Strategic Point 3: Schedule the evening so the multiple moving parts don’t fluster me and I can both hang out with my friends and eat at a reasonable hour.
Strategic point No. 3 was the tallest order of the night and the tactic at which I was least successful, because I am always flustered while I’m cooking, but adding friends to the mix just heightens my anxiety, so there was very little chance of me making it through the night without hiccups and there was even less of a chance of us eating at a reasonable hour.
Still, a low-stress menu and a well-planned agenda was the best way for me to minimize anxiety and schedule creep, so I started with hummus early in the afternoon before any guests arrived. I had a very straightforward, descriptive, easy hummus recipe; I had my super easy-to-use, brand new food processor; and I had guts. I floated into my kitchen with my fairy hummus-maker wings on, whipped all that shit together, and out came the most beautiful, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth amazing hummus in the world.
That absolutely did not happen.
What really happened was that I begged Randy for our friend JT’s hummus recipe, because it was the hummus that turned me on to hummus in the first place. Randy said, “That’s my hummus and (because he no doubt felt bad for raining his naysayer terror down on me, he said) I’ll make it for you.”
“I don’t care whose it is; I want the recipe, and I want to make it.”
Then I reconsidered. I considered my anxiety. I considered my schedule.
I revised my response, “I don’t care whose it is; I want the recipe and I want someone to help me make it.”
No answer. Crickets. (It’s no secret that it’s easier to do things for me than to teach me and suffer my bad attitude.)
So I put on the full court press, which, I might add was way more effort than I had intended to put into hummus. I needed to save my energy for the Category 5 meltdown I anticipated happening over onion rings in T-minus five hours.
“Please help me make it! I promise I will fuck this up if I do it on my own and I will poison you to death and you will die and then you will be dead. Please.”
I pestered him all day until Randy finally agreed to help me. Unfortunately for Randy, I had conveniently omitted some key information that might have been helpful to him, like the part where I didn’t know how to use my food processor, or the fact that I didn’t know where we keep our can opener, or I wasn’t sure if we owned a juicer, and the one major part about how I was actually just going to make him do it and then take all the credit for it.
With the hummus chilling in the fridge, I checked off the first box on my Onion Night to-do list. I started to settle down. I took some time to relax, breathe deeply, read my list, and stand in the kitchen by myself for the last time before the last great battle in my great war. It’s not so scary in here. I started to think about the previous year and wax philosophical about how far I’ve come, about how my cooking skills would likely keep me alive in a crisis situation, about… when it hit me that my self-congratulatory contemplation was edging dangerously close to wasting time.
As is my custom, I pulled out everything I would need for the night—carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, pita, watercress, chard, onions, oranges, soy sauce, honey, bowls, knives, salad spinners, baking sheets…if I needed it, I got it out—and piled everything in the spot on the counter where I would be working. I washed and arranged nicely the veggies for dipping with hummus and had begun to wrestle with peeling the oranges when my sister arrived.
“Can I help?”
I looked at the mangled oranges in front of me.
I plopped the orange mess in front of her and they kept her busy for the next hour.
I pulled out the greens to wash them. Never having worked with either watercress or chard before, I had no idea how to wash or cut them, and I didn’t even really know if chard was appropriate for a salad. I still don’t know this, but it was green, and salads are green, and that’s the kind of impeccable logic that has gotten me through this project relatively unscathed, so I did to watercress and chard what I do to other greens: I put them in my salad spinner, ran water over them, and hit spin. I was extracting the greens from the spinner when Erin and Melissa came into the kitchen. Melissa had her sweet, baby, lovey love, Logan, in tow, so when they asked if they could help, I gave chard to Erin, watercress to Melissa, and I took Logan.
I stepped back to survey my work while Logan pulled my hair and picked my nose. Bethany was mutilating the oranges. Melissa pat dry the watercress and asked me what to do with it, like I was the vegetable expert. Erin, the vegetarian, just stared at the chard, confused. I suddenly felt like I wasn’t the most incompetent person in the room anymore. Even if I fuck up everything else from here forward, at least I will have had this moment.
Then guests started arriving in droves. Hi! Hey! So happy to see you! Your hair looks great , too! I started to drift off into party playland mode, but then Melissa reminded me that I never told her what my intentions were for the watercress, so I made the snap decision that feeding my mob of hungry hippos eked out in importance a dramatic reenactment of my onion bin blackout. For now. I passed Logan to Melissa, threw myself back into the food, and let them entertain themselves.
While my party laughed and joked and had fun without me, I operated at a level just below panic. Several times I apologized to my guests and asked for a few minutes to myself so I could just concentrate on my list, and then I repeated to myself in my head over and over: my list will get me through this, my list will get me through this, just follow the list, Julie, just follow the list. I arranged the greens and oranges in my big wooden salad bowl and then carefully combined the ingredients for the salmon glaze and the homemade dressing. I stood there and looked at all of it before I made my next move. I felt flushed. My face feels hot. My neck feels hot. Why am I so hot? I can do this. I have my list. I turned around. Three people were standing right behind me, breathing down my neck. I immediately relaxed about the fact that I wasn’t making myself anxious, but tensed up again because I had an audience breathing down my neck. “What?!” I barked at Randy and Mark.
“Do you need help?” Randy asked.
The bin of onions flashed before my eyes. What’s his motive here?
“No, I can do it.”
I turned back around, used a brush to spread the glaze on the salmon I had laid out on a foil-covered baking sheet, popped the sheet into the oven—which was only warm-ish—and turned back to face my friends. I saw everyone’s happy faces, eating my fantastic melt-in-your-mouth hummus, begging for the onion bin reenactment, and it was at about this point I completely lost interest in cooking. Before salmon salad. Before onions rings. No interest. Just done.
“Is the oven hot enough?”
“Is the oven hot enough?”
Randy, envisioning the bacteria I was surely growing on the salmon in my somewhat warm oven, was by now probably being genuinely helpful.
“Oh. I don’t know.” I shrugged and turned back to the riveting conversation I was having with Erin about our hair.
Oh, that was a leading question. Thank you, counsel.
I refocused on dinner and turned back to my salmon. Well, I turned back to my salmon insomuch as I supervised while Randy cranked up the heat and reorganized the racks in my oven, which produced much quicker, food-borne-illness-free, delicious results. Someone was paying attention in How to Cook Hot and Fast School.