Barbecues are an easy way to entertain… said nobody who has hosted one, ever.
Last summer, after years of resisting, I decided to host a barbecue. I had resisted for two reasons. First, because my backyard, though large, is low-lying. When it rains, it becomes a lake of sorts and takes time to dry out. That meant we not only needed good weather on the day of the barbecue, but for the previous two days as well. That was a big risk that I never felt like taking. Second, because I did not trust my deck, attached to the second floor. It was old when we bought the house, and when the kids ran up or down the steps, the whole thing shook. I was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Then, my husband invited his new boss and his wife over for dinner. The idea, naturally enough, was to make friends with these people.
I imagined cooking all day, washing all the good dishes, having to clean the entire house. And who wants to turn on the oven in the summer? Suddenly, throwing food on a grill outside and using Chinet seemed so much easier.
This, of course, was idiotic. The whole business is not, in fact, easier than turning on the oven.
I asked my brother-in-law to come over and look at the deck. (He is a crane operator for the transit authority. This, obviously, made him an expert.) He pronounced it “fine.” My husband agreed. I invited three other families. May as well earn some brownie points with the neighbors while I was at it.
Two days before the big event it poured. The lake dried into pools, which evaporated into puddles, and finally a few random muddy spots the morning of the big event. I had half a cow worth of steaks, 87 marinating chicken breasts, and I don’t know how many flounders tucked into foil with fresh herbs. We pressed on.
The couple of the hour arrived. The wife—let’s call her Meg—was lovely. And vegan, it turned out.
Crap, crap, crap. Even the potato salad had eggs. Would Meg have to nibble on kosher dills all afternoon?
I rallied. Haven’t we all heard that you can grill anything? I Googled “what vegans grill” and discovered it was all manner of fruit, as well as bread. Bread!
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I emptied a can of peach halves onto a platter and drizzled them with orange juice. After microwaving a loaf of Italian bread I had in the freezer, I buttered it and sprinkled it with Parmesan—forgetting at the moment that the cheese would render it unfit for a vegan. As I handed the lot off to my husband to grill, one of my neighbors took me aside and whispered, “The chicken’s raw.” I told my husband that salmonella was a possibility.
“All of it? You boiled it, right?”
“What do you mean, boil?”
“You’re always supposed to boil the chicken first!”
I pointed out that we didn’t boil chicken before roasting it. That was different, he said. To this day I don’t understand how.
In the short time we were having this debate, the bread and peaches were lost. It’s a wonder how quickly starch and sugar turns to ash on an open flame. Equally curious is how fast hot dogs can get those few tiny black specks that seem to render them untouchable to anyone younger than 15. One of the moms meekly asked if I wouldn’t mind boiling a few for the kids?
Again with the boiling?! If you have to cook everything inside before you cook it outside, why bother? I had exactly three uncooked hot dogs left and six kids. As they boiled, I pondered how this would play out. Then my daughter ran in. “Mommy, everyone’s getting bit!” Mosquitoes love stagnant water. It was dusk. Did I mention I lived across the street from a bay? They were the kind of mosquitoes you can hear coming from that bzzzing sound.
Nobody waited for an invitation to come inside. Sweet, starving Meg was helping me bring everything in. She’d gone up two steps when the railing gave way. Down she went, splat into the last muddy patch.
With all the commotion, the door had been left open, and now there was a tag team of mosquitoes dive-bombing my neighbors. Frantic efforts to swat them away resulted in several squished to my wall. Good thing I didn’t waste my time cleaning. Nobody even noticed the dust bunnies, what with watching me try to wipe bloody streaks off the wall. Who knew pterodactyl-sized mosquitoes stain flat paint?
Yes, we did become friends with the boss man and Meg. But we have an unspoken understanding: In the summer, we go to their house.