Tuesday, March 07, 2006
You're Cordially Invited
For almost every season it aired, I hosted a Sex and the City dinner party. It started off as a little get together of casually familiar girls and culminated into an evening of close friends. I originally called the start time for 7:30 but eventually it crept earlier and earlier on the clock. During the last season, one friend rang me in the late afternoon and asked if she could come over in the next half hour. She just didn’t want to wait any longer for the evening to begin.
My entire Sunday would be spent prepping for the dinner party. I’d stop off at Trader Joe’s for chips and dip, learning early on that I could buy no less than two jars of their Peach Salsa if I wanted to keep the masses happy. From there, I was off to Wholefoods for the main course. I’d mix it up as best as possible, making fajitas one week and turkey with grilled veggies the next. My last stop was Acme for processed products like frozen yogurt for make-you-own-sundaes, toppings for the yogurt, soda and paper napkins. Two hours and ten bags later, I struggled through my apartment door and got started on the preparation.
Cooking became my version of meditation. With some music playing on the stereo, I’d settle in at my counter. Eggplant, zucchini, onions and yellow squash was thinly sliced and tossed in a bowl with balsamic vinaigrette to marinate. Strawberries, peanut butter cups, hot fudge sauce and mini Oreos all made their way from original packaging to small serving bowls. It was calming and exciting all at the same time.
Early on, my friends were culinary guinea pigs. I wore my chef’s hat but was fumbling behind the scenes. Chicken needed to be cut into to ensure it was cooked all the way through. Same thing went for meat. I prefer steak medium rare but on more than one occasion, even I couldn’t stomach the undercooked texture of the London Broil. There were so many slices running through the meat, you had to wonder whether a paper shredder or Freddy Kruger somehow attacked it.
The girls, nibbling on chips and catching up on recent events, either never caught on or were polite enough to refrain from commenting. They kept coming so I kept cooking. Then the random compliments during the meal suddenly became pre-dinner calls to confirm the menu or even submit requests. Elyssa loved my grilled veggies. Hope loved my fajitas. Jenn was a big fan of my make-you-own-sundaes. She now blames me for introducing her to the magical pairing of frozen vanilla yogurt with peanut butter microwaved for 20 seconds, just long enough to soften the texture and warm the temperature.
When Sex and the City came to an end, so did the dinner parties. Elyssa moved to Ann Arbor to pursue a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology. I settled into a long distance relationship to the point that weekends were fully committed to either hosting here or going there. And Jenn and Hope both switched jobs. It just got too hard to find free time in common. I gave a Sex and the City reunion a shot but it ultimately fell through.
I’ve continued to cook here and there but when there is only one mouth to feed and no one to provide praise, it just isn’t the same. In recent months, I’ve turned to frozen meals for sustenance. It upsets me too much to pull out my double burner grill pan and use only one side. There just isn’t enough food to cook to justify using both. My All Clad officially went into early retirement.
Noticing my blueness about absent hostess duties, Hope suggested the Oscars as a reason for entertaining. She also gave a not so subliminal fajita hint. Within 24 hours, I was sending out an email inviting some friends. They all eagerly accepted the invitation. Even Elyssa, Philadelphia bound for a five day class, was going to attend.
Three of us did a whirlwind brunch and theater trip to NYC earlier on Oscar Sunday. Coming through my apartment door at 5:30pm, I set out some chips and salsa and excused myself to the kitchen. Other guests arrived and by 7:00pm, everyone who had been invited was crammed into my living room. One second, I’m standing solo at the stove, sipping my homemade sangria and grilling up some marinated chicken and skirt steak. The next, Joe is standing next to me relaying the latest drama about his mom’s fluctuating health. After a few minutes, he returned to the living room only to be replaced by Elyssa, eager to show me pictures of her new puppy. When she left to put the pictures away, Hope or Jenn or Lisa would pop in to ask if they could help.
It was just like old times. I made too much food, drank too much sangria and spent most of the night in the kitchen cooking up or cleaning up. I snuck out when someone signaled that a noteworthy category was pending. Then I’d retreat back to my kitchen. With dishes washed and the best picture winner announced, I bid adieu to my guests, half of them toting leftovers. They all thanked me for having them and disappeared into the night. What they don’t know is that it was me who should have provided the thanks. A thanks for letting me pretend I’m Julia Childs, chopping and dicing away. A thanks for coming into my one bedroom condo and for four hours making it feel like the warm and cozy home I always want it to be. A thanks for being in my life and letting me in theirs. Good food and great friends, they pair together almost as well as peanut butter and vanilla frozen yogurt. Almost, but not quite.