I love parties, I just don't much like having them.
I live in a house that has a long history of parties. When we bought it in its run down state, years after the pool had been converted into a little yabbie farm, I cannot tell you how many people stopped me in the street to say, "I have such wonderful memories at your house from when I was younger ... oh the parties". Tennis parties, gatherings by the pool (one of the first in the district which was secretly put in when the man of the house went away for a month and who for the rest of his life wished he could fill it in. I wonder if he could see it now, all cracked and unable to hold water or even the yabbies - would he smile with relief?), little catered luncheons, endless days of pleasant gardening, fireside suppers - Percy and Nestor were from another era when living on the land was, at least for some, an elegant, leisurely pleasure that had not much to do with tractors.
They regularly opened their house, pool and tennis court up to all sorts of guests. And each January, when the oleanders were cut right back to keep them in their rounded balls and the temperatures climbed to 40C plus, they packed up and relocated to seaside at Palm Beach for the month.
Some people have just got a knack for hosting a party, whether it is a little lunch or a big 40th. My mother-in-law is one of them, as are my neighbours. While I love getting ready for a do - prepping in the kitchen with a glass of wine and some music, filling vases with foliage and whatever flowers are in bloom, a bit of a tidy - as soon as the guests arrive my enthusiasm levels wane. I start scanning the visitors for verbal and non verbal clues as to whether they are having a good time/enjoying their food/want to leave/hate the food/think I am dirty. Attempting to read the minds of eight different people while inventing ways for them to hate me is tiring. I can only imagine for the scrutinised guests it can't be all that pleasant either. Over the years I have certainly relaxed this psychotic thinking a bit, but I still can't say hosting a party comes naturally.
(The one exception is The Carpet party my beloved flatmate Philippa and I had the day before the floor coverings in her little Pyrmont apartment were scheduled to be replaced. Taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity we asked a friend to graffiti every inch of the carpet and before the party had even nearly started I was so high on paint fumes and whatever else was around that I didn't care if anyone came at all, let alone worry about what they were going to eat. God, no-one ate at parties then anyway).
But back to the natural party throwers and my neighbours Ruth and Jeremy. They are so good at it they could do it in their sleep. Sometimes they do.
And what is their magic trick? I think it is placing more importance on having a good time than the food being perfect. Plenty of booze. Good booze too. And cramming as many people as they can around their kitchen bench. As their guest, you're lucky to get a single chop for dinner, maybe some cheese and biscuits, but you will drink amazing wines and have a ball. They recently revamped their kitchen and when the builder installed the island bench top, he said "I know you guys have a few parties, this can hold the weight of two dancing people". Within a week, Jeremy called Cliff back to say, "actually it's good for three".
Ed and I have a hand-to-mouth approach to our cellar, in that we don't have one and buy whatever is on special the day we drink it, but Jeremy has a genuine passion for wine - the selecting, storing, drinking and very generously the sharing of it, which is a privilege to be around. So I asked Jeremy to outline their typical Friday night kitchen party menu, a menu which unsurprisingly consists of one edible course and about five drinkable ones, in the hope that I may be able to replicate this fun at home. Possibly with guests.
Dinner Party Matthews Style
One lamb chop per person, marinated in olive oil and rosemary, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked on the BBQ only after everyone has had a glass or two of beautiful champagne, and a gin and tonic.
With the chop, Jeremy recommends a Henschke Julius riesling to start. "I am an unabashed fan of riesling and think this is just great," said Jeremy. "Tim Adams and Grosset are extremely capable substitutes". Next serve a hearty red. Jeremy suggests a Vasse Felix shiraz, and for dessert crack open a sauterne. The favourite at the Matthews house is Noble One by Be Bertoli, "a brilliant botrytis semillon". (I had to google botrytis as it sounded like word that should not be part of a name of something delicious. And yes, it is a fungus, but a helpful fungus that makes the grapes shrivel, concentrating the sugars which of course results in sweeter dessert wines.)
Et voila. Party perfection minus the exhausting mental angst.