Thursday, November 1, 2007

I don't have dinner parties, I feed people

If you come to my house for a meal, don't expect fancy. Which is not to say that you'll ever be presented with a paper dinner napkin at my table. I just don't believe in it. You'll have proper table linen, and you'll be eating off the Spode plates with a nice glass for your iced tea or whatever. I just don't get all formal about it. If it's only one guest, we'll probably be eating in the kitchen.

Our good friend came by the house for dinner last night. This guest proved problematical when it came time to plan the menu. He's limiting the carbs for medical reason. But he's a real meat and pasta person. Not big on the vegetables. Never met a bean. A hunk of meat and a baked potato suited him just fine, or anything with tomato sauce.

So what could I make last night? I had some lovely steaks, so the "hunk of meat" portion of the menu was set, but what for a side dish? All my America's Test Kitchen cookbooks called to me from the shelf, but I was stymied at every turn. Potato galettes? Nope. Glazed carrots? The honey nixed them. Something peas or corn? High carb vegetables, can't do that. Zucchini? I can't do that, too much zucchini this summer. Ditto tomatoes. Not sure if he eats squash, not sure I can eat beets. The friend won't eat beans. The greens were looking a little sad at the grocery. My husband is not a fan of cauliflower. Rice is out, although the arborio has been whispering "Risotto, risotto" to me from the pantry for weeks.

This was all so much easier when I could make the friend a big pot of pasta and we'd all go into a carb stupor after dinner.

Finally I settled on broccoli. Steamed, with balsamic-basil vinagrette sounded temping, but I wasn't sure. Certainly steamed but how to dress them for a picky eater? Of course, cheddar. A wonderful, silky cheese sauce. For my money, you could put cheese sauce on a brick and make it palatable. I rounded it out with a garden salad with lots of peppers and mushrooms and carrots and tomato. The guys drenched it with blue cheese dressing (evidently, fats aren't a problem) and I wrinkled my nose and reached for the lite ranch.

But, I couldn't help wondering, why does the idea of cooking for someone, even a friend we've know for 30 years, send me into a paroxysm of worry? Preparing food for someone is so personal, so intimate, that it feels easy to screw it up. You are preparing nourishment for their physical bodies, and hopefully giving them pleasure and warmth and welcoming. If all goes well, they leave your home feeling cared for, catered to and coddled. It's a big undertaking. But it feels so nice when it works.

I especially like to make dinner for our male friends who are single or employed away from home and travel a lot. I honestly don't know how these guys don't come down with beri beri or something, the way they eat. They seldom or never cook. One single guy met with the realtor in her office when he sold his last house, and when she asked if it had a gas or electric range, he didn't know! I'm not kidding here. The only food I've ever seen in his kitchen is a bag of Pecan Sandies. Another one eats every meal in a restaurant - breakfast, lunch, dinner. His range was broken for a year and it didn't impact him at all.

The friend that was here last night is working 100 miles from home and living in a rented apartment during the week. He usually gets home on the weekends, but recently, work has been 10-12 hours a day/7 days a week. It made me feel good when he said that was the best meal he'd had in a month.

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