Before I begin this story, let me tell you about my recurring nightmare, where I'm a chef, who is stuck in the kitchen, and no matter what I do, I can't get the food cooked and out to the guests. No matter what I do, no food can make it out.
Okay, now back to present day.
The boys had been planning an end of summer party at our house with lots of friends. Ten boys. They all called their friends and gave them the details, what to bring, when to arrive, etc.
Saturday at 5, friends begin arriving and I start chatting with one of the moms, as she drops off her boy. As we're visiting, I see another friend's mom arrive, carrying a bag. As she nears, I see it's a bag of wine. Well isn't that nice?, I think to myself. Such a kind gesture. And then, from around the corner, appears her mother-in-law, her husband, and her two older children. Fun! I think. I finally get to meet the mother-in-law I've heard so much about, who must be visiting from Mexico. How sweet of them to pay us a visit!
As the mom I was chatting with leaves, I head into the kitchen where I see my unexpected guests all gathered around the kitchen island, and Colin tearing open bags of chips and laying them on the counter. Nice! I think. They're going to stay and visit for a bit and we'll all nibble on some of the chips planned for the boys party.
Now please let me pause for a second to say I really really really don't like to serve chips out of a bag. It's just a little hang-up I have. I think they should be served in a bowl, because plopping chips down on a counter seems animal-like. Sort of like a feeding frenzy is going to ensue.
So, I glide into the pantry and grab some big bowls and casually transfer the chips. And everyone begins to feed. Sort of like they're really hungry.
hmmm, I think. I hope there's enough chips for adults and kids. Oh, it'll be fine, I tell myself.
Oh! I forgot to mention that at this exact moment in time, no other food exists in our house other than hot dogs, hot dog buns, chips, and soda. Because we're headed to the lake the next day. Just enough food for the boys at the party. I had planned on Colin and I just munching on some corn and other veggies from the garden that night.
So, as my unexpected guests munch in the kitchen, I go back to preparing a huge batch of cookies I had begun earlier. I prepare two panfuls and weaving through my guests, plant them in the oven, and set the timer for 8 minutes.
Bongo and his friends join us in the kitchen and announce that they're STARVING. So, I ask Colin to get the hot dogs going on the grill.
Unexpected guests continue to munch on chips.
Micah and friends sit down in the dining room and begin to munch on the other bowl of chips. They're really hungry now too. Then it dawns on me, why don't I make the boys some corn-on-the-cob to go with their hot dogs?
I head out to the garden and begin to pick corn. One of the guests joins me and helps me shuck corn. Her daughter comes out and tells me the oven timer has beeped, that Colin had taken the cookies out, but that he looked confused and wasn't sure if they were done. So, we head back to the kitchen to save the day.
The cookies look terrible. Flat and gooey. No problem, I think. I'll just add some flour. So, I mix in some more flour, make two more panfuls of cookies amid the chaos and put them in the oven. I forget to set the timer, and begin cooking the corn. I also notice Colin still hasn't started cooking the hot dogs and remind him that he really really needs to get them going.
Eventually, I remember the cookies, fly over to the oven to check, and they're still not done. Phew! So, I go to add 2 minutes on the oven timer. The timer runs for 2 seconds and beeps. I set the timer for 2 minutes again, it runs for 2 seconds and beeps again. The mom-in-law tries to come to my aid.
I need to pause here once again to tell you what's running through my mind at this time: I've heard for years about what an amazing cook this woman is. That they always yearn for the day that she arrives and cooks every meal while she's visiting. And when she's visiting, the sun shines brighter, stars twinkle more magnificently than any other time of the year- just over their house - etc. etc. etc. And above all that, she's an incredibly smart woman. An architect, a builder, and very self sufficient. A strong woman. And I'm wondering if she knows I'm a cookbook author and if she's wondering to herself what business I have being a cookbook author? I have starving kids, not much food, and my kitchen is chaotic - yes chaotic. Because. There. Are. 17. Humans. In. There. Right. Now.
And then, just as she's coming to my aid, and all of these thoughts are blaring through my mind like angry sirens, I'm awash with a horrible realization....
THEY ARE ALL HERE FOR DINNER.
We try to figure out the timer, and she instructs me to make it 2.0. I do, and it runs for 2 seconds again. So, she instructs me to make it 2.00. I do, and the timer appears to be cooperating. She asks me if I want her to help with the cookies. Sure, I say, still feeling sort of like I'm living in an episode of the Twilight Zone and knowing, yes KNOWING, that she thinks I'm inept.
