Once upon a time, I spent an afternoon with a group of coworkers in Golden Gate Park, standing at a table full of chips and soda and a giant sign labeled “TALK TO ME”. We were completing a work project of the same name, hanging out at Hippie Hill and enticing stoners to chat with us. I can’t offer you chips and soda, but I can offer my wise counsel — so send in your questions, and I’ll do my best!
Today’s question comes from a reader in DC named X., who wonders: if a girl and a guy arrive at your party [Ed. Note: I believe that in this context, “party” should be taken to mean “raging kegger”] together, should you let them in (the goal being to get as many available girls in the party as possible)?
OK, frat boy, there are a few ways to look at this. (Note from 2019: Everything that follows in this answer is pretty much terrible.) The simplest way is algebraic: each guy who comes into the party represents a certain amount of your beer getting drunk, while each girl coming in represents a certain amount of potential bangage. If the girl is already taken, this potential approaches zero, and then you’re just left with the beer-drinking dude, drinking up your shit. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Well, it’s not. Just because a guy and a girl show up together doesn’t mean that they actually are together; in fact, I’d say there’s a statistically significant chance that they’re not — in which case the guy will still drink your booze, you might be able to hook up with the girl, but you also invite the possibility that if you try to score with some other chick this single dude will cut in on your action. There’s also the chance that even if they’re together, they’ll get into a huge fight and break up, or maybe that the girl is just a cheatin’ ho — all opportunities for you to get some, although if either of these are true then the guy will probably end up drinking even MORE of your beer, because his life kind of sucks.
(There is a mathematically ideal ratio of chicks to dudes, but fuck if I know what it is.) So, what’s more important: the possibility of hooking up with a chick, or your total beer volume? The gross frat-boy answer is that it depends upon the hotness of the chick, but since I am neither (a) gross nor (b) a dude, I cannot abide or endorse such thinking. Basically, the whole idea of approaching this question from a mathematical perspective is, in short, fucked the hell up. Yes, raging keggers are about trying to strategically maximize both your scorage options and your boozage, but only to a point — and that point is reached when you have to employ a graph to justify your reasoning. If you know the people and they suck, then make up some excuse to exclude them; otherwise, the more the merrier, right? Dude might drink a bunch of your beer while you two sit around and have a heart-to-heart and become bff’s. Who knows what could happen? Have we learned nothing from Vince Vaughn??
So, dear X., I hope I’ve answered your query adequately. Don’t overthink this shit; just let ‘em in the door and see what happens. Maybe you’ll get some, maybe one of your buddies will get some, maybe the dude will drain all your beer, and maybe you’ll end up with a brand-new manfriend — that’s the joy of entertaining, so just do me a favor and roll with it, alright?
Today’s question comes from R. in San Francisco, who has the following seasonally appropriate query: Other than beer, corned beef, early morning pub crawls, and shamrocks, how can I spice up a St. Patrick’s day party?
Excellent question! Sure, everybody loves Guinness and a little corned beef & cabbage, but if you want to mix things up a bit — as I often do — then it’s time to think outside the box. It doesn’t take much searching to unearth a plethora of delicious and fun options, but I’ll start out by saying that, since St. Patty’s day is all about the green, why not infuse another meaning into that word and be sure that your party is fully eco-tastic? Get drunk and watch “An Inconvenient Truth”, if you really want to take things to the next level, or you can just stick to an organic brew and being extra-sure to recycle all those bottles. If you’re not into beer, delve into a little Irish history and drink some mead instead, because Vikings used to guzzle that shit. If, however, you love Guinness but still want to try something new, how about Guinness and oysters? Don’t be so hesitant — it’s an Irish tradition.
In fact, seafood in general is pretty popular in Ireland, so if you prefer some smoked salmon to oysters, hit that shit. Smoked salmon pairs nicely with a potato pancake, and it turns out that the potato pancake isn’t monopolized by the Jews — the Irish have their own version too! Of course, the potato-centric foodage doesn’t end there: the traditional recipe for colcannon sounds tasty and all, but I’d jazz things up by doing a blue potato version; blue potatoes are heartier and more flavorful and stand up wonderfully to the dense earthiness of kale. There’s also a variation on colcannon, called champ, that’s made with scallions instead of kale or cabbage; for that one I’d use a nice red-skinned potato. When in doubt, grab some sweet potatoes and some yukon golds and make some fries; it may not be traditional, but you’re celebrating a nation whose people were, for a considerable period of history, entirely dependent upon the potato. I think it’ll fly.
Alternately, something that won’t fly: no black-and-tans for you! The drink, while ostensibly Irish, arouses controversy, not in the least because it shares a name with a British law enforcement unit brought into Ireland. Just don’t go there. By the same note, ordering an Irish car bomb is just a tacky thing to do on St. Patty’s Day.
