A Household Word: Dinner Is Served

This morning, when the alarm went off, I knew I was already behind schedule. I should have been marinating the meat, chilling the wine and repainting the dining room.

By Carol Band

I love dinner parties - especially if they are at someone else's house. The only problem is that after you've gone to other people's houses and eaten their food, they expect to be invited to your house to eat your food.

It was with this sense of social obligation that I called three other couples and invited them to come to our house for dinner. Tonight.

This morning, when the alarm went off, I knew I was already behind schedule. I should have been marinating the meat, chilling the wine and repainting the dining room.

Instead, I nudged my sleeping husband and hissed, "Wake up! People are coming for dinner."

"Sweetie," he said as he rolled over, "it's seven o'clock in the morning."

"Actually," I said, "it's 6:30, and there's a lot to do." I tied on my bathrobe and headed to the kitchen to make a list - even before I made coffee. Having a list would give me focus and calm me down.

  • Clean house

  • Clean bathroom

  • Clean fridge

  • Shampoo carpets

  • Check silverware for smudges and food bits

  • Plan menu

  • Shop for food

  • Shop for wine

  • Cook

  • Wash dog

  • Wash kids

  • Reupholster couch

  • Paint dining room

  • Buy new napkins

  • Buy new plates

  • Buy new glasses

  • Buy new tablecloth

  • Buy new table

  • Buy new house

  • Move

This list didn't make me calm. It made me feel totally panicked and a little bit nauseous.

Twelve-year-old Lewis wandered into the kitchen with two friends who had spent the night, asking, "Can we have pancakes?"

"No," I snapped. "Eat cereal and don't make a mess. We are having people over for dinner."

Maybe I should tell 'em that I'm sick, cancel the whole thing and rent a Clive Owen movie. Hmmmm ... tempting, but cowardly.

Instead, I looked at the list and decided to concentrate my efforts on cleaning the bathroom. After all, it's the only room where the guests can really scrutinize your housecleaning and discover that you have a moustache. I didn't fill the medicine chest with marbles, but I did remove embarrassing items like Preparation H, Wart-Away and Jolene bleach. Then I wiped the male territory around the toilet and spritzed the mirror with glass cleaner. I even scrubbed the tub with bleach and ammonia. The bathroom filled with deadly chlorine gas, but the rust stains remained.

So, I unscrewed the lightbulb in the overhead fixture and placed a small candle on the back of the toilet. "Let 'em pee in the dark," I figured. "At least the bathroom smells clean."

A Household Word ArchiveI emerged from the fog of toxic cleaning products and checked the time. "It's one o'clock!" I announced to no one in particular. "The guests are coming in six hours! The guests are coming!" I galloped through the house like Paul Revere, picking up stray soccer balls, sweat socks, backpacks and other unsightly signs of family life and stashing them in the basement.

Then I recruited (OK, paid) my daughter to sprinkle baking soda on the rugs and vacuum, and asked (OK, paid) Lewis and his friends to sweep the front porch and check the silverware. I put my husband in charge of picking out appropriately adult music from our collection of CDs, which consist mostly of Microsoft Word Start-Up disks, World of Warcraft and Weird Al Yankovich.

At 3 p.m., I realized that there probably wasn't enough time to repaint the dining room; I needed to think about the food. So I logged on to Epicurious, then looked through every cookbook on my kitchen shelf for inspiration and instruction.

"Don't fuss," my husband said. "Make something simple."

"There isn't enough time to fuss," I assured him as I dashed to the supermarket.

It was 4:30 p.m. when I got home. The guests were due at 7 p.m. I sautéed some sausage, dumped a couple of jars of spaghetti sauce into a pan and poured in a little red wine. Then I made a salad, wrapped some garlic bread in foil and poured a little more red wine for me.

At 6:30 p.m., I wiped the kitchen counters, emptied the dishwasher and jumped into the shower.

When the guests arrived, my hair was almost dry, the smell of sausages simmering had replaced the noxious chlorine gas fumes, and music - that wasn't Weird Al - was playing on the stereo.

By candlelight, my dining room didn't look like it needed repainting. It looked cozy, the silverware sparkled and you couldn't tell that the napkins weren't new. The spaghetti sauce passed as homemade, the conversation was lively and no one complained that they had to pee in the dark.