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Posts Tagged ‘dinner guests’

Let us rejoice! The dinner party is over!

I think it went well! People stayed until nearly ten, so that’s a good sign, right?

The biggest success of the night was using Meaghan’s GENIUS idea to put a plastic tablecloth down for the kids and then just scoop it up and throw it away once the kids were done.

Dinner Party Kids' Table

Unfortunately, I did not have a real cloth tablecloth long enough for the table-with-leaf. But that’s okay. We put down placemats instead. And I forgot to put the flower arrangements back on the table after we turned it. But OH WELL I think it was still okay.

The biggest flop of the night was the kids’ sandwiches. I think the ham and cheese sandwiches went over slightly better than the BLTs, but even my bacon-loving child refused to eat the bacon.

I don’t know why! It was good! It seemed like maybe three of the seven children ate ANYTHING. My child – for whom, you will remember, I made the sandwiches in the first place – ate only fruit. But what the sandwiches lacked in appealingness-to-small-children, they made up for in adorability. Also I will never make them again because it does not take a small amount of time to cut out a million circles of bread and lettuce.

 

Dinner Party BLTs 3

Let’s talk about the grown-up food.

It was a good idea to do a signature cocktail, I think. We made Dark and Stormies. Rather, my husband made them for people, and those who had one enjoyed it. (I had a gin gimlet.) We also had plenty of beer and wine.

Dinner Party Bar

We had a TON of appetizers. The hummus – from Costco – was barely touched, despite (or maybe because of?) the lovely paprika-oil I sprinkled on top of it per Lauren (I think I could have been more artful in my drizzling; next time) (my husband says the hummus was just Not Good). Barely anyone ate any of the veggies (which I bought and cut myself, except for the carrots; there were NO VEGGIES TRAYS to be found during any of my three trips to the grocery store!). Several people seemed to enjoy the cranberry relish (I sure did) and one of the guests brought chips and salsa, but we didn’t put much of a dent in that either. Basically, the appetizers weren’t a huge hit, I guess. Oh well. We had a whole bowl of cranberry relish to ourselves the next day, which isn’t a bad thing.

Dinner Party Cranberry 2

I know this combination of ingredients sounds weird, but it is SO GOOD.

The problem with having a secret blog is that it’s a little weird to take out your phone and get pictures of all the food before you serve it. Also, I wanted to get things on the table. So I have Before Pictures, but only one After Picture (courtesy of my husband).

My main panic of the evening was timing. (This is always my main panic. When do you start cooking something? When do you take it out? How forcefully do you push people to sit down? When do you clear the table? When do you serve dessert?) Everyone arrived about thirty minutes late. Which… fine. We all have small kids, things happen, not a big deal. (Except that in my plan, people arrived at one time, the kids would eat 30 minutes later, then the adults would eat 30 minutes after that. HA.) Of course, then the kids wanted to play, so they were really hard to wrangle for dinner. And then they kept slipping away from the table instead of eating their adorable but unappetizing sandwiches. Sigh. I have no idea what time we finally got them out of the kitchen and flipped the table, but by then the chicken was WAY overcooked.

Dinner Party Chicken

Not cooked at all yet… So much potential for nice, juicy meat… 

I ate it – even though I am still Avoiding Chicken – and it had a good flavor. It was dry though. I put it in the oven a bit early because my oven tends to take a little longer than recipes say it should… but that extra time plus the tardiness of the guests plus the herding-cats of children issue led to dry chicken. I wish I had thought to pour the pan juices into pitchers so people could use it as gravy. But I didn’t. OH WELL.

The potato salad was dry, too, which was hugely disappointing. I guess my potatoes weren’t cut into small enough pieces? It didn’t prevent people from eating it, at least. I am a little fearful that our guests (especially the four who’ve never been to our house before) might think that I am A Cooker of Dry Food, but… what can you do. It is how it is.

Dinner Party Potato 1Dinner Party Potato 2

The salad was very good and got compliments. I did not take a picture of it because I assembled it right before serving.

Carla had asked me to make a treasure hunt, so I did. That’s what the kids did while we were eating dinner. They had a BLAST, with only a couple of argumentative incidents. (Future Me: Do NOT tell Carla about the treasure hunt until it is time to BEGIN the treasure hunt or she will tell the other children and they will sneak around trying to find the clues without context and mess things up.) The actual treasure was: 1. Little rabbits that you put in water and “grow” from the dollar section at Target. 2. A washable Melissa & Doug tattoo. 3. Two mini Hershey’s kisses. 4. A fruit snack.

Dinner Party Treasure

The kids — ages 3 to 7 — really enjoyed this treasure hunt. And they did a great job of working together to figure out the clues. I made them go up and down as many flights of stairs as possible in hopes of wearing them out. I hope they slept well for their parents.

