How to throw a smørgåsbord in 10,000 easy steps

Next Sunday, Jane and Victoria and I are throwing the sixth annual-but-for-one-year smørgåsbord, this time featuring Germany as the guest country. We’ve decided to document the whole process here on the blog, complete with photos and recipes.

Step 1: send out invitations

We always email the invitations, modern women that we are. This year I made my second attempt to use evite for the process and once again gave up in frustration: the evite system for designing custom invitations was (a) too confining, (b) too buggy, and (c) too frustrating. I don’t think I got as far as the part where you basically share the contact information for everyone you know with a company whose business is advertising. Of course they’re required by law not to share contact info without permission blah blah blah, but if I recall correctly, theirs is an opt-out system where all your invitees are automatically subscribed to their spam unless they notice on their invitation an opportunity to opt-out. I’ve been on and off evite’s spam list many times from getting invited to other people’s events, and I don’t want to do that to our friends, so email it is.

We pretty much invite everybody we know, so if we know you and you haven’t gotten your invitation, you’re invited, too, and we’re sorry that we either screwed up your email address, don’t have it, or somehow failed to include it.

This year’s invitation began:

Jane, Erin, and Victoria
request the company of your pleasure for the sixth
traditional Norwegian post-Christmas open house, or
Jultide Smørgåsbord VI,
Sunday, 7 January 2007, 3-9pm
at [Erin’s house]

Having Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and finally the dreaded Sweden as “guest countries” for Scandinavian variety worked out well in previous years. But since we can’t find windsocks for the Faroe Islands or Samiland, we’re declaring the first Scandinavian cycle complete. To mark this accomplishment, we’re taking the bold step of inviting GERMANY to join Norway on the culinary stage. (I know, it’s shocking, but Victoria is Swedish and German, Jane is German and Norwegian, and I’m Norwegian and German, and there are some really fabulous foods associated with Weinachtszeit.)

In keeping with tradition, we’ll be featuring lutefisk (that truly revolting Norwegian fish concoction, the piece of cod that passes understanding) and lots of other traditional Norwegian and German Christmas favorites that are actually good—yummy, in fact. Most are beige. If you’d like to bring something, I’d suggest your favorite Norwegian or German delicacy, if you have such a thing or enjoy culinary research. Easier still, you’re welcome to bring some cheap red wine to dump into the gløgg cauldron, or decent drinkable white wine or German beer, Norwegian akevit, or perhaps a good German gin, which our good friend Katja and her parents decided would best represent Germany’s answer to akevit. Or just drop by.

Spouses, etc., are also invited. The house is not kid-proofed, and there will be lots of adult beverages, but if you’re not worried about that, I’m sure the younger set will have a good time harrassing the two cats and slipping treats to the black lab. We’re not sure how she feels about lutefisk, though, so nobody should count on her help there.

Suggested attire is good Lutheran dressy casual. (Norwegian sweaters and so on. Lederhosen and Loden are also acceptable.)

The only Norwegian you’ll need to know is “Nei, takk!” (rhymes with “rye rock”): “No thanks! No lutefisk for me! Please no!!!” The German for that is, “Nein, danke!”

*** PLEASE REPLY so we know how much lutefisk not to make. ***

Step 2: Collect RSVPs

Since we don’t use evite or a similar service, we have to request that people RSVP by reply email.

Now, I don’t want to offend my/our readership here, but I have to say, our community is shockingly bad at this. In past years we’ve had only about a 50% reply rate. Most of the people who reply do so accurately–that is to say, they really do or do not show up in accordance with their promises, and they do let us know about others they’re bringing along (the spouses, etc.–we only attempt to send one invitation per household, because even that’s hard enough). And then there’s the other 50%. Some come, some don’t, some reply weeks after the event. Granted, if the invitation arrives while you’re out of town and you’re not one of those who checks email from away, this is very understandable, but 50% non-reply? Come on!

Note to the good 50%: well done. Thank you. We look forward to seeing you. Many of you write charming, witty replies, and these we especially enjoy, although we usually get too bogged down to reply to your replies.

Note to the other 50%: We’re still glad to see you, but what’s up with this?

Anyway, our system is to keep a spreadsheet with columns for who, yes, no, and maybe. Names go under who, a number goes under Yes, No, or Maybe, and sometimes a number goes under Yes and another number under No for tag-alongs whose availability is as-yet undetermined. Given the 50% non-reply rate, we usually take the number of yeses, plus half the number of maybes, and add about a dozen to estimate how many people’s worth of paper bowls and non-biodegradable cups, forks, and so on that we need. Although our invitation pleads for a reply so that we can estimate the amount of lutefisk not needed, in fact it’s about the disposable dishware and flatware.

As for the lutefisk, we always make exactly one hunk of it (we buy ours frozen at Nordic House in Oakland), and we always have about a third left over, cold and soupy looking in the bowl. This year we’ll find out for the first time whether cold leftover lutefisk is too disgusting even for a black labrador retriever to eat. (The cats have never been interested. Lutefisk is nominally a fish product. Go figure.)