Friday, April 19, 2013
The Disastrous Dinner
In the late 60's, my husband Cliff and I had plunged into the entertaining scene by repaying some of our friends' hospitality with what we hoped would be gracious little dinners.
Since ours was a small house with no dining room this required no little organization and planning. Kids were fed early and relegated upstairs to TV and games. Cliff, an aspiring cook, usually planned the menu and took over the main course while I (having cleaned up the place earlier by hiding things in drawers) did side dishes and dessert and quickly set the table after cooking was underway.
Since most of these evenings were lubricated with drinks and wine, they went well. I foresaw no problems one Saturday when we were to host a couple up from Texas. They had had us to their house for a very nice evening and I decided I could handle this alone. After all, aside from the main dish (a very simple untried beef recipe), I had done everything before.
I should have said no when son Stephen invited friends over for the afternoon. Instead, I bought pizza, sat around and talked to them and personally drove them all home. So it was late when I got the beans bretonne assembled and started one and a half hours of slow cooking in a 300 degree oven to absorb the flavors.
The whipping cream was whipped and coated the chocolate ice box cookies went in the refrigerator on time. Salad consisted of simple greens and tomatoes with a good dressing from the Co-op.
Then there was the meat to consider. Well, that was a quick cooking of a small sirloin tip in a very hot oven, guaranteed juicy, tender and medium rare -- just the way we like it. That would go in the oven when the beans were done.
The guests arrived -- were they early? No matter. My husband graciously started mixing cocktails. Martinis, of course, for everyone.
The beans were taking a long time but finally seemed to be done. Then the oven had to be set at 425 degrees -- time for another martini.
As the meat went in the oven, it looked rather stark sitting on its pan. Was it tied or not? The recipe didn't say.
"When will the meat be done?" my husband muttered as he poured up yet another little dividend into the martini glasses and opened the wine.
"Soon, dear, soon...15 minutes, I think," I said distractedly.
Cliff and guest Jim were talking about work in increasingly convivial tones. Jim's wife,
Carol, and I exchanged pleasantries as I whipped in and out of the kitchen.
I decided the meat had had its time--ready or not.
We got to the table and Cliff looked at the quivering chunk of beef in front of him. "How do I cut this?" he asked "against the grain?"
"Well," I began, "I don't know."
Plates were passed and chunks of frighteningly red meat were doled out, more rare than medium after all.
"The wine is a little sour," Jim said.
There were small deprecating laughs as we drank it anyway. We all chewed manfully at the meat. The beans were passed and tasted a little crunchy. Flavors had not cunningly melded as they should have.
Carol gamely tried to fill the gap in conversation with an Aggie joke. (Cliff and Jim had gone to the University of Texas.) It was funny and we laughed.
Next she cast around to find something to praise. "This salad dressing is really great," she said finally.
Wine had made me truthful and I owned up to having gotten the dressing from a bottle. Another small laugh.
As we ate the chocolate ice box cookies (not left in the fridge long enough to soften), our big black cat wandered through from the living room, sat down by Carol and me and proceeded to quietly, daintily, throw up on the kitchen floor.
We laughed a little hysterically this time and it was time for coffee. We escaped finally to the living room and after- dinner drinks were poured and passed to mellow if underfed guests.
The alcohol hit Jim and he got teary-eyed remembering a secretary who had recently succumbed after a long illness. Carol tried to deflect this mood saying: "Jim, let's listen to some music. They have Man of La Mancha. You'll like that."
Jim was not responding. He was wiping tears from his eyes. Gloom set in. It was late and Jim, it turned out was in no condition to drive home -- surprise!
We looked at Carol who said in desperation: "I need my distance glasses to drive and I don't have them."