We've all had this nightmare at least once in our lifetime. Receiving that dreaded dinner invitation that you just can't say no to. And now that fateful day has arrived, and you must head (or crawl) over to your evening of torture.
Why the fear of going over to someone's house for dinner, you may be asking? Well, let's just say when the hosts' cooking skills make Chef Boyardee look like a 3-star Michelin chef, there should be cause for concern.
As luck would have it, today they had decided they would cook up some new items (alongside a couple of old family recipes). Yes, recipes they decided to try and prepare for the first time, acting like we should be viewing this as an honor of some sort. But here's the hardcore truth: we were about to become their human guinea pigs.
Rest assured, however, that being a seasoned veteran of these sorts of events, I had come prepared, with a few tricks up my sleeve.
But first’s thing’s first. Allow me to ask a question, folks. Why do we always assume an “old family recipe” necessarily means that it will be good? “This recipe was passed on from generation to generation in our family” proudly clamored our hosts. Great, I thought. And so was herpes. Old traditions do not always mean they're better. Heck 50 years ago, icepick lobotomies were used to “cure” anxiety and depression (google it, it’s disturbing) and so was having pet monkeys living inside your home.
Our first entrée was a plate of European meatballs, served by the wife, as she proudly donned her Betty Crocker polka-dotted, ridiculous-looking apron. The meatballs, she reiterated, were a family tradition. And let me tell you, they were just awful: rubbery texture, dry inside, and hard as a rock (perhaps, I thought, in the 16th century, their ancestors may have used these as military-grade cannonballs).
“I hope you like them they are freshly made”. Yes, with fresh sawdust I thought to myself (they were in the midst of renovations, so it would have made perfect sense- you know how they how the best meals are made with local ingredients). The truth was we were fully deserving of enduring this ordeal, given we didn’t have the balls (pardon the pun) to say no to this dinner from the get-go.
Then came the "soup du jour" as the husband announced loudly (I could have sworn he did a chest-thump too). Made from garden vegetables. One sip of this vegetable broth however and I could tell that seasonings were a foreign concept to them. It tasted like warm V8 (the low sodium option).
This is when I proceeded to pull out my malleable tin can. As the two hopeless cooks headed out to the kitchen, I immediately poured the soup into the can, filling it as quickly as my little hands could go. But they were back in a dash. I was caught with my pants down (figuratively speaking of course). I had no other choice but to hold on to the burning hot can, underneath the table. Moments later the man walked over to pour some more wine in my glass and decided to give a toast "Cheers to a wonderful evening". Unable to raise a glass with my hands being "tied up" below the table, I just leaned over and took a sip almost losing my balance ("look Ma no hands"). “Oh, I see you finished all your soup, did you like it, would you like some seconds, we have lots left” asked the wife, almost pleadingly. I shook my head and with my nose growing by the second, I replied, “No thanks, it was delicious though”. I looked under the table and noticed my hands were turning red and tears were starting to come down my face.
It was "finally" time for the main course (or in boxing terms, their George Foreman knockout punch). They called it the “Beggar’s stew”. A grotesque potpourri of meats, what appeared to be a form of rice, and some vegetables all tossed in together. It looked like a recipe that had been created “on the fly”. Or perhaps they had just tossed all their leftovers in this bowl. Nonetheless, out of sheer politeness, I decided I had to force myself and shove it down my throat.
I grudgingly put a spoonful in my sorry mouth. Suffice it to say, in this case, looks were not deceiving. In fact, even a hungry beggar would probably have turned it down.
It was now time to move to another plan. Time to make a few things disappear.
Enter the Napkin Trick. It’s quite simple really. You take your napkin, and grab some of the food off the plate, and then you proceed to the washroom and gently flush it all down.
Unfortunately, the wife was now on to me. It could have been the fact I kept rushing off to the washroom every 3 minutes or perhaps she clued in something fishy was going on from the faces of disgust I kept making. It was hard to tell, but, either way, it was time to switch to plan C. If I couldn't get rid of their food, I was going to have to eat it. But no one ever said I had to actually taste it. I pulled some good old wasabi out of my pockets (a useful thing to keep on you at all times) and began putting small parcels of it in my mouth before every spoonful of the beggar’s grub. It was the most efficacious way of completely numbing my taste buds.
Unfortunately, what ensued was a scene straight out of a Marvel movie. My eyes began to bulge and turn red, my face became borderline green, as I was clenching my fists and gasping for air. Too much wasabi had done me in. The hosts sat there in disbelief, wondering if I was turning into the Incredible Hulk, or possibly a werewolf, right before their very eyes. The woman turned to her husband and said “Oh, my I didn’t realize this dish was so spicy, Peter, what did you add to it”? “Nothing, dear, a sprinkle of pepper and some orange zest…I’m so sorry, let me get you some more water”.
Luckily for all of us, though, the dessert portion of the dinner went off without a hitch (they served us a Baskin Robbins cake), and we proceeded to the living room where they offered us some scotch and Porto.
I must say though, looking back on that day, that I’m not entirely surprised that we never heard from this couple again. Perhaps they got the drift about their lack of culinary expertise and started ordering in instead; or, more likely, they found other suckers to reel in and use as their very own laboratory rats.