19 October 2010

on being a hostess

This is, believe it or not, a revision I did of "my secret life of eating." You'll see the same concepts in here: the idea of image control, of presenting things not quite as they are in reality (is that bad? is it compartmentalization? is it smart?).

Both of these, by the way, started from a prompt about secrets: what part of you do you protect?

Final note: so there are three girls in here, and I called them Katie, Rachel, and Jessie. If your name happens to be Katie, Rachel, or Jessie, and you're my friend, don't worry: I'm not talking about you. No, really, I'm not.


The girls are coming for dinner at 7:00, so at 6:46, I’m doing what every good hostess does with less than 15 minutes to go: I’m hiding evidence that my life is not as I present it to perfectly be.

Dinner itself is simmering. My apartment smells as it should. Almost everything I make begins like this—

Heat 1T of olive oil over medium heat.
Add 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped, and sauté.

The pork chops with warm plum sauce I’m serving Katie, Rachel, and Jessie are no exception. And because of that, my fingertips still smell like garlic (and will until tomorrow morning) and underneath the tangy sweet smell of the plums cooking in the skillet, there’s that familiar base of garlic.

I take a breath and know that the plums are just beginning to drip with their juices. Almost time to transfer them to the oven with the rosemary-rubbed pork chops.

Yes, my apartment smells as it should. Welcoming. Content.

Which is not how I feel as I do image control on my life, as evidenced by how I’m currently shoving a stack of papers under a pillow on my bed. These are mostly papers about how to use my HSA insurance, bank statements, and already-paid-but-not-filed-away utility bills. I know these very important papers do not belong under my pillow, but it is the best hiding place I can think of on short notice. I can guarantee that none of the girls will come sit on my bed, and so no one will know my secret.

I fluff the pillows as I kick a stack of books under the bed. I’m hiding the clutter, not the fact that I read: if anything, I want people to think I spend all my free evenings reading instead of watching TV. Hence the TV armoire that hides the TV and the giant bookcase that reveals everything.

When people come to my apartment for the first time, they often get stuck in front of the bookcase, head angled to read the titles. My books are categorized by genre and then alphabetized by author. Alcott, Alvarez, Atwood, Austen, Austen, Austen.

“Wow,” people often say. “You must really like to read.”

“Oh, I do,” I reply, ending with a breathy emphasis that implies that my English degree is being put to good use. “I’d read every night if I could,” I say—of course not mentioning the nights I get sucked into Law & Order or Frasier or The Simpsons or even Wife Swap.

It’s 6:56.

The pork chops are in the oven, doing their final cooking. The table is set, complete with wine glasses and cloth napkins. I believe that cloth napkins immediately elevate the elegance of any meal.

I just need to throw the asparagus under the broiler for a few minutes when the pork and plums are done.

I made the dessert, peaches Melba, the night before. Its various parts—poached peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a raspberry coulis that took over an hour to make—are just waiting to be put together at the perfect time.

6:58. I open the bottle of wine and get a head start on the evening. It’s best to be relaxed and look like a party is already going on, even when the first guest arrives.

7:00. The doorbell buzzer rings. I’m betting it’s Rachel, who is so punctual, it makes me think she waits in her car until one minute before the appointed hour—and then rushes to ring the doorbell just on time.

I smile at this image, this panicked rush to be punctual to a dinner that’s supposed to be low-key, and then re-tie my apron strings.

Sometimes, we all need a little dress-up boost to help us act the way we know we should. With the apron on, I feel more like the role I decided to play tonight, more like the hostess, cook, friend.

More like someone who wasn’t rushing around 15 minutes ago with sweat on my upper lip, in a panicked flurry to look Real Simple presentable for a dinner that’s supposed to be low-stress.


  1. Oh no! So if our names AREN'T Kate, Rachel or Jessie, does that mean you're talking about US?!?

  2. Oh, Beth, way to analyze my tricky sentence and see that yes, if your name ISN'T Katie, Rachel, or Jessie, you should probably start figuring out if this is you :)

    (And bt-dubs, there's a longer story that gives more clues. As a reassurance, though, Beth, this isn't you...!)

  3. Love this blog! I had someone house sit for me while I was on vacation so that they could watch my dog. I had to be very creative with where I stashed things.



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