playful elegance
March 31, 2007

I've billed this menu "eclectic tapas," but I may have begun by considering the theme to be "food in miniature" (a Tiny Kitchen specialty, of course). I've inherited my grandmother's mini muffin tins, and I'm putting them to good use. I'm thrilled to discover I can make key lime pie tartlets by pressing graham cracker crust into each indentation and popping them out easily with a knife after baking. Even after halving recipes for both red velvet cake and Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, my mini tins render 72 cupcakes by noon. I even buy several dozen miniature roses for a tabletop bower.

But somewhere during my morning preparation, the petite bites motif devolves into "food that takes too long to prepare." This is why caterers freeze their hors d'oeuvres: Preparation in miniature eats away an afternoon.

I don't quite panic until I realize it's 5pm and I have salmon to marinate in lime; focaccia to let rise; shrimp to peel; and grape leaves and pigs-in-blankets to wrap. When Rebecca had asked if she could come over to help me cook, I'd said, "Sure, but I don't really need help." Hubris is a tragic flaw.

She arrives at 6 and sets to work icing 6 dozen cupcakes while I fuss with the lime marinade. Suddenly serving raw fish (well, lime-cooked) to my guests seems like a terrible folly. How does one even recognize the signs of salmonella poisoning? Rebecca advises me to punch down the focaccia extra hard, and then maybe I'll feel better.

Around 7:30 we rename the culinary theme "food that falls apart." For some reason we didn't learn our lesson last time, and have again saved the dolmades-wrapping until far too late in the game. Rebecca is not faring much better with pig-wrapping. Meanwhile, cupcakes have started shrinking within their wrappers (note: probably best not to skimp on self-rising flour).

Tracy comes home at 8 and it's a mad dash through iPod crisis, showers, mood lighting and stashing trays of extra food anywhere we can find space (cupcakes on top of the microwave, of course).

Then people come—and it's all worthwhile. Two hours spent squeezing key limes (instead of buying the juice) really does make these tartlets worth exclaiming over. Homemade focaccia is vastly superior to store-bought. Chimichurri sauce is always a good idea. And compliments are worth 10 hours standing in the kitchen.

"I like this menu," someone says. "It's elegant—but fun." It hasn't felt particularly playful, but there is something whimsical—the flickering candles, the glass and silver, the tiny food. My mind wanders...I wonder what else I could make with mini muffin tins.