26.10.2016

Hands On

How to entertain at home with Skinny Legs’ Donnet Dumas

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon | Styling: Donnet Dumas

It's that time of year where the invites roll in thick and fast and you find yourself attempting to hold back a tidal wave of cold canapes, flat bubbly and Xpresso Show presenters at out of the way venues where your parking doesn’t get comped. When all this gets a bit too much, you should start to decline second-rate events and then make it a rule where all your summer socialising takes place in the comfort of your own home. No pushy PR people, no fake smiles and no goodie bag filled with a lanyard, coaster and 500mb flash drive.

And why not, if you want something right then do it yourself, right? Someone who knows the recipe for hosting better dinner parties, house parties, cocktail parties and games nights, is Donnet Dumas who, having turned her love of feeding people into a profession, (Donnet is behind the Skinny Legs brand) hasn’t stopped doing the same in her downtime.

Straight from Convivium – a two day event showcasing food, chefs and producers where they collaborate, connect and, ultimately, cook and eat at Adi Badenhorst’s farm in the Swartland Valley - we visited Donnet at home where she shared her plentiful party tricks with The Way of Us.

“My perfect dinner party starts early in the day, with people filtering in at their leisure and the house slowly filling up. As long as I’m not locked away in a room somewhere, and there are people hanging out in the kitchen with me, I really don’t mind being in the kitchen all day. After a steady flow of drinks and snacks we then all sit down for the main meal together and the evening has to end with everyone spinning records and playing games.”

Use Donnet’s recipes, tips and tricks to streamline things this silly season, throw better parties, keep your guests happy, and play host with the most.

DRINK

You don’t need to call yourself a mixologist in order to muddle a couple of cocktails. A bucket of ice, some garnishes, a few spirits, more mixer options and the right glass (try these bartending glasses which have different cocktail recipes printed on them) will always be better than flaring. Any get-together is an occasion, so remember to toast – and say something inspiring, kind or heartfelt to get everyone in the mood to drink.

While having cold beers and plenty of wine goes without saying, Donnet believes that having at least one signature cocktail is a must, and her drink of choice is the Gin and Tonic.

“I was at Convivium yesterday and the Hope on Hopkins guys have a gin called Salt River, which has buchu and some other indigenous botanicals in it that are really interesting. Then there are all these new artisanal tonics coming up. I like an element of story telling in a drink or the drinks you choose for your party.” 

Which is why Donnet believes in following a somewhat traditional structure with the drinks that she decides to serve.

“I try and start with something light, maybe fruity, and then move on to wines that work with the food, and eventually end the evening with something big, like a peaty single malt.”

Sure, day parties are a great excuse to drink before noon and spend the entire day buzzed, which are both totally acceptable, so go ahead and make your day. Just remember that you’re in someone else’s home and probably want to be invited back. Don’t become Drunk Uncle – the sport-drinking, red-faced, shouty lout, laughing at his casual racism, sexism and homophobia whenever he insults all and sundry, usually with the disclaimer – “What I like about me is that I’m a straight shooter! I just call it how it is!” Show a modicum of decorum and don’t be a Drunk Uncle or get White Girl Drunk and you should be fine.

The Perfect G&T
1 jigger Hope on Hopkins Salt River gin
Swaan tonic water
A couple slices of cucumber
A sprig of citrus buchu

- Add all ingredients into a tall glass with a couple blocks of ice.
- Try and get your hands on some fresh buchu, as the Hope on Hopkins gin is infused with this indigenous plant and it really helps bring a fresh, interesting flavour out.

Bloody Beetroots Cocktail

A couple baby spinach leaves
Fresh pressed beetroot juice
Fresh pressed apple juice
1/2 jigger of rum
A wedge of lime

- This cocktail really works as an alternative to a Bloody Mary as well, just replace the rum with vodka.
- Add the spinach leaves to the bottom of a tumbler.
- Pour 50/50 beetroot and apple juice into a cocktail mixer with ice and the rum, and shake up.
- Once you have satisfied your inner barman, pour the juice mix over the spinach leaves. The mixture should be cold enough from the shake up with the ice, so you won't need to add the ice blocks into the glass.  
- Top with a squeeze of lime and then rub the wedge all the way along the rim of the glass.

EAT

If you want to drink lots of booze you need to eat lots of food. Well, if you insist… Whether it’s influential Foodstagrammers running lucrative #foodporn accounts or simply someone who likes to share a gatsby with their 857 followers, everyone photographs their food these days. You can ensure that your guests choose to shoot and share an aerial gram photograph of your menu by using the recipes on this page, and then…

Because Donnet can appreciate how the right setting makes for as much of an experience as what’s on the plate, she says that her best summer entertaining tip is to let the outdoors in.

“Even if you open up your balcony and serve the drinks there, or try invest in a small charcoal braai and use that, it will make a big difference.”

Then make sure that nobody ever goes without by having snacks all over, all day, and don't just focus on the food for the main event, use these mini-courses to steer people to where you want them to be, like the balcony, or closer to the kitchen so that you have someone to talk to while you prep the main.

“Everyone has a dietary requirement nowadays so if you have lots of different things there’ll be something for everyone. I believe in keeping the food mainly vegetarian as I think we should be eating a lot less meat, even fish, and it’s just a more conscious way of eating. People don’t realize that there are so many great vegetable recipes. Even on the braai. You don’t have to just make meat. It’s great with aubergine and potato and mielies. You can actually make any vegetable. Fashion out a tinfoil boat and make your veg like you would in the oven.”

