shower and it was certainly memorable.

  2. Hysterical! I'm sure the shower was great despite the chaos! So glad your brother introduced me to your blog!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it and to offer such kind feedback! I hope to visit ATL soon so perhaps I'll get to thank you in person, or at least splat in closer proximity. :)