Other culturally relevant foodstuffs include bacon, ham, and pig in pretty much any form (including black and white pudding); if you want to make a political statement and serve a Northern Irish dish, how about an Ulster Fry? If honoring Irish history in your food or drink isn’t really your schtick, well, that’s cool; perhaps you’re a more visual person. You could ladle up a bunch of green food, which would be a veg-heavy alternative to the more traditional carnivorous options. If you’re throwing a party with a diverse crowd, it might be wise to balance the two: traditional meaty options, nice green vegetables, and some potatoes (because who doesn’t love a starch?) — you’re covered no matter what kind of eaters show up to your shindig.
The greatest thing about St. Patrick’s Day, though, is that it’s a holiday that is, truly, about unfettered fun. If you want to do something a little unexpected, R., then I wholeheartedly support that, but just be sure you include the traditions that everyone loves most: getting shitfaced and having an awesome time. Everything else is just details.
T. in Marin County, CA, provides today’s query, which arises from her over-purchasing of champagne for last Sunday’s Easter festivities: what, indeed, is a good way to use up copious amounts of such a rarely-drunk variety of beverage?
Take a moment and toast your troubles, T.
Ah, T. Life is hard. I’m lying in a ridiculously comfortable bed in my uncle’s condo in San Francisco, with massive windows overlooking Twin Peaks and the Castro, and you’ve got too much champagne lying around the house. Oh well, I guess we’ve all got our crosses to bear, right? (That joke was much more timely, and also more sacrilegious, one week ago, when it was Good Friday.) Anyway, it is my task in life to provide answers to such quandaries, and answers, my dear T., you shall have. Here’s the good news: if you’re not a big drinker, then champagne, just like any white wine, is easily incorporated into a wide variety of foodstuffs, from risotto to custard to oysters to general fruity goodness — the uses are myriad! As a drink, champagne is also versatile; it’s not just about poppin’ the bubbly and handing out flutes like it’s New Year’s Eve, so how about a Champagne Americana? Or perhaps a sweeter cocktail would float your boat? If you’re not particularly adventurous, just dump that shit in a punch bowl with some juice and call it a day. It’s like a giant mimosa, and that shit is rad.
If, however, you want to avoid over-purchasing in the future (in spite of the fact that it provides a handy excuse for further libation-riddled celebration), well, what’s an anxious host(ess) to do? However much booze you purchase should be in direct proportion to the number of people attending, and the necessary coefficient is the average amount of booze drunk, per capita. If this is confusing, I’ll make it explicit — mathematically explicit, I mean, not the fun kind of explicit (sorry, kids):
(Total No. of Guests) X ((the two sips your pre-teen niece manages to sneak before getting caught + the two bottles drunken Uncle Al will probably put away + the six mimosas that your college-age cousin will binge on + the extra bottle your neighbor will try to steal without your noticing + you get the idea…)/No. of Guests) = Amount of Booze Necessary
(The more mathematically astute amongst my readership will surely note that the two quantities representing Total Number of Guests will cancel out, meaning that instead of taking pains to find the average amount of booze drunk by any single guest, you can just go ahead and add up all the booze likely to be drunk by all your guests. This is true, but my equation looks fancier my way.)
The point, though, is this: exactitude in booze-buying is a tricky and time-consuming endeavor, and half (two-thirds? Eh, we’ve established that I’m a hack mathematician…) the fun of making a big alcohol purchase for an event is the joy of leftovers. So, even if New Year’s Eve is many long months away, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with multiple bottles of champagne, and if none of the above recipes grabs you then I suggest inviting over some friends to drink through the stuff while enjoying a marathon of “Gossip Girl.” Because, seriously, that is about as perfect a booze-and-television pairing as can be found today, and awesomeness is bound to ensue.
V. in Los Angeles begs to know: how long does an opened bottle of wine last, for cooking purposes?
Excellent question, V., and a hotly contested one — as you can see by this thread on Chowhound. As for me, I’m pretty laissez-faire on the matter — I’ve had wines around for months that I’ve used in cooking. The application of heat is going to degrade all the flavor compounds in wine pretty thoroughly anyway, so it’s not worth it to be super-picky. That said, you’ll want to be careful how you use your older wines — they go best in complex, strong-flavored dishes where they won’t be prominently featured; you’d never want to use, for example, a month-old bottle of white wine in a vinaigrette, but a month-old red in a beef stew will work just fine. It’s also worth noting that as the wine ages and oxidizes, the taste will get stronger in strange ways; sometimes if you’re using an older wine you’ll just want to be careful to use less of it, so the funky flavors don’t overwhelm the good ones.
There are a few tips out there for increasing the longevity of your vino. First of all, refrigerate it, and second of all, if you’ve used a decent amount of it, move it into a smaller container — the more air the wine has to share its bottle with, the faster it will oxidize. A corollary of this is that if you’ve popped a cork for a dinner party and didn’t manage to polish off the bottle, but have only, say, half a glass or so left, you’ll want to use it pretty quickly — within a week or so for cooking, a couple days for drinking.(And, no matter how desperate you get, don’t try drinking month-old wine. Trust me. I have both been there and done that, and it was in no way worth the minor increase in my drunkenness to consume that stank. It’s generally a good idea to keep the intoxication-to-gastric-discomfort ratio above one in all your endeavors.)
