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The family party: 4pm is the new 9pm

If you are bound by the lives of your young ones, don’t moan about missing out on 9 pm parties. Start your own—five hours earlier

A snack platter with an assortment of cheeses, dips and crackers(Priya Ramani)

By Samar Halarnkar

LAST PUBLISHED 07.10.2023  |  09:00 AM IST

Of our main lot of friends, my oldest buddies from college, everyone has children—all ages, 10-25. We are fortunate that the older ones appear very willing to party with their parents’ friends. The younger ones, of course, have little choice.

We usually meet at one of our homes. Often, it is ours. Going out isn’t very easy when the littler ones must sleep early, have exams, or are just too young to be dragged along to a brewery. We know the first guests at an adult party tend to arrive at 9pm, and that’s just too late for us, sorry. At first, we established 6pm as our start time, so the youngest could participate and remain reasonably alert when the end came, usually around 11pm, which of course is when many parties get into gear. Early starts also help those living in the distant suburbs to avoid some of Saturday evening’s nightmarish traffic.

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I have never been a fan of late nights and later dinners, so I am delighted to have the children around as my defence for early evenings. But we found that even 6pm was late with exams on—and in the case of our 13-year-old, evening choir practice plus exams.

The latest party fixed this issue. One of us had a daughter visiting from Chennai and—wonders—she wanted to meet the old biddies. Some of us last met our delightful chief guest, Vardhini, a decade ago, when she was 13, so we were excited. Funny, isn’t it, how gratified we feel as we get older and we find that our 20-somethings are not averse to hanging out and listening to the same old stories and same bad jokes?

The main hitch was that my daughter had to leave for choir practice by 5.15pm, and she was very keen to meet Vardhini and the old boys and girls. Plus, with mid-term exams about to start, her mother was clear that everyone had to clear out by 8pm. What to do? Would everyone be willing to come by, um, 4pm?

It turned out everyone was game. The first bell rang at 4pm, the first drink was poured by 4.10pm, and by 4.15pm the party was in full gear. It was hard to tell who was tight and who was not, since we were all happy to see each other and impress Vardhini with our questionable humour. Most of this lot are prodigious drinkers. Whether 10pm or 4pm, two of them are enough to demolish a whisky bottle.

No one at our early parties becomes a bad drunk because there is always food to temper the alcohol. The wife is a snack-platter queen, organised in a way I can never be—serving both healthy and unhealthy food. There were carrots, grapes, dried apricots, raisins, olives and cucumber sticks with yogurt dip, and cocktail sausages, cashew nuts, chips and feta dip. There were two local cheeses, the drolly named Kempe Gouda and Begum Victoria. Baguettes came from a local baker and Vardhini’s parents made sublime paniyarams and vadas with a coconut chutney.

Dinner at these dos is limited. This evening, it was prawn pulao from my mother and home-made vegetarian pulao. I had also made a Moroccan-Goan chicken-choris paella. We did not serve it, since we had enough, although I provided a bowl for anyone interested.

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The Moroccan-choris paella (below) was one of those dishes I make when I am in the mood to use anything at hand. I have recently discovered a paella pan that we bought more than a decade ago (I tend to hoard things) and I find it makes everything from stir-fries to paellas, which are very hard to make without the pan. It’s an ideal party entrée.

Back at the party, time moved slowly as a typically cool Bengaluru breeze blew in, the level of the alcohol declined, and the food quickly disappeared. Word came that the child’s choir practice had been extended till 9.15pm, but in four hours everyone was quite knackered, and some had to head back to those distant suburbs. By 8pm, as if by a hidden signal, everyone got up, laughed, hugged and headed for the door.

There was ample time to wash up before the child returned and to have a quiet after-party evening. There is little question that we will do the 4pm bash again. I highly recommend it.

Moroccan-Goan chicken-choris paella

Serves 8

Ingredients
2 Goan sausages, each cut into 4 pieces
200g cooked, boneless chicken, small pieces (I simply used the chicken from the bones in the chicken stock)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup rice, washed
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
Half a carrot, finely chopped
4 beans, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1-inch piece cinnamon
8 peppercorns
10-12 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tsp harissa powder
A few strands of saffron, dissolved in a little warm water or milk
Salt to taste
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil

Method

I used a non-stick paella pan. Heat the pan gently with the oil. Drop in the bay leaf, peppercorns and cinnamon until they swell. Add garlic and sauté until lightly brown. Add onions and sauté till translucent. Add tomatoes and sauté for about a minute. Add harissa power and sauté, adding a little oil if needed. Add beans and carrot and sauté until almost done. Add choris and chicken, mix well. Add salt. Add rice and mix everything well. Spread out on the paella pan. Add the stock, reduce the flame. After the first lot of water is absorbed, add saffron water. As the stock gets absorbed, add more stock. Move the rice around if some of it is getting cooked faster than the rest. Add stock whenever you need until rice is fully cooked.

Serve hot.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.