The part about extending invitations to dinner is luscious.”Oh, you really must come, see our new kitchen.” Head toss, wave. The best feeling ever is when the event itself is a long ways off, a beautiful feast on the horizon, everyone well-coiffed, pleasant, and stainless. Idyllic.
Then comes the steady drip of days counted off. “You know, it’s only a few weeks until the scary people are coming to dinner. We really need to plan our menu.”
This is tough when the scary people are amazing chefs with a pickle and separate dish for every occasion. My husband considers what to cook because, after all, it is his cooking skills that the scary people will appreciate and rightly so. He will not touch a recipe unless it involves at least three spices we don’t have and an indexed set of instructions. You know, first you de-vein the shrimp and then you roast the shrimp shells in olive oil until they become a bright orange and give off a delightful roasted shrimp aroma in your kitchen. I know these words because I read them to him tonight. These are instructions from the first chapter of how to make pumpkin shrimp soup. I left out the celery, bay leaves, onion, sage leaves, and a pinch of saffron from the wee bottle that our daughter brought home from Spain twenty years ago and which I just noticed tonight had the McCormick brand tattooed on the side. Oh well. We had been waiting so long to be exotic and now this.
Then there is the pureed pumpkin, just roasted, and the chicken stock from Sunday’s chicken, and cream and lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Now we are at the end of the second chapter of the soup trilogy. The soup’s finishing will occur tomorrow right before serving and involves dealing with the de-veined shrimp and a lot of complex moves made harder by having the scary people stand in our kitchen while it’s all going on.
This is only one of extraordinarily complex dishes my husband has planned for tomorrow night. I, on the other hand, will be the scullery maid, not even rising to the level of sous chef. I make the things that people stuff themselves with because they’re not sure about the soup with the roasted shrimp shells. Everyone has a function in the kitchen. I keep people alive. My husband astonishes them. We have a well defined-division of labor honed from thirty years of kitchen nightmares, dropped hams skidding across the floor and raw garlic garnishing hors d’oeuvres. “Weren’t we supposed to roast that garlic in the oven first?”
My favorite dinner guests are those who show up exhausted and hungry, possibly weeping from a sudden divorce or stolen car. In their misery, they are grateful for a boiled hot dog on a week-old bun. Anything on a plate reminds them of mom, a napkin and clean silverware extraordinary touches never forgotten. Surprise guests are even better. The less time I have to prepare, the fewer excuses are necessary. If it is hot, I’ve met the standard. I like that. I’m fond of the earth mother image but only in small doses; people need to leave as soon as they’ve wiped the crumbs from their chins.
My husband will have none of such minimalism. When he goes to sleep tonight, he will be dreaming of the roux he is planning for his etouffee. He’s in the zone where he’s forgotten about the scary people and he’s into his art.
It’s awesome. The scary people won’t know what hit them.