Let's face it: you are a frequent guest at dinner or cocktail parties. You go, you charm, you bring a bottle of good red for the hostess and you leave with a warm feeling that you've added to the merriment. If you examine your feelings just a little more you'll notice that sinking feeling. When was the last time you entertained? Aren't you feeling a little uneasy? Isn't it your turn?
We know all the excuses:
As we age, we've come to discover that height of civility and potential good fun is the dinner party. Three to eight friends come together to break bread, drink and laugh in the privacy of one's own home. There's no rude waiter, foreign menu or ridiculous bill to deal with. There are no idiots smoking cigars in the booth next to yours, nor is there some hyper-allergic hippie love-child protesting your cigar smoke should you choose to indulge after a good meal. You get to control the music (carefully selected from these very pages, perhaps!) rather than Muzak. There is no wait-staff praying you'll eat and pay quickly so they can "turn the table" for another party. Best of all, to our practical (cheap?) heart, it can cost next to nothing with a little planning.
Let's get a few things straight. No one expects to be entertained by Jauques Pepin on your first go-round. The whole point is to be a gracious host and bring a few interesting friends together, not impress the guests with your matching silverware, floral arrangements or obscure cooking techniques. In time, you might find these things fun but the heart and soul of the event should be making your friends comfortable. This you can do by constantly refilling their cocktail glasses and making sure you have an endless supply of chips and dip if that's all you can handle.
If even the most basic dinner party fills you with terror, why not take a tip from acclaimed food writer M.F.K. Fisher and host your guests in a restaurant? This does not mean just picking up the tab, which is always an awkward moment. Call the restaurant and arrange the whole affaire ahead of time. Find out what that evening's special is and order it. Choose the wine, decide if salad or dessert will be served and prepay with a credit card over the phone. This way your guests won't be looking at the prices and you will have shown thought and consideration by planning the whole evening.
Assuming you're totally pathetic (and there's a certain charm in that), why not invite two friends over for dinner. Maybe a tolerant and loving couple you're very familiar with would work. Have your cocktails ready to be made, or at least the wine bottle open, when they arrive. Also have some sort of snack or appetizer out. This can be peanuts, chips, or elaborate canapes. We've found guests are more forgiving if they've been given a little drink and nibbles immediately.
Now even you must have at least one dish you can make without blinking. If they're very good friends, you could even just scramble some eggs and serve them with an abundance of asparagus (hint: you wash it, break off the woody ends and then boil or steam them for about seven to ten minutes. Top with butter). Buy a bag of salad greens, toss with oil and vinegar. Voila! Dinner is served! Advanced dinner parties would include candles, flowers and courses, but we don't want you to get nervous.
The whole point is to do it like you mean it. Believe us when we say, everyone enjoys being a guest now and then, especially the host or hostess who's had you over countless times.
Imagine the warm glow you'll have when your guests proclaim, "My, that Joe is a swell fellow!" Imagine how appreciative all of you will be when Ella Fitzgerald gently accompanies your meal with some classic Gershwin rather than Aerosmith. Imagine how well you'll sleep knowing you are no longer one of the leaches in your set but a vibrant, vital contributor! Imagine how ecstatic you'll make MrLucky when you send us your success stories. It's a small price to pay for so much happiness.
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