The fallen chocolate cake was the best part of the dinner. (It wasn’t terrible to cook, either, although I had an Egg Incident that necessitated me buying another dozen eggs and tossing eight perfectly good eggs that I’d screwed up during the separation process.) It fluffed up just as it was supposed to, and fell while it cooled just as promised.

My husband made whipped cream and I piped it into the middle of the cake and topped it with raspberries. It was delicious. Moist and chocolatey with a nice crunch to the outer crust. The whipped cream and raspberries were the perfect complements.

Dinner Party Cake 5

At least SOME cake was left to photograph.

I had to double the recipe to make enough for a ten-inch springform pan, and I made cupcakes for the kiddos with the leftover batter. The cupcakes turned out a little weird: the bottoms somehow evaporated, so that when you took the wrapper off, there was only the top half of a cupcake inside. Oh well. The kids enjoyed them anyway. I put a blop of whipped cream and a raspberry on each one. Absolutely the only issue with the cake was that I was afraid to “frost” it before the guests arrived; it was a good thing, too, because the whipped cream fell and we had to re-whip it. But piping it and topping it with raspberries was a little stressful. Overall, WORTH IT.

Dinner Party Cupcakes

I did not get a photo of them with their whipped-cream-and-raspberry toppers before the children descended upon them like locusts.

Next time, I might do the following things differently:

  1. Have fewer guests. (Although, really, it worked out FINE.)
  2. Find something (the only option is tacos) that Carla will eat that I can also make and serve to company. Or maybe pasta (as long as I save plain noodles for her)?
  3. Fewer appetizers????

For future entertaining, I would definitely repeat:

  1. The plastic tablecloth over a real tablecloth option for big groups/two seatings.
  2. The treasure hunt (but a SECRET treasure hunt, next time).
  3. Signature drinks.
  4. The cake.

That’s that, Party Planning Committee! Thank you for your service and for attending this postmortem. Next time, we’ll do even better!

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Party Planning Committee, you are the best. Thank you SO MUCH for your comments and suggestions on my dinner party post. I have taken them to heart and have come up with a Brand New Plan for the dinner party.

Here’s what’s happening:

  1. I have nixed the Tex-Mex theme entirely. I know! Shocking and radical move! (Two reasons: 1. I was VERY persuaded by Lauren’s comment that “dinner party+never tried before food… even the thought is giving me hives over here…” and 2. I really don’t want to do tacos for some reason, even though they are good.) (Do not fret, Ernie – I will make use of your seven layer dip recipe at some point in the future!)
  2. Per Committee recommendations, I am going to attempt “Two Seatings,” one with the kids and one with adults. I still don’t know exactly HOW I am going to accomplish this (enlist a guest to wipe down the table after the kids are done eating?) but maybe it will be an in-the-moment kind of thing (if you don’t know that “in-the-moment” fills me with visceral dread you may not have been paying attention).
  3. Per very gentle Committee comments, I am going to give the children tossable dinnerware and use my regular dishes on the adults.
  4. Per my own desire to not sully my dining room rug and my husband’s AGHAST response to the (perfectly reasonable!!) suggestion to cover the rug with something, I am ignoring my dining room COMPLETELY, unless it somehow becomes the drinks room, I don’t know.
  5. Per my husband, I am DESPERATELY, probably FAILINGLY, trying to Keep Things Simple and give myself less work. Nonetheless, I have already developed a multi-page Dinner Procedure Document along the lines of the one I have for Thanksgiving. And why wouldn’t I painstakingly plan out this dinner party, at which I will be hosting 17 people, rather than the maximum of 8 people I’ve ever had at Thanksgiving?

PPC, I know you are anxious to review the new menu plan. Here we go:

Appetizers:

  • Hummus (I bought a jar of tahini from Trader Joe’s before I decided that I am going to throw personal tendencies to make things more difficult than they need to be to the wind and BUY pre-made hummus [gasp!] from Costco)
  • Cranberry dip (I have made this before! It is delicious! It can be made in advance!)
  • Veggies (will I be able to bring myself to buy a pre-made/pre-assembled veggie tray from my grocery store? This is the kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger that keeps you coming back to my blog, I know.)
  • Pita chips
  • THAT’S IT.

Main Course:

  • Kids: (menu determined by What Carla May Actually Eat)
  • Adults:
    • Lemon chicken (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can marinade it a day ahead! The only variable is that I have never made it in such a large QUANTITY before, but I am hopeful it still cooks at a similar rate. I will put it in the oven right away so we aren’t waiting for hours for it to be done and it can come out and rest a bit if the kids are still occupying the dinner table.)
    • Lemon potato salad (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can make it a day ahead! It is cold and does not require cooking!)
    • Spinach and arugula salad (I have made this before! It is delicious and I can make the dressing and pickle the onions a day ahead! It makes me feel virtuous to include such leafy greens in my dinner plan!)

