I remember there was a time (first year uni) where I thought to myself that I’d never get married. The thought of commitment was hard to comprehend. I was enjoying my happy hours at the Glasshouse Bar at University of Technology Sydney too much, playing Counter Strike at the abundance of internet cafes in Chinatown and drinking copious amounts of Easy Way before lectures. Life was great, it was simple, fun and I even fit in a bit of study in between.
Things changed, overnight even. I became reacquainted with Linda during second year of Uni. At the time, we had actually known each other since high school through mutual friends. You could say a flame was rekindled, and it hasn’t gone out ever since (Yep, what a line, good enough for the Bold & The Beautiful).
Anyway, seven years later we are still going strong and I really can’t see myself with anyone else in the world. She is an amazing person and she keeps telling me that I’m lucky to have her. I’d argue against that but for the sake of world peace I just nod and agree and then mumble under my breath.
I decided to pop the question a few months ago and of course, she said yes. To celebrate, we wanted to do something a little bit different with our close friends. It would’ve been easy to host drinks at a bar or just have a barbeque at a park with everyone over. But Linda and I wanted to stretch ourselves and see if we could pull off an engagement party with a difference. So, did we deliver? You tell us, check out Squishies’s fantastic pictures and let us know what you think.
Oh and before you read on, this is a massive post but I’m sure it’ll be worth it!
“Good food, good people, good music – Howard & Linda 2011”
That’s all we wanted, but for a lot of people (90, give or take). We initially wanted to host a sit down dinner at warehouse but decided against it as it would mean we could only invite 40 odd people. Come on, I’ve got hundreds of Facebook friends so that was never going to work! The initial quote for a warehouse party also cost more per person, with what we reckon would’ve been inferior food and atmosphere.
We then entertained the idea of hosting it at Linda’s house which meant we had to cater it somehow. We considered hiring someone to cater for 90 people, but we did some rough quotes and it was going to cost us an arm and a leg just to feed people a few canapés and a few basic mains. We then bit the bullet and decided to cater all the food ourselves, from drinks, canapés to mains to desserts. There was no set theme to the food or the decorations, we just wanted food which people would enjoy in an environment where ambience, atmosphere and conversation supplemented the joy of eating and getting pissed for a good a reason, celebrating our long awaited engagement.
The Band, Sounds of Apollo
Sounds of Apollo, you heard them here first. An amazing jazz/funk band with talent beyond their years (they are only 21). We saw them at a mates wedding a few months ago and they made such a great impression on us that we wanted them for our party. I wish someone had taken some audio or video as they finished off with an awesome mashup of Katy Perry’s – Teenage Dream and Jay Z / Alicia Keys – New York State of Mind.
The setup, how did it look?
How do you transform a regular suburban backyard into an environment which had a good vibe in the day and night? Use flowers, lots of them.
All the chairs and couches you see in this post were found on the side of the road. A few weeks ago was the Council clean up day in Canley Heights. Linda and I drove around in her parents Mercedes Benz four wheel drive picking up old, thrown out furniture which we thought was quite ironic.
The great thing about living in the South West is that hardly anyone appeals to vintage furniture lying on the side of the road. I don’t think we’d be as lucky if we lived in Newtown or Surry Hills.
This white couch was in great condition, apart from a big rip through the middle of it. To fix it up with minimal effort, Linda bought an old curtain from Vinnie’s for $4 and draped it over the couch. Not only did it conceal the rip in the couch, it added a bit of vibrant colour. To the top left is a table which we also found, I repainted it to white and it was as good as new.
For dining, we covered the tables with white cloth and had a table runner made with lines of burlap. We also put flowers in recycled jars, wine and beer bottles which were donated by the local pub. It took a while to wash them all, but it was worth it. The randomness of the jars, bottles and flowers made a unique setting for each table.
Lighting was always going to be a challenge, but we were lucky to find our local Bunnings Warehouse sell clearance fairy/icicle lights for $12 a box. Each set of lights would stretch for six metres, which was just long enough for me to tie them from the upstairs balcony to the roof of the garage.
We had to make sure that we had enough drinks for 80+ guests, and if you know what my friends are like, they don’t shy away from a cheeky drink or twenty. For the beers, we got extremely lucky at 1st Choice Liquor. I’m a Foursquare user and every month they have a Foursquare check-in special of some sort. This month, they had a buy one 6 pack get one free promotion for Matilda Bay beer only. That effectively meant around $32 for a case of craft Australian beer, you can’t even get VB for that price. The normal price per case was around $50, score!
For the wine, we stuck with King Valley clean skins which were less than $10 per bottle. We figured that after a few drinks, most of our friends wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a $10 or $100 of wine. You can’t go wrong with pinot grigio and shiraz either!
Our lovely friends Charlotte and Noel (aka Chogz or Noglette) also made 400 vodka jelly shots which got demolished in no time. Not only do they taste great, but they can really add a vibrant look to a drinks station if you mix the colour of the jelly up.
