Dinner parties are scary. They really, really are. You are setting yourself up to be judged as a homemaker, hostess, cook and woman in general. It’s a lot of pressure, but when you know what you’re doing, they can be fun and enrich friendships.
Let’s be frank. You are the Lucille Ball of dinner parties: something always goes horribly wrong, Troy supplies the laugh track, and when he sees the grocery bill I “have some s’plaining to do.”
Take the first time you made pasta sauce. You heard somewhere that Italians cook it all day, missing that this is on simmer, so served a marinara with what your guests referred to as a smoky flavor – a polite way of saying burned. (Note: if you burn any sauce to the bottom of your pan, DO NOT scrape it up. If you avoid the bottom altogether, you may have a chance of salvaging it. Otherwise, you just distribute black bits of failure throughout the dish).
In addition you become sort of notorious for serving people their dinner about four hours after they arrive because your sense of timing is so terrible. Sure, they rave about your food, but at that point they’re so hungry that if you served grilled cardboard with a side of boiled dandelions they would devour it greedily (which is what some of your attempts have actually resembled, come to think of it).
Take heart, me girl, someday you will feed up to 50 people a full sit down dinner without thinking twice. As a matter of fact, just last week I served a crowd of 80 for Johnathan’s graduation party to rave reviews (and everything was ready when they arrived, so starvation was not a factor). How do you cross over from dinner disasters to brilliant buffets? Follow the three P’s of entertaining: Practice, Plan, and Pray!
Troy and I learned the hard way, several times, that it is unwise to serve food to guests that you have never prepared before. So, one day we decide that for our annual Christmas party we should try making the entire meal about a week beforehand. This is how we learned that, while pears poached in wine sound impressive, they just taste like bitter pears. Because we practiced, we had plenty of time to find a tasty alternative.
This is huge. For just about every dinner party – whether it’s an intimate setting or a crowd – list out your menu, how long each item takes to prepare, the ingredients needed, and the prep order. Not only does this help you to remember everything, but it keeps panic and stress at a minimum. In addition, because of planning I now know how fun it is to cook with Troy instead of sending him running all over town to pick up the items I forgot to get.
No matter how much you practice or plan, things can still go wrong. For example, one Christmas party we had pre-ordered three spiral sliced hams. It was 30 minutes to show time and the sides, desserts – everything was ready. Troy and a buddy went to pick up the ham only to find that the store had closed early. There were no cell phones in those days, so they were left to their own devices – which explains why that year we served sautéed green beans with slivered almonds, glazed carrots, creamy potatoes au gratin, hot buttered rolls…and lunch meat (they got ham and turkey. Very festive). Yes, prayer is important; that and never sending two men out alone without a way to communicate with home base.
My best advice for you and entertaining, however, is to let go of your belief that you are being judged. Unless it’s your husband’s boss (and who does that anymore?) these are your friends. If you have a good sense of humor when things go awry your guests not only still have a good time but feel closer to you somehow. So practice, plan, pray and then focus on enjoying your guests rather than impressing them.
That, watch a lot of Food Network, and always have cheese and crackers on hand – just in case.
Love, Older Wiser You