Dessert:

  • I really, really, reallyreallyreally want to make this Fallen Chocolate Cake. But I have never made it before. And the recipe doesn’t really seem to make enough cake for our crowd. (But I could make two batches and turn one into cupcakes for the kids.) Plus it needs to be topped with whipped cream… and, while I vividly remember my mother making whipped cream in the kitchen prior to dessert, I don’t know if I have the same kind of elegant confidence to pull it off.
  • Perhaps I will totally shock everyone and buy a chocolate cake from Costco instead!

Signature Drink???:

  • The last time this group got together (which was the first time, actually; we had been doing few-times-a-year dinners with one of the families, and then they included another of the families in one of those dinners, and then THAT family invited us and the first family to dinner and also included the fourth family) (if you didn’t follow that, I don’t blame you), the host had a Signature Cocktail. Which of course makes mewant a signature cocktail for OUR Originally I was thinking a big pitcher of margaritas, but I don’t know if those go as well with lemon chicken as they do with Tex-Mex stuff. So now I am thinking maybe Dark & Stormies? We have a set of copper mugs and they are fairly easy to make – just three ingredients. Or I could make up a pitcher of French Gimlets, which I would prefer (but I would also be fine with wine).
  • Or – and this is really oddball! – I could just put out bottles of wine and offer beer as an alcohol alternative and THAT’S IT. What?!?!?!

It’s coming together. I just need to actively resist my overwhelming tendency to make things difficult. (From whence comes this tendency, self?)

PPC, do you have anything to add? Am I forgetting anything? Overlooking any additional ways to make this hardereasier on myself? The party is rapidly approaching, so speak now or forever hold your peace!

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Thank you so much for coming! Welcome to today’s meeting! Sit, sit! Grab some coffee and a donut! But there’s no time to chat – although I do really like what you’ve done with your hair today – because we need to get Down To Business.

Today’s session of the Party Planning Committee is tasked with – surprise! – planning an upcoming party! A dinner party. Which I may have extravagantly set in motion with great enthusiasm and little thought to execution.

Here are the particulars: It takes place in two weeks. We will have eight adults and seven children, all under age six. Well, the children are all under age six; the adults are all under age 40.

That wasn’t a lot of particulars, I guess. Let’s see if I can add some Complicating Factors:

Complicating Factor #1:I do not in fact have enough seating for eight adults and seven children. I have twelve chairs and two tables. One table seats six or eight, if we expand the table. (Complicating Factor #1.5:If we expand the table, we cut into a doorway. Complicating Factor #1.75: If we expand the table, then that table seats eight and the other table only seats four.) The other table seats six people, but it is in my dining room, on my fancy carpet, which is my way of saying I don’t really want the kids to sit there.

Oh! I also have a small child’s table, with four child-size chairs. So maybe we can set up the younger crew (all around age three) at that table, and then hope that the bigger kids are less messy? That is asking too much, I know.

Okay, maybe this isn’t as complicated as I thought. That’s really my main concern: the seating.

So! Here is my proposed solution: FINGER FOOD.  My idea is that I make a bunch of appetizer-y food that people can eat easily while standing. Well, except for the kids. They will sit at a table, preferably NOT the table on my good carpet.

Complicating Factor #2:My husband doesn’t like appetizer-y dinners because he feels like they aren’t substantial enough to count as a meal. Which I 100% understand.

Complicating Factor #3: We don’t have a ton of counter space, so I am a little concerned about displaying everything. I will need some space to work and cook (space that people STAY OUT OF because I cannot deal) and then there will be serving space. We obviously have the two tables for serving space, but we also have a big kitchen island. When I have people over, I often set up the food on the island, buffet style. I don’t know if I would feel that comfortable with people eating so near the food preparation portions of the kitchen, but perhaps that cannot be helped; and maybe I just need to really be on top of my Advance Preparation game.

Oh, and here’s a possibly-not-but-I’ll-include-it-anyway Complicating Factor #4:The same group attended a dinner party at the house of one of the other couples and it was AMAZING. Not only do they have a stunningly beautiful house and kitchen, but the food (chicken parmesan, for fifteen people!) was delicious and photo-worthy. So I feel some pressure to not disappoint this crowd. I mean, our house is what it is (you KNOW that I am already wringing my hands about the fireplace) but the food/experience could be good or great or absolutely dreadful.

Now that you are properly briefed, our charge is to plan a menu that meets the following criteria:

  1. Easy to eat whilst standing up.
  2. Easy to (mostly) make or prepare in advance. I’d like to be Actively Cooking as little as humanly possible.
  3. Substantial enough to count as a meal.

My initial thought is that we do it up Tex-Mex style.

