Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How to Feed your friends Supper

I have been reading a lot recently about the return of the dinner party. Perhaps not the dinner parties of the past of which I have never been but heard all too much about but instead simple supper parties amongst friends at the weekend. These articles all seem to express surprise at the 'return' of the meal enjoyed between friends, as if they somehow think that all 20 somethings are out wining and dining every evening.

Today, in the Times there was an article about Joanna Weinberg's latest book How to Feed your Friends With Relish. This is actually a book that I had considered buying (or asking for on my Christmas List) but now I'm not so sure.

Weinberg divides people into the following types of hosts:

Hostess with the mostest

You have time to take a bath and do your make-up
You keep a store of scented candles
You make playlists for all occasions
You have an account at the florist's
You label and stack everything neatly in the freezer
You hire extra help for the next day

Chaotic bachelor

You always have one chair too few
You overshop for food, not clear what will go with what
You often find yourself eating burnt or cold food
You feel pathetic gratitude for the invention of ready meals
You believe that most things are solved by crisps and ice-cream
You spend three times more on wine than on food

Hassled parent

You hide toys in the washing machine in a bid to tidy up
You serve puréed vegetables more often than you mean to
You find that Annabel Carmel's recipes are fine for grown-ups, too
You put candles out of harm's way
You gratefully down three glasses of wine without coming up for air
You wish that you'd had time to wash your hair

Natural host

You have an instinctive sense of when pasta is al dente
You know where to find unpasteurised cream
You don't give a fig for matching dinnerware
You remember when the farmer's market is on
You have dimmer switches on all your lights
You serve wine in huge glasses

I know that this is not something to be taken seriously but it did rather irritate me. Who fits into those sort of categories and where are the categories for 'normal' people? Why does everything have to be sanded down to such a level that we fit into boxes even in relation to our supper habits.

We have friends round all the time for supper. We occasionally prepare something in advance and we usually manage the shopping in advance but mostly M or I will cook with friends standing in the kitchen or outside with a cold beer or glass of wine and we will chat until the meal is cooked. The evening is not all about the food nor is the food the least important part. We cook fairly simple but healthy dishes (including portion size) all from scratch and usually sourced from the local shops – butchers, greengrocer, bakers etc- roasts, chilli, pasta and so on and usually followed by some kind of homemade pudding – crumble, pie, rice-pudding, chocolate mousse, profiteroles or cake. We drink lots of wine and sit around the table and chat. Sometimes there are only 4 of us, usually more like 6 or 8 but last weekend there were 14 (well, it was the rugby – and I didn't make any pudding). We always have enough chairs, we have beautiful matching but old turquoise dinnerware which we inherited from M's grandmother, the glass situation is occasionally hit and miss and we always spend far more on wine than food because good wine is expensive. Someone usually produces an i-pod and we have adequate speakers. Last weekend when the rugby was on was the first time that our television has been switched on when friends have been over. People pile in and out of the garden for occasional cigarettes and the gathering usually disperses in the early hours in taxis bound for various parts of London.

I do not consider myself a 'Shef' (Stay at Home and Entertain Friends according to the Times). It is simply what we have always done on the nights when we do not go out. And have done since the very start of university. I also found it irritating that Weinburg implies that being organised is the same thing as competitive or the same thing as striving for domestic perfection. She suggests a little less of this and it will seem more like a real home. She also suggests that few but the very organised have time to bake. That's the biggest load of rubbish I've heard – it hardly takes long to whip up a quick pudding and put it in the oven whilst people are eating the main course.

I think what I find so frustrating about this kind of 'lecturing' is that it is off putting. People don't fall into such obvious categories in reality. And if people are told that only the very organised bake then to someone who has never tried it before will think it is a lot of hard work. Yes, some puddings are time consuming but there are plenty are that are really easy. Scones take less than 30 minutes from start to finish which includes the cooking and the washing up. Perhaps not a traditional pudding but there are others which can be done just as easily.

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