A Moveable Feast

I live in perpetual fear of having to cancel a dinner party. I hate to disappoint anyone. And I hate to reschedule. Also, I’ve often been pre-prepping food over the course of several days, and am loathe to throw anything away — especially a gourmet meal I’ve worked hard to prepare.

So was it with an improbable Tuesday night dinner party recently. A savage 24-hour stomach bug was tearing through our canyon. Tuesday afternoon arrived, our daughter had been sick the night before, and my wife was not feeling well. “You’re canceling tonight, right?” she asked. “Well, not exactly…” I replied sheepishly. Our guests of honor, one of whom was celebrating a 40th birthday, emailed to let us know their teenage daughter was down, but they were excited and would still be coming with their 3-year-old. “I see,” my wife said before retreating to the bedroom and closing the door. It was not a good omen.

I had planned a dinner Venetian in theme, with cicchetti appetizers and a seafood main course. And as a special treat, I had home-baked bread which I would slice thick, grill, and serve with roasted marrow bones. If you’re serving a dinner of, say, soup and pasta, it’s no big deal if your dinner party gets cancelled. You eat the food anyway; the leftovers make a good lunch the next day. But if you’ve made half a dozen Venetian appetizers, bought fish and marrow bones, and made reduction sauces, it can be a drag. A few hours before the party was to start, I got the call. Their daughter was sicker than they had thought, they wouldn’t be coming after all and were so sorry. “Oh, no problem, we’re a little ill over here too,” I said, and promised to reschedule. And was left with a contented wife, but a fridge full of food.

It was then I remembered we also had a dinner party scheduled on Friday night with other friends, for which I hadn’t planned food yet. Same dinner, different night! — hoping the bug would have passed by then.

Thursday night: As I lay in bed, stomach in knots, trying to fall asleep — alternately listening to a pleasant if slightly alarming chorus of coyotes just outside our bedroom window, and trying to bore myself to sleep with mundane thoughts such as where are the light switches for the outside lights and which switch turns on which light?, or which day I will give my children a dollar to buy lunch at school and the pros and cons of each of the five options — I wonder if tomorrow’s dinner party will happen or not. My stomach says no, but my will says yes, indeed! And sure enough, after 24 hours without food, I feel well enough to host, to serve, to drink and to dine. I make it through the evening, eating and quaffing slightly less perhaps than I normally might, making only a few dashes for the bathroom… and our guests leave happy and sated. And best of all, I have not had to waste food or reschedule.

When you have children, a dinner party is the most civilized of social options. You feed the kids early, set them off to play or put a movie on, and are able to have some grown-up time with friends. But even this halcyon model can turn. Someone moving or a divorce, for example, can screw up your dinner party routine. Two of our favorite couples divorced in the past year. We’re still friends with both halves, which means you now have to have twice as many dinner parties to see them both, or else tack one of them awkwardly onto another dinner party as a fifth or seventh wheel. We have some good friends who are happily married, but can’t cook. So when it’s their turn either we go to their house for a dinner party and I cook, or more often than not they have us for brunch and serve bagels.

Last night I served grilled game hens and flatbread to those very friends. And now — tag! you’re it — we await the inevitable brunch invitation in the coming weeks. Today, a quiet Sunday, I enjoy the calm between dinner parties: none scheduled, no menu to plan, no possibilities of cancellation.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marlene
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 02:07:51

    Love this. Cozy and satisfying!


  2. rachelocal
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 02:31:46

    Dinner parties are one of my favorite things, the planning, the menu, the preparation, the satisfaction of a meal well-cooked and well-served. Ahhh. Nicely said.


    • scolgin
      Mar 06, 2012 @ 02:44:15

      Thank you Rachel! I look forward to reading about your locavore experiment! I’ve written a locavore story myself which I’ll be posting soon.


  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 04:15:06

    Yikes…we’ve had the bronchitis/head cold/flu thing down in these parts…glad it wasn’t the stomach bug…although a sore throat REALLY sucks


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