We had some friends over for dinner this weekend; the first dinner we’ve hosted in….a rather long time. Like maybe eight months.
Despite our poor entertaining track record, I actually enjoy inviting people over and cooking a nice meal. And sitting down at a table that’s clean-ish for more than 7.5 minutes. And not having to sweep huge quantities of food off the table and floor afterwards.
When I was growing up I loved it when people would come over to our house for dinner, even though children weren’t allowed to dine with the adults. (Now I sort of understand why.) The china would appear and fancy things would be concocted in the kitchen. Though, true to form I don’t remember any of the food except the desserts: lemon meringue pie, pavlova, and ‘tipsy tart’ come to mind. And a wintry concoction known as brown pudding, which was rather tasty despite its unfortunate moniker.
Before the guests arrived, my mom would abandon her post in the kitchen to change into nice clothes, do her hair, and apply makeup. I believe she even wore jewelry. A selection of happening tunes (Neil Diamond, Abba, Moody Blues and opera) would waft over the speakers of our sound system. And I’d start counting down the minutes until I could have leftover dessert. Either that night or the next day. Or both.
So when the professor and I got married, I naturally assumed we’d have people over for dinner too. And it would be nice and fancy. Despite the fact that the only thing in my cooking repertoire was a Lipton pasta packet: boil water, add noodles, add liquids, serve.
But as assumptions go, hosting a dinner party wasn’t as straightforward of an affair as I’d…assumed. And I’m not talking about menu selection, skill needed to prepare food or choosing just the right music. I’m talking about getting the food ready at the right time. I’m talking about trying to make three things at once without burning or ruining any of it.
And somehow looking presentable at the end of it all. Both the food and the hostess.
I’m pretty sure the professor regretted his decision to marry me after our first dinner ‘party’. I doubt he’d had any inkling I would turn into a total, irrational ball of stress as I attempted to recreate what I assumed would be a seamless, enjoyable experience. Setting the table with our awesome beige plates with the blue and green stripe around the edges. The table (and chairs) that I think I bought from my sister who bought it from someone she’d babysat for. Third generation hand me downs, I guess, those chairs with the nubby stained beige seat cushions which I unsuccessfully recovered a year later in a satiny stripe material. And a lone CD (probably Gipsy Kings) playing on my college boombox.
But despite my initial lack of success and the near ruination of my marriage, I’ve persisted with the dinner party. For better or for worse.
With the addition of kids, the professor and I have settled into a dinner party prep routine that works reasonably well. He takes care of the kids while I make the food. This weekend’s ‘taking care of kids’ involved countless hours of watching Tom and Jerry and Toy Story while he lay on the couch with the baby reading Geek Love. Culminating in an hour’s worth of pumpkin carving. All while I stood in the kitchen for hours on end, stopping occasionally to capture their productivity. I don’t know how he does it, really. At least he does the dishes at the end of it all.
Seeing as we now have a newborn to tend to, I decided to go with an easy menu – featuring dishes that could be prepared in advance. I felt like the Barefoot Contessa as I patted myself on the back for the maturity and wisdom I’d gained over thirteen years of near-disastrous dinners.
But as these things go, the minute you pat yourself on the back, you’re in for it. Despite careful calculation and advance planning, I was still cooking nearly an hour after the hungry guests had arrived. The guests who, very graciously, agreed that no matter what time you start cooking, there is never enough time. It always comes down to the wire. Beyond the wire, really.
Which is precisely what I was thinking as my plans for a relaxing bath exactly half an hour before the guests’ arrival, turned into a two minute shower right as they were due to arrive. Followed by my donning a clean black shirt and jeans and putting my hair into the infamous ponytail. No makeup. No jewelry. And music wafting over the pitiful ipod speaker. (‘Some day,’ Jason remarked wistfully a few nights ago, ‘I want to have a good sound system.’ That day has not yet arrived.)
Until then, we’ll eat roast chicken, potatoes, sweet potato chipotle soup and molten chocolate cakes while listening to various incarnations of Sting? Seriously, I don’t know if it was a bad shuffle night, but that’s all I heard. And I didn’t even think we were particular fans of Gordon Sumner.
One important note. If you make the sweet potato soup, which has been enthusiastically received by all who’ve tried it, use one chipotle pepper from a can. Not an entire can. The recipe is confusing on this matter. And, as one friend who shall remain nameless can attest, a whole can of chipotle….or two….might render you speechless.