Poetry Night – Party Appetizers with a Poem for Each Dish!

One of my husband’s dearest childhood friends, Dan, is a pastor and literature buff.  In the interest of cultivating more creative outlets and experiences, he started throwing poetry nights.  He holds these parties at his home, and every guest is told via invitation to find a poem and come prepared with a print-out.  After enjoying appetizers and cocktails, the guests convene downstairs to take turns telling the group why they picked the poem that they did, how it’s relevant or meaningful, and then reading their poems to the group.  The parties usually involve 12 to 16 people of various backgrounds, some of whom have a passion for poetry and others who have just picked up the practice of reading it for the night.

Before this past weekend’s gathering, Dan contacted me about preparing appetizers for the event.  He doesn’t have much inclination where cooking is involved, and knowing that I have that interest and skill set asked if I’d like to act as caterer for the evening.  I immediately said yes and then began working out a menu.  Obviously all of the food would be vegan, but since David and I would be the only vegans (or even vegetarians) in the group, I wanted a spread that would showcase the beauty and complexity of plant based foods while also being recognizable to people.  At the event, some of the guests told us they’d never (knowingly) had a vegan meal before that night.

Since it was a night built around poetry, it seemed only fitting to include it in the theme.  With each appetizer, I searched for a matching poem online.  Then I wrote out the appetizer description on a little card, and printed the poem to lay next to each platter.  If you’re interested in reading the poems I picked, here are the party appetizers with links to each poem:

Before the guests arrived, I spread lentil pecan pâté from Spork-Fed onto crackers.  Then I topped each cracker with a garnish of fresh thyme.  (I also served a small bowl of pâté on the side with carrots and celery.)  The pâté is wonderful for parties, because it can be made well in advance.  It actually gets better after a day or two as the flavors meld.  It tastes great at room temperature, and so it can be put out just before guests arrive, leaving time and attention for food that needs to be served hot.

One of my favorite go-to appetizers is stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmas, dolmades or sarma.  They are a cheat, because I don’t make my own.  They sell them in the deli at our local Co-op, and of course, they can also be purchased at Mediterranean restaurants.  Again, they can be laid out ahead of time and don’t require any additional attention, other than plating them.  In my experience, people have been surprisingly open to trying them and they’ve been an almost universal hit, even with children.  Several people at the event told me it was the first time they’d ever tried them.  Stuffed with rice and with a pickled flavor and hearty bite, they are a lovely addition to any meal with a Greek bent.

The day before the party, I’d started soaking cashews for the black olive bruschetta with cashew cream from Color Me Vegan.  Then on the day of the event, I made the olive mixture and cream ahead of time, stored them separately, toasted slices of baguette, and then compiled them at Dan’s house.  The mixture of black and white with a garnish of fresh basil and parsley make such a beautiful and eye catching combination.  (One note: next time I’ll make double the amount of olive mixture, because while there was plenty of cashew cream left over, I ran out of the olive mixture.)

Knowing that this would be a taco pizza-loving crowd, I made my black bean taco pizzas on cornmeal crusts and cut each pizza into eight slices.  When David brought the pizzas into the living room and announced, “vegan taco pizza,” people actually cheered.  What can I say?  Midwesterners love their taco pizza.  Every slice was snapped up.

I finished off the appetizers with corn tortilla chips and peach salsa made of tomato, peach, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice.  The sweet and spicy salsa was a fresh and light addition on a very hot summer’s day.

Then while we read our poems and discussed them, people nibbled on chocolate covered strawberries.  They’re so easy to make, and they take advantage of the deliciously ripe strawberries currently in season.

People were very warm about the food, which touched my heart, of course.  One couple told David they’d only had a vegetarian meal one other time, and that was in Arizona twelve years ago.  Another young woman in her twenties told me that she’d really enjoyed experiencing something new.  Lots of people asked about getting recipes of various dishes.  One lady said everything was delicious and that her favorite part was that while she’d had a lot, she didn’t feel gross or heavy.  She said she felt light and like she’d done something good for herself.  One gentleman in his sixties told me with a laugh, “You may just get me to go vegetarian after all.”  His wife said, “Write that down.  June 30, 2012!”

Since sharing vegan food (or as I call it – food) is something that is very personal to me, I’m always relieved and happy when people are willing to try something that might be outside of their norm and especially when they come away with a positive feeling about it.

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29 thoughts on “Poetry Night – Party Appetizers with a Poem for Each Dish!

    • Thanks, Melissa! Yes, it was a lot of fun! I don’t regularly read poetry, and so it was interesting to hear the poems that everyone brought. It spurred some quality conversations.

  1. What a wonderful spread you pulled together. I am with you in thinking that sharing delicious food is fantastic activism. I love that your generous spirit allowed many people to have have a brand new experience with vegan food and left them feeling nourished (body and soul). xo

    • Thank you for your sweet comment, Lisa! As you know, there are a lot of misconceptions about the taste and appearance of “vegan food.” I hope that the guests walked away from the party with changed ideas for the better about eating plant-based meals.

  2. Cadry,
    You are really, really, really on a roll. Your writing, ideas and recipes just keep getting better and better. I am so impressed. All the best to foul

    • Thank you, Audrey! It’s a treat to do something out of the ordinary, and a poetry night definitely gave a good excuse to discuss art and literature in a relaxed environment. It was an entertaining and memorable evening!

