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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


You're Invited to a Hawaiian Dinner Party
Your Hostess: Maria Cristina

The weather is warming and the flowers are in bloom. Why not string a few together and make a lei? And while you’re at it, string together a few fabulous recipes and host a Hawaiian dinner party! Your first venture into exotic cuisines needn’t be an elaborate luau with a roast pig, kayaks and blowfish hanging from the ceiling, and limbo poles set up in the backyard. An intimate dinner party for two couples is enough to make for a memorable  night. You’ll have a swell time and gain popularity in your social circle.  Here are my personal secrets to creating your own tropical fantasy (minus the waterfall).

Set A Faraway Mood
Slip into something more tropical—a grass skirt is a swell idea, but not for the cook! A Hawaiian shirt with an unusual design makes a nice conversation piece, and a Guayabera shirt in swimming pool green suggests it’s party time. Fill a vase with fresh orchids as an exotic centerpiece for your table—and gals, yank out one blossom to accent your hairdo. A fresh coconut here and  there will also add interest to your setting. You’ll find them in the produce section of your supermarket or in a Hispanic bodega. Keep some of the coconuts whole, but coax the grocer into halving a few for you, if you want to serve drinks in them. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard, invest in a few "tiki torches," available at hardware stores or any Home Depot for about $15. Flickering torch light is dramatic and much more becoming than outdoor flood lights, and the citronella oil used in the torches keeps mosquitoes at bay. Finally, set up a boom box wherever you’re hosting your meal, and spin some island favorites.

Make Your Cocktails Volcanic
The cocktail hour is a delightful and crucial feature of your Hawaiian Dinner Party. It further sets the mood and whets the appetite for the tempting delicacies to come. Your main course will be challenging enough, so take a shortcut with the hors d’oeuvres and stop by your local Chinese restaurant (mine has the charming name of "Me and My Egg Roll") for waxed paper packages of homemade fried won-ton noodles (the kind that usually come with soup).

They’re fresh, wide and extra crispy, and shouldn’t cost more than 50 cents each. Serve the noodles with duck sauce from the "ethnic" section in your local supermarket (spoon the saucy into a serving bowl first—eating out of jars is sophomoric). If you’ve got a crystal punch bowl, consider a rum punch with tropical juices. A gin rickey, although not tropical, is another excellent choice, as it is a light, refreshing drink.  The piña colada is  heavenly, yet tends to deaden the appetite—and you’ve worked so hard on dinner! (Perhaps you can offer mini coladas as cocktails, or even whip up a batch to serve with dessert.)  Don’t forget the frivolous garnish, which will likely wind up in your guests’ hair. Pretty your bar with paper umbrellas, maraschino cherries, tinned pineapple rings, and mermaid swizzle sticks. And pick up some hand-embroidered  linen cocktail napkins at a tag sale or flea market, or bid for them on eBay.

Your Luscious Little Luau
Start scanning the cookbook shelves in used book stores for Polynesian cookbooks. For my dinner, I worked from an old cookbook of my Mom’s with the title Exotic Eating! The Complete Book of Oriental Cooking. The dust jacket promised me I could take "family and friends on surprising and delightful adventures into new realms of flavor and daringly different combinations," and boy did it deliver! I won’t pretend that for my dinner party I duplicated an authentic Polynesian meal, but I did offer chopsticks and didn’t serve Wonder Bread. However, I also committed the culinary sin of mixing the cuisines of several Pacific countries, choosing dishes from Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Hawaii. Didn’t seem to matter—everyone ate everything.  

Here follows the menu:

Grilled Teriyaki Tuna Steaks
String Beans in Coconut Milk
Coconut Rice
Cold Cucumber Salad
Banana Pudding
Chilled lychee nuts stuffed with pineapple (tinned of course)
Masala Chai Tea

A final cooking tip: don’t be a martyr to Fifties technology. Invest in a food processor.  When it comes to slicing and dicing fresh vegetables and herbs, what takes hours with knife and chopping block takes nanoseconds in the Cuisinart.

After an appropriate time has lapsed for digestion and conversation you might brew some Masala Chai tea, a combination of black tea and exotic spices, like cinnamon, clove and cardamon. It’s available at Indian markets and smells divine. A nice ending note for a stunning evening.

As I get older, with marriage and monogamy on the horizon, my decision to live dangerously through cooking has been immensely satisfying, and keeps me out of trouble. I hope this Hawaiian feast ads a little spice to your life too. Bon apetit and aloha!

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
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I Want Candye!: Candye Kane
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