Drinks:I think I have this covered. I am going to make a couple of pitchers of limeade margaritas and buy some Corona and some Dos Equis and maybe also have a couple bottles of wine on hand (these people are drinkers!) and call it a day.

I don’t have any margarita glasses, so maybe I will find some cheap plastic ones – although an initial search turns up far too many plastic glasses for my needs; perhaps I will find some mediocre glass ones? Perhaps the Dollar Store has some options?

Food:

We will definitely do guacamole and salsa (either this one or this one or possibly both because I am a masochist), because I have made them before and because chips and dips are the ultimate finger food. I will have many bags of chips available for snacking.

For the “main meal,” I am strongly considering Taco Pizza, which is easy, something I’ve made many times before, and delicious. I’m envisioning one (or two?) large sheet pan pizzas that I can cut into squares for easy eating. The main problem is that I can’t really make it in advance. I can make the partsin advance, but I don’t want to assemble too early for fear of soggy crust.

Perhaps that will help my husband and his ilk feel more like we’re eating a meal?

In any event, I would also like to have some other appetizer-y things as options. I have been collecting some recipe ideas, non of which I have ever made before which is HELLA RISKY. Here’s what I’m considering:

Taco Cups:https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/taco-cups/ or https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mini-phyllo-tacos/

I am kind of thinking these would be for the kids. And they can have whatever else they want, but I would cook these first and feed them mainly to the little ones.

Pros:

  • They sound easy enough.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.
  • Doubled, the recipe makes enough that grown-ups can have some too.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before, and so I have no idea if they are actually good or easy or anything about them.
  • I can’t imagine Carla eating these, although maybe she’ll eat the meat out of the cups.
  • I’ve never worked with wonton wrappers before (well, not since I made crab wontons with my mom a million years ago).
  • I am suspicious about wonton wrappers being a good accompaniment for taco meat.

 

Taco Pinwheels:https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/taco-pinwheels/f55a4f16-0eb5-4a9d-ac5b-d75cd03b7ab7

Okay, this is my alternative to taco cups. For the kids, because they are way too similar to taco pizza. Unless I want to swap out the taco pizza for these instead… Hmmmmmm….

Pros:

  • They seem SO EASY.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.

Cons:

  • Not sure about prepare-ahead-ability with these guys…
  • Too similar to taco pizza to be an extra option for the grown-ups.
  • Carla will definitely not eat these.

 

Taquitos:https://www.foodiecrush.com/chipotle-chicken-taquitos/. or

https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/black-bean-cheese-taquitos/ or

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2019/02/taquitos/

Pros:

  • Each of these recipes sounds delicious.
  • None of our guests are vegetarian, but if I made the black bean and cheese taquitos, it would be nice to have a non-meat option.
  • They are PERFECT for eating while holding a plate.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before.
  • I don’t know if they would be good cold/cool… and I really don’t want to have something in the oven Every Second. I have never before this moment envied people whose kitchens have two ovens, but here we are.
  • I have no idea if I can prepare these in advance. Ideally, I’d make them a week before and freeze them but… I don’t know if that’s possible.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Wonton Biteshttps://www.com/light-tex-mex-shrimp-bites-recipe/

Pros:

  • These sound good and almost fancy.
  • They would be easy to eat.
  • I could serve them cold.

Cons:

  • Once again, I’ve never made these before. But I am going to continue listing it as a Con because it is.
  • Again with the wonton wrappers (although they “go” better with shrimp than they do with taco meat, in my mind).
  • Could I assemble these in advance? And, like, how farin advance? Okay, I actually read the recipe and it definitely says you can assemble them in advance… But it doesn’t specify how far in advance. I would guess I could do the wonton cups a day before and then fill them up right before the party. Sounds like a last-minute frenzy, no?
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE. If I decide on these, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for sales.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Cocktail:https://www.com/recipe/tex-mex-shrimp-cocktail

Pros:

  • What is it about shrimp that makes something seem fancy? This must be a very individual perspective, right?
  • Again, easy to eat.
  • Again, easy to serve cold.
  • Seems like I could easily prep these in advance. I might not include the avocado, because of browning purposes (although the lime juice might help… I wouldn’t really want to risk it).

Cons:

  • I’ve never made these before.
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE.
  • I would definitely need little cups/dishes to hold this.

 

Mexican Corn Couscous Saladhttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a48350/steak-skewers-with-mexican-corn-couscous-salad-recipe/

Note that I would only be making the salad portion of this recipe, NOT the steak skewers. Steak skewers are waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone.

Pros:

  • I could make this in advance.
  • This would be good served cold/room temp.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.
  • It has some  vegetables in it, which would be nice alongside all the meat/carbs.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before.
  • Corn and couscous salad does not seem like a particularly stand-while-you-eat friendly food.

