I have a friend who revels in hosting dinner parties and houseguests. Her tuna tartlets are terrific, her Camembert canapés are captivating, her blueberry blinis brilliant. Her guest suites are sumptuous, her linens luxurious, her fresh flowers fragrant.
And then there’s me. If she’s the consummate caterer, I am the hostess from hell. Instead of making pot-au-feu, I make reservations. Faced with houseguests, I proffer a list of nearby hotels. But not too near-by.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy people and I adore food. I just prefer them outside of my abode. Looking back at where my hostessing habits headed south, I can trace it to a dinner invitation I extended to a friend in distress somewhere around 1979.
I was in my early twenties and living with my fiancé. Our friend’s wife suddenly left him. Distraught, depressed and dropping weight precipitously, Roger looked like he needed a good meal and a very large goblet of wine. I invited him to dinner. What could be more consoling than a hearty, homemade repast and four shoulders to cry on?
Roger arrived, looking downcast but determined to make the best of his first night out, post-abandonment. “Something smells good,” he offered gamely. In fact, the boneless chicken breast chunks, soy sauce, and myriad vegetables I was stir-frying in my sparkling, newly purchased electric wok smelled decidedly unappetizing. I had taken a page out of my mother’s invisible cookbook and opted to wing it. No recipe for me – I was my mother’s daughter! She whipped up delectable dishes with remarkable spontaneity. The only missing ingredients that night: her twenty-five years of culinary experience.
Undaunted by the peculiarly unappealing aroma, I served my version of Sweet and Savory Stir-Fry with a flourish. The three of us each took a forkful and swallowed, our gag reflexes kicking in with a synchronicity that rivaled the Rockettes. The sauce had turned gluey, the chicken chewy, the flavor foul. We struggled to converse with mouthfuls of inedible bamboo shoots.
Looking back, I can only hope that my well-intentioned dinner showed Roger that there were worse things in life than a marriage gone bad. There was my cooking. I had created a whole new culinary category: discomfort food.
While Roger and my fiancé may have recovered, my confidence never did. Nearly forty years later, I’m still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stir-Fry Disorder. I cringe at the thought of entertaining, fearing the worst possible consequences. And although I dutifully invite friends and family to visit our Florida home, I secretly hope they’ll choose a charming boutique hotel instead. Guests, after all, expect to be fed frequently. And that can be very, very dicey.