Dinner Parties From Hell

Judging by the many tales I’ve heard over the years, many a dinner party ends in total disaster!

My mother-in-law gave perfectly marvelous dinner parties, and, in fact, taught me everything I know about holding one. And although I have rarely had the opportunity to do so except for very special events such as Christmas Eve or significant family birthdays, I’ve been faithful to her instruction. A proper dinner party requires days of preparation, and there are never any guarantees that everything will go smoothly. I still recall the total mortification of The Apple Crumble Catastrophe, and cringe at the memory of the Too Many People Crowded Around the Small Table Due to Unexpected Guests Christmas Eve dinner. (With regard to the latter, just thank heaven I always cook too much!) Still, most of my dinner parties came off well enough that guests were sated and satisfied, if not impressed, and I myself recall them, if not with pride, at least with relief.

However, judging by the many tales I’ve heard over the years of dinner party disasters, my experience has been the exception, rather than the rule.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as I recounted in The Dinner Party (you’ll find that in the Archives from September 4, 2019), most of the truly awful dinner party stories I’ve heard have involved brides and their newly-acquired families. Maybe that’s because family hierarchy and interactions haven’t been decided when someone marries into the group—or simply because some in-laws are really, really rude and judgmental. But of the many Dinner Party Disaster tales that were related to me over the years, there are some that I still recall vividly, and most involved newly-minted family members.

The first, told me by an acquaintance about her sister, was The Spaghetti Dinner. Now, spaghetti is a meal that many young people serve to guests when they’ve first begun housekeeping. It has the simple honesty of a well-loved peasant dish. Add a salad, garlic bread, wine and a dessert, and one has all the ingredients for a jovial, easy meal.

In this case, the Young Bride invited her new husband’s parents and his younger brother for a meal. With five for dinner, she made her mother’s meatball recipe, which was meant to yield two dozen large meatballs. Instead, as an inexperienced cook, she ended up with 19 very large meatballs, and a single little small, squashed meatball that looked more like a ping-pong ball. YB spooned them all into a bowl and placed everything on the beautifully-set table.

When the meatball bowl arrived at her place after having been passed around the table, there was a single meatball left. One. Just one. The little spare squashed meatball. YB looked around at her husband and guests. Her husband had taken five giant meatballs; her mother-in-law, two. Her new brother and father in-laws each had six on their plates.

Her new mother-in-law helpfully offered to refill the meatball platter from the kitchen, and YB, abashed, had to explain that there were no more. Since none of the carnivores offered to relinquish any of their kill, she nibbled her single ping-pong meatball and filled up on salad and pasta.

But, as her sister concluded the tale to me, when YB served dessert, she served herself first.

Another dinner party disaster tale told me was The Vegetarian Dinner. In this case, the hostess was the Unpopular Fiancé making a special effort to ingratiate herself with her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Having interrogated her almost-husband regarding the food preferences of his family, including his unmarried, disdainful adult sister, UF received only the not-very-helpful information that Mom and Sister were vegetarian, while Dad (who already liked her, anyway) would basically eat anything put on his plate.

So UF read recipes, and experimented with unfamiliar forms of cooking, and finally put together a lovely vegetarian meal with a carefully selected, expensive accompanying wine.

Only to learn, as they all sat down to the table, that her future mom and sister-in-law were not, after all, vegetarian. The were vegan. And teetotalers.

Dad packed away everything that was placed in front of him in calm enjoyment and tossed back multiple glasses of wine, while Mom and Sister nibbled on the salad and home-baked bread, sans butter, eschewing the cheese-laden vegetarian lasagna. They concentrated on the green beans almondine, of which there was obviously not enough, since it was only a side dish. The dessert of baked-from-scratch cake with ice cream was a total disaster, also.

As they left, Dad congratulated UF on a fine dinner. Mom only remarked, “Well, at least you didn’t give us food poisoning.”

Astonishing though it was, UF still married the guy whose clueless information had provoked this dinner party disaster. But they never invited his family to dinner again.

So, as I say, even those of my most imperfect past dinner parties come off looking pretty well, by comparison. Although I must admit to never again having served apple crumble!

As mentioned, you’ll find “The Dinner Party” by scrolling down to the Archives links. It was posted September 4, 2019.

The Dinner Party

§   Jack finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal.   §

I have plans to nominate a woman for sainthood after hearing her description of the way in which she handled The Evil Plot perpetrated by her new in-laws.

My acquaintance—let’s call her Jill—met and married Jack not long after the break-up of his first marriage. Jack’s family made it clear that they viewed Jill as an interloper. Rightly or wrongly, his family blamed Jack for his divorce, and continued to keep in touch with his ex. It was an uncomfortable situation for Jill.

However, after a few months, it seemed that Jack’s brother and his wife had begun to mellow toward Jill. Jack and Jill extended an invitation for an evening out; it was accepted, and everyone made a genuine effort to be pleasant. Even more encouraging was a return invitation to dinner at the brother’s home.

Looking back, Jill says, she should have known better. That hindsight 20/20 thing, she says.

They arrived at Jack’s brother’s home to and sat down to a home-cooked meal. That’s when it became clear that her new sister-in-law had prepared a very special meal indeed — one consisting of every single food Jill didn’t like. Including a few she absolutely loathed.

Recalling that previous get-together, Jill belatedly realized that conversation had “drifted” around to the food likes and dislikes of everyone present. Too late, Jill now realized that conversation had been carefully orchestrated.

Jill is a semi-vegetarian, eating only fish or poultry; the main dish served was not only red meat, but a highly-spiced dish which she would normally shun. Jill shares my aversion to Brussels sprouts; those, and another veggie she thoroughly dislikes, were served.

Displaying wonderful restraint, Jill decided to eat small mouthfuls of everything, fill up on bread, and make the best of a very bad deal. Meanwhile, Jack (not normally slow on the uptake), finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal as he watched his beloved smilingly take a mouthful of despised sprouts. “I thought you didn’t like Brussels sprouts,” he said wonderingly and then recoiled from her death-ray glare as she replied sweetly, “Well, it’s not my favorite veggie, but I’d be a terrible guest not to try a food when my hostess has obviously gone to so much trouble.”

The crowning blow came, though, when dessert was served: a homemade fruit compote spooned over vanilla ice cream. As Jill picked up her spoon, Jack, who had just taken a mouthful, suddenly shrieked, “No, don’t eat that!” Jill dropped her utensil and stared, slack-jawed, as her husband proceeded to yank the bowl right out from its place in front of her.

The fruit salad contained mango, to which she is allergic. Jill vividly recalled mentioning her mango allergy during that conversational night out.

Her new sister-in-law was all apologies, and returned to the kitchen to serve her a fresh bowl of plain ice cream. Dinner was concluded amiably, but the couple did not stay long after that. Upon leaving, Jill thanked her hostess for dinner, saying, “It’s obvious that you went to a lot of trouble on my behalf.”

The two couples haven’t spoken since, and no further invitations have been extended.

So, as I say, I am definitely nominating Jill for sainthood! And I’m so glad that she doesn’t carry a firearm.