Friday, July 18, 2008

The First Dinner Party

I'm trying to get on with a largeish writing project, so far with very little success. Lately I've decided to stop trying to begin at the beginning and plunge in somewhere nearer the middle, but so far that hasn't worked very well either. The trouble with having a computer is that it's very hard to face a blank screen for very long. It's much easier to start rummaging around in your files and find something, anything, that might serve as a way in.

It didn't work, of course. But along the way I found a story about the first dinner party I cooked for, so I thought I'd post it. (This is, as some of you will already have remarked, a cunning way to avoid having to come up with an entirely new blog post. I have written another new piece this week, though - a Letter from Elsewhere on the Veitch story. Read it on Scoop at )

I’m nineteen, I’ve been married for over a month, and I’ve invited my favourite professor to dinner at our flat. It all seems simple enough. First we will have Seventeenth Century Grilled Pork Chops, spread with a mixture of parsley, chopped onion, oil and lemon juice. The recipe comes from the friend who gave me cooking lessons after I got engaged, because I literally couldn’t boil an egg. With them we will have rice (because potatoes are boring and bourgeois) and green beans (frozen, so no problems there).

Then we will have Chocolate Orange Fluff. I found it in my kitchen bible, The Nancy Spain Colour Cookery Book, with a picture for every recipe. Dissolve a packet of orange jelly, beat it up with a can of evaporated milk, leave it to set, then decorate it with chocolate buttons, bits of orange and whipped cream. Easy.

The dessert has to sit on the kitchen floor to set, because the table is in the sitting room, disguised with a rough linen tablecloth (the only item in my glory box). I’ve laid it carefully with the pick of the wedding presents, brown Finlandia plates and lumpy brown pottery beakers. Tom Crawford and Chris sit awkwardly knee to knee, eating peanuts and drinking Bakano, while I work frantically behind the curtain, trying to time boiling the rice and beans and grilling the chops so everything will be ready at the same time.

The rice is gluggy and the beans are grey. The chops aren’t raw, but they are rock hard. Tom chews his way bravely through it all, keeping up a flow of urbane literary chat. I take solace from the coming dessert, sitting pretty in its cut glass dish. But not knowing the difference, I used sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. The fluff has turned into a sickly-sweet goo.

It takes me a while, but I do learn. I still make the chops, though now I bake them, and every so often I go back to Nancy Spain. But the Chocolate Orange Fluff has never reappeared.


  1. Oh no!

    I think that for one of my first ever dinner parties, I served a huge lumpy stodgy lasagne. I'm surprised anyone was able to get up from the table.

  2. great dessert recipe - I'll get the kids onto it straight away!

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