One of my first social disasters in our new home came in the innocent form of a child’s birthday invitation. I stumbled upon it while going through my daughter’s book bag after school one day. I was delighted to see that my little girl was starting to fit in and had been added to the social register of her little village school. It was much the same as any birthday invitation that would have been passed out back in America, but with one subtle difference. In America you were often only given enough advance notice of a birthday party to run to Wal-Mart, pick up a Hot Wheels party pack or a Barbie and wrap it in the car while you drove your child to the skating rink. In our new home the custom was to give four weeks or so notice just in case her busy social calendar was to fill up, this little boy would get first dibs on her time. I telephoned the number on the card and spoke with his Belgian mother. She was warm and friendly and pleased to hear of our acceptance. It was a date, in four weeks my daughter would arrive in her finest party attire, gift in hand, for an afternoon of kiddie party fun European style.
Four weeks later, having long ago filed this party under the “think about it much later” heading, a thunderbolt struck me. Somewhere between the gym and prepping for my dinner party, the brightly wrapped package caught my eye. It was at that moment I realized we had forgotten about my daughter’s classmate’s 8th birthday soiree. I was sick with disappointment for both my daughter and the birthday boy. Even though the party was almost over by this time, I threw a dress on my little party girl, buckled her patent leather shoes, grabbed his present and sped down the green country lanes of Nottinghamshire to their house two villages over. We arrived at their home, that while beautifully picturesque, was like so many homes in older villages and had no accommodations for modern modes of transportation. We quickly parked and trotted a quarter mile down the road from our illegal parking spot at the village pub, the whole while making excuses under my breath as to why I had dropped this ball, “Mommy just has too much on her mind! Why do they send their invitations out so far in advance? Somehow this must be Daddy’s fault.”
We finally made it to their front door and rang the bell. Silence. I rang the bell again and felt a rise in blood pressure with every step I heard approaching the door. I recognized the woman at the door from the school’s sports day gathering at the local cricket pitch. Today she wasn’t smiling and friendly like she was the day our son let all the girls in his class beat him in the foot race. The look on her face let both of us know that the party was over, she was not amused with our tardiness, and she was glad that my son was a slow runner. She reluctantly, and without the hint of a consoling smile, invited us into the lounge with the rest of her family who were visiting from Bruges and had somehow managed to arrive on time. I can only compare the feeling in that room to the feeling we have all had in those horrible naked dreams. I apologized until I started to sound more stupid than I already looked and just shut up. Then I only made things more awkward by asking if the children had already had their cake. I’m not sure if it was the question I asked or the third eye I had grown in my forehead but it was at this time she announced that most of the children had already taken their cake home with them. After fifteen minutes of awkward silence and small talk, our hostess stuffed a piece of serviette wrapped cake in a party bag that we graciously accepted before making a hasty getaway. Thank goodness my new “frienemies” moved back to Belgium at the end of term.
To this day I’ve never forgotten another child’s birthday party. In fact, since that day, I have lived in fear of missing another one. From that point on, I turned over a new leaf and decided to try a new life strategy, I bought a calendar and best of all I even use it on occasion.
With spring upon us, I can hardly wait to fire up the barbeque grill and invite my favorite party guests around for dinner. I have many recipes for host friendly dishes that can be prepped ahead, quickly finished off and served without requiring long absences from my guests, so narrowing it down to three wasn’t easy. I chose these because not only are they perfect for the back garden on a beautiful summer’s evening, but they can be easily prepared inside for a bright taste of summer during the unpredictable English spring weather. Now all you need are guests that won’t forget your party.
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (the juice of approximately 2 medium size limes)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons tequila (optional but highly recommended)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
Place all ingredients in a small covered container and shake well. Pour over meat, turn to coat and marinate for 1 – 4 hours, turning occasionally.
This recipe is delicious as shown with fish but is also just as delicious with chicken or pork.
Old Fashioned Cheesy Cornbread Spoon Bread Casserole
2/3 cup (90g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (85g) cornmeal or polenta
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113g) butter, melted
1 – 8 ounce (240g) tin whole sweet corn
1 – 8 ounce (240g) tin cream style sweet corn
1 medium size jalapeno, finely diced (optional)
3 spring onions, white and light green parts, finely diced (optional)
1 cup (240g) soured cream
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup (130g) grated medium cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190C).
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal or polenta, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter, corn, jalapeno, spring onion, soured cream, eggs and 3/4 of the cheese; stir well. Pour into a greased 2 quart (2 litre) baking dish.
Place in preheated oven and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until it is golden brown and firm in the middle. Remove and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
1 – 16 ounce (453g) package coleslaw mix or approximately 8 cups shredded cabbage and carrot
1/2 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 small red onion, sliced into thin rings then cut in half
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced across
1 small bunch fresh coriander
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 – 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, combine the coleslaw mix, red bell pepper, onion, cucumber and coriander; toss well and set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, garlic, sweet chili sauce and salt. Pour over the coleslaw mix and toss once again to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 6 - 8