Don't you just love entertaining? The smell of pies cooling on the sill. Matching saucepans simmering on a gleaming stove with lids slightly askew. Wait! Whose kitchen is that? My pre-party scenario is often slightly less bucolic, but I'm always ready when the guests arrive -- except for that one time when everyone walked in while I was pushing the vacuum around in my bathrobe and my husband was crouched in front of the broken oven trying to speed-roast the potatoes with a blow torch. We've learned a lot since then.
I love hosting friends and family at my house. I love the ring of the doorbell, the immediate mayhem and later the hum of contented voices emanating from the living room. That part is very...relaxing. Press rewind and you'll find me scrounging for napkins that don't have lipstick stains on them and scrubbing out a planting pot container to use for salad. No matter the planning and organizing and plotting and scheming, you can never be completely prepared for holiday dinner mishaps.
I have friends who are entirely intimidated by the thought of hosting a dinner party.
"I only have five forks that match."
"My house is messy."
"We don't have any comfortable chairs."
Nonsense! Some of my best memories feature guests sitting on unpacked moving boxes balancing paper plates on their knees. I was invited to a holiday dinner where I was asked to bring my own plate! We showed up at one costumed holiday party wearing ridiculous outfits only to discover we were there on the wrong night! "The party was LAST night." The hosts invited us in to eat the leftovers even though they were in their pajamas, and in the middle of a game of Risk. Roll with it, the saying goes.
If you entertain enough, I've discovered, you're bound to run into a few snafus. Sometimes I experiment with different kinds of foods. I hosted an Island Luau with roasted game and poi which was amusing until the guests realized they were actually hungry. (We sent out for pizza.) One time I served a zucchini frittata and discovered, much later, that I'd left the zucchini in the microwave.
I spent a long afternoon making a mango marinade which was delicious, spicy and rich. One of the guests, a physician, was unaware he had an allergy to mango -- surprise! He dictated his own treatment: We ground up tablets of Benadryl to siphon between his swollen lips.
During a holiday gathering for my husband's business associates, the drain in the kitchen sink exploded as guests stood nearby, sending up a plume to rival Old Faithful. Nothing brings people together as quickly as picking pieces of spinach from each other's hair.
Bringing people together is what holiday entertaining is all about. My mother says people don't care about the food or the seating or the decorations: they just want to be together with family and friends. Maybe she's right. Last year, a water pipe burst in the basement during a New Year's Eve party at my neighbor's house and suddenly we had a "Beat the Clock" race in play. We swept, mopped, pumped out water with a jerry-rigged power washer and a CarVac unearthed from someone's garage. We missed the big event by minutes: we were noisily high fiving each other when the ball dropped in Times Square.
This holiday season, we're hosting a simple mixed grill dinner. My husband was in charge of the meat. I went to Costco and bought the desserts and a tray of appetizers that I immediately slid onto my own platters as if I'd made them myself. When everything was ready, we went upstairs to change our clothes.
As I stepped into my outfit, he glanced out the window to the grill stationed on the lawn and shrieked. "Oh no!"
"What is it?"
He dashed out of the room with one shoe still in his hand. "The meat's on fire!"
I took one last look in the mirror before following him downstairs. Any minute now the guests will start to arrive.
Roll with it baby.