Sunday, June 2, 2013

Be Our Guests

But bring your own chairs … and steak knives … and look out for the birds. Really. I’m not kidding.

On Memorial Day, Jeff and I hosted guests in our home for the first time since we’ve been here. We had not received our HHE yet, so we had only basic home items, but Jeff has a new grill, he wanted to try it out, we wanted to have our sponsors over, it was Memorial Day, and we knew that after that weekend, we wouldn’t be hosting anyone else until August. (Our HHE was delivered later in the week, and we are busy unpacking it, trying to get it done before we take our home leave in the United States this summer.) We figured that we have the necessities: a grill, grill utensils, a few Pyrex dishes, and some beer; we’d buy the rest of what we need—plastic plates, utensils, and cups. It shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Yeah …

It started out easily enough. Jeff put the frozen ribs down to thaw and found a recipe online for grilling them. I made a list of the ingredients I needed for the macaroni and cheese and the brownie pudding cake I was making for dessert.

Then I realized that we have seating for four on our patio, and we were inviting four people over, in addition to the three who live here. No problem. Jeff sent a text message notifying our guests that our outdoor seating options are limited, and it would be appreciated if they could be lawn chairs.

Then I got overconfident. I didn’t want to go to the supermarket on Sunday afternoon, when it was sure to be crowded. I wanted to wait until Monday morning. I’d have plenty of time if I got up at a reasonable hour and got moving instead of being lazy.

Then we had a later night than expected on Sunday. And then Jeff got a phone call around midnight and had to go in to the office for a couple of hours to fix some problem with the computers. So it really would have been unreasonable of me to expect him to get up early enough for me to make an early run to the supermarket—instead, I watched Alexa while he slept late, and then he woke himself up early enough for me to get a shower and still make it to the supermarket shortly after 10.

Then, while caring for Alexa and waiting for Jeff to wake up the morning of Memorial Day, I realized that we should have appetizers, too. It’s not really kosher to invite people over and then say that they can’t eat anything until the ribs are done, especially when you’re grilling for the first time and therefore can’t say with certainty when the ribs will be done. So I added chips to the shopping list.

Then I got ambitious. I looked through my recipe books and found one—and only one—recipe for an appetizer for which I thought I probably could get all the required ingredients: backyard bruschetta with feta and tomato toppings. I added the necessary ingredients to the list.

Then I realized that the only kitchen knives currently on the premises were two steak knives, a santoku, and a paring knife—we found out on the first day of our packout that Cambodia has a strange restriction on the transport of knives, so we couldn’t put any in our UAB; those few came with us in our suitcases. This shouldn’t be a problem; it’s a strange request, but our sponsors will understand and probably think it’s funny, so … send another text message notifying our guests that it would be helpful if they brought some steak knives, too.

Then, after I had pre-prepared the macaroni and cheese (I had cooked and assembled it, but was waiting for the appropriate time to put it in the oven) and the bruschetta (I had made the two topping layers but had not sliced or toasted the bread) and as I was getting ready to pre-prepare the dessert, I realized that Jeff’s grilling activities also required preparatory work … and dishes … in the kitchen … in the galley-style, sized-for-one-person kitchen where I needed to be. And he needed my two-cup measuring cup … which I also needed. So we bumped shoulders while he used the measuring cup to make the rib sauce and I did Step 1 of my 4-step dessert. Then he finished with the measuring cup and cleaned it out. We bumped shoulders some more while I did Step 2 (the step requiring the measuring cup) and he prepped the meat for the application of the sauce. We danced around each other collecting ingredients, used whatever work space we could find that wasn’t full of person, dishes, or supplies, and generally made a big mess.

Then, while we were still in the process of making the mess (in our wide-open-to-and-clearly-visible-from-the-dining-room/playroom/pathway-to-the-patio kitchen), it was time for our guests to arrive. Oops.

Luckily, they were a little late. I had time to add the dessert to my growing pile of ready-for-the-next-step food, do a quick clean up of the worst of the mess in the kitchen (it was still embarrassingly dirty), slice the bread, and put the bread in the oven to toast—there was no room for it on our small grill with the big rack of ribs that Jeff had on there.

Then the doorbell rang. I rushed downstairs to welcome our guests and ushered them upstairs into the play/dining room … and the open kitchen (where the bread had started burning in the two minutes I was downstairs). The kids and men went outside to play and grill, and we women went into the kitchen, where my guest took it all in stride and jumped in with the food preparation.

Finally the appetizers were ready and the macaroni was in the oven. I stepped outside—and realized that although our guests had been there for about half an hour at that point, we had neglected to offer them anything to drink (an unpardonable sin to this Southern girl), because I was caught up in kitchen work and Jeff was caught up in grill work. Oops. That situation rectified, I settled in to relax for a few minutes until it was time to pull the macaroni out of the oven, boil some water to pour over the dessert (Step 3), and then put the dessert in the oven (Step 4).

Finally, dessert in the oven, I could really settle in to relax with our guests.

Then the meat was ready, so we set up a buffet inside on the dining room table—there wasn’t nearly enough room on our small patio table. We all relaxed during the meal … although Jeff did have to get up every once in a while to baste the second rack of ribs (which turned out to be unneeded) and check the chicken (also unneeded).

After dinner, we relaxed on the patio for a while longer. Then I reminded everyone that we had dessert too. We ate all of one brownie pudding cake … a surprisingly easy, surprisingly good fudgy brownie on top of a layer of pudding, plus ice cream. Alexa had three servings (small ones). One of our adult guests had two—a welcome surprise, as I’d pegged her for a healthy eater (if a healthy eater eats two helpings of dessert, it must have been good!).

Later, when it got late enough that we were concerned about children undergoing the “it’s past my bedtime” transformation from sweet little people into little monsters, we were moving things back inside the house when Jeff came in carrying a plate of leftover bruschetta.

“I’m not sure, but … I think a bird just stole a piece of bruschetta.”

The perfect wacky ending to a not-so-perfect wacky, but highly enjoyable, time with friends.

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