Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How to throw a Serenity Shindig

Today is the third anniversary of Serenity's theatrical release. On this occasion, I would like to share one of my happiest college memories (and that's saying something, indeed). It is the story of my Serenity Shindig.

For those who do not know what Serenity is, it is the movie sequel to tragically short-lived Firefly, a brilliant and delightful TV series created by the great Joss Whedon (who also created the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series). Words simply cannot express my adoration for this show. It is probably my all-time favorite TV show and I have yet to find anyone who saw it who was not extremely enthusiastic about the show and utterly depressed that it managed to be canceled after just half a season. Its cancellation is a complicated tale of woe that does not belong in this overall joyful post, and those who care about such things probably already know the story anyway. Still, if you haven't seen Firefly, you should definitely find and watch it the first chance you get. Remember, 14 episodes--it's not much of a commitment.

Senior year, I came to school equipped with the DVDs of the complete series of Firefly (all 14 episodes) and Serenity. My roommates and I shared an apartment-like dorm room with a nice common area with a couch, some chairs, and a TV. Every couple of weeks I would invite about a dozen friends over to our room, and we would watch an episode or two of Firefly while munching on cookies I had freshly baked. As was inevitable, they all fell in love with Firefly and got totally hooked. We were done with the TV series by the end of first semester, but I was determined to make them wait a little before watching the movie so they'd appreciate it more. Spring semester senior year was pretty hectic, but I managed to nail down a date that (almost) everyone could make. And so I emailed invitations to all my Firefly-watching friends...

Subject: Mighty fine shindig!
(Badger): 'Course you couldn't buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but I got my hands on a couple...

Well now you've got your hands on one as well. You are invited to our shiny
6:00 PM
We will be having a fine home-cooked dinner, featuring some Firefly-themed foods (Protein in all colors of the rainbow! Mmmmm... Just kidding). After dinner, we will be watching Serenity, maybe around 8 pm.

Here's the catch: Seeing as this is a themed party, you're going to have to dress up as characters from Firefly! If you don't dress up, I won't give you food. It's that simple. To help you in your task to dress as a Firefly character, I have even compiled a COSTUMING GUIDE, which you will find on my homepage. Yes, I spent hours formatting my college-granted homepage entirely for this purpose, so now you have to dress up. Besides, it'll be really fun! Now here's the catch within the catch: I don't want any repeats. I'm not going to eat dinner with four Jaynes--one makes bad enough dinner company. Naturally, two Hands of Blue are allowed. Reply all to the email list to claim your character!

Mal: Turns out this *is* my kind of party!

I aim to misbehave.
P.S. I claim River!

Some advice to anyone planning on throwing a Firefly party: Since Firefly is so quotable, it is important to pepper Firefly-related messages with quotes. When I sent a reminder to my friends to come on time, I included the quote
Mal: 'Pears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
Zoe: Big damn heroes, sir.
Mal: Ain't we just.
And the multiple times I reminded my guests to claim a character for the dress code, I used the "pretty floral bonnet" quote, the "them soft cotton dresses feel kind of nice" quote, and the "slinky dress" (Wash: I can buy you a slinky dress. Captain, can I have money for a slinky dress? Jayne: I'll chip in. Zoe: I can hurt you.) quote.

Anyway, my "costuming guide" was merely a collection of pictures of the characters wearing various outfits. In such a short-lived series, there was only a small number of non-main characters notable enough to warrant an entry in my costuming guide. I think I included Saffron, Niska, Badger, and the Hands of Blue. I also included Early, but didn't exactly expect anyone to come dressed in the red leather jump suit. It would have been pretty awesome, though. I highly recommend having people dress up for a Firefly party. Really, it's not that hard to dress up like the Firefly characters--it's not like you have to wear Star Trek unitards or anything. And it really helps set the atmosphere. I also bought (yes, bought) the Firefly soundtrack to provide nice background music during the dinner party. A simple but effective touch.

Now, what to serve at a Serenity Shindig dinner party. For the most part, I just cooked a whole load of Chinese food because they eat Chinese food in Firefly and I know a lot of Chinese recipes. I made beef broccoli on a bed of fried noodles, chicken with peanuts (and rice to go with it) and fried dumplings, but my biggest triumph of the night was making char siu bao from scratch. Bao is one of the things Saffron made for Mal (Wash: Did she really make you fresh bao?!)--a round bun with seasoned pork inside. I had never made bread dough myself, so I was so pleased when they came out perfect from the oven. In addition to this Chinese food, I'd also bought some fresh strawberries that Kaylee would have appreciated. Another anecdote, lest my boasting about the char siu bao lead you to think I'm some sort of competent chef: After my friends had arrived and were all there watching me, the kitchen got a little exciting. First there was a small 4-inch high split-second grease fire. It was there and out again before I had any time to panic, so I found it all quite funny, though I realized that it really could have ruined the evening. Not long after this, I burned the first batch of dumplings, making enough smoke to set off the alarm in our room. We opened the windows, and the alarm stopped, but a fire safety guy still had to come by to check on our room. We were all there in costume, but he was only concerned about one of us. As he was leaving, he asked, "Why is that guy wearing blue lab gloves?"

