New Year’s Eve: a Syrian Banquet on a Boat

Happy belated new year everybody.

Last week we hosted our first party on board – a New Year’s Eve / boat-warming banquet for 18 people at an enormous 10m trestle down the centre of the saloon. It looked like this:

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20140107-231643.jpg (yes that last one is a golden fist-bump, for those of you who are wondering).

Boat things first: nobody fell in (it was gruesome cold and drizzly), nothing caught fire, and the loo didn’t get blocked, so on a boat-level It was a huge success.

In party-terms it went pretty well too. It took a load of pre-Christmas food planning (so I could secure the best Sainsbury’s delivery slot and then forget about it) – plus a few more days’ hard work to put it all together and then pull it apart again – but we had loads of help on the day which made it more fun, and everyone seemed to have a good time (despite not necessarily knowing each other, plus the fact we made them all dress up as pirates).

Unfortunately, I had more fun than the Owl will admit to – although to be fair, he had a bit of a cold and did not enjoy having to do so many jobs outdoors on the 30th and 31st (I definitely lucked out on the ‘good reason to stay in the kitchen’ front). Sadly, this means we won’t be doing another one anytime soon. (Well. Probably not…)

I for one enjoyed it so much I surprised myself – I’ve never cooked a sit-down dinner for that many people before, and even with lower numbers in the past I’ve been plagued by guilt when I’ve proven incapable of maintaining a polite hostess-y conversation for more than 90 seconds because half my brain is constantly re-calculating the game plan for the next 10 minutes whilst trying to figure out where the corkscrew has gone – but this time it was fine. I tied the corkscrew to the bar, for one thing.

Other ‘first time ever’ differences were: I gave myself permission to not try to excel at the small-talk, and I apparently learned how to accept help and to delegate effectively in the kitchen. Which is fortunate, as frankly without so much help we would’ve been eating cheese and crackers off the floor and I’d have been tearing my hair out.

I also mentally committed myself to being ‘on duty’ all night, so when it came to it I wasn’t constantly trying to steal a break only to be confounded by some drunkard falling overboard (they didn’t), the CH boiler striking (it did), or some innocent trying to drink our dodgy tap water (we really must get an inline filter).

We did it as a Syrian Supper Club where everyone chips into a jar on the table, we cook up a storm, and we give whatever money is left after food costs to the DEC Syria appeal. It’s the first time we’ve ever done something like that so we kept the fundraising bit pre-agreed and relatively low-key to see how it went, and happily managed to raise a half-decent chunk of change for the refugees without anyone feeling excessively put upon on their New Year’s Eve.

We rigged up T’s barrel barbecue on the roof (it was a stretch too far for my dad’s two-ring camping stove which we’ve been running on for the past 5 months):

20140107-200933.jpgAnd we made:

– Hummus al kawarma (hummus with hot spicy barbecued lamb and lemon&parsley sauce on top)*
– Arabic flatbreads (made with spelt on granite in the barbecue. Denser than expected but good – or at least we had none left)
– Baharat barbecue smoked chicken (a dry spice rub with cinnamon, cumin, allspice, mint, rose petals and smoked paprika amongst others)
– warm lentil salad with smoked aubergine and Greek yoghurt (can’t remember what it’s called) *
– rice and lentils with spiced chickpeas and herbs (nor this one) *
– Kanafe (the most heavenly Middle Eastern dessert like baklava, made from shredded filo and ricotta with rose- and orange blossom-water scented sugar syrup. S made it. It was so good it was the highlight of my evening and I had the leftovers for breakfast).
(* All hail Ottolenghi the Great. I’m a fully-subscribed and self-confessed devotee)

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Needless to say I forgot to take any photos of the finished food, but a) this is not a food blog, and b) smoked aubergines look their most interesting at this stage anyway.

We cleared all extraneous furniture (apart from the sofa) into our cabin and set up the side table as the bar.

20140107-201738.jpg(Note the rum, an eminently appropriate boat-warming present we’d been saving for a special occasion)

We borrowed a few trestles from T’s workshop and set two 5m boards up and over the end of Granny’s kitchen table, down the centre of the saloon (we hired some extra chairs).

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We bought a roll of thick wallpaper lining paper for a clean white table-covering, loads of chocolate coins, gold bead strings, shedloads of jewel-coloured sequins and some cool quasi-Arabic/ quintessentially English-patterned paper plates from Amazon for the table, and gold Christmas paper in the Paperchase sale to make garlands of ‘bullion’ to hang from the ceiling.
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Newly arrived from Australia where fireworks are strictly verboten, D went to see a man about a dog and came back with the biggest rocket it’s legally possible to buy without a license.

20140107-202136.jpg THE KING. That’s right.

Finally: the lost property/ newly-minted nautical dress up box successfully acquired two cutlasses, three parrots and an eyepatch by the end of the night (3.30am – how civilised is that?!).

The next day we had a two hour clean-up…

20140107-233734.jpg… Before kicking back to watch PRINCE OF PERSIA, FRANCES HA, ARGO back to back and going to bed at 9.30pm, which qualifies in my book as an A1 sort of New Year’s Day.

So: sayonara, 2013. You gave us a boat, and for that I love you. Here’s to a 2014 that whoomps your pants off.

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10 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve: a Syrian Banquet on a Boat

  1. Nice work – we’re very impressed, do you plan to hold any more Syrian Suppers?

    • Thank you! Not a patch on what you guys do but as I say, first time… Short answer is YES, I hope so.
      Long answer is I’d like to but we need to work out a more efficient way to do it (production/ seating-wise, not so much food-wise which I’m pretty comfortable with).
      Also we’re not that easy to get to!
      But nothing is impossible. I think a summer one on the roof would be a good option…

      Can we come to your next one and talk more?

      A
      (Thanks for reading too btw!)

  2. Amber says:

    Beautiful party! It sounds like it went much more smoothly than the one I attended 🙂 The food sounds delicious, the decorations are great, and I love that you made people dress up as pirates.

  3. Hannah says:

    You are outrageously clever and creative, what a beautiful looking evening! Lots of love for a very happy new year xxxx

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