A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host. 

In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.

Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.

Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”,  I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.

And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.

The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.

And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”

And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.

Vintage Cooking: Could Devilled Eggs Really Be Making A Come Back?

Friends came around to dinner this weekend. Since we moved to the apartment we entertain less and to be honest I was feeling out of practice when it comes to cooking for the masses from our matchbox of kitchen. IMG_2840

 

When I researched what to cook on the Internet – keywords being “easy” and “quick” – I noticed a distinct return to the sort of food we used to dish up in the eighties, and it made me feel strangely melancholic because it was towards the end of that decade that I first began hosting dinner parties; around the time I first considered myself a grown up, I suppose. Needless to say, I’ve regressed since then. In those days we didn’t worry about carbs and calories and felt no shame about chucking a vat of Lasagna, Coq au Vin or Moussaka on the middle of the table.

 

I got away with a posh Mac and Cheese once, although I did gentrify it with some bacon, leeks and a sprinkling of paprika.

 

Reinventing Coq au Vin this weekend crossed my mind, but the old man poo-pooed it, so instead I opted for a new recipe, some slow-cooked lamb shanks, which turned out to be another cooking disaster to add to my extensive list. After three hours of cooking we needed a hammer and chisel to get the meat off the bone.

 

Fortunately they were good friends and The Princess has been in bone-heaven ever since and completely forgotten about when I forgot her sixth birthday.

 

One of the recipes I spotted on the Internet that appears to be making a comeback is “Devilled Eggs”, which made me realize just how far we’ve come with food over the past thirty years.

 

IMG_2842There are obviously a lot of eighties recipes that seriously prompt the bile to rush straight to the back of my throat – “Stuffed Marrow Rings”, anyone? – but I still can’t part with this Hamlyn cookbook from that period. I dip into it for old family favourites like Refrigerator Cake – which the kids always insist on for their birthdays – and bread and butter pudding. Most of the recipes are far more conducive to the cooler UK climate rather than the one we live in now – even though we persist with turkey and gravy on Christmas Day, because I believe in maintaining your culture even if it does mean filling your belly with hot, crispy roast potatoes in a sweltering thirty-five degree heat.

 

I’m no food snob – if anything I’m more against the newfound need for small portions and perfectionism in the kitchen that we’re continually indoctrinated with, and I remain a staunch fan of the simplicity of the egg – particularly now that scientists have undone the Fatwa for eating them, which means that after my twenty-year purge I’m able to make up for lost time on scramblies and omlettes – but as with stuffed tomatoes and stuffed peppers, stuffed eggs do reek slightly of grandma’s bedroom.

 

Perhaps current food trends like ‘deconstruction’, smashed food, foams and smears etc will go out of fashion in the same way stuffed tomatoes and eggs did and then we’ll start heralding back to the recipes of bygone years and make it a trend to go vintage. To be fair, there’s a soft place in my heart for the stuffed tomato, because it was the first recipe with more than two ingredients that I learned to cook in my home economics class in school.

 

These days, I pimp my Bread and Butter Pudding with raspberries and white chocolate to bring it up to millennium standards, although in truth it’s because the kids gag on sultanas. I shall be cooking Shepherds Pie at my next dinner party.

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear

It was simply impossible to choose between the multitude of invitations to Melbourne Cup lunches that floated through my mailbox this week, so I opted for the private party instead. 

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
Champagne, darlinks!

For my non-Australians readers, the Melbourne Cup is one of Australia’s most prestigious horse races, ie the biggest horsey event in Australia each year, akin to the Grand National in the UK or the Kentucky Derby in the US (according to Wikipedia – don’t quote me). It is the exhibitionist’s excuse to wear ridiculous hats, get off their faces on champagne and spend their annual salaries on over-the-top dresses, that frankly they’ll probably never wear again.

No-one really likes horse-racing, but we all love an excuse to get plastered.

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
‘The Spread’

My private party included NC – who happened to be at home studying for exams – and our little Princess, who we let out of the doghouse for this very special occasion.

Fortunately, the old man had been invited to some corporate event in the city, which meant that there was no Grinch to spoil our fun, and more importantly, I managed to rack up 7000 more steps than him on our step challenge before our celebrations began.

The great thing about entertaining at home is that there’s no-one to impress or be judged by, so us three fillies decided that we would take full advantage of our informal surroundings and celebrate the Cup in our active wear; comfort being the ultimate ingredient of every enjoyable celebration.

The organisation involved was overwhelming and at one point I thought we might be forced to cancel. The local robbers at the fish shop decided to raise the price of their prawns to $42/kg on the day, (and an image of the old man shaking his head disappointedly haunted me as I handed over the cash), the selection of dips n’chips proved impossible to choose between at the local deli, and the restrictions imposed by my ‘ugly face diet’ made the task of stuffing my face BIGTIME quite a challenge.

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear

But when have I ever turned down a food challenge?

I justified that if I ate vaguely within the limitations of my new diet, I could quaff a few glasses of Champagne as a fair exchange and then provide the entertainment for the evening as the family watched my cheeks explode to a new scarier, shade of scarlet.

It’s called diet/life balance, bitches.

And who were we wearing?

NC was in Cotton on yoga wear, because she loves the idea of yoga even though she doesn’t know one end of a downward dog from another, while I wore vintage leggings (complete with trendy hole in the leg), a Lorna Jane fitness bra that has always been too small but makes my tits look massive, and a Cotton On top. My hat was statement Byron while NC chose a sweet little fascinator that I wore to MC a couple of years ago when I was popular the old man had a job and we were happy and we used to be invited to corporate events. 

Melbourne Cup, At Home, In Our Active Wear
When it comes to food presentation, no-one comes close.

The champagne flowed for about an hour, (until NC started moaning about revision), the most expensive prawns in the world were devoured with gusto and we even ate that putrid-looking jelly on the top of the pate.

And to cap a truly, splendid time, we witnessed the first female jockey, Michelle Payne, ride to glory and into the history books.

Hurrah! I’ve realized that I may never have to leave the house again.