Cooking for the Unreasonable

“But you’re going on holiday the next day?” came the response when I said having people over to eat was simply impossible. I work full-time and yet, this couple insist on inviting themselves to dinner. I explain that I am simply too stressed and busy getting ready to leave but they are having none of it. “Ah sure, don’t you have to eat anyway…” There’s no arguing with that (even though we would ring for a take-away if simply left alone). In the end, I cave only to hear “Now you better impress us with this dinner.”

I have to admit that when I heard those words, I wanted to use my limited knife skills for something other than culinary pursuits. So, in between packing, cancelling the milk order, newspaper order, washing floors, emptying the fridge, dealing with bin juice, giving keys to neighbours, ironing…I pick a menu and buy food. I need something which takes little preparation, reduces washing up and the leftovers can be frozen. With that, I prepare a pot of chilli which can bubble away while I get on with other tasks at hand. I throw – and I mean t-h-r-o-w – together a Pavlova as I don’t have to watch it and there is rarely any leftovers from that.

And so, they arrive. I transfer chilli, rice, cheese, sour cream into bowls, plonk them down on the table and encourage everyone to dig in. Disappointed faces. “It’s a bit casual…” says she. “I’m not mad about chilli myself…” says he, lip curled as he pushes kidney beans out of the sauce and over to the side of his plate. “Oh and Pavlova…that will see my allergies flare up,” she adds. And then they laugh “Next time, we’ll order in advance” as they proceed to hoover up every morsel of food that is in their vicinity. They guzzle cold beers I offer on top of a couple of bottles of wine. Their contribution to the evening? Their charming wit and repartee… Despite subtle reminders that we need to finish packing and get to the airport by 6am, they won’t be budged. Eventually, as the witching hour approaches, the two waddle off down the drive, mumbling ‘thanks’ and whispering about how grumpy I am…

‘Never again’, I grumble as I finish the final preparations for our trip.

Until the next year. And bang on cue, we are heading off on holidays and the two pipe up to say they are coming to dinner. I repeatedly say ‘No’, ‘It’s not suitable’, ‘Not this year’ but they are heading in our direction. This year, I make even less effort. I roast a chicken, stuffed with lemon wedges, garlic with butter and sea salt spread on the top. I pop in a tray of vegetables to roast. And to make a point that time is precious, I buy a Viennetta ice cream and a container of cheap, commercial, chocolate sauce. The teen is horrified but I figure, if this doesn’t give the hint that time is limited, nothing will.

And so they plonk themselves down at the table and start to graze. The chicken arrives out, crispy and delicious. The vegetables the same and while they complain that there is no gravy, they work like termites through the fare. I take the ice cream block out of the box, in front of them for full affect, and instead of utter disgust, they gasp with childish delight, exclaiming ‘How retro!’ ‘How kitsch!’ They help themselves to big wedges, much to the teen’s annoyance who is left with only a sliver, and happily drown the dessert in chocolate sauce. I watch aghast as they shovel it in, piece after piece, without sparing a thought for anyone else at the table.

They leave at midnight, delighted with themselves. “Best dinner ever”, they declare before waving back a reminder that they’ll see us next year.

A year passes. Pointing out how unsuitable having people for dinner the evening before holidays has fallen on deaf ears. Time for a change of track. Slyly, I book holidays a week early and true to form, the phone rings – same date, same time. But this year an unexpected response. “No, we’re not going on holiday,” I tell them a whopper of a white lie. Stunned silence greets the news. I fumble through the idea of us coming over to them in a week or so and listen as she hastens her retreat from the conversation rather than issue an invitation.

Sigh of relief and a smile to the teen as I relax in the taxi on the way to the airport. I think God will forgive me that little fib…just this once!

[First published on http://www.teenintheattic.com: February 2015]

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