As a devotee of Miss Manners (who attended elementary school with my mother-in-law, but I gather they were not fond of one another; I have a class photo showing Miss Manners smiling at the camera demurely, as good as gold, while my future mother-in-law looked about to bolt away), I like to read etiquette columns and discussions. I'm not going to claim, though, that I have perfect manners. Once someone scathingly said to me, "You do that Miss Manners shit about 95% of the time", going on to vividly describe the remaining five percent in a way which time has mercifully obscured from my memory. But! Despite my studies of the world of polite protocol, I had no idea of how incredibly rude I am, sinning against etiquette on a grand scale.
What is my unforgivable crime against Western civilization, committed on a regular basis? Brace yerselves: I invite people over to dinner, and I serve them a vegetarian meal, even though they are usually not vegetarians themselves. I'll understand if you faint dead away at the mere contemplation of this unholy action.
If you peruse etiquette discussion boards, you'll find that there is a lot of hatred and anger directed towards vegetarians. Mass opinion holds that vegetarians are a selfish lot, demanding rudely that their hosts provide meat-free foods for them, which is unbearably difficult for the poor, beleaguered hostesses of the world, and then when these hellish vegetarians begrudgingly return the hospitality, they selfishly refuse to buy and serve meat for their guests. How dare they????
I've held a lot of dinner parties over the years, and in general, when someone leaves, they usually say, "God, that was so great, Carole, thank you so much." It turns out they're a pack of liars. Secretly they are suffering from indigestion at best, dangerous health conditions at worst. As I have recently learned, vegetarian hostesses should inform their guests ahead of time that they will selfishly not be serving any meat, because many people become "dangerously imbalanced" if they don't get a constant flow of meat into their flesh-eating maws. My God, who knew every time I opened up a bottle of Prosecco and set out some h'ors d'oeuvres that I was actually risking my friends' health??
As I pause to solemnly reflect upon my evil, evil ways, I remember the most ambitious dinner party I ever held, a tapas feast. This was actually sold (and many foolish, foolish people bid upon it) at a preschool auction, and some friends of mine I love bought it and invited two other couples to join them. I worked hard for days in advance, and I enlisted another father from our preschool to be my waiter. The Sober Husband was drafted as a sous chef, but he kept drifting off to the garden to smoke and drink with one of the guests (I actually called him on his celphone once to summon him back to the kitchen. We vegetarians are a particularly cruel race. Never forget: Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian!!)
The guests were greeted at the door by my assistant, who wore a snappy suit for the occasion, and presented with glasses of cava (Spanish sparkling wine). They were then seated casually in the living room, and served the following there:
First courses, accompanied by garrapinado (a sort of white sangria)
manchego cheese with tapenade
The next courses came accompanied by traditional red sangria:
tortilla a la espanola
two kinds of tostadas: one with a smoky spread (incorporating vegetarian sausage, will the horrors never end) and one with romesco sauce
These were trickled out sequentially, so the guests could nibble as they talked and drank. Towards the end of this part of the evening, I forced my assistant (who felt it was a bad idea) to serve the guests each a foster kitten for the evening. This was actually the hit of the night, as there were enough kittens for each dinner guest to cuddle one, and after the bonhomie from several courses of tapas and several glasses of sangria, the guests were loosened up enough to truly appreciate kitten antics.
By the time the guests had been here for about an hour and a half, it was time to transition into the dining room. I had my assistants help them carry their glasses.
The transitional course, served at table: white gazpacho (with peeled grapes as a garnish)
Next, served all at once at the table, along with red and white Spanish wines:
cauliflower with manchego and almond sauce (a time-consuming dish to prepare which is one of my favorite foods of all time)
ensalada with salsa xato
vegetarian paella (I used the occasion as an excuse to finally buy a proper paella pan)
And then, the digestifs and coffee, followed by lemons filled with pudding. (These had to be prepared over a day in advance and chilled).
My friend who bought the meal brought me a huge bouquet of flowers the next day in thanks. As far as I know, no guests were sent into sudden health crises as the result of having missed meat. I can't imagine, with the quantities they ate and drank, that any of them ate any flesh later at home.
Now those were truly the victims of the greatest torture, being confined in my home for many hours and served many foods. Other sufferers might only get desserts (I do a lovely tiramisu) and a glass or two of wine. But think of the true victims of my kitchen of horrors: a husband and two children, served vegetarian meals day in and day out FOR YEARS. Shudder. That is my confession, dear readers, my terrible, terrible confession. I hope you can find it in your heart to accept me as I am, but know that I repenteth not and amendeth not my evil, evil ways.
This should obviously be cross-posted on your cooking blog.
The solution, my dear DH, is quite simple: don't invite Miss Manners over for dinner!
I always make a point of ascertaining whether or not people are vegetarians before I invite them over. I would hate to invite people for dinner, and find that they were incapable of eating what I cooked. Nor would I take offense if I went to somebody's house and was served vegetarian food.
I think you are doing just wonderfully. Carry on!
I assume that all the kittens were accounted for when the guests left and no carcasses were discovered hidden in a corner. However it may explain the recently missing kitten. Of course SH would go on the offensive and blame you first so as to shift suspicion.
Professor Hughman, what do you think?
Not a vegetarian, but I'd eat at your house anytime. Yum!! And who can pass up a kitten cuddle?
i also wondered about the serving of kittens. would that go with a nice garlic dip?
i'm not a big meat eater (i prefer chicken or fish) but i certainly think it's rude to tell hosts what to serve. i will admit however my favorite tapa is fresh grilled sardines.
One of those kittens from that party grew up to be Al, the neurotic, skeletal animal who lived in the backyard for months but then came inside again for reasons of his own.
The same etiquette forum that debated for endless days whether or not it was rude to serve meat at a party honoring a vegetarian? Sure, and serve bacon quiche and pork chops the next time the rabbi comes to dinner. I thought that was such a no-brainer, to not serve meat, but I was depressed by the fact there was even a debate.
I would never expect anyone to cook something in their home they don't regularly eat themselves, period. (although I do think eating with my sister should have a waiver on vegetables, as her household is unacquainted with anything except the potato.)
I can't believe your MIL and Miss Manners were at the same school or any kind of gathering, ever. Obviously Miss Manners got all the etiquette and sensitivity your MIL let fly by the wayside.
I confess, I peruse those etiquette sites in the dark of night (witness the time now, O Ye Insomniacs), and I have lately seen your distinctive moniker on one particularly well-trafficked site that shall remain nameless. Suffice to say, they are patently crazy in this regard. These are also the same people who declared it a heinous criminal offense to - wait for it - THROW YOUR OWN BIRTHDAY PARTY. As it clearly trumpeted your self-aggrandizing lack of humility. Yep.
Yes, it's a sick addiction, the free dispensing of my own personal rules of behavior, although sometimes (like with the vegetarian debate) I just gave up.
I checked out a tapas cookbook at the bookstore today and they looked so yummy and perfect for wine. Except for the squid dish--I think squid should be slightly more disguised.
I am absolutely, positively sure that Miss Manners would approve of your serving vegetarian meals to your guests, though I'm not sure what she would have to say about including a kitten course. The tapas dinner sounds marvelous. I wish I had the energy to plan and execute such an extensive and delicious sounding menu.
This is great. The solution, I think, is not to invite any meat-eating ingrates in the first place.
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