For someone who has spent more time on the sand than in my bed, I know from good beach parties. The best one I attend (the wildly costumed six-man volleyball tourney in Manhattan Beach notwithstanding) is a liquid affair. The brainchild of Elissa Sato, it has be- come an annual event known as “Souper Sunday.” Participants arrive at the beach at Ocean Park in Santa Monica with pots of their favorite homemade soups. Enough tables are bor- rowed and enough pop-up tents materialize to shelter the Thai curry and Texas chili and corn chowder. The Garacochea family—friends of Elissa and husband Ted’s six children and the founders of Pioneer French Baking Company—donated sourdough bowls until the day they sold their business. Youngsters, by nature consumers of soup, spill their food and noonecares.Theocean,whichisonegiantfishstew,glintsinthedistance
She is parked on the patio like a 19th-century locomotive, all soot and rust and ash. The tag bolted to her chassis says Oklahoma Joe’s, but in our years together I have also called her Old Smokey and the Midnight Special and, for no good reason, Bessie. When she is up and running, full of wood and meat and carbon, when her chimney is chugging, the plumes belching through our neighborhood like some Industrial Revolution flashback, I have a tendency to pump my elbow and make childish “whoo-whoo” railroad noises. This is how you do barbecue. No propane tanks, no lava rocks, no flame anywhere near my food: That, for the record, is grilling. Fine for hamburgers and hot dogs. But real barbecue, as any pecan or hickory snob can tell you, must be cooked low and slow—low temperature, long time—to soak up all the smoldering, vaporous, environmentally unsound goodness. My smoker has two barrel-shaped chambers, a small one on the left for the fire and, on the right, a larger one, topped by a flue, for ribs or salmon or quail. I have been known to spend hours at her side, adding wet chips and cracking cold beers, watching, waiting, playing my Casey Jones whistle.
It’s a Wrap
Nowadays most of my friends are parents, and get-togethers routinely wind down in time for all of us to catch the Colbert Report repeat on our respective couches. But there was an era when I entertained until the little hand was closing in on four and I would be wondering, How to signal that this party is fini? At a going-away shindig I threw for a colleague, I recall three guests who weren’t getting the hint—despite my walking through the living room loudly filling a Hefty bag with paper plates and cups. I put on a CD called Timberwolf in the Tall Pines I had inexplicably grabbed from the freebie shelf at work. If I couldn’t flush them out, certainly the album’s second track, “Large Wolf Pack No. 1,” would do the job. It didn’t. When they were still lingering at “Lone Wolf No. 3,” I realized that no soundtrack is the best hint of all.
Hail the Bundt
I love to entertain. I hate to cook. Some people might reconcile this situation by serving gallons of booze. I serve the Bundt. With its orange-chocolate flavor, ho-hum dark brown exterior, and simple doughnut shape, my Bundt is a family recipe, devoid of the gooey icing, handle-with-care crusts, and twee decorative flourishes that on other cakes scream “Look at me!” So un-starlike is the Bundt that it’s named for the tin in which it’s baked. Talk about low self-esteem. Still, I see something more in the Bundt. Maybe it’s the cries of “Oh, my God—what is this?” at the first moist mouthful or how the cake has the power to summon an instant celebration of jangling forks and smiles and chatter, no matter where it’s served. Bundt derives from the German word for “union,” after all. I’ve whipped up mine in Toronto, Florence, Tel Aviv. A friend in New Hampshire recently informed me that his sister requested “Sara’s Bundt” at her wedding, even though I was not invited. “It’s a legend,” he told me. And apparently an ideal party guest.
Images courtesy (in order): (1) Flickr/rafael armado deras, (2) Flickr/ddaarryynn, (4) Flickr/hfb