 

Black Bean Souphttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55504/easy-black-bean-soup-recipe/

Pros:

  • I could make this very early in the day, which would help ease the pressure a bit.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before (although the recipe sounds verrrrry straightforward).
  • I would have to buy some small soup bowls/cups for people to eat this out of, because it’s obviously not a stand-and-eat kind of thing.
  • It’s not a particularly exciting food. I mean, if you told me you were serving black bean soup, I’d raise my eyebrows and utter a short, “Mmm!” but I wouldn’t be rubbing my hands together in anticipation or anything.

 

Should I scrap all these ideas and have a very simple Taco Party? Gimme Some Oven has a really good carnitas recipe that I can make in the crockpot… and I can make ground beef taco meat… and a side of black beans… and have all the toppings/shells out for people to make their own tacos…

Pros:

  • Easy.
  • Known quantities, since I’ve made them before.
  • Delicious.

Cons:

  • I know, I know; everyone loves tacos. But I’ve served them before at so many dinner parties (including to one-third of the guests coming to this party – not just beef tacos but the carnitas, too) that it feels so DULL.
  • I am already cringing at all the shredded cheese and lettuce and bits of tortillas that the kids will get all over the place.
  • Nearly impossible to eat while standing. The kids are going to sit no matter what (where though???). But there’s no place for ALL the adults to sit at one time, which would make some people feel left out.
  • I am fretting about how to keep the meat and beans hot. I could just leave everything in the various pots, but that looks so… unfestive. And I am not interested in acquiring chafing dishes.

 

Okay, Party Planning Committee. I am beginning to get mildly hyperventilatey at the enormity of this responsibility. So I have important questions for you to address:

  • No way am I making ALL of the above. I’d like to do one main, one kid option, one additional appetizer (or maybe two???), and the guacamole and salsa. What should I choose?
  • Am I crazy to do this at all? Maybe I just need to call and cancel. Initially, my husband and I had a misunderstanding about this dinner party, wherein I thought he was as gung-ho as I was, but in fact he thought we were having people over in the warm weather months when we could throw everyone outside, and he is concerned that our house just isn’t big enough for all these people. Which has ME worried that our house isn’t big enough for all these people. I mean, we don’t even have enough CHAIRS for Pete’s sake, maybe that is a Big Fat Red Flag waving at me to CANCEL ALREADY.
  • Am I overlooking something really wonderful and simple and perfect? I have considered something like Tex-Mex deviled eggs, but I a) hate eggs and b) have never made these and c) would refuse to taste them, so wouldn’t be able to tell if they were good or not. Ceviche, while fancy-seeming, is a no-go as well because I hate raw fish. And anything (besides salsa) that has tomatoes as a main ingredient is out because I hate tomatoes.
  • Is it okay for me to buy disposable dinnerware? Aside from the moral issue of using materials that will either become landfill/whale poison or will loiter in a recycling bin somewhere before becoming landfill/whale poison, which I am feeling quite acutely, is it a turn off, as a guest, to have to eat from plastic dishes? I don’t know if I have enough dishes to feed all the people I’m inviting (ANOTHER RED FLAG?!?!) although I am pretty sure I could scrape something together. But it would also be MUCH easier and would contribute to the appetizer-y vibe if I got something like this set of plastic appetizer plates and bowls and mini flatware.
  • WHAT IN THE NAME OF TACOS AM I GOING TO SERVE FOR DESSERT? Maybe this is something I can turn over to the guests when they ask what they can bring… although I’d love to make these tres leches cupcakes and you know I like Total Control over the food I serve.

 

Okay, Internet Party Planning Committee: ACTIVATE! Tell me what to do. Or, better yet, please send emergency catering services.

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My current mood is shifting somewhere between “can’t stop cringing about how awful high school was and how immature I was and how desperately sad it was that I actually thought high school was good at the time when upon reflection it clearly was NOT” and “bleak contemplation of the universe’s eventual and wholly unknown end which will lead to Absolute Nothingness, at least for me, and even if I’m lucky enough to miss the end of the universe it will be because I am already dead.”

And I am expected to make dinner, every single night, on top of all that. BLEAK.

Something I don’t think you know, probably because I have failed to tell you, is that Carla rarely eats dinner with me and my husband. RARELY. We are talking once or twice a week if we are lucky. Which means that I am cooking her dinner and then putting her to bed and then cooking dinner for myself and my husband. And she’s SO PICKY, which means that I expend a tremendous amount of energy thinking about how to tempt her to eat new foods and trying to figure out how to schedule the few foods she will eat so that she isn’t getting chicken dinosaurs three nights in a row, or whatever. YES, I feed my child copious amounts of chicken dinosaurs. SHE EATS THEM.

Sorry. I am apparently also feeling a little yelly at the moment.

Where was I? Oh yes. Rehashing high school failures, fretting about the acceleration of dark energy, moping about our endless need to eat.

