I have found myself on more than one occasion being invited into a home that has every appearance of having just been photographed for a Better Homes and Gardens spread and being warned by the lady of the house “Oh don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.”
Which of course prompts me to look around to see what the mess is; and of course, there is no mess anywhere. The woman is obviously lying. These sorts of self-deprecating remarks that fly in the face of reality have puzzled me greatly. True, one doesn’t want to be thought of as a person who brags on herself or himself, but why say anything at all?
On the rare occasions when people show up at my house unexpectedly or, since January, when I have on purpose invited them for lunch, I never ever say “don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.” Even when I do a good job of cleaning the house, I do not want to encourage people to look around to see what ever the mess might be that they haven’t noticed already.
Late last week I sent an e-mail to my next lunch victim, asking if she was allergic to anything, and was there anything she particularly did not like. She mentioned “mole,” which happened to be somewhat similar to the Buckaroo beans recipe I was planning to make. I sent her the recipe, and she said, “go ahead.” So I did.
I fixed it on Sunday and it was horrible. I made several mistakes. The recipe called for “strong coffee.” And the coffee was too strong. The recipe called for a one-ounce square of unsweetened chocolate. I didn’t have any so I used 1 ounce of baking cocoa. Some versions of the recipe use powdered cocoa, but between the cocoa and the coffee, the sauce had a bitter taste to it, despite the brown sugar.
The main mistake was that I had way too few beans for the amount of sauce.
So after several samplings, hoping that the taste would improve, I decided it had not improved. Richard agreed.
So I decided Plan B would be some vegetarian chili I have that has barley in it. I started cooking the barley and in the meantime I washed all of the bitter mole sauce off the beans and added canned tomatoes and cooked it some more.
It tasted much better, but still not good enough for company. I packed it away in freezer containers and will eat it later. So, there sat the cooked barley
I happen to have a recipe for a barley-vegetable salad, so I put that together, and Richard found some frozen Szechuan carrot soup, which I thawed, and my guest bought beet greens she had cooked with butter, so we had a rather odd lunch, that I think turned out OK…
I was assured that the more I did this -- the house and the food -- the easier it would get. So I ask myself: Is having people over for lunch getting any easier? In some ways, yes. I feel more relaxed now as we sit at the table visiting. I accept that people are coming to see me, not the house. I can forget that part of the ceiling looks like it is ready to all down. I can let my eye slide over the cobweb drape in the corner that I forgot to knock down and pretend I don’t see it….
And despite dithering for days about what I am going to fix, as long as I continue to prepare the food a day in advance and have a back-up plan so that I can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, then "yes" to that question too….