There's an Angela Carter novel called Wise Children and all the way through her main characters say that they should "hope for the best and expect the worst." I am very good at hoping for the best, however I am also the kind f person that always expects the best also, much to my detriment. From grades to hairstyles, if things aren't the best that they can be it bothers me more than I care to admit.
So, last night I held my first ever grown-up dinner party. My grandma had sent me some money in the post in order to buy ingredients to cook my housemates and a few friends a nice meal. So I decided to host a fully-fledged, fifties-style, candlelit dinner party.
I started cooking at 11am and just kept going with the cooking, cleaning, and finishing touches until the guests arrived at 7. There were seven of us. I'd prepared carrot and coriander soup, followed by garlic chicken and roasted vegetables, then chocolate mousse served in teacups. I'd deliberately chosen food that would require very little attention once my guests had arrived so that I could do most of the cooking beforehand and enjoy the company of my friends in a relaxed environment.
I posted on a website I've recently discovered for Jane Austen addicts in order to glean some wisdom from those older and wiser than myself. The response was fantastic, really reassuring and encouraging. They all said, though, not to panic. That was the utmost piece of advice. I thought it a strange one. I'm a good cook, I love having my friends round, and I was very much looking forward to putting on a nice dress. Panic seemed like the last emotion that would be fluttering around me.
I had visions of a soiree that was the cross between a banquet at Pemberley and a home-cooked meal by a housewife wearing pearls in the 50's. (Think that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory cooks for Dean). With immense struggle and numerous complaints from (actually, very understanding) housemates we moved our dining table from the kitchen to the lounge, squeezed every chair in the house around it, held another cutlery amnesty, borrowed wine glasses from here there and everywhere, lit candles and fretted about not having a centrepiece. I put on perhaps my favourite dress (although it fitted much better last time I wore it!), and donned my finest hostess smile to await my guests.
I insisted on taking their coats and pouring their wine. I wouldn't let the men in the kitchen. And I played soothing, dinner party music. I was excited. I had fantasies of a handsome man sweeping me off my feet when I stepped into the kitchen, holding me close and telling me what a fantastic wife I would be one day. If only I had one of those frilly aprons you tie around your waist.
So, the starter went OK, except for my blender isn't that good, so it still had a few lumps of carrots in. I put the main course in just before my guests arrived so that it would be cooking while we sipped our soup ever so delicately and talked of peonies and Picasso. However, by the time we'd finished the starter the food was as far from cooked as the conversation was from Picasso. And I'd forgotten the garnish.
I think the oven can't cope with that amount of food in it, because it was cooking so slowly. To cut a long story short, the vegetables had to be cooked for two hours and we couldn't tell what was a potato and what was a lemon by the end of it. The chicken was more or less cremated, I'm pretty sure, and peas were flying everywhere. And my guests had started on the After Eights due to hunger shakes. They all made yummy noises, though, and were very appreciative. And seeing as I don't have a dog, I'm pretty sure they ate it all.
Now, after a near breakdown in the kitchen previous to this, I was starting to feel a lot calmer now that the main course was over. Nothing could go wrong with my dessert because I'd prepared it hours ago and it didn't require any other cooking. In fact, it didn't require any cooking at all, because it turns out that mousse is just chocolate whipped up with raw eggs, essentially. A very complicated chocolate whipped up with raw eggs, though. Anyway, I'd tasted some previously to make sure it was OK, and I new for a fact that it was delicious.
All that remained to do was to grate some chocolate to sprinkle delicately over it for that extra touch. Tip: always avoid extra touches. I was happily grating some chocolate, with considerable force, when -bam- in goes part of my finger. Well, not part of my finger. But I did grate it, and it did hurt quite a lot, and there was a considerable amount of blood. I'm not good with blood, so of course I overreacted, and presumed I was dying and made quite a fuss.
With some help from my friends the mousse got on the table, by which time everybody was playing poker for After Eights, and we finished off the dinner part of the evening. It was now pretty late.
After this, things got better. We started playing Articulate and I think I actually smiled.
Lessons I have learned from this:
1. Keep it simple. If you are good at cooking chilli con carne, just cook chilli con carne.
2. Don't try to live above your station. If you're a student, act like one.
3. Hope for the best. Expect the worst.