Every year, for the past 22 years, community sponsors have hosted A Tasteful Affair, “an exciting evening of dining and entertainment to support the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill.” I’m not really the target demographic for this sort of thing (later in the evening, when the least impressive donations were over $100, my cheeks turned red and my eyes turned floorward), but hey, Trying Something New that incidentally takes me out of my comfort zone? That’s kind of what I’m all about.
There are three basic pieces to A Tasteful Affair: Food, Silent Auction, and Stagecraft, although, to be honest, those are the three basic pieces of 86% of all charity functions**. A Tasteful Affair puts the silent auction on a long table in the center of the room and surrounds it with two dozen local restaurateurs showcasing snack-size portions of their best menu items, while up on stage, a band plays (This year, the band was Too Much Fun, not to be confused with the quantifiably less fun band fun.).
O Hai! It’s emcee Ron Stutts!
It’s just not a Try-Something-New column without Ron.
Everyone gathered in the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium, milling about as screens around the room listed auction items with no bids. While this approach did have the unfortunate side effect of singling out specific high-minimum-bid items like the last kids picked for tee-ball, it did simultaneously make people feel sorry for those misfit toys and go put in a bid.
Tell me it’s not just me: with the screens of tabulated columns,
the giant track-lit Blue Zone looked like an airport terminal, right?
Okay, food. As I’ve said in previous columns, I’m not an expert at cooking, and I don’t necessarily have a history of eating the most balanced of meals, but one thing I’m incredibly good at is snacking.
While I can’t sit down and eat a normal sized meal without feeling stuffed, I can consume a tub of popcorn from the movie theater over the course of several hours, taking time out to eat a few candy bars, some Pop-Tarts, half a box of peanut-butter crackers, a bag of Tostitos, a smoothie from my Ninja Blender, and two plates of apple slices. I’m the Energizer Bunny of snacking. I’m the Lance Armstrong of snacking***. If they made Madden Finger Foods 2012, I’d be right there on the cover****.
So if you put me in an airport terminal with the area’s finest aperitifs and fun-size helpings, you’re going to be hard-pressed to keep up with me and my collection of paper liners, toothpicks, and amuse-bouche plates.
Also, dessert comes first. Seriously, I appreciate a walnut shrimp entree as much as the next guy, but I’m sorry, this pumpkin fudge from Sugar Rush in Mebane was The standout performance for me personally. I’m also not one of those #pumpkineverything weirdos. Usually, it’s a couple slices of pumpkin pie*****, and I’m sated. But wow.
Also, the woman in front of me was hemming and hawing over which of their four flavors (milk, dark, pumpkin and peanut butter) to try, and the fudge-maker behind the table said, “Have one of each! There’s no reason to have to choose.” And the woman scoffed, “There are hundreds of reasons to have to choose!” At which point, I realized I was a stranger in a strange land and pointedly stepped up, took one of each, then studiously enjoyed them all in turn while standing right there.
You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.
You don’t bring a cat to a dog show.
And you don’t bring a diet to A Tasteful Affair.
Runner-Up for Dessert I Want On Tap (can solid foods be ‘on tap’?) goes to Sweet Neecy Cake Mix of Fayetteville for their Peppermint Pattie Bundt Cake (recipe online here). I’d recommend it as a palate cleanser between courses; it would cool down and wipe out any lingering flavors from previous dishes. Also, I believe I’ve previously mentioned how much I appreciate the combination of chocolate and peppermint.
Salmon Creek 2011 Pinot Noir from West End Wine Bar
I’m not much of a wine man, but I enjoyed both glasses I had Sunday. I was fairly sure I’d like the one shown above, since I’ve never met a pinot noir I haven’t liked. The one I was more surprised by was the Starrlight Mead from Pittsboro. Mead is wine made with honey instead of grapes, and I had never had it before…or had I? One taste of the reddest of their offerings, and I was certain it was what my family’s church used for Communion wine when I was a kid. Although, it probably is wishful thinking that the blood of Christ was in fact “Kickin’ Cranberry Orange Mead.” Still, it’s local, so maybe!