So, here’s my hastily-thrown-together meal plan for the week which I came up with while sitting outside the grocery store this morning. Oh. We are also having Brand New (Potential) Friends over for dinner on Saturday, which could be contributing to my woe.

Dinners for the Week of February 26-March 5

 Note: The farro salad was so delicious the last time I made it, there’s no way it can possibly live up to expectations. But I’m going to make it anyway. I will roast the green beans and diced onions before adding them to the farro.

  • Tacos

Note: This is one of the few things Carla eats with any regularity. She has also expressed desire to help make the dinner, which should be fun.

Note: This dish was so good when I made it a couple of weeks ago, there’s no way it can possibly be as good this time. I’m really setting myself up for failure this week.

Note: As you may have sensed, I put this on the weekly menu when I am not particularly moved to strain my brain thinking of new, fresh recipes to try. Oh well. It’s an Old Reliable, even if it’s lost most of its excitement factor.

Note: We haven’t had this in a while. I probably won’t eat the chicken, but I can load up with chickpeas.

Note: Yes, basically we are doing exactly the same thing that we did the last time we had guests. My mom suggested my grandmother’s special salmon recipe, which my husband vetoed because fish can be… controversial. I wanted to do Lemon Chicken and My Standard Salad, but my husband is tired of the lemon chicken (which used to be our Go-To Guest Meal) and I am still not eating chicken and plus chili allows me to do everything in advance except serve the actual food. (If I made the lemon chicken, I would have to figure out when to put it in the oven, and then I’d constantly be fussing about whether it was done yet or not. Not really conducive to good conversation.) My husband will be making chocolate chips cookies.

  • Out
  • Leftovers

For Carla, my big plan this week is that I am going to try to get her to eat a hamburger patty; I bought some ground beef for the tacos and one of the chilis, and I am going to steal some to make her a mini burger. She has deigned to eat a meatball recently (just a bite or two, despite meatballs being one of her ENDURING FAVORITES a couple years ago), so I am really hoping I can get her to try the hamburger. Carla eats steak (on occasion), and I spotted two perfect Carla-sized (and Carla-priced) filet mignons at our meat counter today, so I am going to make one for her this week and freeze the other. We have a piece of salmon in the freezer, so I’ll try that one night. She used to eat salmon reliably every week, but when she had a brief bout of stomach flu this winter, it was right after eating salmon… and she’s been avoiding it ever since. (I get it.) I also bought her a tiny container of Hormel chili to try (prediction: she won’t), but I’m guessing I will end up making her chicken dinosaurs when our guests come over. And to round out the Carla Meal Plan, we’ve got tacos, chicken dinosaurs, and probably a “snack dinner” (with a bagel and cream cheese, some pepperoni, some fruit, some grape tomatoes). She gets a side of snap peas, broccoli, or green beans with each dinner, and I usually give her rice or bread, although we are working on eating plain penne. (She was penne at school, but not at home; she eats no other kind of pasta except food-colored spaghetti noodles.) There is also always fruit. Blueberries have been plentiful at our grocery store and delicious, but we also have a lot of apples on hand. So that’s it in this week’s What I Try to Get Carla to Eat. I wish we were having pork chops on a night when we could all eat together; Carla has eaten pork in the past, and I think if we all sat down together she might eat it again. Oh well. There’s always next week, when my family will inevitably require sustenance AGAIN.

Tell me what you’re eating this week, Internet.

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We have a security system in our house and two of the sensors have low batteries. Which I know because the keypad at which we control the alarm beeps to alert me of the danger. And living with low batteries is really dangerous, according to the keypad, because even though I key in a code that should let it know, “I hear you, I get it, I will call the security company right away,” it feels the need to remind me every two hours on the button. Irritating during the day, but MUCH WORSE in the middle of the night.

And of course the security company can’t send someone out right away. I mean, I GET IT. It’s just low batteries! But they can’t come until THURSDAY and that means THREE NIGHTS of getting up every two hours to key in my code and reassure the system that I AM AWARE OF THE BATTERY SITUATION AND MY IMMINENT DEMISE.

The keypad is in our bedroom. Of course, it does not bother my husband one little bit; he doesn’t even stir when it beeps.

Anyway, I am here to update you on one of my goals/aspirations for the New Year. I have ALREADY had friends over for dinner!

This is a big deal to me. You see, I like having people over to our house. I mean, in theory. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy being friendly. But man, in practiceI find it SUPER difficult.

First, even though I KNOW that it really doesn’t matter, I get all panicky about the state of my house. Is it clean enough? Is it tidy enough? Does our house smell funny? These worries send me into a cleaning frenzy prior to having someone over, which stresses me out. And I start thinking about all the projects that I want to complete – what about our horrible, mostly-destroyed ottoman? and our not-painted baseboards? and the missing kick panels on our kitchen cabinets? – and wondering if I should try to paint the fireplace before people come over and it’s ridiculous and makes me feel out of breath and frazzled.

