Hey, you. Psssst. You over there in the corner, avoiding eye contact. Yes, you, Mr. or Ms. Introvert. You of the still waters, running deep. You, the Quiet Beatle. Just FYI, we extroverts are on to you. We know how you eschew crowds. How your idea of hell is a big, noisy cocktail party. How you would happily spend a weekend—nay, a solid week—in your own rarified company. We even know you sometimes masquerade as one of us, and it burdens you mightily. But you, even you, occasionally crave conversation and companionship inside the sanctuary that is your home. Nothing big, mind you. A quiet little dinner with one or two friends, say. Perhaps your extrovert spouse has cajoled you into inviting another couple over for dinner. My socially remote darling, this column is for you.
Get beyond the small talk
Maybe it’s because I am from a large family that I’m drawn to the idea of the big, rowdy dinner party, of squeezing as many as will fit around my table, of three conversations going at once. The More The Merrier is my default setting. Only recently, as I head into my dotage, have I come around to the quiet charm of the teeny-tiny dinner party. By teeny-tiny I mean one other couple, or a singleton or two.
For many—introverts and extroverts alike—this is the preferred way to entertain. In such an intimate gathering, you can’t hide behind small talk. If you invite friends who share your same dorky tastes in conversational topics (for we are all dorks about something), it’s astonishing how the time can fly. Dinners like this develop their own momentum, their own way of unfolding.
Think outside the dining room
The teeny-tiny dinner gives you the opportunity to bust out Aunt Hilda’s Quimper Faience, of which you have only four place settings. It liberates you from your dining room. You can set up a cozy little table in front of the fireplace or on the screened-in porch, or eat at the kitchen island. The tiny dinner is the best setting for a visit with someone you haven’t seen in forever. It’s also a marvelous way to celebrate the birthday or anniversary of close friends, to show them how special they are to you. When feeding so few, you can go all out on ingredients—saffron-dusted lobster and Chateau d’Yquem for all! Or not.
Small crowd, big fun
My husband and I frequently go to dinner at the home of Ann Cain and Bonar Menninger, old friends with whom we are extremely comfortable. They are parents of a teenage daughter, so they like to be home on weekend nights (If you have a teenager, you no doubt understand this inclination), and they have people over a lot. They are master hosts; we are always flattered when they invite just us. When we arrive, their house is so welcoming. They have a fire in the fireplace, good music on the stereo. Ann puts out a spread of pre-dinner tidbits—crudites, crackers, cheese, nuts, a hot dip sometimes—because we all four of us are fond of a long cocktail hour. This is the thing about a teeny dinner party. You can pace it however you like. When there are just four of you, what’s the rush? We sip and yak and listen to music, sometimes for a couple of hours. When it’s time to eat, the girls head for the kitchen to get dinner on the table. Ann is the biggest dish snob you’ve ever met and sets a beautiful table, always different. (Her latest passion is Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica. Have you seen this pattern? It stirs my Limoges-loving soul. Google it.)
I usually bring wine, a salad and a dessert; because we are there so often we really try to pull our weight. The main course is simple. In summer, often it’s barbecued ribs, Bonar’s specialty; in cooler months a hearty soup, stew or pasta dish. Ann is never afraid to try a new recipe on us. But she always has things organized so she can spend most of her time with her guests. This is one reason it’s such fun to go there. She makes it look effortless.
Kitchen table dinners
When we have just one or two people over in the cooler months, we usually eat at the kitchen table, and it is very, very cozy. I like to panfry individual Angus beef filets in my grill pan (four minutes each side), and serve them with A-1 Sauce, roasted new potatoes and cream-braised cabbage from Molly Wizenberg’s *A Homemade Life*. I have written of this recipe before because it is the most delicious vegetable dish in the universe, perfect for cold-weather menus. These same sides also work well with a pork tenderloin, marinated then roasted. One pork tenderloin is the perfect size to feed three or four.
A couple of years ago I went on a mad spree of making, for small, casual gatherings, a Ruth Reichl recipe called Sort of Thai Noodles. It’s a stir-fry dish, a scrumptious main course with three kinds of protein, fun to make with one or two people assisting. The last minute of making it, when everything comes together, is so action-packed you almost have to have someone reading the recipe to you while you cook. An Asian cucumber ribbon salad is the perfect starter for this dinner.
Speaking of mad sprees
I am on one now of making peanut butter pie, when the occasion calls for a dessert. Yes, I know, it’s fattening but peanut butter is loaded with protein, right? This pie would be the perfect wicked ending to your quiet little dinner and will yield leftovers to send home with your lucky guests. Email me for the recipe, or any I have mentioned herein. I’d love to hear from you!
THAT PRICELESS PATINA
You don’t need sterling-silver flatware to have a fabulous dinner party, but it is a lovely addition to your table. If you are fortunate enough to own sterling, use it every day; it keeps it bright and shiny. Contrary to popular thought, you can put it in the dishwasher. It’s actually good for it. Homemaking pundits tell you it’s tragic to put your sterling in the same dishwasher basket as your stainless, but on the occasions when I have accidentally mingled them, everyone has gotten along just fine. I would not suggest using the pot-scrubbing cycle, however.
If your silver starts to look dull or yellow, shine it up with silver polish and a clean, soft cloth. Polishing silver is therapeutic, don’t you think?
QUESTIONS ABOUT ENTERTAINING?
Merrily would love to answer them. Email them to her at: email@example.com
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