For birthday parties or going away gatherings, or just a casual get together...we ladies like to lunch.  Having all-girl parties is easy to get away with if it's done in the middle of a weekday...your husband probably won't even know he missed a good time and the great food.  Bridal and baby showers are almost always all female events so we can have those on the weekend without any fear of the men wanting to join in.  Every so often we'll branch out and have a brunch or a tea (wow...so very different) but we can't help but gravitate toward a ladies luncheon.  It must be in our XX chromosomes, since I know plenty of (XY) stay at home dads and never see them holding man lunches.
      I think part of the allure of the lunch is our need for socialization as well as our female "gatherer" instinct.  I, for one, am happy doing almost any task as long as it's in good company with a girl friend or two.  Washing dishes, Ug!...but when I have a buddy by my side (drying and gabbing) I'm in heaven.  Getting together with lots of gals at once is multitasking at our best.  We get the social contact we crave and "gather" tons of information (and maybe a little gossip too). 
      Does this explain the goofy party hats or overly precious decorations at some of these events...no, but we are girls and we like things to be pretty.  And I, in particular, love a theme. (Clearly my mother is to be blamed since I can remember all my themed birthday parities from my childhood, and I'm carrying on the same way with my daughter!) The mere suggestion of having a party with a theme makes my husband's eyes roll. (He barely could stand our Tex-Mex Super Bowl Party.  "Why can't it just be a regular party?")
      Minus the men I think we gals are given license to over decorate our tables, dress to impress our girl friends and eat the kind of food we enjoy.  I have never been to a ladies luncheon where wings, nachos or ribs were served.  I have however, been to many sit down as well as buffet lunches with tea sandwiches, beautiful salads, fruit & cheese platters, and plenty of wine.  (Hmm...perhaps part of this is an excuse to drink while the children are at school without any of your friends reporting you to DYFS? I digress!)  
      For some reason there always seems to be cake at ladies' lunch.  It really must go back to tying together the theme or perhaps the reason for the gathering.  Sometimes the cakes aren't edible, but decorative: a diaper cake, or a present tower wrapped to look like a wedding cake.  The ones you can eat usually have some cute saying (to go with the theme, duh) or are meant as well wishes for the guest of honor. 
      There are some main course dishes that are favorites because they are easy to do ahead, or are particularly stunning on a platter or are delicious crowd pleasers.  Chicken Marbella is THE party chicken dish. It fills all the afore mentioned requirements and it's been cropping up at luncheons in my life since the 80's when my mom got her first copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook.  (I'm pretty sure my God Mother served it at my wedding shower in 1993!) This is a go-to, tried and true recipe, although the list of ingredients sound like they won't go together (olives and prunes?) You must give it a try the next time you have your lady friends for lunch.  It was served at a friends going away party just last week and we gobbled it up. (Recipe Below)
        WIth all this talk of women-only gatherings, I want the guys to know that as much as we like to "do" ladies lunch, we still love to party with our menfolk.  And don't worry, we've got major socializing stamina.  Even after a week with a few lunches, we will still have enough party in us left to hobnob with you at a co-ed shindig! 


XO  Martha

Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, the quantities given are to serve 10-12, but the recipe can be successfully divided to make a smaller amount if you wish.
Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook

4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered (for parties I just use breasts)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dry oregano
coarse salt and ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
I cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1.  In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and salt to taste, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives capers and juice, and bay leaves.  Cover and let marinate, refrigerated overnight.
2.  Preheat oven to 350.
3.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly.  Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4.  Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices.  Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather pink) juice.
5.  With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter.  Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro.  Serve remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.
6. To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temp in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter.  If chicken has been refrigerated allow it to return to room temp before serving.  Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken.