It’s time once again for an edition of TDOY’s newest feature—so popular it’s difficult to get enough bandwidth for the multitude of comments we receive—The Half-Assed Gourmand. Today’s installment is entitled: “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
Last night was the debut of my sister Kathryn’s “cookie swap” party—and from all accounts, it was quite the resounding success, drawing nothing but the upper dregs of Athens society. I say this only because a) Kat will probably read this soon and I’m trying to make milk come out her nose (which will be quite a feat, as she never touches the stuff), and b) I didn’t actually attend the soiree. Mom came by Thursday afternoon and asked if I would sit this dance out because “I need a place to stash your father.”
Now, at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to take this—is Papa a fugitive from the law? Has his personality become more like that of Frank Barone, from Everybody Loves Raymond? These questions did not concern me, for it was apparent that Mom needed my help in this area and I was only too happy to oblige. (Actually, I think I’m more like Frank Barone than my father is.)
Mom was going to spring for a pizza for the two of us until I got the crazy idea to make dinner—and I suggested chicken patty sandwiches. Once again, my frozen food instincts were right on the mark as Mom said: “That sounds like a great idea.” She asked me if there wasn’t anything I needed and I told her I had no lettuce or hamburger buns, so she told me she would send those over with him. She was also going to have him take over some macaroni salad—but I told her I could rustle up some French fries, too…and she said that would be fine.
Dad came by Rancho Yesteryear around 5pm, carrying a softball bat. (I know my neighborhood attracts a slightly unsavory element—but it’s not all that bad.) I joked that I could have used that an hour ago, when there was a knock on the door and I answered it, only to find some woman and her kid outside—the mother asking me if I had a phone she could borrow. (How these people find me, I’ll never know.) Dad asks me when we’re going to eat, and we decide on 6:30pm—so he tells me he’s going back over to the house until then to see if they’ll need any help setting things up.
There is a true art to preparing dinner so that everything is ready at the same time. I have a very vivid memory of having a meal at my Mom’s stepmother’s one time, who realized about the time she was bringing out dessert that she had neglected to put the mashed potatoes on the table (she had left them in the oven to heat up). My mother has mastered this, and even though my dinner only required limited preparation (you put the chicken patties in the microwave, fries in the oven, slather some Hellman’s and lettuce on the buns and wait for the crescendo) I pretty much nailed it as well. Unfortunately, my father chose to be fashionably late so things didn’t quite go off as planned. He strolls in around 6:40, carrying a bag of goodies prepared by Mom—she had made a few things for Kat’s party like pepperoni rolls, dill dunk (with Bugles) and those little salami-and-cream-cheese wedges with assorted veg on top (black and green olives, pearl onions, mini gherkins). If we had been smarter, we would have finagled a scheme to head back over to Kat’s and dish up some of that grub, which was worlds better than the stuff coming out of my galley. (Besides, Mom sent over two pepperoni rolls, so that was one for each of us. You can’t just eat one pepperoni roll. It’s like eating a single M&M; it can’t be done.)
Anyway, we devoured my dinner (garnished with a couple of bottles of Rolling Rock I was keeping on hand for a special occasion) while watching Hardball and Countdown, and then I dished up the “hors d’oeurves” during Rachel Maddow (I know they’re supposed to come first, but that was Dad’s fault—not mine). As he got up to mosey back to the house, he paid me the ultimate compliment a host can receive from his guests: “Son…you set a pretty mean table.”