  3. Everything looked amazing! But when I got to the bruschetta, my mouth did its own little dance of mouthwatering….which was serious stuff, because I was already eating watermelon while I was reading! lol

    How gratifying and exciting that some people were positively affected by vegan food. Converts to healthy eating are always welcome. ;D

    • That bruschetta is incredible. I could eat a vat of the cashew cream just by itself! (It’s also a good beginning for salad dressing with added tamari and water.) This is the second or third time that I’ve brought the bruschetta to a gathering, and it’s always a hit!

      Yes, I was relieved and delighted that people enjoyed the food. There was one guest who only put tortilla chips and carrots on his plate, but he was definitely in the minority. Sharing food is a way to share ourselves and our values, and I was happy that the overall reaction was very positive.

  4. What a fantastic spread of food! I’m not surprised that your black bean taco pizza went in no time, it’s such a great recipe. How fantastic that everyone was so open to trying vegan food, I had the opposite experience when I catered for my family and in-laws for my son’s birthday as quite a few of them decided to eat beforehand which I was a bit upset about.

    • I’m so glad that you’ve enjoyed the black bean taco pizza recipe! It’s a favorite in our household for sure.

      That’s disheartening that your family and in-laws weren’t receptive to trying something outside of their norm. I know how hurtful that can be when you’ve invested a lot of time and energy. I wonder sometimes if it’s easier to cook for strangers, because there’s more social pressure to be polite! :)

      It’s interesting that some of your guests ate ahead of time. I’ve had that experience in the past as well. It’s ironic that many people assume a vegan diet is limiting, and yet they don’t recognize the limits that non-vegans put on themselves sometimes as well. I’ve met so many people who just won’t go to a vegan restaurant or have a vegan dinner. It’s clearly not out of an ethical issue with broccoli or cauliflower, but rather a strictly enforced habit. I try to focus on the positive of people who are open to new experiences and let the rest go. Maybe with time they will come around.

  5. Cadry, I am so impressed! What beautiful food! I’m all over that bruschetta with cashew cream–I think Jaret would heart it.
    Nicely done!

  6. I love that you found poems to go with each of the food items! How cute! I kinda want to know what poem went with the pizza…

    Isn’t it wonderful when you can see people remove the stigma from plant-based food and actually just enjoy it as food, plain and simple? Sharing food is the best form of activism. Thank you for sharing- it gives me hope for my family! :-)

    • Yes, I had a good time incorporating poetry with the food. I hoped that would make it more festive for people, encouraging them to try something new! You can see the pizza poem in one of the top pictures and also in the clickable menu link. I went with a cute little rhyme for that one.

      It is a delight sharing plant-based food with people, especially since there are a lot of misconceptions out there. One of the guests was asking me about what I do and do not eat before dinner was served, and she seemed especially puzzled that I don’t eat animal-based cheese. To be able to then point to the spread across the table and demonstrate that this is what vegans eat was hopefully eye opening.

      If your family is anything like mine, they will become more and more open to a vegan diet over time. My family has become considerably more receptive. With the exception of my husband, none of them are vegan, but they’ve found things that they like and purchase on their own, even when I’m not around.

    • Thanks, Linda! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed putting together a menu, prepping everything, and then putting all of it out with garnishes. I used to work as a cater waiter many, many years ago and didn’t like it at all. Being on the creative and cooking side of it was a lot more enjoyable!

      I always have dolmas at every gathering, and they’re in my refrigerator at all times. They’re such a delicious and quick snack! I thought about Parker having them at his last birthday party. It’s not every twelve year old in Middle America insisting on stuffed grape leaves for their birthday spread! :)

  7. I feel like I should have a party and make it exactly the way you did! The food choices are so well-thought out and the poem with each appetizer is such a clever touch. Beautiful!

  8. Congrats, you are officially hired to cater our next event! :) What a fantastic spread–and I love that you took the time to pair poems with each of the appetizers. Such a nice touch.

    We adore the black olive bruschetta with cashew cream, but you’re right that, at least until you know to make more, you have to pace yourself so you don’t run out of the olive mixture.

  9. wow.. thats awesome. an amazing spread and so fun to have poems with each of them, . there are always a few who shrink away from the plant food:) i try to sneak things in, like i will pass a cake slice a friend who is open minded about it and tell her to pass it to the one who will taste it with a frown if i gave it ;) and then when she goes mmmmmmm. bam girl u just ate plant stuff:)

    • Yes, isn’t it interesting how scared off people can be about eating something that’s “vegan”? I’ve often thought about, say, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a side of potato chips. If you served them and said, “We’re having vegan PB&J with vegan potato chips,” there are those who would be a lot more hesitant to eat it than if you said, “We’re having PB&J and chips.” Regardless, it’s the same meal, but I’m sure there are some who would refuse the first offering, thinking the meal would be too healthy or coarse or otherwise unpleasant.

      Good thinking passing off the cake slice to your friend. Sometimes I feel the same way at potlucks or what have you, that my food might get a warmer response if people didn’t come to it with preconceptions.

  10. Looks like you did an excellent job demonstrating that vegan is tasty-delicious…my tummy is rumbling after looking at the food pics. It looks and sounds like a wonderful party.

    • Thanks! It feels good to show people that “vegan food” isn’t all leaves and twigs. (I generally only have those for lunch.) ;)

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