For dessert, what else? Ice planets, those balls of ice cream hanging from a string attached to a stick about which River remarked, "My food is problematic." In the show, it actually looks like there's a bowl that helps support the ball of ice cream, but the script does not describe it as having a bowl. I didn't know how I'd get a bunch of appropriately sized bowls or how they'd work anyway, so I decided not to use them. Some of my friends doubted my ability to make the ice planets, but I was determined. The question was how to assemble them with limited resources. Here's how I did it:

-ice cream
-half-sized popsicle sticks (available at a craft store)
-unflavored floss (I was trying to figure out what kind of string I could get my hands on that people wouldn't mind putting in their mouths, and was thus pleased when I realized this solution)
-chopsticks (Swiping a handful of disposable chopsticks from a college cafeteria snooty enough to have them works quite well.)
-plastic wrap
Knot a ~15 in. string of floss around a popsicle stick. Lay a square of plastic wrap on the table. Place two half-spheres of ice cream on the plastic wrap, most easily done with a large ice cream scoop (they don't really have to be hemispherical, but the closer they are, the easier the next couple steps will be). You can now lift the plastic wrap to shape the ice cream inside the plastic with your hands on the outside of the plastic. The next step is a little awkward: if you have two perfect hemispheres of ice cream, push their flat sides onto both ends of the popsicle stick with the string positioned so that ideally it will be perpendicular to the flat plane of the popsicle stick (simply a common sense way to give the ice cream a better chance of holding on to the stick). Then use the plastic wrap to shape the ice cream into a ball around the popsicle stick. If the ice cream is not in perfect hemispheres, you'll just have to work a little harder to get it into a ball. Once it is sufficiently shaped, place it (still in the plastic wrap) into the freezer, which should be cranked up all the way to make the ice cream as hard as possible (and give its consumers more time to eat it before it melts and falls apart). Someone more resourceful than I might find a way to avoid this, but I found that the ice planets would sort of flatten on the bottom when I put them on the flat bottom of the freezer. I had to re-shape them once or twice (they won't flatten if they're sufficiently cold and hard, but the first time I had shaped them they were a little soft). When ready to serve, tie the other end of the string onto the end of the stick (the chopsticks I found had little notches around one end, which were perfect for securing the placement of the string) and remove the plastic wrap. Try dipping the ice planet into bowls of chopped nuts, crushed oreos, or shredded coconut to make "dirty" ice planets. Enjoy!

The ice planets were actually really fun--kind of the same appeal as bobbing for apples. This was probably the highlight of the party.

After dessert, we watched the movie. I had cookies for us to snack on (if anyone was still hungry) while watching the movie. We all loved the movie, of course. My guests all said they had a great time, and I think they did; I certainly had a blast.
Mighty fine shindig!

And so went one of my most cherished college memories. Sure, I'm a total geek. I should point out that some of the people at the party would definitely not consider themselves sci-fi fans, though the fact that they all (except one who came late) dressed up for my party reveals that they too are some sort of geek. Call us geeks, Firefly fans, Browncoats, whatever. We are proud. We are many. And remember, you


My friends and I pose for a group shot (with my signature grotesquely rough photoshopping so you can see who the characters are).


Erica said...

I am so impressed that your friends all followed the rules. Just when I think I couldn't have a group of nerdier friends, yours took the cake. It looks like it was an awesome time.

Eleni said...

Yeah, I was worried at first that some of them wouldn't want to dress up, but I guilted them into it by spending so long on the costuming guide. College campuses (well, ours at least) also have a tradition of costume parties--not just togas, but "Pirates vs. Ninjas" and "white trash" themes--so I told them it was just like that. Plus, I told them I wouldn't give them food if they didn't dress up. That did the trick.

Kara said...

So, I know this is an old blog, but I stumbled across it and it made me laugh. We were planning on doing this for my husband's birthday this year, except he got called out of the country on a two-week business trip during the window we were planning it.

Eleni said...

Haha, old posts can still be relevant!

That's too bad! Maybe some other time. It's great fun, especially with the ice planets :)

Kara said...

The hub is totally gonna be Jayne for Halloween next year. This year he was Riker. I made his costume and it was awesome! I, of course, was Starbuck.

Eleni said...

Nice! How did he distinguish himself as Riker, rather than some other officer? Did he grow a beard?

I assume for Jayne he'll have the hat?

C said...

That's amazing. I only just now got around to reading this post and I'm so glad I did!

Eleni said...

Thanks! I wish I had more pictures. I do have photos of us eating the ice planets, somewhere. But I really regret not taking photos of all the Chinese food I made--my Chinese grandmother would have been proud to see the bao, haha.