stupid question department: yes, there will be turkey. Because it's Thanksgiving, that's why.

The first question: why is it so difficult to get people together for dinner? There have been several waves of interest in the life and works of Julia Child recently, and I thought it would be fun to cook some of the recipes from Mastering the Art Vol. I for a group of convivial souls. With lovely wines. I also thought that in keeping with the "retro" theme, I would actually telephone the prospective guests at their homes to invite them, rather than use any of the group email tools. Here are some of the responses I got:
  • We're out of town every weekend, why not do it during the week?

  • Mark takes his very expensive specialist wine course Monday nights, can you do it Tuesday?

  • I babysit my new baby granddaughter every other Tuesday so my son and daughter-in-law can work on their marriage.  

  • Stewie and I are in couples counseling, we go Wednesday nights, how about on a Thursday?

  • But I've gained 5 pounds and Thursday is one of my gym nights. I'd love to come on Friday.

  • Tuesday doesn't work, we have opera/ballet/avant-garde theatre subscription every other Tuesday night.

  • We go to a group cultural dinner Friday nights, would you like to join us? Or we could do it Sunday night?

  • Oh, you didn't know, we're closing the business and moving to the Bahamas.
I have to tell you, to my best knowledge, all of these people were happy and normal and well-mannered and sociable until I called them and asked them to come sit around my table and ingest food. For instance, I didn't know GF's husband was actually taking a course to be a wine bore, I thought he was achieving it nicely on his own. But one phone call, and people seemed annoyed that I was interfering with the well-organized small and large tragedies of their lives. And no, I don't think having pot roast without the prayers counts as a spiritual experience (unless it's my pot roast, which has been described as heavenly). And no, I don't think snoring in an expensive seat at Lincoln Center counts as a cultural epiphany.


So having been asked repeatedly to change one dinner for 10 or 12 into 8 or 9 dinners for 4, 2 of whom need to be working each dinner, I tabled the project so that I would have plenty of time to sulk. Lately, though, I've been trying to feel festive and thought cooking for a group might help so I resuscitated the project. But I wanted to avoid the phone calls, so I thought I'd send around a calendar page where people could initial the nights they were available, I'd collate, and majority would rule. Of course I couldn't do this. So back to phone calls. I forgot about office parties, extra shrink sessions, other people's families, annual galas that require a week of preparation... Do you want to learn all the boring-to-awful details of the lives of your friends? Ask them to dinner. Do you want to learn about the psychic insides of your friends? Ask them to dinner. And do you want to know about the physical innards of your friends?

Yup, ask them to dinner.

The other issue that I've been pondering lately is why the same people who are so eager to tell you and anyone else within earshot that they are vegetarian, salt-free, vegan, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, fat-free, don't eat veal, egg-free, don't eat beef, don't eat carbs, don't eat poultry, don't eat this fish, don't eat that fish, don't eat t'other fish, don't eat that cuisine because of fear of the unknown - are  offended when I explain that in my view dining out on sushi is economically inefficient because good sushi is astoundingly expensive by the time you get enough to eat, and less-than-really-good-sushi isn't worth doing.

that's what she said, right?
eat steak?
If your chicken has to have a provenance, let me eat steak. And if you're dying to see us and catch up on how we've been, let's do it around a table, not at a counter. But if you deign to come to my house, and don't want to eat what's on the table, then bring a sandwich and don't make a big deal of it. And there is no lactose in cheese, I looked it up.

I make an exception of course for religious proscriptions, and for those with truly life-threatening allergies. I don't want anyone struck dead at my dinner table, whether by lightening or by a peanut. Or by me if I've been slaving away all day and you've just had a revelation that all your troubles are caused by protein.

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23 comments:

  1. This post is one for the ages Fred, truly one of your best, I'm howling with laughter here!
    In complete agreement on the sushi.

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  2. Oh, dear Fred, I feel your pain. In the last few years I have sadly given up entertaining. I used to enjoy cooking and party planning, but when no one bothers to RSVP or reciprocate, it stops being fun. Not to mention, as you say, the vegans, the gluten-free, the allegedly allergic. Plus, in the last 8 to 10 years my old group has separated into the Reproductively Blessed and the Barren + Bitter (I'm in the latter category), so such socializing as we do is limited to the child-free and immediate family. That means no grubby little paws in the hors-d'oeuvres or poop on the powder room vanity, but it does include maternal lectures on my inadequacies.

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    1. Well, if I were at your table, I'd let your mom have it. That said, if the point of good manners is to avoid boring, hurting or frightening others, most of us know too many people who fall appallingly short of that standard. And are too nice to tell them.

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    2. Sigh, mothers. I am the only child stateside, so it is easier for me to let it roll off my back than make a stink.

      Speaking of making a stink, my original post was not intended to be quite so anti-child (although being Barren & Bitter, I still consider that my prerogative!). Rather, our Reproductively Blessed friends simply don't have the time and/or interest entertainment that is not centered around their little ones. I guess it's one of those life passages. And when I've tried to be child friendly I wind up with the "OMG that's not chocolate!" moments.

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    3. Life stages rarely line up perfectly. Having been fortunate enough to have a few friends who take their kids in stride, I find it's a real trial of my own manners to deal with those whose life has switched from "nice/normal" to "endless chronicler of the miraculous minutiae and oral historian of the life and times of Little Wonder."

