I’ve watched many of those real estate shows, and I’ve noticed an annoying similarity, besides the women saying, “’kay,” when asked if she wants to see the next room. They all “like to entertain.” That is the popular catch phrase. Oh, a walk-in closet is good and a two-sink vanity in the master bath is a real plus, but the kitchen has to be big enough because “we like to entertain.” It’s the latest status-seeking necessity for wanna-be sophisticates.
I don’t think handing out paper towels and paper plates with the Domino’s pizza that was just delivered is the latest definition of “entertaining.” I’m not sure why not though. What could be more fun than sitting on the floor with your best buddies, eating pizza, drinking a beer, and watching a movie? But I don’t think that’s what the couples are talking about on these shows.
They want Martha Stewart-style entertaining. Not that Martha doesn’t have her good points, but she has made a career out of stressing the importance of perfectly pressed napkins and how only stock made from chicken bones should be used in your homemade soup. Fresh flower centerpieces, colorfully matched with the napkins with 5-piece place settings and the proper glasses for tea, water, and red or white wine all became the standard. Oh, and don’t forget the cute name place signs for the ultimate in hostess control.
I admit, that I’m guilty of this attitude, too. Or at least, I used to be. There was a time not so long ago that I would spend weeks planning a party, creating lists and timelines and gathering the perfect serving pieces. Those were huge grocery bills in those days because of course I had to make everything fresh and from scratch—no frozen pizza rolls for my parties. I even breaded and fried my own cheese sticks instead of lowering myself to the ease of frozen.
But sweets, that was where I really went all out: a dense chocolate cake covered in genache, home-made pies (using Martha Stewart’s pie dough recipe, of course), and cookies galore. I would spend at least 3 days mixing, baking, roasting and frying food for a party that would last 3 hours. However, as they say, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t get something out of it. And I did get lots of satisfaction from the compliments and the pride of presentation.
I wasn’t the only one. All of us spouses were around the same age and just coming into our “entertaining years.” We would take turns having parties and trying out new recipes and trying to outdo each other. Martha Stewart was our guru and Food Network our TV Bible.
After awhile, the competition aspect worked it’s way into the planning, and that’s when it stopped being fun. Constantly trying to top the last culinary creation became tiring and ultimately that satisfaction began to wane. I began to get irritated at “having” to make things or have a party. So, like someone having to quit being an addict, I quit cold turkey. No more parties, no more baking cookies for my hubby to take in to work, no Christmas goodies being sent in the mail, and no more buying exotic ingredients that I didn’t know what to do with anyway. Thus, the ending of my “entertaining.”
Until recently, that is. With this new assignment and new job, all of a sudden my anti-social, withdrawn husband has become the host-with-the-most. While I’m thinking of selling a lot of my serving pieces at a garage sale, Al is planning parties. Well, actually, he’s not planning, he’s telling me we should have a party, then I do the planning. But he has opinions about how he wants them to happen now. He has food requests and he’s the one making lists. The lists usually consist of alcohol, but hey, it’s a needed list.
There’s one big difference in our parties now, though. Behold the wonders of the oven! Frozen cheese sticks, frozen quiches, frozen stuffed phyllo thingies, all from oven to table with no fuss and little mess. I even committed the ultimate in making my life easier, instead of cooking burgers and brats on the grill, I went to Famous Dave’s and bought BBQ. They make such good BBQ, why struggle through trying to do it myself when all I have to do is buy a couple of pounds of beef and chicken and put them in crockpots. I even had time to make a couple of my usual goodies—spinach balls and some desserts, plus I had time to get cleaned up and sit around having a beer before everyone started arriving.
And here’s the kicker—I still got compliments on how wonderful everything was. I even gave props to the makers of frozen cheese sticks and Famous Dave, but I got credit for it being such a great idea. And the simplest dessert I make garnered the most praise of anything I’ve done—it was just a trifle dish with layers of angel food cake, smashed strawberries, and Cool Whip. Ah, the easy life.
I wonder, would Martha be proud? Would the fact that I put the already prepared food in pretty Longerberger baskets get me extra presentation points to compensate for my lack of from-scratch cooking? Would the happy kids getting fudge bars from the freezer make up for the Cracker Barrel cheese instead of Brie? Would the laughter and free-flowing single malt compensate for the mix-matched paper plates and plastic utensils? I’d say so.
And despite the fact that I bought this house for resale value, it did turn out to be perfect for entertaining.