In terms of being the perfect hostess you can put me right at the bottom of the list. Not the bottom of ten or a hundred, but at least a thousand, or ten thousand.
I hate the staged spectacle of dinner parties. Maybe because I grew up with them. They were wonderful. My mother actually was the perfect hostess. To the extent that she slaved away in the kitchen cooking for my father’s half a dozen or eight masonic mates (all men obviously), dished everything up on bone china, and dutifully kept out of the way.
Not really for me.
She did however receive the odd bouquet of flowers and a charming note from the more thoughtful members of the mens’ club after the wonderful dinner – invariably:
• prawn cocktail/smoked salmon/smoked salmon and prawns/prawns in cheese sauce/potted shrimps/cold fresh salmon/fresh crab
• soup – lobster bisque, turtle soup, a home-made beef consommé or home-made clear chicken soup
• fish course (if there was no starter) – plaice with prawns and sauce, dover sole, coquilles St Jacques – we even had the little sea shells to serve them on
• main course – could be anything: a chicken classic casserole, a beef one, or game, or steak
• dessert – trifle seemed to be very popular, or profiteroles (you can tell the time period), crepes suzettes, hawaiian glory (one of my faves)
• and a cheese board – of course.
When I moved to the home counties, well, the outer echelons ie Bedfordshire, one of my friends asked if I had joined the local dinner party set? Uh??
The nearest I got to that was cooking some sprouts one day in the oven and a neighbour who I didn’t like, nearly fell over in shock because he thought the sprouts (cooked with sauce, mace, and can’t remember what else) smelt wonderful. He lived with a woman who burned bacon and toast. He didn’t get invited in for sprouts.
Moving onto the next house we were asked to dinner with some journalist friends, and she did a super meal. We invited them back. Halfway through the meal prep I realised I was doing mushroom pate and mushroom something for main course. No!! I switched halfway through and created a disaster. The dog helped though during dinner. He jumped on the chair at the table at one point waiting for his meal thereby creating an excellent diversion. Thanks Ben.
They wouldn’t believe he’d never done it before. He never did it again either. He must have figured I needed a bit of help.
We entertained a couple of Californians who we’d met on holiday in Scotland. They were vegetarian which was pretty lucky.
Next house, we jumped up a social gear and were invited to dinner at the home of my work colleague. She really was a fantastic cook. The one who did the famous veg wellington with chestnut stuffing.
We invited them back. At which point I started to panic, and let Partner cook the food. I then realised I didn’t like formal dinner parties.
In our second house in the same area, we had some neighbours round. I was so loathe to dish up the food that I asked them if they really wanted to eat.
I mean, there was vague logic there. When you go to someone’s to eat, it can be too late, too early, food you don’t want, so sometimes you eat before. A bit like going to a boring party. Sadly they wanted to eat, so I dished up. Utterly bored and disinterested with the whole thing. I hate cooking for non-vegetarians anyway. They never like the food.
But in the same house, I did manage a spontaneous meal for a neighbour. I walked in from work after yet another crap day at the office on a late summer’s evening to find her sitting on the front step with my partner.
I stormed in to get on with tea and she was STILL there.
‘Well, if you haven’t finished chatting, you might as well eat with us,’ I snarled.
‘Oh yes please.’
I rattled off that we were having veg casserole, potatoes, spring greens out of the garden and salad leaves. All to no avail, she still said yes.
In fact, it was an extremely pleasant meal and she was good company. Which just goes to show that I am terrible at pre-arranged cooking dates, but ok with turn up and if you eat what I happen to be cooking, take it or leave it.
She’s not the only one I’ve cooked for on a similar basis. One acquaintance invited himself to stay with us in Spain for a week, so I cooked for a few days for him before he suddenly remembered he had a lot of food in his campervan freezer that might be going off. Good.
We employed an electrician who was going through a bad phase (so to speak) and I chucked in lunchtime meals as well. He wolfed everything down. Thai, Indian curry, and mashed potato dishes were his favourite. I fed his huge Rottweiler too. Hell, I don’t want to see anyone starve, and they were both pretty hungry. I explained the food was vegetarian, and he (the man not the dog) had this ‘I really don’t care’ look on his face. And he invariably had seconds. How much more rewarding is that than hosting some poncy dinner party?
So I couldn’t do a Christmas meal for anyone in a million years. Nor do I want to. In fact I don’t want to cook for anyone, ever again.
Believe it or not, there are some great vegetarian meals to be had, although as far as I am concerned they either involve nuts, pastry (filo or shortcrust), tempeh, tofu, or seitan.
But they don’t suit non-meaters.
It’s not only a different way of eating, it’s a different mindset.
People are happy to eat veg meals, so long as there is some meat as well. Jamon serrano for example, or seafood, or fish, or steak (exactly like my mum’s meal from 40 years ago) but veg meals on their own don’t do it for most meat eaters.
So, there are no dinner – or lunch – invitations from me in the future.