Often along about mid-afternoon Laurie will ask me what I want for dinner. Usually I am entirely flummoxed by this question because though I know I will be hungry, I don’t have any particular food in mind at the moment. Even picking a dish off a menu at a restaurant would be beyond my poor powers. More often than not I will ask her what is easiest, and Laurie will make a few suggestions, and we are off and running.
Laurie’s question and my answer suggest how difficult it must be to choose a menu for a party, whether you are celebrating a birthday, a holiday, or just having a few friends over. Compared with choosing a menu, cooking is easy. Once you have decided what you are going to cook, cooking is just a matter of following instructions, even if they are your own. Designing a menu is more like constructing a work of art — you need to balance dishes to make a complete and satisfying meal.
I am reminded of the old Bill Cosby routine about what cavemen ate for dinner. A modern person may have a taste for steak or spaghetti, but your average caveman, he claimed, was pretty much stuck with bushes. I don’t think bushes would ever satisfy me, but knowing nothing else was available would certainly make it easier to chose a menu.
Days, sometimes weeks, before a party Laurie will begin thumbing through her long shelves full of cookbooks. With a book open before her, she looks dreamily off into space, mentally tasting the many possibilities. She must consider the allergies of her guests, what is fresh this time of year, whether she wants to make an old favorite or try something new — and hundreds of other factors, many without names.
At some point she will ask me what I think of a particular selection, but she doesn’t really want to know. I will express an opinion, and she will tell me why I am wrong or why the opinion is otherwise not relevant. I have learned that I am just a sounding board so she can find out what SHE thinks. She might as well be talking toone of the cats. She’s in the throes of that right now. We have guests coming for dinner this weekend. We hope they will take home the door prize–one of our Molly’s Mutts & Meows foster cats. Naturally, the menu has to be carefully chosen for an occasion like that.
I get the feeling that when Laurie asks me what I want for dinner, she really does want to know. After all, coming up with a dinner menu every day cannot be easy; it’s not hard to believe that a suggestion would be welcome. My problem is that she prepares so many things well that I am often just as much at a loss as she is. Sometimes a little gin and tonic will help us make a decision. All I can always be sure of is that neither of us wants bushes.