“Enjoying your Tropical Fruit Bread Pudding, miss?”
Oh! Interesting story real fast: Stormy, the Hurricanes Ice Hog, was walking around, and I wondered aloud to the group I was chatting with about where Ronald McDonald was, since the event was to benefit the Ronald McDonald House after all. And they told me:
1) There is apparently a state Mascot Union, and
2) Union rules supposedly say that no two Union mascots can be working a room at the same time.
I do not know if there’s any truth to this rumor, but no sooner did Ronald begin making the rounds than Stormy was magically nowhere to be seen. It was so smooth that I really couldn’t tell you when the Stormy Dynasty ended and the Age of Ronald began. What I’m saying is that there is no physical proof that Ronald McDonald is NOT Stormy the Carolina Hurricanes Ice Hog in a suit.
Okay, quickly –and again, no disrespect to Elements’ Shrimp— but if I were to pick my favorite entree of the night, I’d go with the banana-and-Nutella crepes from Coffee & Crepes Catering of Cary. Sweet, filling, skillfully and quickly made…
…What? How do YOU define ‘entree’? It had three of the four food groups; that’s practically a banquet in my world******.
Then, around halfway through the evening, the stagecraft shifted. Up until this point, it had been Ron Stutts and friends reading out winning restaurant names and introducing the band, all of which could easily be done as hundreds of people milled and gabbed and asked chefs, “What’s the filet braised in?”
Now, however, it was time to hear the story of a military family that had come to truly appreciate the aid the Ronald McDonald House provides. Aaaaand, people being people, they didn’t quiet down until after several minutes and various versions of Ron clearing his throat, saying, “I mean it,” and stoppingjust short of raising one hand and looking meaningfully at the nearest talkers until the room also raised their hands and zipped their lips.
Once the room focused, however, the Rose family had an inspiring story of overcoming odds, holidays together at the RMH, and –as the mother told their story and her baby bawled loudly behind her– the kind of line that opens pocketbooks: “Whenever he cries, I just tell myself, ‘His lungs work.’”
Yeah. Yeah, that’ll do it.
After that, they went into a charity lightning round, raising almost $13,000 in a matter of minutes while the Carolina Cheerleaders chanted, “Let’s go, Tar Heels!”
Oh, now would be an opportune moment to talk about how the Silent Auction worked, since this $13,000 was raised using the same devices. Everyone who registered their credit cards at the front door was handed a BidPal: basically an iPod Touch with a custom bidding app. Once you had your cool gizmo in hand, it became nearly impossible NOT to bid on something. I mean, come ON! Chekhov’s Gun, people! You have to use it if you’ve got it, right? Otherwise, it’d be like James Bond saying, “Thanks for the jetpack, Q, but a walk would do me good.” It’d be like saying, “No, just one kind of fudge sample for me, please.” It’d be like having the perfect third analogy and going, “No, I’m sure they got it with only two.”
I wasn’t going to win anything, BTW. I mean, I’m fairly sure I could have played the field strategically and gotten, say, the $40 Open Eye gift card for only $62.50 if I’d put my mind to it, but I just bought my first car this year, so I have to keep my charity to manageable levels.
Which is obviously the only reason I was able to look at the framed, signed sheet music from giant stars of the music scene…Whitney Houston, The Eagles, Paul McCartney…and NOT instantly bid the moon for the star that outshines them all:
I think they were also auctioning off his tricycle or something.
All in all, it was a fun evening out, a lot of money went to the richly-deserving Ronald McDonald House, and a lot of people who schedule expensive business lunches and catering for Company Holiday Parties got a chance to broaden their culinary horizons.
And I went home and ate a bag of pretzels, a hard-boiled egg, and 3/4 of a Clearance-Priced bag of Autumn mix candy corn.
I swear, I must be half-Mister-Fusion.