So, V., I hope that answers your question. Use your judgment; if you sniff the wine and it smells like total ass, don’t cook with it, but if it’s tolerable, well, that shit is probably still decent, and I encourage you to never let decent alcohol go to waste.
R. in DC recalled a party she attended once where the host had a bunch of alcohol-infused fruit hangin’ out. She wondered how to go about such a task, and how to make it classier than this dude did?
Great question, R.! The mother of all alcohol-infused fruits is the vodka watermelon, in which you cut a small hole through the watermelon’s rind, pour in a bunch of vodka (slowly, so it can all absorb), let it sit for a while, and then slice that mofo up and get drunk off of fruit. Which, good times, right? That’s a pretty down-home way to go about it, though, and if you want to fancy things up it’s worth noting that pretty much any kind of fruit can be infused with alcohol simply by steeping it in the stuff for a while. The longer you steep the fruit, the stronger the presence of alcohol will be in it; moreover, the longer you steep the fruit, the more likely it is to get mushy. Bear both of those in mind when you’re determining how long to let your strawberries sit.
What fruits and alcohols make good pairings? Mango slices go beautifully with white rum; strawberries, raspberries, melons of any kind, and citrus fruits are also great to infuse. Generally I advocate sticking to either vodka or white rum, as more flavorful kinds of booze can overwhelm the fruits — so use tequila if you like, but be gentle with it, I beg of you!
As for presentation, if you’ve got a big ol’ punch bowl, it’s fun to dump a bunch of these fruits into some champagne punch and let the good times roll — if you’ve sliced them nicely, it can be a great presentation. The fanciest, and most work-intensive, way to go is to individually prepare each cocktail glass you’ll be using with an alcohol-infused fruit garnish; a slice of mango along the rim of your margarita glasses, or a lemon adorning a whiskey sour (or, hell, just a Coke). You can go all out with all kinds of crazy, kicky cuts, or you can keep it simple and classic; either way works, it just depends on the vibe of your shindig (if there are tiki lights amongst the decor, go nuts). It definitely takes some extra effort, but as far as presentation goes, it is about as classy as this shit can get, so I say go for it.
C. in Virginia seeks answers: what’s a good way to keep cut fruit fresh throughout a party? Any tips beyond the lemon juice thing?
Dearest C., I’m the most anal-retentive party-planner this side of Martha Stewart — of course I have tips beyond the lemon juice thing! Keeping cut fruit fresh is definitely something worth paying attention to, because nothing is more unappetizing than a platter full of gradually browning apple slices. In order to prevent that, you have to be on guard not merely from the moment you set the fruit out — a common mistake — but rather from the moment the fruit gets cut. Since cutting fruit is a simple enough task and doesn’t demand any last-minute considerations (ie, cooking), this often happens hours or even days in advance, and therein lies the bulk of the problem.
If you’ll pardon my chem-nerd digression: fruit browns because of contact with the air, in an oxidative process with certain particularly fruity enzymes. (This concludes my chem-nerd digression.) The best way to prevent this oxidation is to prevent oxygen from entering the picture at all, or at least as much as possible, so always wrap your fruit immediately after you cut it in plastic wrap (eco-nerd digression: just reuse the shit, alright?). Aluminum foil is a no-go (it involves iron molecules and way nerdier chem digressions) and even packing it in tupperware still leaves plenty of air to float around and brown that shit, so wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap is totally the way to go (if you’re worried about seepage issues leaving it in your fridge like that, wrap it in plastic wrap and THEN put it in the tupperware). Once you unwrap it and set it out — which should be done at the last minute — then you can go ahead and squeeze some lemon juice on that shit, but not beforehand; you want your fruit to taste like fruit, not like lemon juice. On a related note, you should always use fresh-squeezed lemon juice, as the store-bought stuff is frequently either watered down or composed of a bizarre series of sugars and chemicals that sort of vaguely resemble lemon juice, but not really.
Another option is to cook your fruit. You can either flash-cook it in a pan, or skewer it up and grill it — either option provides a kicky and unusual alternative to a traditional fresh fruit plate, and cooking slows the oxidative process. Pineapple grills up beautifully (so much sugar to caramelize!), warm bananas are a dream with some whipped cream or meringue, and I love the pairing of some pan-seared green apple with chipotle spice. It’s an unexpected way to eat fruit, and I always encourage the unexpected. Besides, offering guests mini-skewers of fruit, especially with kickass dipping sauces like a vanilla cream or Nutella ganache, is way more hip than just leaving out a plate full of steadily less crunchy fresh fruit. So, C., the choice is up to you: either do your fruit up right from the beginning, or branch out and make it fun.