Performance Anxiety

Sadly, this is not the scene at one of my dinner parties. It’s from Real Simple.

To get an idea of how accomplished a dinner-party hostess I am, consider this: I went out today to buy myself a skillet to cook this evening’s meal. Keep in mind that I am well into adulthood. I have been married for 13 years. I finally bought a skillet two hours ago.

I am spending the weekend at my house in Connecticut, preparing a meal for my novelist friend Marie Bostwick and her husband. Marie is one of those hostesses who makes entertaining look easy. One of her recent Facebook updates was, “Making chili with beans I grew my very own self last summer.” In case you didn’t get that: The woman grows her own beans.

Last summer Sarah Albee, another Connecticut writer, hosted a dinner party in which one of the amazing dishes was squash blossoms from her organic garden. My friend Sandra Waugh, also a writer, will whip up a dozen different Gourmet-quality desserts for a holiday party.

My low-grade hostess anxiety is about to become acute hostess panic now that summer dinner-party season has arrived. If my parties go the way they usually do, any or all of the following will happen: I’ll burn the sauce. I’ll make six times more entree than we need but will run out of dessert halfway through serving it. I’ll forget entirely to prepare one of the side dishes. I’ll remember to brew coffee but not to offer it. Someone will ask for tea and I won’t have any. I’ll run out of spoons and plates. After everyone leaves, I’ll realize there were no towels in the bathroom.

Yes, I know, people are probably just happy to be invited over, and I’ve mostly come to terms with my limited hostess abilities. My strategy is to start pouring the wine right away, so my guests are too impaired to notice my mistakes. I’ve also developed a limited list of easy but impressive-seeming dishes. Tonight I’m serving Crispy Salmon with Warm Lentils and Balsamic Essence (sounds fancy but it’s a snap). The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook also has recipes that taste more complicated than they are.

Still, this year I’m proposing a deal: You invite me over for dinner, and in return, instead of serving you burned sauce and making you dry your hands on your pants, I’ll do something for you I’m actually good at. I’ll take you shopping for flattering jeans, get your baby to nap, or tidy your junk drawer.

Better yet, invite me to your house and I’ll display my excellent talent for being entertained. I’ll wear something nice and be sparkling and witty. Seat me next to your weird neighbors, the ones you had to invite because they helped dig you out after that freak snowstorm, and I’ll happily ask them about clog dancing or doll collecting or whatever they’re into. If you’d like, I’ll even flirt inappropriately with your elderly uncle.

See you next weekend. May I bring wine?

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