This article also appears on the Fairlady site.
For some reason I keep insisting on hosting dinner parties.
This is a problem because I’m not very well organised. The cumulated stress of the all the millions of details associated with even the simplest meal-centred get-together is enough to leave me distinctly frazzled with a rapidly beating heart.
Yesterday’s soiree was no exception. My teeny-tiny dinner (described with a high-pitched voice and a very, very small gesture, to further emphasise its tinyness) swelled into a nine person party as my enthusiasm overcame my common sense.
Since my guest list included an American, a Nigerian and an Indian, I decided that an introduction to South African cuisine was essential; something aside from braai vleis and pap. It was time to transform into (the non-lisping, female version of) my cooking god, Jamie Oliver. Time to change from grub to butterfly, or, in other words, time to change from eating simple grub to eating high South African cuisine.
The stress started in small quantities over the weekend when this little idea blossomed in my brain. I started inviting people and planning the modest, but, I was hoping, tastefully delicious meal. There would be bobotie, yes, bobotie, as far as the eye could see, and rice. (“I like rice,” said Mitch Hedberg, “Rice is great if you’re hungry and want to eat 2000 of something.”) And for dessert? Rolling hills of malva pudding and swimming pools, no, lakes, of custard. It would be good. It would be great.
However, my planning only took me as far as a successful grocery shop. On the day of the increasingly not-little partytjie I came home after work to a kitchen catastrophe: a post-apocalyptic wasteland of dishes. I put my handbag down in my room, firmly closing the door behind me (my room looked like my cupboard had got violently ill and puked clothes everywhere) before rolling up my sleeves and getting ready to wash dishes. Then Paulette, my flatmate, noticed the dust we’d been ignoring for weeks, and the very full mouths of the rubbish bins around the flat. We both ran around, frantically cleaning before the guests trickled in.
Now the dishes! I filled the sink with hot water, steam curling up and out of the window before drrrrrrrrrrring! The doorbell rang.
I let Kelli in before thinking, OK, now I’ll do the dishes. Kelli and I started chatting and I managed to tackle a few before drrrrrrrrrring! Alet arrived. I now had two guests, marginally less dishes and zero cooking preparation done. Great.
Alet looked around and suddenly asked, “Sam, have you started to make the food yet?” After I hesitantly replied “No”, Kelli rolled up her sleeves saying, “At this rate we’ll only eat at midnight!” before taking over the dishwashing, with Alet drying, while I chopped onions and defrosted the mince. After my last dinner party I was very careful to NOT place the chopping board on the stove. You see, at my last dinner party I turned on the wrong stove plate and irreparably melted Paulette’s plastic chopping board.
After some frantic cooking, and a few gulps of desperately needed coping wine, the bobotie was in the oven and the rice in the microwave (look no one’s perfect, OK).
This was a good time to prepare the malva pudding batter. However, with the electric egg beater on the fritz, I was left with the almost impossible task of trying to cream the butter and sugar by hand with a whisk. This is when guests become useful – the bowl was passed around the room, everyone beating the mixture until their arms became tired. Philosophy on techniques were exchanged (or rather a short course on the correct beating technique): “No Charl,” said Alet, “it’s all in the forearm. You whip it.”
In the end though, despite being made to wash dishes and beat my malva pudding, everyone very politely complimented me on the meal and had second helpings of everything. I thought the bobotie was a bit bland and the malva pudding a bit solid, but the dishes were left empty and I was beaming from all the compliments.
So, though I have a slight fear that a dinner party at my house resembles a summer camp full of agonising group activities (like the obstacle course), I also realised something important.
Dinner parties aren’t as nice as the food. Rather, they’re as nice as the people. And damn, do I know some nice people.