My Dad told me recently that my stepmother has taken up a new strategy when it comes to entertaining and having friends over: she doesn’t tell him until the day of the dinner and springs it on him without warning. If you knew my Dad and how introverted he can be, this tactic would no doubt sound cruel. But in fact, it’s a merciful approach because, in his words, it gives him “less time to worry”.
When it comes to having guests over, I am very much my father’s daughter. Ultimately, much like him, I always enjoy myself, but in anticipation, I make myself a bit crazy. I tell myself it’s simply a deep-seated desire to make others comfortable, to provide a congenial and pleasant experience for them. That is partly true, but it’s also an exercise in neurosis; the house can never be tidy enough, the food will never be quite good enough, et cetera, et cetera, when in fact, no one notices these things but me.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a publicist with the National Film Board of Canada. Her cheery email outlined a new short animated film that is premiering tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) . I don’t usually write about films, as you know. As it turns out, the film is centered on food, drink and entertaining. In fact, it perfectly summarizes the anxiety and ultimate success of an unexpected dinner party, something I have certainly felt, as I’m sure you have. The film is appropriately called Impromptu and is by Vancouver based filmmaker Bruce Alcock. ( You can see the trailer here )
Not only did I get to pre-screen all of Impromptu, there were recipes! Imagine my delight when I saw an attachment to the email (an honour in itself) and discovered that Bruce’s own food and drink recommendations were there, with not one, but two recipes. For your enjoyment (and my own), I diligently made and documented the Juniper Lamb. In a word: divine. Even non-lamb-eaters were gobbling up these chops. I’ll be making the Chili Orange Beets soon.
The Juniper Lamb recipe is simple and the result is complex. Everything about the ingredients and method is lovely and casual. A few firm grinds with your mortar and pestle will awaken the juniper and cardamom, oil will carry them, then the meat will rest while you do other things. As I was making the marinade, following the tactile, intuitive writing (olive oil measured in “glugs”, lamb “squished around” in the other ingredients) I was reminded of the TIFF website’s synopsis for Impromptu:
Chuck and Sylvie have needed to have a serious talk for a while. But following a boozy cocktail hour, Sylvie spontaneously invites a dozen of her colleagues over for dinner. Set to Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, this 3D animated film is an ode to ordinary moments of sudden, beautiful chaos.
“… ordinary moments of sudden, beautiful chaos.”
A perfect summation of both film and recipe.
How lucky we are when we catch these moments and set aside the thoughts that might otherwise make us miss them. How lucky am I to have been given the gift of seeing this lovely short film and sharing in the spirit of its story!
Thank you to the National Film Board of Canada, the Toronto International Film Festival and of course to Mr. Alcock for his inspiring, sensitive film that made me smile, made me hungry and made me remember why I love to cook for people: I too want to share the ‘beautiful chaos’ that is feeding the people I care about.
Make some beautiful chaos in your kitchen! Recipes are below, along with Bruce’s other recommendations. Enjoy!