A fire is the best communal space, so encourage everyone to gather around. It should never just be men standing around holding the tongs and their beers.

Cauliflower Pizza Base
1/2 cauliflower head
1 egg
Parmesan, grated
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

- Heat the oven up to 180. 
- Blitz the cauliflower in a food processor until really fine. You will probably have to do this in batches to make sure there are no big bits left. Transfer to a microwave safe bowl of appropriate size. (If you don't have a food processor, you can finely grate the florets).
- Microwave the cauliflower for 20 seconds. Take out and stir, and let it go for another 20 seconds. 
- The cauliflower contains a lot of moisture and you need to get that out. So place the cooked cauliflower into a sieve and push out as much of the water as you can. This will also need to be done in batches to ensure that you get most of the water out. 
- Add in the egg, oregano and salt. Mix well. 
- Grate in enough parmesan to just bring the mixture together. This will all depend on how much water you got out of the cauliflower. 
- Once its all coming together you know its ready. Spoon the mixture onto a pizza stone (or a lined baking tray), and spread out into a pizza shape. Make sure that its all even across the centre but build up a bit of a 'crust' on the edges. 
-  Pop the pizza crust into the oven for 30min. It should start to get golden on the edges. 
- Once cooled you can add whatever toppings you want. And then put the pizza back into the oven for another 10-15min.

PLAY

If there’s a game on, and you’ve invited people to come watch it at your house then obviously the TV needs to be on. However, once it’s done the TV should be turned off because we spend enough of our lives staring at a screen. So what are you going to do for entertainment, this…

Born into a gaming family, Donnet grew up watching her parents playing cards with their friends and this ritual is still a huge part of her life today.

“They played Canasta and I kind of learned how to play by sitting next to them and watching them play. Canasta will always be our family card game, but then we’ll always try a different boardgame, too. We got into 30 Seconds in a big way. We’re quite competitive, I must add, but some healthy competition is good. You get to see a different side of a person when playing a board game, and it’s the best way to get to know someone. You’ve had some booze. You’re pretty loose. Your guard is down...”

If board games tend to bring out the worst in your guests then perhaps a less conflicting form of entertainment is to allow your guests to play DJ and spin some records.

I really like having a stack of records at home because it’s a form of entertainment in itself as guests flip through them and interact with them. That takes care of the music needs, too, and it’s good to play things that are obscure or what you wouldn’t normally play. Like the boardgames things can get heated and everyone will have an opinion, but it’s still so much better than having a playlist on shuffle.”

Remember that drinking games can be incorporated into everything from cards to dominos to taking turns playing different records and having to guess the band or song titles, so depending on what type of night you want – bring out those shot glasses.

And then instead of serving dessert straight after dinner you should give your food time to settle, and bring out bowls of different sweet options when the games begin. Two easy to make and delicious options are the peanut butter pretzels and ice-cream sandwiches.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Sandwiches
1 jar of unsalted/ no sugar added peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
1 bag pretzels 
2 slabs of 70% dark chocolate
couple pinches sea salt

- Put the peanut butter in the fridge to harden it up a bit. 
- In the mean time, line a baking tray that can fit into your freezer with parchment/ baking paper and put the kettle onto boil. 
- When the peanut butter is hard enough for it to be difficult to spoon out it’s ready. Spoon out (or use your hands) the peanut butter and sandwich it between two pretzels, making sure you tidy up the edges a bit. Then place them onto the lined baking tray. The first couple will take a little practice, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. I find that if you have a bowl of warm water to the side you can clean your hands in-between sandwiches a lot easier than going to the sink every time. 
- Do the sandwiches in batches putting the tray in the freezer in between to make sure that the peanut butter doesn't melt too much. 
- While the tray is in the freezer once you are done sandwiching, get some water on slow boil in a small pot. Place a heatproof bowl over the boiling water to create a double boiler. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. 
- Put the chocolate into the bowl and watch as it slowly melts, stirring occasionally. When you use a double boiler rather than a microwave to melt the chocolate you stop the chocolate from burning.  
- Once the chocolate is liquid and nice and glossy get your pretzel sandwiches out the freezer and dip each one through the chocolate. Replace back to the baking tray. 
- By the time you are done dipping all of them the chocolate will have cooled off and you can sprinkle some salt into the chocolate. By waiting for the chocolate to cool a little you will get actual flakes of salt sitting on the chocolate rather than it dissolving into it. 

Donnet’s other summer hosting tips include inviting the right people, and says that you should…

“Invite a few people who you know really well, who are really comfortable in your home, and who you can rely on to help with some of the hosting duties. There’s an art to making people feel welcome and I like to involve guests when they arrive by pointing out where everything is and then telling them to help themselves. They shouldn’t feel like anything is precious and should be made to feel at home.”

Are formalities like a hand-written thank-you note or inviting your host to your home essential?

“We’re all busy people, and sometimes it’s just about that once-off connection. You shouldn’t feel obliged to do anything. However it is always good to bring something. A bottle of something, flowers, some chocolates…”

And then what happens when your guests won’t leave? We’ve offered a snifter of brandy, another coffee and they’re still showing no signs of getting an Uber? 

“Most people have a sense of vibe, but if I’m tired I’ll just say goodnight and then go up to bed. I don’t feel ashamed to tell people how I’m feeling. Our house is really good for that, I can shout goodnight from the mezzanine. Otherwise I’ll get everyone to come do shots at Hanks across the road.”