Most often, I call up Val at the last minute to ask if she and my dad, Dick want to come over for an early meal. This option exerts the least pressure on me as hostess and cook. I know my house does not have to be clean and that whatever I make, she will praise and eat being thankful that she did not have to come up with something for dinner that evening. She arrives just before serving to occupy the children, returning a piece of clothing she had mended for me and offering a handful of flowers cut fresh from her garden. Dick meanders in after strategically parking his truck, carrying a six pack tote filled with assorted beers and a cold can of Coke for Val even though I said not to bring anything. For them I make something crazy easy, yet comforting and I always keep my mother's favorites in mind. Cranberry Pot Roast, my go to meal when I really don't have time for much, Val's absolute favorite from her childhood: Mashed Potatoes and Popovers because she makes these herself when entertaining. The Popovers are easy but special and the recipe found in the Joy of Cooking is a snap to make. To lighten up an otherwise heavy and hearty meal, I always serve a simple steamed vegetable like broccoli or asparagus sprinkled with salt and pepper and a pat of butter.
Then there is our "foodie" friend who loves trying new dishes especially at places that only "those in the know" know about. He is so hip and on the cutting edge that he even hates the term "foodie". Never one to shy away from my experiments and new recipes I source out from odd places. He is always game to try just about anything as long as I don't cook pork and only occasionally employ bacon in a dish as he tries to keep Kosher. However he has proven himself to be a glutton with a capital "G". One one occasion, he consumed numerous helpings of Cock-a-Leekie soup, Cheddar and Chive Biscuits and after devouring the Chocolate Pot de Creme, he continued to dip Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies (which he found on the pantry shelf) into the bowl of remaining whipped cream. Then he turned to me and announced, "I am going to throw up." He considered his comment to be the highest of compliments and I took it as such.
But there is another type of dinner guest that scares me just a little bit. Usually they are new friends or families of our children's friends. In this particular instance, I have invited this very kind family over to reciprocate the many times we have been to their beautiful home. The hostess usually has numerous families to the gathering and serves gourmet pizza from the tiny local market down the street. This is a stroke of brilliance as the pizzas are quite good and the variety pleases adults and children alike. She rounds out the meal with a salad of freshly picked greens and organic tomatoes, sliced watermelon for the children and for dessert, ice cream and brownies. A meal that pleases the entire crowd. Not to mention that her house is immaculate, brand new and the decorating looks as if it it came out of the latest Pottery Barn catalog. I am completely intimidated when I comes to having this family of four to our home for a meal.
First off, what to serve to please the entire group without making separate meals for the adults and the children? As my panic mounts over the meal, I realize that I will need to hire a hazmat crew to clean all the spider webs that have accumulated these past months while I spent all my time with the children on the beach. And my yard looks like hell. The overgrown flower garden creeps out into the weed infested lawn that hides clusters of dog poop that children inevitably step in even when you think you have all of it picked up. The "play room" in the basement which is really just a sectioned off area decorated with throw rugs and an old couch, resembles a scene out of Silence of the Lambs. I am trying to tell myself, that this lack of attention to our home is bohemian style. Maybe no one will notice if I invite them over after dark and only use candles for lighting. I know I have to let the setting for the meal go, maybe I can wow them enough with the food so they won't notice the surroundings.
After going round and round in my mind and consulting various members of my family, I finally settle on lemon, garlic and fresh oregano marinated chicken drumsticks that will be grilled, roasted potato "fries", steamed broccoli (for the kids) with a tarragon mayo (for the adults), roasted onion and cherry tomato salad with goat cheese and fresh chives and homemade bread. (As far as I'm concerned I wouldn't care if I went to a dinner party and my own kids only ate the bread.) For dessert, Val's Chocolate Zucchini Cake recipe which came to her by way of her good friend, Linda. Declan requested this because his little friend seems to adore it. And since we are inviting this family because of Declan's connection, he and I are making his favorite "Backyard Mint Ice Cream", a recipe out of "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer. For an appetizer I will serve homemade guacamole mainly because I have a lot of ripe avocados on hand and the kids always like tortilla chips. Dear God, I hope this meal is a success!
I should learn by now to chill out and let things happen as they will. In my madness to make the house relatively clean and presentable, I asked Rob to clean the oven. Previously that day, I had mixed the bread dough which needs 24 hours for an initial rise. I should have known that my controlling ways and anxiety over this whole affair would send bad vibes into the Universe. While I was at work, Rob called to tell me that there had been "an accident". Of course I panicked. My thoughts went first to the kids, then the dog, then I demanded, for him to cut to the chase. While cleaning my disgustingly dirty oven, he managed to break the interior glass on the oven door completely in half. Great. Now how am I going to pull off this dinner?
Cancel the potato "fries", the Chocolate Zucchini cake and the roasted salad. Substitute Homemade Hot Fudge and Whipped Cream for make your own sundaes. Saute asparagus and cherry tomatoes instead of roasting. Decorate the entire house with fresh flowers from Val's garden, banish Rob to the grill, and pour lots of wine. I'm not sure who enjoyed making their own sundaes more, the children or the adults. But I do know this: it's better to let go and roll with it than to panic. Now if only I can remember to tell myself this the next time I invite "new" dinner guests. Oh forget it, I'm sure the Universe will find some way of reminding me.