Last week there was a chance that a group of family friends might come for dinner, so my husband and I had what is quite possibly the most useless conversation we ever had about what to feed them. I just had to write it down.
These people were from New Zealand, Mexico City, Virginia, and Paris.
My husband is from Dublin so his mammy cooked for him right up until I met him. I’m from a wildly erratic alcoholic family where a meal might be standing in front of the fridge dipping an Oscar Meyer weiner into a jar of mayo, or it might be escargot out of shells followed by a flambed thing. My dad once had to go to the hospital after dinner (one reason why I never eat leftovers).
Menus are tricky for us. It’s not like I have a neat little box of family recipe cards passed down to me from my family. I have a hard time figuring out what normal is, in every category – and menus are no exception. So in my quest to try and figure out where normal is, I usually go totally overboard.
Of course, we were doomed.
Me: What the hell are we going to serve?
Dermot: A good question.
Me: I don’t want to let perfectionism and a desire to appear hipper and more gourmet than we really are lead us down the usual rabbit warren of despair.
Him: We’ll just have a BBQ.
Me: Who says we have to get stressed out? We can serve our usual: Bubba burgers. But could you please not make such a big smokey drama over at the grill this time?
Him: What about steamed lobster?
Here’s the problem: my husband is a Pisces – infatuated with the potential inherent in all possibility. So he goes on tangents, and despite my Leo self, I follow him. If we’re planning a vacation and decide to go to Florida, minutes before we book the trip he’ll say something unhelpful like, “But what about Ibiza?” and I follow him. It’s just not healthy.
Me: I’m not sure you even know how to cook lobster since you’ve never done it before and you might poison our dinner guests.
Him: Steamed crabs.
Me: Killing live things in front of children = PTSD, down the line.
Husband: We could order in fresh cracked crab! Tom had it delivered for a party.
Me: We cover the table with newspaper and everybody gets a hammer?
Husband: That’s what Tom did.
We pictured this – there would be some kind of drink – a local micro-brew – that pairs with crab – in steins. But then we realized we’ve never done anything remotely like this, we don’t have steins, and French and Mexican and American children with hammers…
Him: I’ve got it: New Zealand lamb!
Me: You can’t serve lamb to a New Zealander who knows the fuck how to cook it. You just cannot. That would be like making sushi for Japanese people. Making borscht for a Russian.
Him: It wouldn’t.
Me: Don’t you remember that time we had British people over and I tried to make actual sausage for them, from scratch? How dumb was that?! And when they tasted it you could see it in their faces? I’m not doing that again.
Him: All we would need to do is make sure the mint sauce is fresh, in honor of your father.
There’s this story about my dad pestering everybody about needing fresh mint sauce – not bottled, fresh – and my husband just can’t let it go.
Me: You’re triggering me.
Him: Fresh mint sauce. Fresh!
Me: Stop it.
Him: Mint-sauce. Mint-sauce. Mint-sauce.
Me: What type of lamb would you get? Butterflied, roast, chops, crown roast?
Him: Crown roast. We’d need to get the paper crowns.
Him: How about you do your paella that you always make?
We paused to picture the perfection of a large pot of paella on the stove, a blue and white checked table cloth, crusty baguettes…people asking, “But where did you learn to cook so expertly?”
Him: (Flipping through the cookbook which we have not cooked from yet, because it is too difficult for us). Seared scallops with a chipotle vinaigrette and wilted greens!
Me: But that means we have to sear and wilt things.
He didn’t hear me because he was flipping through the cookbook, imagining our perfection. All the possibilities.
Him: I can do salmon! Grilled salmon in chipotle vinaigrette.
Me: Have you even ever tasted a chipotle before?
Him: Peking duck!
Me: You’re all derailed! You are stressing us out! Stop it, stop it, stop the insanity!
Him: But why? Why can’t we for once figure out the perfect menu and have people over and just serve it?
Me: Because we both know that we’re going to end up serving frozen Bubba burgers on thin paper plates because we can’t handle the pressure. We are not chefs, we microwave things. Why are we even having this conversation?
Husband: Seared scallops with chipotle vinaigrette, then.
Me: What about the salmon, with a couscous salad? Everybody gets a compact square of scrumptiousness.
And it’s right back into the dysfunction!
Him: With the chipotle vinaigrette?
Me: No – hollandaise. You’re forgetting about the Parisian.
Him: There is a Parisian? An actual Parisian is coming to eat at our house?
Me: I told you this.
Him: Oh, no. This is not good. Escargot!
Me: WHO SERVES ESCARGOT AT A COME-AS-YOU-ARE BBQ????
Him: Fois gras, then. Force-fed, but oh-so delicious!
Me: What if they’re vegans? What would you do if you served them POLITICALLY INCORRECT FOIS GRAS?
Him: I’d take it into the kitchen and eat it all myself. I’d wash it down with a glass of port.
Me: Maybe we should just do the lamb with mint sauce.
Him: But the mint sauce has to be fresh…
And on we went.
PS: They ended up not coming for dinner. We met them at a restaurant in D.C., and Ella ordered Mac n’ Cheese.
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