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Dinner with Henry

Retired college professors must carefully tend to their social life, else it will fade away and eventually vanish. One way to slow this progression is to invite a guest for dinner. Perhaps a new member of the library staff, or a new nurse, or a senior secretary will agree to come, indeed she may be thrilled by the invitation. My invitations, unfortunately, are rarely reciprocated. Perhaps because my women guests are not very sure of their cooking skills, and as I was a marriageable bachelor, they may not want to reveal the paucity of their culinary assets … but who knows?

I live alone in an older house trailer at the end of a paved road about three miles from the town where I teach. If one lives in a house trailer, choosing just the right night to entertain is important. Older trailers such as mine, have two-inch thick walls. A very cold night will require the furnace to run incessantly and it will eventually lose the battle. Your guest should not have to keep her overcoat on during dinner. Also, there should be little or no wind. Trailer roofs are made of thin sheet metal, curved so that rainwater will drain off. In a high wind, the Bernoulli principle assures that the wind will lift the roof with a loud crinkling sound and then, as the wind temporarily dies down, drop the roof back again. The crinkling noise will be distracting and interfere with conversation. And probably scare the hell out of a timid guest! (Many trailer owners avoid this noise by throwing old tires on the roof to hold it down. This is unsightly and reduces property values.) The sides of trailers are somewhat flexible and, in a good wind, an interior chandelier will swing gently back and forth. This can be a conversation piece, but only after the third sherry. Choose a mild, windless, night if you can.

Prepare the living room with at least two well-trimmed kerosene lamps. Make sure they do not set off any smoke alarms. Indeed, better to disconnect any smoke alarms in advance. Begin the evening by offering your guest some sherry. A light sherry enhances the appetite and degrades the palate, a perfect combination. Do not stint on the sherry. If your guest does not care for sherry, offer vodka with orange juice. Cheap vodka served this way cannot be distinguished from the fifty dollar a bottle variety. Waste not; want not. If your guest does not drink, your guest selection techniques are in need of attention.

After dinner, serve a good brandy. It costs very little to buy two sherry glasses and two brandy snifters. Avoid the use of plastic glasses for either the sherry or the brandy. While plastic plates of good quality are permissible for dinner, paper plates are not. Plastic eating utensils filched from fast food emporiums, and paper plates, are only for picnics. This is not a picnic; this is fine dining.

I suggest an easy menu. (You should be able to discuss the events of the day with your guest while you cook.) Select two pork shoulder chops. These should be especially cut, (usually sawed) to be no more than one half inch thick. Pork shoulder chops are about thirty percent bone and thirty percent fat, but you get a lot of chop for the money. Remind your guest, if she looks puzzled watching you prepare these, that, “The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat.” Place both chops in a frying pan; turn the heat to medium.

Another dish or two is needed. Mashed potatoes please everyone. Bring two quarts of water to a rolling boil, pour in the specified amount of potato flakes, add a half stick of butter and a half pint of heavy cream. Stir violently. Set aside. Cut the rubber band off the stem end of your broccoli and place in another pan of water; bring this water to a boil. When you think it’s done, it’s done. If it is a tad raw, say to your guest, “I always like vegetables al dente.” If she doesn’t know what that means, all the better. By now, the sizzling from the frying chops signals that they should be turned over. There will be a lot of grease in the frying pan. This is good; it means that you and your guest won’t ingest it. After turning the chops, the sizzling sound will again increase. When this inhibits conversation, it means the chops are done. Never serve underdone pork. When your guest stares at the slightly burnt spots on her meat, remember to mention to her that eating underdone pork is very dangerous.

Now for the dessert: Fruit is an excellent choice. I would buy some Anjou pears. As a serious cook, I know about pears. There are Anjou, Bartlett and some other kind, the name of which is unimportant. Cut the pear in half long-ways, remove the stem and scrape out the little seed area and place a Maraschino cherry there, sprinkle fresh blueberries on the result and then drizzle a good quality maple syrup over all. Do not stint and use some cheap-o corn syrup. It is always wise to leave your guest with a good experience. If they like their dessert, they will probably not remember the earlier part of the meal. One’s impressions are controlled by the most recent events.

You now add to the ambiance by turning on some music; select Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto” and say to your guest, “I hope you like a little Bach.” Should she respond with some mention of beer, again you have made a serious error. Too late, too late!

Now is the time to serve the brandy. Pour only an inch or so into each snifter. Swirl yours around to show off its legs. Then sip it slowly. Your guest will follow suit and not more than two refills will be needed. I assume that the evening’s subsequent events can be negotiated without my help. Remember, everything depends on preparation.

  • Ed Hahnenberg

    Henry…Not sure I want to know more details of your younger year repasts. However, your menu and French commentary was worthy of a spot on the Food Network. I just don’t particularly like mashed potatoes…I have become an expert in French fires. Love the maple syrup touch…I used to make the real stuff. Ed

    • Henry Klugh

      Sorry Ed but that piece was taken from “A Double Dozen and Six” a collection of tongue-in-cheek essay/memoirs which actually had a very nice sale at Horizon here in TC. I’m not terribly surprised that you weren’t much amused by it.

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