And then there’s the food. I dither over the meal plan for weeks. (In this most recent case, we only invited people over a few days in advance, so I didn’t have to dither long.) Have I considered all their food restrictions/likes/dislikes? Have I come up with a balanced meal? No one ever seems to EAT salad if I make one, but does it need to be there to give the impression that I care about vegetables? Am I making enoughfood? (This is probably one of my biggest concerns.) Do I have a good variety of drink options?

It’s all ridiculous. When I go to someone else’s house for dinner, all I think about is whether there will be a tomato-free option. I don’t care whether they have Diet Coke or gin or a freaking salad. But for some reason, I am incapable of applying the same standards to myself. I am incapable of seeing my guests (whom I probably like! and likely think are good, easy-going, non-judgmental people!) as people who are more interested in hanging out with me and my husband than in eating a gourmet meal in an immaculate, newly-updated home.

I KNOW it is ridiculous.

And yet.

So we had this family over to dinner. We have wanted to invite them over for a long time; they’ve had us over twice, once for a playdate, once for a meal slash playdate, and it’s high time we reciprocated. And this past weekend, we were all free. I dithered only slightly over even inviting them, but I pressed forward.

I decided I would make chili, which is an easy, make-ahead type of meal (I don’t like having to cook while guests are here; it detracts from the socializing, plus people [nicely! thoughtfully!] want to help and I do not like that). But then almost immediately, I decided to make twokinds of chili – a spicy ground beef chili with a tomato base and a mild white chicken chili– both for sake of variety and in case our guests had differing spice tolerances and meat preferences. I cajoled my husband into making chocolate chip cookies. And then, to make life even more difficult on myself, I made guacamole and salsa, so we could have them (with chips) as appetizers. Before our guests arrives, I prepared a bunch of toppings for the chili (diced onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeno). The white chili was a crockpot option, so I started that early in the day. And the red chili tastes better the longer it cooks, so I started that a couple of hours before our guests arrived.

One of my biggest detractions from having people over is that my husband does not share my same level of preparation anxiety. You might think this would be a good thing, but so far in our marriage, it is not. This is not only because he does not understand how I feel in the days/hours leading up to having people over. It is because we clash on executing the actual preparations, and I end up doing (or at least feeling like I am doing) the bulk of the prep. And that makes me feel overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, frazzled, stressed, and put-upon. And frustrated and grouchy with my husband. Which is not really the mindset you want to have a fun, effervescent evening with friends.

I feel like I am being unfair, here, because my husband does not get a say on this blog. He cannot represent for you his own feelings, or catalog for you all the things he does to prepare. So please understand that you are getting a one-sided view of things.

On this particular day, I made a list of the things we needed to do before our guests arrived at four. We’d gone out the night before, and ended up sleeping in until NINE. Which put me immediately into a panic. My husband started out by saying that we had PLENTY of time, and so I tried to adopt that mindset and chill out a little. I gave him two projects: making the cookies (he’d made the dough the day before, so he just needed to bake the cookies) and making the white chili. And he had to get himself showered/dressed. He also wanted, separately, to go to a store and get something; I forget what, but it was on sale or something and he had to get it that day.

I unloaded the dishwasher while he made himself coffee. I made Carla’s breakfast while he made himself breakfast. I tidied up the kitchen table, which had become cluttered with Stuff. I asked him if he wanted me to dice the vegetables for the white chili and he said yes. I did that. I rinsed Carla’s breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I looked at the clock. The chili was supposed to be cooking for 6 hours, and we were nearing 11:00, so I just made the white chili myself. My husband went upstairs to do… I don’t know. Probably something very important and useful, like paying bills. (This sounds snarky but it is not meant to be; I am honestly trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.)I got Carla dressed. I had made the guacamole and salsa the previous day, so I started dicing and chopping the toppings for the chili while my husband made lunch. I made lunch for Carla and coaxed her into eating it. I cleaned up lunch. I went and took a shower. I came downstairs and noted that I was supposed to make a roux for the white chili, to thicken it. My husband said it wasn’t necessary. I looked at the clock and told my husband he needed to get going. (He and I have VERY different understandings of time.) He went and took a shower. I made the red chili. He left for his errand, which I extended because I wanted him to grab me some flowers for the dinner table. It was an hour and a half until four, when our guests were to arrive. I encouraged Carla to move her toys from the living room to her bedroom. I chopped more things. I realized that we didn’t have enough spoons for dinner, so I ran the dishwasher through a quick cycle. I dried my hair and put on makeup. I cleaned up the kitchen. I ran a load of dish towels. The white chili was very watery. My husband was still gone, so I texted him asking if I should do the roux. Carla was running around asking, every five minutes, when her friend would arrive. I worried about drinks; I didn’t know if this couple drinks alcohol, so I had brought home a six-pack of unobjectionable beer and I had a bottle of wine in the fridge just in case. I worried about the kids – Carla won’t eat chili, but my friend said her kids eat anything… but what if they don’t? I washed some berries and some cherry tomatoes. I texted my husband to also grab some La Croix and a box of macaroni and cheese at the store. I unloaded the dishwasher. My husband texted me pictures of flowers and I picked a bouquet for him to bring home. I put out the salsa, chips, and guacamole. I cleaned out the sink. I fretted over whether I needed to cut some vegetables to put out with the chips. I decided against it. My husband got home with about fifteen minutes to spare. I asked him to choose some music for people to listen to. He said he wanted to put the football game on. I asked him to put music on the Amazon Echo while the game was on mute. I cut and arranged the flowers. I asked about the roux again. My husband looked at the chili and agreed it was watery. He started the roux. I cleaned off the counter. This is the most boring catalog of menial tasks ever. I realized I had failed to brush my teeth at all that day, so I ran upstairs to brush them. Carla shrieked that her friend was here. I snapped at my husband to put some music on like I’d already asked him to. He whisked the roux while Carla and I opened the door and invited our friends in.

