By Stephanie Pappas of snackdinner
In Mad Men Season 2’s “A Night to Remember,” Betty has spent not just the day, but weeks preparing the house and the menu for a dinner party. With a room full of impeccably-dressed people standing around the impeccably-dressed table, Betty announces that they are “going to take a little trip around the world” before introducing the courses. Her smile when she reaches the end of her script–“a frosted glass of beer from Holland”–indicates that she’s pulled off a perfect meal. But it’s all over in ten seconds, when Duck explains Don’s supermarket experiment designed to show Heineken that women will buy the upscale beer. The dinner party is the beginning of the end of the Drapers, as later that night Betty confronts Don about an affair.
I’ve never been to–let alone hosted–a real dinner party. It’s easy to understand why the dinner party has largely passed out of fashion for young families. I don’t want to be Betty. I don’t want to be shackled to the image of the stay-at-home mother who alone shoulders cooking, cleaning, and childrearing. I don’t want to feel like the menu is a test of my self-worth. I don’t want to be looking at the clock in terror that my husband will be late again. I don’t want dinner to be a metaphor for any other problems going on in my life.
The Kitchn has a wonderful answer to people who want to have friends over without weeks of planning: the Crappy Dinner Party series, a set of articles about relaxed hosting. In the series’ opening article, Kelley Powell lays out 4 rules: no cleaning, no grocery shopping, no wardrobe changing, and no hostess gifting. Just come as you are and work with what you’ve got.
Powell offers a fifth optional rule that really sold me on the concept of the Crappy Dinner Party: “You must act like you’re surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door.”
If I viewed a dinner party as less of a planned event and more of an impromptu gathering, I didn’t need to worry about whether I had a well-planned meal, or a clean floor, or a clothed kid. I didn’t need to worry about when my husband got home, because how could my “impromptu” guests know whether or not we were home and ready to host? They were just dropping in, after all.
Inspired by these new rules, I set out to throw my first Crappy Dinner Party. In keeping with the spirit of the day, I allowed only one hour for preparation, assuming I’d need about a half hour for prep and another half hour for chasing a toddler away from the oven. My obsessive pantry-stocking meant Rule #1 was easy to follow. A couple of loaves of bread from the freezer called out for all of the various spreads in the fridge. A little goat cheese baked in garlic-laden olive oil, a few handfuls of nuts, and voila! A Crappy Dinner Party in under 30 minutes.
I quickly learned that Crappy Dinner Party rules need to be modified a bit for tiny dinner guests. I cheated on the cleaning rule in order to remove the most tempting choking hazards from the floor. I cheated on the wardrobe rule because of a mid-party-prep diaper disaster. My dinner guests cheated on the hostess rule, but the wine was perfect with the food.
Even though we bent some of the rules, we certainly adhered to the Crappy Dinner Party in spirit. And I held fast to Rule #5. Because I was treating the day as an impromptu gathering more than a planned occasion, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not my husband would make it through the door in time so that I could shower or style my hair, or even change yet another stained shirt. He actually was late, but showed up with last-of-the-season farmer’s market cherry tomatoes, which we washed and added to our easy meal.
I wanted the adults to actually sit and eat and enjoy each other’s company, which meant I needed to add Crappy Dinner Party Rule #6: put toys in the dining room. The ball pit and light table worked for a while, kept the kids busy and let the parents just be adults for a while.
I’m looking forward to a future filled with crappy hosting.
About the Author
Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned stay-at-home parent committed to debunking all of the bad parenting advice on the internet. She started snackdinner to remind Googling parents that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing just fine. You can find snackdinner on Facebook and Instagram.