Drink - Strawberry lemonade spritzer
Starter - A bowl of fruit salad
Main course - Caesar chicken served with pilao rice, a side dish of cabbage rolls
Dessert - Lemon pudding cake
Guaranteed - White wine & water
Dress code - The little black dress you’ve been saving for my funeral.
I told my mother ‘no’ when she suggested I have a dinner party. And yet the woman has an uncanny way of always getting what she wants. She’s getting concerned that I may not maintain my marriage, which I’m yet to enter, if I can’t cook. She is always going on about that age old adage, ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. I am not marrying a man shallow enough to think he is getting a free certified cook and that it is all I will be bringing to the table. I’ve tried to teach her that gender roles are now more accommodating. I can mow the lawn and have my husband cook dinner. She won’t have it.
So am inviting my closest friends, only six girls, home for dinner. I want to throw something they’ll never forget. Go big or go home, right? But I also want to fail or succeed before the only people who won’t judge me too harshly for it.
Once I start the planning, the ideas roll together in my head. I see the beautiful evening it will be. Great food, infectious laughter, wicked gossip. This can’t be a recipe for a disaster even though I’ll be cooking everything.
Caesar chicken recipe
· Chicken breasts
· Caesar salad dressing
· Parmesan cheese
· Sour cream
I have never cooked before in my life, except for the regular omelette and if toast is considered cooking. It’s not for lack of ambition. I watch all those food shows and wish I could whip up the same magic. There has just never been need. I grew up in a house where we had a cook, Mary, who did all the cooking. (Shame on you mum for throwing this on me). And now I have food delivery services and the microwave to blame for my inability to make something serious out of the kitchen.
1. Find a baking dish to place the chicken breasts.
On the day of the dinner party, a part of me is actually excited that I get to do this. My own dinner party! I am big at trying my hand at everything so I welcome it for the challenge it is. I spend all day at the office browsing Pinterest for the perfect dinner menu and recipes. How hard can any of this be? They list everything and go into great detail about what I should do. My mother shouldn’t be worried. This is not rocket science and I am smart enough to already know a thing or two about rocket science. You don’t get to be the Managing Director of a top notch advertising company without the brains to match your fast talking mouth. I quickly make a PowerPoint of my dinner expectations and send emails to my guests. Then I start counting down till I can get home.
I am about ten minutes from home when I read the message from my mother. Don’t forget to shop for groceries. I roll my eyes at my mother’s bossiness and at how well she knows me. I turn back to find my way to the nearest supermarket.
The nearest supermarket is a small establishment and not as well stocked as I would like. I browse its aisles for about twenty minutes before I finally decide to make it my usual supermarket. It doesn’t skip my mind that this throws my schedule about 30 minutes behind.
2. Lavish the chicken with Caesar dressing and sour cream mixture. Smother it if you must.
I usually only do my shopping over the weekend, when I have the time. Because great shopping takes time and I always need to feel like I did my best shopping. I therefore never make lists.
I make it the store and first go browsing my usual stops. There are two new business management books. I take one for my late night reading. I decide to take three romance novels but I can’t decide which. I keep reading the blurbs and putting them back till I’ve read about every new romance book on display. I abandon that with only one book in the disguise of running out of time and head off to the jewellery section. A new piece for my dinner party screams ‘Am in charge’ and I walk away with three new pairs of ear rings. As I start to make it down to the bag section, I remember why I’m truly shopping and take the other direction. I finally make it to the food section and realise I’m in over my head.
There are so many options for any one item. How come there are so many rice varieties? Do they taste different? Am I picking the wrong brand? And how do I know to pick out the right fruit, not too ripe and definitely not too raw? What of the food spices, which is which? I find myself in a corner and call the only person who will be pleased to save me from myself.
Mum doesn’t just give me the answers to my questions. She insists that she is within the area and is coming to help me pick out everything. I want to scream but I remind myself that I called her knowing that this could be a possible outcome. I don’t have to wait long though, so perhaps she really was within the area.
I let mum pick out everything and then some. I pay the price dearly as I listen to her go on and on about how unfocused I am to get to 30years without knowing any of this and how everyone must know something about cooking and how much the fast food industry takes from me because I can’t take care of myself. ‘And who does your shopping anyway? Don’t you eat?’ she asks as we draw close to the counter. I refrain from telling her about the fast food delivery service she was just criticising. Instead, I smile to keep my hands from pulling out my hair. I can’t wait to send her on her way.
