Eating out, or, The lazy hostess

For the past two weeks, I have had houseguests. Dad and sister and my boyfriend, Charlie, who all needed to be fed, even if they didn’t expect anything gourmet. They know me, after all. I have aunts who act surprised when I tell them I make homemade tortilla soup. And that only requires adding corn, chicken, and salsa to chicken broth, heating and stirring. My aunt and her wife are ridiculously good cooks; they will often whip up a “quick” dinner of hand-breaded chicken parmesan with homemade tomato sauce, and fondue for dessert. No big deal.

So I had big plans for my dad and sister and boyfriend last week—lemon chicken parmesan (which is my go-to fancy-sounding food), pad Thai, and for breakfast, they’d wake up to warm blueberry cobbler. Both the pad Thai and blueberry cobbler I’d only attempted once before and both had failed. The first time I made pad Thai, I ended up with an inch of noodles and peanuts and other detritus stuck to the bottom of the pan, so I just called it “smoke-infused” and choked it down. I hadn’t made the blueberry cobbler since high school, when I forgot to thaw the blueberries first and ended up with a blueberry juice, sugar, and raw dough stew. I can’t imagine why I thought making them again was a good idea.

The lemon chicken parmesan never got made. It was so much easier to go out and let the professional chefs do the cooking, especially when the Cheesecake Factory does it much better than I do. I sheepishly hid behind my menu—really, who takes first-time Boston visitors to the Cheesecake Factory? But unlike my apartment, I have never had a bad meal there.


Not my skillet, but you get the picture

After the failure of my first pad Thai, I did some Googling. I’d been cooking with a very expensive stainless steel skillet. It was a gift from the very aunts who had made me pad Thai a few weeks before, probably with home-grown peanuts and sauce actually imported from Thailand, in the same pan without a problem. What was my problem?

Turns out you have to heat up the pan. And the heat up the oil in the pan. I mean, really, for how expensive the pan is, shouldn’t it heat fine on its own or be able to adjust for user error? Why should I have to do all the work beforehand? God. So I sat the boyfriend down and said “I am going to be a good hostess and not take us to a restaurant.” He knew better than to say anything, but there was the air of a condemned man in the way he set the table.

I preheated the pan for 5 minutes while I chopped chicken. I preheated the oil while I chopped peanuts. I dumped the chicken in and it started to stick immediately. I started to yell at the pan. “Why should I have to pay so much for a pan that everything fucking sticks to no matter what I fucking do?” [I may have cleaned that up a bit. This is a family publication.] Forget that the pan was a gift. My ego was bruised. I was failing as a hostess in front of my boyfriend. I was scraping the pan frantically with a fork and permanently damaging my loved ones’ hearing with the shriek of metal-on-metal and adding my own piercing whine.

Charlie grabbed a rubber spatula and made sure to stir continuously, saying soothing things like “See? You just have to keep stirring,” while I stood next to him with my hands on my hips. I realized that I was no longer cooking the meal. I tried to feel guilty. Really I did.

Meanwhile, the rice noodles had been soaking and I had been moping and forgot to stir them, so they stuck together in chewy bunches when we dumped them into the pan. Charlie tore them apart with his bare hands, though they had just been in scalding hot water. When the pad thai was finished, there were still some chicken and noodle bits stuck to the pan, but not nearly as much as last time. This meager victory was crushed by the fact that I didn’t actually do anything more than open packages of things and put them in the pan, and I was pretty sure that I couldn’t get away with calling this “cooking.”

Pad Thai

Not my pad Thai, but I can dream, can't I?

Fortunately, the boyfriend was merciful. “It’s good,” he said. He tried to be helpful by saying things like “The chicken should be cut smaller. But the peanuts are the perfect size.” And, “The noodles are stuck together,” which was clearly just meant to remind me of his heroic noodle-separating prowess. He still had two helpings.

As a final effort to redeem myself as hostess rather than girlfriend-who-may-have-cereal-and-maybe-some-lunchmeat-in-the-fridge-too, I made the blueberry cobbler at midnight that night. It was my boyfriend’s second-to-last night there, and my family had come and gone without the promised warm breakfast.

This time I remembered to thaw the blueberries. When the cobbler came out, there was still a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan, but the biscuits were perfect. I served some to Charlie and drizzled the extra juice on top. “This,” he said between bites, “is amazing.” We went to bed with full stomachs and reheated it in the morning. We had our warm breakfast after all.

One Response to “Eating out, or, The lazy hostess”
  1. cd says:

    Cooking is a blast when you have a great sense of humor!! You are funny! Entertaining family in our kitchen with our best culinary efforts can be a dangerous endeavor but also a shared adventure with those we love. (like sky diving!) Sounds like it turned out well in the end. Blueberry fields forever.

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