I felt like I was busy every single second. (Is this a NORMAL level of busy? Are other people this busy in the day leading up to their dinner for guests?) (I don’t think so. Sometimes we go to dinner at the house of friends who were out at the zoo all day or had a birthday party just prior to having us over or who just said goodbye to week-long houseguests the night before. I COULD NEVER DO THOSE THINGS. I need to have plenty of space between guests, first of all. And then I also need the WHOLE DAY to complete my anxious preparations.)

These most recent dinner guests are newish friends, so we don’t know them super well. So while I was chatting with them and munching on chips, I was worrying about whether they’d like the food, and whether it was weird that I’d planned for us to all sit down at the table together. And I was fretting about timing – I’d planned for the kids to play for an hour or two, and then we’d sit down to eat; but was that making them wait too long? How long would they want to stay? Should we set up Guitar Hero for them to play? Should I try to herd everyone into the living room?

Carla was at Excitement Level 8 Billion, which translated into lots of running and shrieking and leaping off furniture. So I was also fretting about whether I was being too restrictive of the kids or not restrictive enough. Was it okay that we kind of shuttled the kids into the basement and all the grown ups stayed upstairs? Would they have preferred if we interacted with the kids more?

They left fairly early (seven thirty?), which of course made me worry that they weren’t having fun. But… it also seems like a reasonable amount of time for people to stay? I don’t know.

And the wife helped me clean everything up which makes me very uncomfortable. But she was very swift and practiced at it, so I didn’t even really have a chance to protest.

I think the dinner went okay? We had plenty to talk about, people ate the food, the kids had a raucous time which I think likely translates into fun. But man.

I really need to find some way to make it less stressful.

Some people think the way to make it less stressful is to not stress about it  but that is really terrible advice coming, I suspect, from people like my husband who are naturally low-stress people. I cannot help it. My mind begins whirring and if I don’t address the whirring it grows louder until it drowns out all other functions.

Some people might think I should just do it more often. But the anxiety around hosting happens even with people who come over ALL THE TIME – like my parents and in-laws, who come over several times a year between them, and with family friends that we have over for dinner four or five times a year or so (we swap houses every couple of months, so they are hosting us just as often). I am telling you, IT DOES NOT GET EASIER WITH PRACTICE. (The only thing that gets easier is that I worry less about the state of my home with frequent guests, because they have already seen it.)

The techniques I’ve tried, with, as you see, little success are:

  • Make things as simple as possible. (I need to work on keepingthem as simple as possible.)
  • Do as many things in advance as possible.
  • Enlist family members to help – and assign them specific tasks. (Possibly I need to also assign specific times, too.)
  • Try to only address things that are reasonable to address (i.e. NOT painting my fireplace).
  • Remind myself over and over that as a guest at other people’s homes, I don’t care about half the things I worry about people caring about.

We met a new couple a few weeks ago and I promptly asked the wife for her number so I could ask them to dinner and then actually followed up. They are coming for dinner in a few weeks. Which gives me AMPLE TIME to stress…. Or to come up with some real techniques for NOT stressing.

What do you do, to ensure that you are low-stress when you have guests over? What are your techniques for keeping things simple and fun? Should I just never invite people over again? That last one seems good, except for the dinner that’s already on the books. And I might as well TRY to overcome this Preparation Anxiety, because I inevitably start wishing I could throw a dinner party or something. WHY DOES MY BRAIN HAVE TO BE THE WAY THAT IT IS?

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