Ten people, not enough food: HELP!!!
I love having guests. Always have. I don’t always like people, but slap a “guest” nametag on them (figuratively) and I’m their best friend. A home behind closed doors doesn’t feel like home, and a Shabbos table with no guests feels empty no matter how much food we’ve got.
Now, I realize we live in the 21st-century Western-world equivalent of a hovel. I realize this could make people uncomfortable. Our house is tiny and we made it smaller when we moved in by lopping off the dining room to make a third bedroom, and that’s the way it is.
So when we have guests, we’re basically ushering them into a glorified bachelor apartment. Plus, it’s not only small, it’s cluttered; it’s a messy house and we struggle with that all the time in various (mostly unsuccessful) ways.
SO… I compensate, probably overcompensate: I try to serve REALLY GOOD food.
I’m interested in food and believe food is important and so it may be simple but I try to make sure it is always delicious: fresh, tasty, served at the right temperature in generous quantities.
And I phone people, okay, mostly email them, extensively sometimes, back and forth to hammer out their needs, their preferences. Atkins? No problem! Vegan? Sure! You can’t eat dairy / meat / fish / broccoli / mushrooms / nightshade vegetables? You name it – I’ve accomodated it, happily. As much as possible, I try to structure the meal around the person’s needs. I love it that they can just reach out and take ANYTHING, without having to ask if it has such-and-such in it.
And lately, I’ve been really good about inviting people to our hovel. A few people, here and there: a couple, two singles, a couple with a toddler – which is usually our maximum.
Our one and only dining-room/kitchen/living-room table seats four comfortably, six crowdedly (NR & GZ sit in high chairs, which they will probably be doing until bar/bat mitzvah because there is NO ROOM for them at the table until their siblings move away). But also, it goes hand in hand with the custom menu: if you only have one or two guests, you can really focus on pleasing them. (I know, it sounds so sappy, right?)
Frankly, I think we do a good job in the hachnasas orchim department. We get enough return guests who seem happy enough to come here that it can’t be THAT bad… right? (anybody who has EVER been a guest here, please chime in anytime!)
So on Thursday, we made up a food plan and Ted shopped. On Friday, I cooked for much of the day, planning the meals we would have with ourselves and our one Shabbos guest in mind. Easy enough; standard stuff.
And then, last night, as YM was going to bed, he asked, “who are we having tomorrow?” (most of our guests come for lunch, though I like having people at night more – I think it’s just a better meal)
And I said, “Just one: Mr. W.” A facebook friend – the easiest kind of invite, and I’d written him in a couple of weeks before.
And then Ted said… “Well, there’s also P, V and their daughter.”
Yes, that’s right. Three people, which may not sound like a disaster, but in this tiny place, with the low-key Shabbos menu we had planned, yes, a disaster.
He told me, weeks ago, when he first invited them at a kiddush. We hadn’t confirmed; he himself forgot all week and had only just remembered. aaaaaaaaagh!
Lunch, as planned, was VERY simple. Eight turkey pastries. Eight slices of bologna. Some cholent. Some green beans (not very many). Some gefilte fish. Some brownies (Mr. W had requested chocolate!).
All of a sudden, there was this whole extra family coming. Only three people, but enough to make the food we’d prepared look seriously chintzy.
Anyway, it’s getting late but suffice to say: I freaked out. It was the END OF THE WORLD. It was Not Pretty. I was NOT gracious. I was a Queen B, and the B does NOT stand for Bee.
And then after Ted went to shul, and I got all the HATE out of my system, I made two extra salads (Nicoise, using tinned potatoes, green beans and fresh tomatoes, and simple vinegar/sugar/salt cucumbers with fresh farmers’ market red onions, which everybody went crazy about). We took out the leftover sesame-chicken noodles which were still good from Wednesday’s supper.
And Ted sliced the littles’ turkey pastries in half, and one guest only wanted half, and so it ended up that there were enough for somebody to have two (not me!).
The coup de grace was the bologna.
YM helped me in the kitchen because it takes two people to doctor eight slices of bologna (maybe nine) into a fancy Shabbos dish for ten people (though it turned out the people’s daughter went to a friend and didn’t come with them).
I wish I’d had my camera, but I will describe.
We sliced each bologna in half, creating a semi-circle. Meanwhile, I cut up some colourful mini-peppers that Ted bought: red, yellow, orange. I took out the package of toothpicks that Ted bought a while ago that we never use and rustled up a jar of fancy queen olives with pimentos out of the fridge.
And then we set about rolling and skewering the meat. Roll up the bologna, stab it with a toothpick, add an olive on one side, and enclose the meat-and-olive with a colourful segment of pepper (ensuring that the same colour did not appear twice on one toothpick).
But, in the words of the Cat in the Hat, that is not all… oh, no, that is not ALL…
For then, in order to make our piece de resistance complete, I cut a large navel orange in half and placed the halves face-down on our narrow rectangular serving tray. And then stabbed eight or nine of the ridiculous little shish-ka-bobs decoratively around the outside of each orange half.
YM, then arranged three different-coloured little peppers in the centre of the dish and WAAAAH-la. Our meal was redeemed. It looked like one of those garish party appetizers out of the 1970s. Heck, it probably WAS in one of those cookbooks, somewhere along the line. Maybe that’s where I got the idea.
Everybody left the table stuffed full and absolutely content, just like always.
Moral of the story? I guess there is ALWAYS enough food if you slice the bologna fancy enough.