I go back to tend to the corn on the stove. Then I hear her say the timer isn't working - that it'd actually been set for 2 hours.
She says she'll just watch the cookies.
Still wanting to believe I don't suddenly have 17 mouths to feed, I casually take Micah out to the living room where I ask him if there's any way he possibly invited this family for dinner? Yes! he says. It's a family barbecue!
Oh heavens to Betsy, it's my recurring nightmare. But worse. I have no food to even TRY to get out of the kitchen.
I head out to the barbecue, where Colin - who is just as happy as a little clam because he loves a full house - is in his own little world, blissfully barbecuing. I lean forward and whisper: Oh my gosh! Micah invited everyone for dinner and we have no food! He continues to barbecue, and says nothing. I lean a little closer and whisper a little louder: OH MY GOSH! MICAH INVITED EVERYONE FOR DINNER AND WE HAVE NO FOOD! To which he replies: "I'm not going to say anything. They might hear me". And he continues on. No panic in the world for this guy. I make a mental note to kill him later.
We feed the boys and I know my guests are beginning to wonder when they might possibly be fed. I fling open the freezer to see what I can possibly make. I have one bag of baguette slices and one bag of flatbread.
The kitchen suddenly feels like it's 900 degrees fahrenheit. I ask if anyone else is hot. Nope. Just me.
I send Colin to the garden to pick some snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and anything else he can forage. I tell him to make sure he doesn't bring back peas. I need SNAP PEAS. He tells me he doesn't know the difference. And then guess what? The mom-in-law tells me she'll help him. And they head out to the garden.
I whip up a batch of an olive tapenade of sorts, from cans of food I scavenge from the pantry. I set that out with the baguette slices that have now thawed.
I grab a couple of cans of white beans from the pantry and decide to make a hummus-like bean dip that can be eaten with the flat bread and fresh veggies from the garden.
Colin and mom-in-law return with the fresh veggies, which turn out to be 8 snap peas and 5 cherry tomatoes.
Just then, one of Micah's friends walks into the kitchen and asks if we have a vacuum. A child asking for a vacuum is never, I repeat - never - a good thing. Turns out they've broken a medicine ball and there is sand all over the basement carpet.
I leave the sand dilema to Colin and run out to the garden where I tear off a head of brocolli, some summer squash, and fresh parsley for the bean dip.
I return to the kitchen - which now looks like a bomb has gone off in it - and make the bean dip, with the help of my guests. Beans, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, fresh parsley, and salt. Wizz wizz wizzzz in the Cuisinart and it's done.
Then another mom arrives and joins us. Now we number 18.
Colin returns and I remember we have carrots growing in the garden. Colin and mom-in-law head back out to the garden and I decide to tell my guests the truth. Because I have my pride. I really really don't want them thinking I've invited them for dinner and that all I'm going to serve them is olive tapenade and bean dip.
They all laugh - thank heavens - and I feel a sense of relief. Colin and mom-in-law return and I realize that OH NO! Mom-in-law doesn't know because she was in the garden when I confessed that they were unexpected guests and wasn't it so funny that Micah invited them and I didn't know....
So, all night long, I worry that she thinks I'm a horrible hostess.
I serve up what turns out to be a big platter of fresh veggies (sliced raw summer squash, carrot sticks, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas) with the flatbread and bean dip, olive tapenade with baguette slices, and a few leftover hot dogs. Oh, and a huge plate of warm cookies.
And it all turns out okay. Really lovely, in fact. Because being in the company of friends is the best place to be. Ready or not.
And at the end of the evening, mom-in-law turns to me and tells me how nice it was that I didn't freak out and just made due with unexpected guests.
And I was just so relieved that someone had told her at some point in the evening, and that she didn't think I was an epic failure of a hostess.
And now I've conquered my recurring nightmare.
P.S. No names were changed to protect the guilty in the telling of this story. Truth be told, the re-telling of it has been sort of therapeutic for me, and since they're guilty ....Micah.... ....Colin..... it's only fitting that they be named, right?
P.P.S. Colin sort of sounds like a baffoon in this story, doesn't he? He's really not. Second truth to be told here is that we have a pretty traditional marriage, where he brings home the bacon and I fry it up in a pan. The kitchen and garden are what I'm familiar with, not him. And we love it that way. He's the smartest man I've ever met in my life and I love the fact that he enjoys a full house and that he'd be just as happy with water and crackers, if need be. His glass is always full and I love him for that.