Posts Tagged ‘Dinner Parties’

Every time I go to Costco, I start planning a dinner party. I hover near the cheeses and mentally compose platters. I browse the wines and pair them up. The more I see — bacon-wrapped scallops, fresh tulips, frosted bottles of vodka — the more worked-up I get. Then I make myself stand over by the cat litter and calm down. I am just here for lettuce and red peppers, I repeat – over and over – until I am ready to continue shopping, properly.

Despite Costco fantasies, I don’t entertain much. I can’t host casual get-togethers because there’s nothing casual about my (lack of) hosting skills. My neighbor Karen can throw a party just by opening a bag of chips and calling a few friends. Her parties are relaxed and enjoyable, consistently.

I, on the other hand, would need to search cookbooks on the best mole sauce, make six trips to Target for fake Fiestaware and get Christmas lights out of the attic to thread through trees. You can imagine my expectations after all of that. My guests had better bring it.

Last summer I tried to host a Memorial Day cook-out for two families who didn’t know each other. I wanted to make it simple. Simple seemed like the right note for a backyard cook-out. I got to work.

I mixed up margaritas from scratch, juicing limes until my finger were raw. I found a summery marinade that needed two types of mustard, and $16 worth of fresh herbs. I downloaded playlists, put tea lights in jelly jars, and wore this gauzy new shirt that I thought said “bohemian” (though my husband claimed it said “maternity”).

When the doorbell rang, I lit all the candles, cued up the Latin music and practically screeched “You ready?!” in the faces of my guests.

You can guess what happened. People were polite, but the chemistry was off. Everyone downed the margaritas in the first 15 minutes, and then sat there looking at each other. My husband kept switching the Latin music to James Taylor. The men decided to eat their dinner in front of the hockey game on TV, and the $16 marinade dripped through the grill, causing the chicken to burst into expensive flames.

Determined to not give up, I dug out a sticky, half-drunk bottle of Mrs. T’s margarita mix from the back of my fridge. I changed James Taylor to disco and started running through my mental checklist of “fun” topics like American Idol (which no one watched) and first date stories (no takers). Spotting a guest yawn, I cranked up Donna Summer and launched into a re-enactment of my dance routine to “Hot Stuff” from my days in high school. My guests left early.

I am aware of the importance of just being together, I get it, but don’t we all have specific areas where we can’t let it go? I, for one, can confidently wander around town without showering and wearing crooked glasses — but I can’t host a dinner party without ironing napkins and choosing thematic music. I can accept I will always have flabby arms, but I refuse to accept that I’m not fun. I’m fun. You should see my Hot Stuff dance.

I’m in recovery now. For my last dinner gathering, I forced myself to order pizza and use paper napkins, but I did put on some 80’s music and this new pink shirt from Old Navy that had New York City emblazoned across the front in sparkly letters. I thought it said “fun,” (my husband claimed it said “desperate”).

Still, progress is progress.


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I once had this boyfriend who used to mock the contents of my refrigerator.  Whenever he’d come over, he’d make a big deal of opening the door just to see it there was anything new in there.  And there never was –just one dried-out jar of mustard, an old bottle of champagne and about 26 packets of take-out soy sauce.


“Are you sure you’re a chick?” He’d say, laughing.


I don’t know what he expected me to stock in there.  I couldn’t cook. I guess that was hilarious. But then again he dumped me.  So maybe on some level, it really wasn’t.


After we broke up, I vowed to get better in the kitchen.  I bought a bunch of pretty food. I filled up the fridge and staged it beautifully: fresh strawberries, bunches of lettuce, cheese and lemons. I didn’t need him anymore.  I had moved on.


Of course it all rotted, and I threw it out – even the cheese, which was stupid since that would have lasted a bit longer.  But what did I know?


I remember washing white onions – skin and all – and putting them (still damp) in plastic Ziploc baggies to store in the fridge.  One week later, I’d be throwing balls of blue mold in the trash. Boy, onions don’t stay fresh for very long, I’d think. Then again, it really didn’t matter. I couldn’t chop an onion to save my life.


Getting married didn’t change things. When my husband and I registered for wedding gifts, we blew the opportunity to collect the big-ticket kitchen gadgets. No Kitchen Aid mixer, no Cuisinart, no All Clad. Instead, we registered for Calvin Klein bedding, a shiny martini shaker and some random crystal vases. Le Creuset? Je ne le sais pas.  


Since we lived in a big city with an amazing restaurant on every corner. I never felt the need to cook.  When we got together with friends, it was always at a new neighborhood restaurant.  I lived in Chicago 13 years, and I don’t think I ever went to more than two or three dinner parties at someone’s actual house. 


Then we moved to Jcrewville, where dinner parties are the number one weekend activity.  


The first time my friend Jill had us over, it blew me away.  It was the week after Christmas.  There were elegant votives everywhere lined with hypercium berries. She made Thai food (yes, made Thai food) – with a starter course of lemon grass soup. Dessert was peppermint ice cream that she had hand-mixed and plated with a graceful swirl of dark chocolate sauce.


Jill was so gracious and everyone had fun, laughing and eating — all in the comforts of a loving home. It was a gorgeous evening.  I licked my plate and finished my wine. I was full and tired — of my culinary ineptitude.


I got home and decided to try that “cooking thing” again. 


I started watching the Food Network when Elizabeth was napping, and an entire education began to unfold. Ahhhh, so that’s how you chop an onion (which I learned to store unwashed in a basket I bought for the pantry), and that’s how you sauté meat without ripping it to death… 


I started slowly and stuck mostly with Ina Garten.  Her recipes are simple and so soaked in olive oil, salt and pepper they always taste good. I got some good responses at home so I kept going.


I tried more recipes. I tried winging it. I even hosted a few people over for dinner. After a while, cooking got easier, enjoyable even. A glass of wine, good music in the kitchen — what’s not to love about that?


I still have a lot to learn. I cannot produce a good ham on Easter, no matter what. It’s become the family joke. My pork tenderloin isn’t always tender, and my smashed redskin potatoes are very hit or miss (but when I do hit –mmmmmmm). But if that old boyfriend were to open my fridge now he’d be shocked –fresh herbs, flavored vinegars, chunks of real parmesan and virbrant, fresh produce. He’d see inside the fridge of a well-seasoned woman who lovingly bestows her cooking talents on someone else. That’s right, Dude, someone else.


I’d tell him I not only am a chick, I know how to cook one – with lemons, garlic and a little fresh thyme…and if you don’t like that, you can stuff it. 




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