You will allow me a bit of a smug, good feeling today.  These higher-than-normal highs are always interrupted by life’s normal bumps and bruises, so I promise this one won’t go to my head.  But our inaugural North Carolina party last night was damn good!

Not that some major adjustments didn’t become necessary as the hours leading to the event wore on.  Early in the morning there was a true disaster:  one of the cakes I had made a week or so before and frozen–the chocolate one–slipped out of my hand as I picked it up off the counter and landed, splat, face down, on the floor.  Unfortunately, it had thawed out, in all its moist, oil-and-buttermilk richness. Not only did I have a hideous brown-black mess to clean up, but I had to whip up a duplicate and fast–it had been promised as a surprise to mark the birthday of one of the guests.  Thank God the day was still young.

The purpose of the party was to show off the new deck, so we were all set up for outside.  Zero hour was 4 PM.  At 3:30, the heavens opened and a downpour ensued that lasted most of the rest of the evening.  As the first drops fell, we switched gears and set up inside, moving the dining room table up against a wall to create buffet space, clearing coffee and end tables of their knick-knacks to make room for plates and cups, and moving chairs to unaccustomed places so lots of people could sit more-or-less convivially.

We learned several useful lessons.  One: we will never, ever, plan another outdoor party here for the middle of summer.  It’s too hot and the weather is too iffy.  It’s enough like the tropics to expect a thunderstorm in the afternoon, as if it were a “rainy season,” but it’s still temperate enough not to guarantee such a storm, so you’re never really sure what it’s going to do before it’s done.  Two: the house has room for 30+ people to mill about and feel comfortable.  As hosts we sometimes had to break up groups who gathered in crucial spots next to the oven, say, or who blocked a thoroughfare, but that was the worst of it.  Any more than the number we had would be a bit on the sardine side, but we’ll probably never encounter that problem.  (And besides, we want to graduate from these cattle-call get-togethers to smaller, more intimate dinners.  I take it that isn’t done here very much, but I think it’s because people have been intimidated by one guy in particular who fancies himself a “gourmet” and apparently has dinner gatherings that include all the starch of a nun’s habit.  Not fun.  I cook good food–sometimes even fancy–but I’m more in the Julia Child tradition.  If the soufflé falls I’ll serve it, call it a savory pudding, and pass the wine.)

And three, not least:  we have some pretty great neighbors.  I don’t know the religious or political beliefs of a single one of them and I hope it stays that way.  Though none of these people are native to the area, they seem to have been infected with the wonderful local habit of smiling and waving first, inviting friendship rather than argument.  You quickly grow accustomed to greeting a group of strangers in a waiting room, say, as they look up and smile as you enter.  That really is the biggest and most pleasant surprise we’ve had here–how everyone is just plain nice.  It’s a quality that makes for a really fun party.

Oh. And the food, especially the pork, was a hit.  And that chocolate cake? To quote one guest: “The best chocolate cake I’ve ever had!”  I saw no reason to mention that I’d had extra practice.