Julia child versus Rachael Ray. Compromise with Mark Bittman. I am enjoying dinner parties once again, just as I did when I was a wife and mother, But back then the meal took all day to prepare–thank you, Julia–and I spent my time in the kitchen, while my husband passed out drinks to our friends in the living room. Now the party is IN the kitchen, and in the place of those old friends I have my bed and breakfast guests. One brings the salad, the other a bottle of wine. My life has not been so social in years. Patricia is paying me for her good company.
Patricia has been staying with me a couple nights a week since February. She makes quiches from “must-goes,” which is what her mother used to call the small bits of leftovers abandoned in the bowels of the refrigerator. When I invited Christyne from DC to join us for dinner, she put on an apron and started cooking. “I didn’t bring anything,” Christyne said. “Cooking is my contribution.” I was her sou-chef–delivering the pasta, tomatoes from the garden, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, broccoli. Patricia set the table and poured out the wine, while Christyne took some scissors from the utensil drawer and went outside to snip parsley and oregano and chives.
One night Alice came to stay. Her profile told me that she was a stage designer, and as she was bringing her daughter to the Bat Mitzva of a friend, I thought she might be free for the evening, so I invited her to go and see a play with me, “The Rainmaker.” When I found her in her room eating snacks, I invited her to have dinner with me, and then we went off to see the play. Only later did I learn that she wasn’t that kind of stage manager, although she once had been so, but rather she was a corporate stage manager for the likes of Toyota and Chrysler and IBM, and behind the curtain was not a spinster from the 1930’s but the latest Chrysler model. I hadn’t ever even thought about such a profession. My guests amaze me.
But when they leave, when there is no one coming that night, I fall apart, like the kitchen, with the dishes piling up and the floor needing sweeping. It happens every time. My spirit becomes disorderly. When I don’t have guests I stay up too late watching movies and come down in the morning to be greeted by my messy kitchen. Patricia doesn’t realize how her cheerful arrivals, week after week, hold me together.