Stew and truth

I hosted my first dinner party when I was eighteen and my parents were away for the weekend. Not a vegan yet, I cooked goat’s cheese and caramelised onion filo tarts to start, a Persian saffron apricot and chicken stew with wild rice main and Mars bar squares plus a huge Victoria sponge for dessert. With all the soaking and infusing and marinating and whisking it all took about 24 hours to make but, since I hated University, doing anything that wasn’t an essay was fine by me.

I plan to maybe one day replicate my first dinner party with my new found vegan knowledge. The dried apricots were soaked in rum and saffron overnight. The onions for the tarts were made sticky and sweet in balsamic vinegar, the caramel squares crisp and mushy.

I was convinced I was the next Nigella, with smaller boobs and less full fat cream.

When the friends arrived, and I sat them in the dining room which I’d laid with a fresh tablecloth and tall silver candle holders, one of them looked around and scoffed:

“Are we really having a dinner party? I thought we would just be ordering take-away and getting drunk.”

There was some take-away ordered that night, but it was for more alcohol when we ran out after 2am and panicked.

The food was a success, apart from the gooey apricots resting in the saffron-infused stew. The dishes were cleared from the table with piles of discarded apricots hidden under stacked forks and knives. I didn’t take offence to this as we were all eighteen- when fine dining out meant garlic chips and a large coke, and anyway, I didn’t particularly like the apricots either. I would now though, and hope to make them again as soon as I can find an excuse for buying a bottle of rum (Tuesday is a good excuse, isn’t it?).

That night, with stomachs full of good food and livers desperately trying to process the massive amounts of wine being poured down our throats, we made our way out of my warm house. We travelled in a line through my shadowed back garden and crawled steadily onto the large trampoline standing proudly in the overgrown grass. We each lay flat in a circle, our legs making an eight pointed star in the centre of the trampoline, our faces lit only with the travelling light of dying stars.

In the cool night air, as unaware neighbours slept soundly all around us, we talked openly for the first time in a long time. As though the darkness gave us the power to avoid judgement, and the alcohol the bravery to speak our minds, we discussed how we felt about eachother. We critiqued eachothers’ bodies, personalities, faces. We spoke of our dreams without fear, and opened up about our fears without lies. We never made eye contact, but stayed lying still and flat, only the night sky to watch our mouths curl and wrinkle. We said things that made us feel warm and self conscious. It was both comforting and soul destroying, the usual cocktail I felt when part of that circle.

The next morning we all woke in various beds around my house. We bundled together in dressing-gowns on the couch, chocolaty from last night’s caramel squares, and watched silly films all day.

We slid slowly back to the pretence of the real world, never to speak of our naked truths again, but relieved that when we spoke to the night there were witnesses by our side to hear the night whisper back.

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