      I realize that I'll never know all the good or sad that's happened in someone else's life before they showed up at my door, nor should I want to, but I put toilet training right up there with proctology of the adult male on the list of things about which I already know enough. Definition of close friend: one who'll tell her kid to go find something to do so the grown-ups can talk. Like i used to do when mine were tiny and whine-y.

      My nephew handles it well. When people ask "how's your adorable daughter," he replies "Still unemployed and living at home." The kid's almost two.

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  3. "I didn't know GF's husband was actually taking a course to be a wine bore, I thought he was achieving it nicely on his own"!!!!!!

    I can be there at 6. I do have life threatening allergies to fish and nuts, but it appears you can accommodate both if cooking from the Book, and if I show up on time, natter on about everything but my innards (I have actully forgotten where my innards are), and am not a wine bore, but something that rhymes with bore and basically means I will drink pretty much anything with abandon and good cheer. YOu need more maritimers in your life Fred - we are so provincial!

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    1. We became friendly with several of the "older generation" at Himself's firm, and over the years, age has changed them from the gallant heroes of D-Day and intrepid world travelers to old guys who like to bleat about how many times they have to get up at night. I still love the guys they used to be, but their dinner-table chat is no longer appetizing.

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  4. Oh Fred-this is almost the exact same lament that came from my mouth and bounced off my husband's innocent ears(when he is reading in bed I can pretty much say anything-he never hears me from the bathroom!) Several years ago when we were first married and I naively embarked on combining families at the massive holiday table, I had lots of difficulty with this-someone always had to go somewhere else first, the boyfriend couldn't eat so&so, DH's ex wanted to have dinner on the same day and time, you name it. Now, I have a completely different attitude. Now the ex calls me to find out what and when, if the someone wants to go somewhere else first-A OK with me and as far as food allergies and phobias, I just fix a lot of different dishes and surely to God someone can find something to eat. The secret to my success lies in the fact that everyone knows that the food is fab, the drinks are plentiful and no one wants to miss it. When I get tired of all the grand kids running around the house like wild horses, I just hop up and ask for clean up volunteers. Everyone except my mom and dad are out of the house within twenty minutes(and that delay is simply due to the jockeying around of parked cars.) Then peace and quiet descends in the form of televised football games, the hum of the dishwasher and me and my exhausted OCD self can polish my silver and wine glasses in peace.

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    1. Hi, David, you reminded me of my multi-cultural family Holiday Dinner post. Maybe I'll dig it out for the occasion.

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  5. this is amazing. thank you for posting this!

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    1. Hi, Laura F, you're welcome, and I'm glad you enjoyed!

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  6. I think manners have gone out of style. Sad isn't it?

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    1. Hi, Kate, it's not just sad, it's repulsive.

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  7. I have a friend who has the most civil arrangement for gatherings. Her home is open every Friday evening at 5pm for friends-only happy hour. Some are regulars, some drop by occasionally. It's the modern day salon.

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  8. WFF, isn't it irritating that one of the hardest things about having dinner now is actually getting people around the table. I do notice that living in a less urban area makes this sitting down simpler. My dad's set (also in WMM country) have dinner all the time. Not many non-summer restos to go to, no opera, yoga retreats or wine snob courses either. Like Hexicon, our set has almost clearly split into "Kids" and "None" so our one regular event is a monthly two-shift Sunday afternoon to evening buffet. Also, a few friends are also feeling the relaity of tuitions, home renovations etc. and come over for impromptu weeknight dinners in lieu of the latest restaurant (easier to talk anyway).
    I am going to shamelessly follow Raina's friend and DaniBP's Miller Time and start a open-door Friday cocktail hour.

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    1. Self-absorption and special status seem to have overtaken community and graciousness. (Don't get me started on cell phones at the table.)

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    2. and life among the over-scheduled has its costs. Even Himself has stopped whining about having to make reservations everywhere - why can't we just jump in a car and go? But the price of knowing we won't have to stand on line for an hour to see a movie, is becoming overly invested in our plans. I sigh for the "days when."

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  9. Dear Fred, I'm available any night of the week and I am not on a restricted diet, have no known allergies and will eat and enjoy pretty much anything edible. I am drooling at the thought of your heavenly pot roast. I love pot roast.

    But sulking now, I disagree with you and Dani about sushi. While I agree less-than-really-good sushi isn't worth doing, I will happily pay what it takes to get stuffed on really good sushi. Aren't mouthfuls of heaven worth whatever price?

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    1. hi, tiffany rose! I would agree on sushi if it were just me. Himself has an enormous appetite and it is dangerously appealing to chefs, even those who don't know him, to send out something extra. With sushi, this can lead to costly surprises, especially when the rest of the group was prepared for a few light mouthfuls. I find also that a lot of people claim to love sushi, but they really mean one California roll. So my sushi indulgences tend to take place when I can have lunch by myself.

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  10. I too want to bang my head off the nearest wall when it comes to arranging a simple dinner with friends. It's become so frustrating that I haven't even bothered for a while. And yes, unbelieveably people always suggest that I swap the nights around to their satisfaction. Don't get me started on the special people who think I've become their employee for the night either. Grrrr...

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    1. hi, sulky! yes, there's a big difference between people hopefully asking if you plan to make a favorite, and issuing a list of limitations. As for what people expect by way of coffee/tea/herbal brews/decafs - worth a separate post.

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