First appeared on Food Riot, by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
Several nights a week, my husband and I watch House Hunters as we unwind and get ready for bed. Amidst the terrible jokes about closets not being big enough to house the woman's shoe collection and the never-ending string of realtors who seem to think that any and every wall can be simply torn down to create a more open floorplan, there are, inevitably, couples whose sole mission in life is to find a kitchen that is Great For Entertaining. Never mind that neither of them is a very good cook or that they both travel a lot for work. They need a kitchen that is Great For Entertaining. Because when they sign on the myriad dotted lines that will make them homeowners, they are also, magically, going to become people who throw dinner parties. They seem to believe that the world loves dinner parties.
I call bullshit.
Now, I know that some people love dinner parties. And that's great. But what I'm saying here is that most people don't. Or you know what? We'd all have dinner parties all the time. We'd talk about how excited we are to cook a formal dinner for a dozen people and to worry about who will sit next to whom and then to be up into the wee hours doing dishes. We would entertain, and we wouldn't make a thing of it. Those couples on House Hunters? Methinks they doth protest too much.
Because let's be real. Dinner parties are not awesome. Sharing a delicious meal with people you know and genuinely like? That is awesome. Making small talk with strangers your well-meaning host thought you'd like while you try to figure out how to hold your wine glass and your hors d'oeuvres plate and your napkin all while feeding yourself and acting interested and not making a mess? Once more with feeling: that's not awesome.
It's not that I don't enjoy meeting new people, particularly my friends' friends. I do. It's usually not horrible. I would just prefer to do it during a time that is not dinner time.
Dinner time is sacred. Dinner time is when the boundaries come down. It's the time for community, and for communing with people you love. It's for eating with your fingers if that's what feels right and for not caring if there is sauce dripping down your chin and for making any and all noises of appreciation that well up from deep within your soul. It's for serving family style and knowing implicitly that you are not only allowed but welcome to stick your roll into the roasting pan and sop up that delicious juice. It's for laughing and complaining and telling stories, and in its very best incarnations, it is for silence.
And that's my real beef with dinner parties: they are built around chatter, not conversation. Things get awkward in a hurry when the table falls silent. But where I live, way down in my food loving heart, silence around a table means the meal is unspeakably good and the eaters unspeakably satisfied. It means they are comfortable enough to enjoy being quiet with each other, to let the silence be rather than rushing to fill it. It means Entertaining is the furthest thing from their minds.
Dinner is about feeding and being fed. A home-cooked meal is an expression of affection. That's all the party I need.
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