We’ve all had dinner parties where things just didn’t just work out so perfectly, haven’t we?
I recall the pallid pleasures of the night of the all-white menu (somehow, I didn’t notice until the food was on the table), the disappointing luncheon when the whipping cream refused to whip, not to mention the summer evening when we all endured the lightly veiled hostility and barbed repartee of the couple who had that very afternoon decided to divorce. The worst debacle, bar none, however, was the evening that the cat arrived in the adjoining living room with a mouse in her mouth, just as I was serving the soup. The mouse was dropped on the carpet and guests rushed around trying to capture the creature, moving furniture about (dust!! hairballs!!), while the rest of us put our feet up on chairs in case of attack. (All of this transpired to the indignant yowls of the enraged cat which had been locked in the bathroom.) My husband finally captured the “wee, sleekit, cow’rin, timorous, beastie” in a paper bag and released it onto the patio. I suppose you could call that evening “memorable.”
All of the above was brought to mind by a new book that I have just read called “How to host a Dinner Party.” The book is by Corey Mintz who writes a weekly column called “Fed” in the Toronto Star. Every week, Mintz hosts a dinner party in his own dining room with a variety of guests — often celebrities with whom he is barely acquainted. (He claims to have hosted over 115 dinner parties.) He then “reviews” the evening’s successes or failures in the paper. One might expect that with this amount of chutzpah, Mintz’s precepts would be useful and comprehensible to only the most sophisticated and formidable of social arbitrors. But, in fact, I found his ideas engaging, his reactions sensible and his advice to be really helpful.
Here are a few of his strategic suggestions:
“When you want to impress someone, choose the simplest thing and make it well.”
“Don’t ask for feedback at the table.” (If they really like it, they will tell you, if they say nothing, it’s probably alright, if they describe it as “unusual” or “interesting”, you’d better re-think the menu.)
About paying for the party – “know your limits.”
You are neither Nigella Lawson nor Gordon Ramsay. Be realistic when planning the menu.
“Early is the right time for the host to be ready.”
“The only people who are allowed to put their phones on the table are doctors who are on call. And parents with children under ten months old.”
Mintz breaks down the process for organizing a party into ten easily digestible chapters and includes a favorite, well-tried recipe in each chapter. The planning is accompanied by amusing anecdotes of events at past parties, along with some charming illustrations by Steve Murray. And I particularly like the way that Mintz deals kindly but firmly with drunks, bigots, bores, racists and homophobes. The book is introduced by Sarah Polley who is an old friend of the author. She writes that “Like the man himself, this book is fun, engaging, hilarious, brutally honest, chock full of truths you don’t want to hear but should probably listen to, infuriating and always entertaining.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Here’s a recipe for Mintz’s guacamole. But do remember, as he says in the book, “Ripe avocados, like a cab on a rainy night, are notoriously not there when you need them most.”
from Corey Mintz’s “How to Host a Dinner Party”
1/8 Spanish onion, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 ripe avocados
2 lime, juice of
salt to taste
In a large mixing bowl, combine the onion, jalapeno and avocado flesh. Use a fork to mash the avocado until pulpy, but not puréed. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Refrigerate with cling wrap pressed into the surface to prevent discolouration.
I usually add mashed garlic, but Mintz considers this an abomination. Suit yourself. He serves this with chips.