DINNER ANYONE?

I am blessed and cursed.  Blessed because I have a handful of close friends who are magicians in the kitchen.  Cursed because I have a handful of close friends who are magicians in the kitchen.

Whenever I go to BN’s house for a meal, I am reminded of why I should never try to do anything more elaborate than open a box of cereal.  She makes her own ketchup.  She makes her own hot sauce.  She made an upscale version of chicken and waffles with three different types of fowl.  Oh, and did I mention that she’s the bartending equivalent of a Cordon Bleu master chef?

Or take PD.  Her kitchen contains an arsenal of paddles, and food processors, and liquidizers, and other mystical contraptions made out of metal, plastic, silicone, and mesh.  She can feed herself for a week on $50 (that’s £35), and never have leftovers or eat anything more boring than a dill, lemon, and chick pea pasta with a side of fresh greens and homemade dressing.

Or there’s PS, who is the Kiwi equivalent of Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith – only better.  Her sticky toffee pudding or chewy chocolate brownies are enough to make me moan in public (which I have done) or lick my dessert plate clean (which I have also done).

In a word, I am friends with culinary goddesses who also double as brilliant, funny, beautiful, warm, successful, and stylish friends.

Being around these kinds of people distorts reality.  It makes you think that every meal should take two hours to prepare.  It makes you think that everything you put into your mouth should be a solemn offering to your tastes buds.  It makes you think that if only you buy the gear, read the books, watch the shows, you can be a cook, too.  It makes you think you can do what they do.

Except you can’t.  Or at least I can’t.  I have hosted four major meals at my house in the past six months, buoyed by recent acquisitions: a food processor, a mandolin, and a self-honing knife.  You know, all that stuff that makes you feel invincible.  So I went big.  I planned multi-course meals that engaged all the machines in my kitchen in a fierce battle against time.  I made menu cards to whet the guests’ appetites before they sat down.  I set the table with crystal and (fake) silver and porcelain.  I was ready.

And then I failed.  With MY and JY, my tomato-and-cream pasta sauce came to the table cold.  In my panic over how to feed a vegetarian, I gave MY a block of halloumi instead of chicken.  With PS (of sticky toffee fame, above) the red onions I used in our brunch frittata turned green in the cooking.  With NF and her family of six, we ran out of food and I spilled red sauce all over my newly-painted white kitchen walls.

But the disaster that made me consider selling all of my kitchen appliances on eBay happened just last weekend.  My boyfriend and I had another couple over for dinner and I was on a mission.  I cooked six different dishes that were going to introduce AB and WB to the glories of Mediterranean cuisine.  By the end of the night, I was wishing I had served them Ramen noodles, instead.  (Maybe they would have eaten more that way.)

Our first course was a chunky tomato soup.  How could I go wrong with that, you ask.  Who could mess up chunky tomato soup?  Well, me.  With some expert guidance from Jamie Oliver.  Not only did I serve it lukewarm (I do have an oven, stove top, and a microwave, but I was in a rush to feed my guests, so stop judging me please), but it tasted like chunky vinegar soup with a dash of tomato.  The balsamic vinegar Jamie told me to add ruined the masterpiece (clearly, I am not above blaming him for it).

Then came the mains.  Chicken breast stuffed with feta, sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley – which looked delicious and was thankfully served piping hot – and spinach and feta filo pie – which also looked delicious, was served piping hot… but tasted like toasted toilet paper filled with tasteless greens and slightly more tasteless other stuff.  Again, I blame Jamie, even though I was the one who got the proportions wrong and ran out of ingredients.  Improvisation never tasted so bad.

Our mains were accompanied by two sides.  One was a superb eggplant/aubergine dish with saffron yogurt that was so delicious I ate three or four helpings of it.  And it was a good thing too, because no one else did.  The other side was a cucumber and olive salad, which met a similar fate.  My delight made up for everyone else’s indifference.

As dinner came to a close, I felt like Cortes and his conquistadors: the ships were on fire; there was no turning back; dessert had to be served.

So up I got and up I stood at my still squeaking-new food processor, making a mixed berry frozen yogurt, trying to mask the noise by speaking even louder than I normally do, and hoping against all hope that dessert would be my vindication.  Dessert would salvage everything.

I think by now, you can guess what happened  I served four bowls brimming with berry frozen yogurt and blueberry compote and got three brimming bowls back – well only one, actually, but I could tell that my boyfriend and AB were only eating dessert because they were starving from not having eaten enough throughout dinner, so they didn’t count.

In my defense, I will say that I excelled at the coffee and box-of-chocolates course at the end of the meal.  I unwrapped those Ferrero Rochers like a pro, and passed around the After Eights with panache.  Here was a skill to build on.

And so, like a lovestruck teen who can’t take no for an answer, I forge on.  The triumph of hope over experience.  The folly of youth.  The confidence of one who knows it can’t get any worse (it can’t, can it?)

I am cooking for an audience again this week.  Indian.  Or maybe Mexican.  It will be another bold attempt to wow and impress… or maybe another exercise in futility.  Anyone want to join?

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