Saturday night I had my first ever Seder Dinner Party. It was pretty cool. I ended up going with the traditional Jewish text (translated into English, of course), though I trimmed out some of the rabbinical exegesis. Before we started our prayers I had veggies and hummus, and stuffed eggs to fortify people for the praying to come. After the first prayers, we had dinner: lamb, rice and gravy, green beans, salad. Sae and Mr. T came, and brought Sweet Pea, who was the life of the party. We had thought that they would have Fleur with them too, but at the last minute her mother said that she had another commitment. We also had Mariah, and AnniPotts and Pippin, and Grace with her fiance (yes, she’s newly engaged), who I think I will call Peace. Johnnycakes was there, though his lovely girlfriend wasn’t able to make it. So we were a smaller group at dinner than I had expected, but it all worked out very well.
I’ve been doing these Dinner Parties for a little while now, and I’m starting to draw some conclusions. It’s been interesting figuring out what makes the conversation flow, and what only leads to awkward silences. I’ve started to realize how much easier it is to host a party when you have two hosts, one to be smoothing things over and helping things get started out front while the other keeps things moving in the kitchen. That’s one of the times when I start thinking wistfully of the married state, when guests’ coats need taking at the same time as the hot appetizer needs to come out of the oven, and the potatoes need to be started, or when there are awkward silences in the living room that need to be filled at the same time as something needs to be stirred in the kitchen. Well, then and also when it’s time to go fetch the spare chairs and tables from Mom and Dad’s or Mariah’s. But luckily, even if I don’t have a SO to help, I do have siblings, all of whom make wonderful auxiliary hosts. So as long as I invite at least a couple of sisters to the dinner party, I know things will go well. Anyway, all of this is to say, I thought I’d share some of my conclusions with you.
These are the benefits of having a Dinner Party
1 – It’s fun, and Grown Up, and you feel like you’re part of a long line of stylish, sophisticated women stretching back to Madame du Whatsit who had her swankified salon on the Rue du Painfully Elegant back in the day. This makes it more than just dinner, but an Occasion – infinitely more exciting.
2 – It gives you a chance to actually see and talk to your guests, to have Dinner Conversation, all sitting together around a table. People linger. Discussions happen that probably wouldn’t have otherwise. You form an instant little community, bound by the room and the warmth and the food you’ve just shared.
3 – It’s fun to show off. It gives me an excuse to cook food beyond big pots of soup, or random pasta creations. I can plan a menu, and spend time musing over what sort of things would work together to create a whole meal that is greater than the sum of all its parts. Cooking good food comes easily to me, so I enjoy the challenge of putting together and executing a full menu. It’s like a nice stretch of the legs. Plus, the people who eat the food seem to appreciate it quite a bit, which is very nice.
5 – It gets the house really, really clean. I’m working on this, but in general, if I want to get my house really squeaky clean, I need the motivation of lots of people coming over to see it to get it done.
6 – I get to use the good china and the good linens. I have more than my share of nice things, accumulated mostly from thrift shops and garage sales. For years, my damask napkins and tablecloths languished in storage, transported from house to in Rubbermaid totes, with sprigs of lavender tucked between the folds. My china was boxed up as well, never used. And I think that’s sad. Things should be used. Sure, sometimes this means that they get broken or spoiled, but that’s the cost of using things the way they should be used.
7 – And it really is fun.
These are the drawbacks of having a Dinner Party
1 – I can’t invite everyone. I only have twelve glasses, and twelve sets of silverware that match. I have six chairs (if we bring in the one from the sewing room), and my dinner table seats up to ten semi-comfortably. If I add a card table to the end, we can seat twelve or thirteen, but at that point, we’re veering into danger territory. Any more than that, and someone is going to inadvertently end up wearing the gravy. So no matter how much I try to massage the guest list, I can’t include everyone on it. And then I run the risk of hurt feelings, or looking like I’m intentionally excluding certain people when I’m really, really not, I’m just limited. Plus, while initially I felt free to invite lots of people, knowing that a certain percentage wouldn’t be able to come (so at least those who couldn’t come knew that I was thinking of them), now almost everyone I invite says yes so I can’t even do that. And then, because I want to make sure that everyone has a nice time, I tend to invite people who I know can help keep conversation going, help keep things fun. So some people get invited over and over again, and some people don’t get invited at all, and it’s all very unfair, and I feel badly.
2 – It is expensive. Food for ten or twelve or fifteen people, even if I am frugal and careful, and very good at making inexpensive ingredients taste like a million dollars, still costs money. I live on a pretty tight budget, so no matter how careful I am, it’s still a lot more than I would normally spend on groceries just for myself. So sometimes I end up not having a party that would have been a lot of fun, simply because I can’t afford it. This has a double smart in light of Drawback #2, since one of the ways I make myself feel better for not being able to invite everyone is by promising myself that I will invite those not included to the next Dinner Party. So when I can’t have the next one, I feel a little like I’m breaking a promise, even if it’s one those people never knew I made.
3 – Sometimes the people I invited, the ones who swore that they were coming, and that they were really excited about being there, the ones I bought food for and set the table for, and borrowed extra chairs so that they’d have a place to sit – they don’t bother to show up. And I know things happen. People are busy, or things come up, or they simply forget. I understand. I’ve been the person who bailed out on a friend’s party at the last minute. And, hey, more extremely tasty leftovers for me! But this wasn’t a big party. This was a small gathering, and your absence was very definitely noticed. Plus, if you had let me know that you weren’t coming, there’s someone else who I had to leave off the list, someone who would have loved to come, whom I could have had in your place. But I didn’t invite them because I thought you were coming. Sometimes I don’t mind, but sometimes I really do, and then I’m left with this passel of hurt feelings and resentments I have to work through instead of just enjoying my party. And that just stinks. And I’m not saying this to guilt trip anyone at all. I’m just putting it out there in all honesty as one of the drawbacks of having Dinner Parties rather than just parties where it doesn’t matter as much who shows up and who doesn’t.
4 – It is a lot of work. Even if it’s fun work, it’s still work. Really. Usually I end up spending the whole next day recovering, which means I lose most of my weekend to either party prep or recovery. And that’s a lot of time.
Still, there are more benefits to having Dinner Parties than drawbacks. So I think I’ll keep having them. Plus, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. My party on Saturday was the smoothest of them so far. Maybe after a while I’ll be so good at this that I won’t need the next dayto recover. And I”ll have invited everyone I want to invite at last once, so I don’t have to worry about hurt feelings. And all will be well.
Until the next one!