Iron Chefs

It's been a long time since I've been to a dinner party where the lack of ketchup was the biggest problem to be solved.

I hate to be sexist, but sometimes this is what happens when you leave the menu to men in their late 20s. (I can imagine the hate mail now. Save the stamp. I know MANY, MANY men who are exquisite gourmands - my own brother is a master chef - but I'm just talking about ONE episode).

Frankly, I was just so relieved not to be THROWING last weekend's cookout, that if they'd put a braised elk knuckle in front of me, I'd have eaten it, and been glad to get it.

In fact, I pretty much weep with gratitude when someone says, "HERE's what we're doing this weekend," as opposed to "WHAT are we doing this weekend?" (Of course, that means you have to live with the consequences, and not bitch about it.)

I offered to help (and included an array of items I could provide), but quickly got an email back from Special K saying, "Whoa there little filly!! Cookouts are for the menfolk!"


I was dubious.

I've relaxed my standards a lot. (For example, one of my Derby events took place on my front porch because I simply refused to clear my dining room of all the tax debris that was left there from April 15.)

But I still think a good party should LOOK easy. A good hostess should be able to breeze in with a tray or two of crab puffs, drape herself across the closest male companion, sip a martini, and be prepared to gracefully greet the guests within five minutes of the party's designated commencement.

A good social gathering should be what Bird is to jazz, what Pollock is to painting. Everyone should THINK "Hey, I could do that." And they should be wrong.

It's why I haven't personally enjoyed most of the big parties we've hosted this year - because I think once you've engaged the teamsters, the ATF, the ABC, and security - and you have a petite flower blonde diva/project director on her hands and knees scrubbing a urinal in a Banana Republic sundress, your guests have a pretty good idea that some EFFORT has been expended on their behalf, and their expectations are UP.

It definitely comes to no surprise to anyone who's ever been to one of my parties that I am NOT the gracious hostess I aspire to be. As the guests arrive, I'm usually the one with an amp under one arm, a case of bourbon under the other, and a cigarette dangling at a precipitous 90 degree angle out of the right side of my mouth, while I bark obscenities into two cellphones from the left side.

So I was justifiably excited by the idea of going to someone ELSE's house and eating food THEY had prepared.

I wasn't stupid though.

I brought my own provisions (some nice boursin herb spread and Bremner wafers), and I knew Ouisie had picked up some Parrano cheese and French bread. At least we wouldn't starve.

And there our pathetic little offerings the middle of the coffee table, surrounded by what looked to be the slaughtered carcasses of a corral full of livestock.

The first course? Big hunks of charred andouille sausage with barbecue sauce.

Pretty soon the second course was ready to come off the grill: barbecued chicken.

"How're we going to serve this honey?" was the hostess's question to the host.

I waited for the explosion that accompanied his answer ("uhhhhh, on buns?"), but she demonstrated admirable restraint.

The only green in sight was the grass under the grill (which didn't stay that color for long), and the closest thing to vegetation at all was.... coleslaw. (Which reminds me of a suburban seafood restaurant I recently went to with my friends Greg and Lesli - where apparently the trend is to EMBED a bucket in the middle of the table? I was mystified. Is it for the convenience of bulimic diners? Or is it there for a demographic survey - just toss in whatever you find objectionable and they'll adjust the menu accordingly?)


This being a gathering run by menfolk (again, save the stamp - I love these guys and it's a testament to my devotion to them that I would go ANYWHERE and eat ALMOST anything with them), by the time we GOT to said second course, we WOMENfolk realized that it had somehow escaped everyone's notice that we might be, at some point, in need of.... utensils.... plates even.

I offered to 1. run to the grocery for picnic products, or 2. go back to my house and pick up my service-for-16 cobalt blue fiestaware, but eventually we scrambled together enough to get by. I, for example, dined on the special "collectors' edition" of Hercules plates. I think the Ass Brothers took all the Little Mermaid series before I could get to the table. (I asked the hostess if we could register for these at McDonald's prior to her upcoming nuptials.... which she did not seem to think was funny.)

The fourth course - dessert - was brought by a late arrival, who showed up carrying two six-packs of bratwursts under his arm.

(Later on, we had cupcakes, but I can't be sure they weren't stuffed with veal.)

We're having another cookout this Sunday (hosted by one of the Ass Brothers), and I've learned my culinary lesson here. (For one thing, eat a late lunch.)

If it ain't on a stick, they probably ain't gonna eat it.

I'm making gazpach-sicles.