August 2009

Close to Home

You don’t have to travel far to combine great food and good friends  by Sally Horchow / photographs by Stephan Danelian

I had a dramatic childhood—as in, digging through the costume box, putting on plays and using the stairwell landing in our house in Dallas as a stage. Every August, I would take my show on the road to Nantucket, Massa­chusetts, where my family went to escape the Texas heat. One summer around 1980, I met my dramatic match in Lulu Powers, an energetic blonde who was scooping ice cream at the Sweet Shoppe on Main Street—clearly underage labor but completely in charge nonetheless.

Lulu and I have remained close ever since, having built lives in Los Angeles with equally wonderful idiosyncratic husbands and homes suited perfectly to entertaining. We still share a penchant for drama, but now our stages are the parties we throw—frequently together—and our performances consistently bring people together for creative celebrations. We have often mused about the fact that our lives are made up of a family of friends who, like us, are all from someplace else. So, we decided to honor all things local—friends who live nearby, food sourced from California vendors—with a Sunday supper down by the pool at my house.

We chose our guest list with a balance of familiar and new faces in mind, including Lulu’s husband, photographer Stephen Danelian, and mine, Paco McCauley; Eduardo Braniff, cofounder with Paco of Franklin + Gower, a menswear company; Spike Feresten, the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” writer, who hosts Fox’s Talkshow with Spike Fere­sten, and his wife, Erika, a life coach; Doug Croxall, CEO of Kenai Financial, and his wife, Natasha; director George Kyriakos; and Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame and his longtime girlfriend, actress Jennifer Westfeldt.

A great place to begin planning any party is one of the fabulous farmers’ markets that happen on any given day all over Southern California. The morning of the party, Lulu and I started at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Ivar. As is her habit, Lulu did not arrive with a list. Her method—both at her Lulu Powers Food to Flowers catering company and in her life—is to roam the market seeking inspiration and ingredients on the fly.

Born into her talent as a chef and caterer to the stars (her mom was a professional caterer, her dad a gregarious gourmand), Lulu creates food that’s an extension of her expansive personality. So when we stepped in front of the lively Shady Lady tomatoes at the Wong Farm stand, I knew this meal would be saturated with color as well as flavor. Expecting Lulu’s first menu pronouncement to be, “Caprese salad,” I was caught off guard when she said, “Pizza on the grill!” A few tubs of fresh Bubalus Bubalis ricotta cheese and a bouquet of basil later, I was on board.

The rest of the menu flowed much the same way: yellow and red beet salad, roasted brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus and, finally, Oxnard strawberries—specifi­cally for a tart. It was time for me to introduce my secret weapon—Carmela Ice Cream, whose seasonal flavors I knew Lulu would love. Handmade in the company’s downtown workshop, Carmela’s salted caramel is to die for, but as we discovered in our taste tests, so is the cardamom, which would pair perfectly with the strawberry tart. We bought a few pints of each.

Back at home, while waiting for Lulu’s arrival, I set the table with a rainbow of hues for maximum peppiness: an orange embroidered runner I had commissioned in Marrakech for my long table; Ball canning jars tied with multi-color ribbons and filled with Gerber daisies from the farmers’ market; and my favorite flowered plates—a gift from my father, designed by Emilio Berga­min for Taitú, a Milanese company he used to feature in his Horchow Collection mail-order catalog.

At 3 p.m.—an hour before showtime—I was pretending not to be antsy, rearranging flowers and forks three and four times over, when the wooden gate opened to reveal a five-foot-tall stack of food trays being carried in by Lulu, sporting a striped sailor shirt and gold clogs and approving of my table as she passed. She had no sooner set her things in the outdoor kitchen when a flurry of vegetable grilling, cheese-board assembling and herb-chopping ensued. Wanting to stay out of the way, I went upstairs to check on my summer sangria,J whose orange, peach and mint flavors were now beautifully merged with the Harrison Clarke Rosé from Santa Ynez.

By the time I was back poolside, Lulu had miraculously transformed the chaos, having blanketed the blue-tiled bar top with a cascading antipasto buffet of cheeses from Redwood Hill Farm creamery, almonds and dried fruits from Alex’s Fruits & Nuts and saucissons from the neighborhood Trader Joe’s. And she had swapped her chef duds for a graphic Trina Turk halter dress. We exchanged a quick hug, and as if on cue, the guests arrived en masse.

During the hellos, Eduardo and Paco modeled the new Franklin & Gower shorts designs, instantly signing on Doug, Jon and Stephen as brand ambassadors. After the fashion show, Eduardo changed into a pair of Lulu’s late father’s vintage-patterned pants, which she had bequeathed to him after her father passed away. (“I knew Eduardo would wear them well,” she says.) He settled in on lounge chairs with Jen­nifer to hear about her whirlwind weekend, during which she and Jon attended a hotel opening in Miami and a Saturday Night Live taping in New York, leaving the raucous after-party just in time to catch a plane back to L.A. for our gathering.

While Jon and Erika took turns handing out crackers mounded with cheese to Spike and George, Jon regaled the trio with a tamer version of the trip details, which inspired a conversation about the Los Angeles–New York comedy divide and connecting the dots among the friends they had in common.

Across the bar, Lulu was busy putting the finishing touches on the pizzas, sprinkling the ricotta and chopped basil atop the homemade tomato sauce and placing the pies on the grill.

As the pizzas came off, every­one took their seats in front of TableTopics place cards we had affixed to bags of John Kelly chocolates, thinking the inventive questions—like, “What did you get into trouble for the most when you were young?”—could be icebreakers if need be. But our lively group had already mingled so beauti­fully people hardly took a break from their conversations to notice.

Lulu thought she was having déjà vu—we remembered that my birthday dinner in 1998 had been served in this exact spot and that she and Jennifer, Jon and Eduardo had all been present. I wondered aloud if this party would culminate as that one had—in a Jon Hamm interpretive dance to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” One could only hope. As we served one another from bowls of salad and platters of fragrant vegetables, Lulu and I rose.

“To our family of friends,” I began. “To you!” Lulu continued. And so, as sunlight fell toward that perfect, glowing, golden time of day my filmmaker friends refer to as the magic hour, the curtain fell on another Lulu and Sally Dramatic Production.