The highlight of my weekend was a lovely, lovely dinner party with some of my closest and most awesome friends. While I was there, it was brought to my attention that I have not posted in quite some time, and for the sake of not disappointing some of my most loyal readers and wonderful friends – not to mention the ridiculous amount of time it’s been – I knew I needed to write a little something ASAP.
Naturally, having a dinner party with good friends made me think of other dinner parties I’ve been to – and even hosted, in some cases.
And, of course, whenever I think of dinner parties that I’ve hosted, there is one epic disaster that comes to mind.
As a side note, I generally pride myself in my ability to entertain. My mother happens to be one of the biggest queens of hospitality that I know, and I was taught at a very young age (no – really. A ridiculously young age. We’re talking nine or ten) how to entertain, or at least anticipate the needs of others invited into your home and go out of the way to meet them. But all of that just makes this story more hilarious.
When I moved to Philadelphia, I was thrilled to have my independence, my own space, and a relationship I thought would be the end-all for me — but I also had a crappy apartment in the hood. (no – really. We’re talking the ‘drug dealers on the corner, waking up to gunshots and burnt out, stolen cars blocking the path to the entrance of the building, don’t walk by yourself at night or carry cash on your person, ever’ hood.) Since none of my friends would venture out to my neck of the woods, the first thing I wanted to do when I finally moved into a modest row in southwest Philly (not all that much less-hood, but the drugs were contained to a few crack houses spread evenly throughout the neighborhood) was have a dinner party.
My then-fiance, NE, supported my urge to entertain in our new space. I didn’t offer up much choice, and he pretty much shut down at the first phase of meal planning. Regardless, I happily continued planning my first in-house entertaining episode. The lucky invitees were my closest friend, Jeff, and his girlfriend, who, at the time, I had met briefly but never spent any amount of time with. We’ll call her GF for the sake of my story.
I spent the day of at the grocery store, marinating beautiful cuts of steak (I wasn’t a veggie back then), and cleaning to a near-obsessive level. I wanted nothing less than perfection, and I imagined perfect food, perfect atmosphere, along with perfectly witty banter and intriguing conversation.
The week leading up to the dinner party, I had forced NE – much to his reluctance, to help me revamp our back yard/ patio (a huge asset when you live in the city!). It was clean and outfitted with a massive grill (donated by my parents), patio furniture, tiki torches, and white lights. My plan was to grill the steaks, saute fresh veggies inside, and bake potatoes. It should have been perfect.
Jeff and GF arrived on time, and I poured wine and began making the perfect meal. It went like this:
Me: Hey, NE, can you light the grill for the steaks?
NE: Sure. Yeah.
Me: You’re cool with doing that, right? Like, you’ve done it before, right?
NE: Yeah. It’s fine, Kar. I got it.
The cocky sarcasm in his voice should have tipped me off. Needless to say, it didn’t.
While NE was outside preparing the grill, I started the veggies and such inside, all the while talking with Jeff and trying to make casual conversation with GF for the first time ever. At some point in the next twenty minutes, when NE still hadn’t returned from lighting the grill, Jeff asked where he had gone.
“He’s outside lighting the grill. We can go out, this stuff needs to cook a bit and I want you to see the backyard anyway!”
When we stepped out onto the patio, NE was smoking, and the grill was presumably lit, lid closed. Jeff noticed an empty bag of charcoal on the ground next to the grill.
Jeff: Isn’t this the first time you guys are using the grill?
ME: Yeah, isn’t it great? My parents gave it to us. It’s supposed to be gas, but it’s missing a part, but NE is going to fix it. Tonight we just emptied it out and put some charcoal in it …
Jeff: That looks like you used an entire bag of– NE, you didn’t use that whole bag of charcoal, did you?
NE: Yeah, why? It’s a big grill.
Jeff: Oh. God.
ME: What? What’s happening???
NE and Jeff simultaneously stepped over to the grill.
Jeff: It’s really hot. I can feel the heat and the lid is closed.
NE: Nah, I’m sure it’s fine.
He tried to open the grill and burnt his hand on the now-ridiculously-overheated handle.
Jeff: The temperature gauge on this thing is no longer registering a valid temperature. We have to open it.
NE used a set of metal tongs and flung open the lid of the grill.
We all took several steps back. Very quickly.
Ten foot flames shot out of the grill and up the side of the house. The house we didn’t own and had only lived in for a month. (no, I’m not exaggerating. An entire bag of charcoal, topped off with lighter fluid in a giant, metal box actually makes ten foot flames)
Visions of my new home burning to the ground started to cloud my dreams of the perfect dinner party. What happened next near crushed them.
NE: Well, we know it’s hot enough. I’m putting the steaks on.
Jeff: I don’t think that—
NE threw the steaks on the grill before Jeff could get through his statement. They were charred on one side in seconds. Literally, seconds.
ME: Oh my god, oh my– OH MY GOD.
I had turned around and faced the back of the yard – if only to avoid witnessing the destruction of the steaks that had been prepared and marinating for hours upon hours – just in time to watch one of the festively lit tiki torches fall to the ground and light a pile of leaves on fire.
My meticulously prepared steaks were now burning and both NE and Jeff scrambled to try and remove them from the inferno-of-a-grill, and there was far too much fire in my backyard for a girl to be comfortable. Abandoning Jeff to the steaks, NE ran inside for a wet bath towel to beat out the flames now spreading across the ground. Unfortunately for all of us, every time he hit at the pile of leaves with the towel, at least several of them ballooned our from the force of the impact and lit still more things on fire.
I stomped out burning leaves as best as I could wearing plastic flip flops.
After what seemed like ages of fire-stomping, the backyard fire was out, and major disasters along the lines of burning down the entire block of row homes were averted. Jeff announced that he had successfully gotten the steaks/char bricks off of the grill (which was still burning at an impressive 2-3 foot level), and in his irritation/anger/state of zealous fire extinguishing, NE grabbed a nearby bucket of rain water, marched over to the still-actively-burning grill, and doused the entire thing with five gallons of cold water.
The resulting smoke and ash reached well above the second story of our row, and I stared in disbelief as it rained down, covering everything in the backyard in a light coating of grey ash. Including me, our guests, and the steaks/char bricks.
ME: Holy Christ, NE … Really?!
I motioned to the ash-coating. I had no words left.
ME: OH MY GOD.
(Oh, wait. There were those words.)
ME: The rest of the food. It’s all on the stove.
The four of us stared at each other. Then ran for the door. Jeff was the closest (and also had the longest legs), and opened the door to more smoke.
Needless to say, most of the veggies had burned.
I offered to order a pizza, but the potatoes were still good an Jeff managed to salvage enough beef to feed all four of us – the char bricks turned out to only be charred on the outside, and with a a little creative carving, they almost looked normal.
We ended the night drinking wine and playing some board game, but not before GF finally snapped and screamed at my dog. First impressions are hilarious.
But, I couldn’t really blame her, after everything that had happened.