One of my proudest moments of the engagement party was probably this chest I found which I turned into a “chestky”. It was a major talking point of the evening.
During one of our drives throughout Canley Heights, I spotted this chest on the side of the road. It’s been through a bit, with dents and nails hanging off it. The owner clearly thought it was showing its age, and decided to throw it out. You know what they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you have a look at the first picture, the chest still has all the writing on it from the original owner. Judging from the stamps and writing, the chest was originally sent from Italy to Sydney sometime in the 70’s or 80’s.
A few wipes, washes and staple gun shots later, the chestky was ready. Half chest and half esky, its my greatest ever DIY job, and probably one of my easiest. It easily fit 8 cases of beer and more in it. All I had to do was line it up with a plastic sheet so that the ice and water wouldn’t leak into the actual chest.
Feeding 80 or 90 people is not an easy task, but was a challenge that we relished. It wasn’t just about putting food on the table from a quantity perspective. We had to make sure that what we put out was quality food, something which Linda regularly strives for when she is hosting. We were planning the menu weeks in advance, but didn’t finalise it until the week before the party. Menu items came and went, until we finally settled on the following canapes, mains, salads and desserts which were all a hit with the guests.
We sourced some very fresh tuna from CMB Seafoods in Matraville who also supplied our oysters. The tuna was coated in a mixture of black and white sesame, then quickly seared on a hot pan so that it was still rare on the inside. The tuna sat on a bed of apple and fennel salad dressed with a bit of ponzu dressing and then topped with home-made wasabi mayo (wasabi & kewpie) and crunchy garlic chips which we fried earlier in the day.
Most people would’ve heard of David Chang’s Momofuku by now, with his pork buns creating culinary headlines when they made an appearance at his restaurant Momofuku. We fell in love with them during our trip to New York earlier this year and wanted to recreate them at our party. Luckily, he has a recipe in his cook book.
As a variation, we purchased Chinese crispy skin roast pork from our local Chinese BBQ meat store which is a slight variation to the pork belly recipe used in the original Momofuku pork bun. Either way, it tasted fantastic especially with the crackling.
One of our first “fine dining” experiences was at Restaurant Assiette in Surry Hills, which dated back to 2008. To this day, it seems that this starter of oysters and Vietnamese dressing is still on the menu. Lucky for us, Warren Turnbull has a copy of the recipe on the Assiette website, which was easy to recreate. The dressing is amazing, packed full of flavour and pairs perfectly with a fresh oyster.
We served the oysters on beds of ice and wasn’t long until they were all snapped up.
I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken. We knew Linda’s tried and tested secret recipe would be a hit with the guests, and it truly delivered. Crunchy, crisp and tender it had people raving on about it well into the night. We served them in wooden boxes which I made from pieces of wood from Bunnings Warehouse. Not only are the boxes great for serving, they add a cool rustic look.
Three whole baked salmon cooked to perfection was enough to feed 80 odd people, keeping in mind that not everyone had a piece as seafood isn’t everyone’s kettle of fish (boom-tish). We served it with Linda’s home-made tar-tare sauce.
Linda’s mum served up boneless chicken wings which we popped onto the barbecue. Not only did they taste good, they were boneless! Such a great concept for a party.
We also served up 25kgs of charcoal barbecued pork ribs from this recipe we posted earlier in the year.
If you’ve been a long time reader of the blog, you would know that Linda’s passion lies in creating desserts. She is a self-taught baker and cook and without doubt is one of the most talented home bakers I’ve met, even cooking at Bistro CBD once with a host of other talented people. She would know that I’m probably her harshest critic, I don’t shy away from telling her if her dessert or food isn’t up to scratch. She’s a perfectionist, which I think is a good thing, because life is too short for second best!
One of the first things she wanted for our engagement party was an epic dessert table, which she truly delivered to her word. The dessert menu itself was written on an awesome bedside mirror which we found on the side of road. We whacked on a coat of white paint and it looked as good as new.
Nine and a half hours later, the last of our guests went home (6pm to 3:30am!). We were dead tired and couldn’t wait to go to bed but had an amazing evening. After waking up the next day and reflecting on our special day, we’re not shy to say that it was one of the best parties we’ve ever experienced, even though we hosted it ourselves.
Everything on the night went perfectly. Firstly, everyone turned up which we were grateful for. The food turned out pretty good, no one was left hungry and Sydney belted out an absolutely amazing day of weather with it being 32 degrees celcius during the day and clear skies during the night.
Hosting our own engagement was a massive challenge, but we had fun doing it. The fact that we could say everything had a personal touch to it is something we are very proud of. More importantly, there was a moment where we looked around and saw that everyone was having a great time. I saw old high school friends of mine chatting with other people as if they had known each other for years. It just goes to show that good food, music and company can bring people together.
Stay tuned for the wedding, whenever that may be!