3. Make sure your oven is set at 375°F then bake the chicken for about 30 minutes. Set the timer if you are busy.
I finally get home and all I can think about is how late I am. ‘Late, late, late’ is all that goes through my mind. It doesn’t help that all my friends have sent excited expectant messages. I hate letting people down. Especially when I had a plan that was working and one everyone else agreed to. I feel like am going to let them down. Spurred on by this thought, I don’t take the time to change and I don’t own any apron. I just drag in all the groceries and kick off my heels.
I am a stranger to my own kitchen. But my mother, bless her heart, made sure it was well equipped when I moved in. It is very spacious with up-to-date appliances. Depending on how successful this evening is, I’ll let her know how much I appreciate her nosiness. It takes me a while to locate everything I would need. When I do, I turn up the stereo. It’s always nice to work to music.
I cut up the fruits for the salad first. I hope there is no particular shape in which they should be delivered because I find myself cutting it them in all shapes and sizes. Mangoes, watermelon, pineapples, apples and strawberries all go into my masterpiece. I stand back to admire it and say, ‘And they thought I need more practise for my cooking’.
I move on to the rice and chicken. Or should I do the cabbage rolls first? I log into my Pinterest account and I can’t find the particular chicken recipe I had looked at that made everything look so easy. Had I not saved that pin? I keep searching till I hear the doorbell. My first guest is here.
4. For a couple of minutes, right before the end, broil the chicken.
I find Patricia, my best friend, my maid of honour waiting at the door.
‘I thought you just walk right in to my house. And didn’t you have a late-ish meeting?’ I ask instead of saying what I really want to say which is ‘help me!’.
‘Well you are getting married now so I should start learning my boundaries and I blew the meeting because I know what this means to you and you need help. Where do I start?’ This is why she is my best friend.
I let her do the drinks and start to busy myself with everything else. This is my dinner party and I need to prove to myself that I can do this. The chicken is the icing of the cake that is this dinner party so I focus all my energies there. I abandon the recipe I wanted but can’t find and start to craft something new. If you can read a recipe, you can cook. That’s my new mantra.
I have just placed the chicken in the oven when the rest of the group rushes in. All of them dressed to the nines. If they took the menu seriously, they were all planning on trying to steal my spotlight at my own funeral. There are hugs and shouting going all around. I usher them into the living room and explain dinner will be a little late. Patricia hands out the drinks. I decide to hold off the fruit salad in case I’ll need it as a deterrent later on.
I settle for serving simple fried rice. No need to be overly ambitious on my first try in the kitchen. I hear the laughter from the living room and fear that I am missing out. After all, conversation and laughter are the heart of the party. I don’t consult my recipes for what a cabbage roll should be. It’s in the name. I pull out a tray, wash the cabbage leaves then roll them neatly sticking them in place with toothpicks. Now all I have to do is wait a little longer for the chicken and dinner will be served.
5. You are almost done. Just cover it and let it sit for a while. Then serve your delicious treat.
We are in the middle of a game, as we munch on our fruit salad when Patricia calls me out. Everything is going so great I can’t wait to brag to her a little. Before I can start, she tells me the bad news. My rice is under-cooked, the chicken is burnt and cabbage rolls don’t mean you just roll cabbage leaves. My dinner party is ruined. And am not just being dramatic, what’s a dinner party without the dinner! I start to tear up.
‘We can do something small with what you have in your fridge,’ she tries to comfort me, ‘What’s in your fridge?’ she moves ahead to open it and I fail to stop her in time. She finds only milk, a half carton of eggs and plenty of water bottles. She gives me a look that screams ‘Girlfriend, you need help!’
‘I’m going to prove my mother right. That I am incapable of putting dinner on the table.’ I sigh as I sit by the counter.
‘Don’t be overly dramatic now. We’ll serve them desert first as we figure out what to do.’ I slap my forehead. I now remember what I had forgotten. I hide my face and admit to Pat that I forgot to make the cake. She laughs at me and though I’m crushed, I can see the humour and laugh along with her.
‘If you still have the flour, we can make pancakes. All they want is to eat. And it was a good way to get us all together. So we are going to go out there and tell them about the current situation. And we are going to laugh about it, OK?’ I nod. ‘Good. Because this is actually pretty funny.’ And she continues to laugh.
Once we tell the rest of the girls, everyone gets to their phones to order in at least one dish. We have pizza, fried chicken, fries, burgers and sandwiches coming our way as Pat makes her signature vanilla pancakes and I attempt to make smoothies. This is now an all you can eat buffet.
We sit down to watch a movie and paint our nails. Eating all the ordinary stuff we have for our girls’ nights in and yet somehow it’s not ordinary. It’s not truly dinner by my mum’s standards but it’s good enough for me. I now have a deep appreciation for all chefs and cooks and everyday-people-who-put-together-large-meals everywhere, putting a meal on a table is not child’s play.