How do you host a Crappy Dinner Party?

Last month, I wrote about The Kitchn's inspiring series on Crappy Dinner Parties and how it made me start to think I could actually maybe possibly one day have a dinner party. I previously wrote that it's fear of being Betty Draper that prevents us from hosting dinner parties. And that's partially true. But if I'm being really honest, it's because my husband works a schedule that makes Don Draper look like a homebody. Years of medical school, residency, and fellowship have meant that my husband has missed so many celebrations: birthday parties, graduations, weddings, and more. When my son D was born, my husband had 4 days of paternity leave (which I realize is generous by most residency standards), after which it was back to working nights at the hospital. But the worst moment by far was the Thanksgiving I flew back from my dissertation defense, which my husband had not been able to attend because of his residency schedule, only to learn upon landing that he was held up at the hospital. I celebrated my crowning academic achievement with a marathon of Friends Thanksgiving episodes and a can of cranberry sauce.

None of these moments are my husband's fault. That's just the job. The main reason I never throw dinner parties isn't the crumbs on the floor, or the toys covering every surface, or the risk of burning a dish and ruining the meal. It's that, because of my husband's schedule, there was always a good chance I'd be hosting alone. It's no fun to invite couples over for dinner only to find that you're the odd Duck out at your own party. 

Enter the Kitchen's Crappy Dinner Series. Kelley Powell offers 4 rules for hosting a Crappy Dinner Party: no cleaning, no grocery shopping, no wardrobe changing, and no hostess gifting. But it was her fifth optional rule that really inspired me:

You must act like you're surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door.

If I viewed the evening as less of a planned event and more of an impromptu gathering, I didn't need to worry about whether or not my husband was home. I mean, how could my impromptu guests know whether or not either of us were home? They were just dropping in, after all. 

So I set out to throw a Crappy Dinner Party. In keeping with the spirit of the day, I allowed only one hour for preparation. I assumed I'd need about a half hour for prep and a half hour for chasing a toddler away from the oven. I quickly learned that the rules need to be modified a bit for tiny dinner guests. I vacuumed and picked up to remove only the most tempting choking hazards from the floor. I cheated on the wardrobe rule too, but only because of a mid-party-prep diaper disaster. My dinner guests cheated on the hostess rule, but the wine was perfect with the food, which was prepared completely according to Crappy Dinner Party philosophy. No special grocery trip went into this meal. A bunch of epi loaves in the freezer called out for all of the various spreads in the fridge. A little goat cheese baked in garlic-laden olive oil, a few handfuls of nuts, and voila! A Crappy Dinner Party prepped in under 30 minutes.

Our Crappy Dinner Party spread.

Our Crappy Dinner Party spread.

The layout of my home makes it impossible for parents to actually sit at the dining table, because they're always popping up to check on kids in the living room, or on the stairs, or in the playroom. I wanted guests to actually sit and eat and enjoy each other's adult company, which meant I needed to add a sixth rule to Crappy Dinner Party prep: put toys in the dining room. The ball pit and light table worked for a while, after which the kids had warmed up to each other nicely enough to hang out by themselves. 

A light table makes for mood lighting and kid distracting.

A light table makes for mood lighting and kid distracting.

Even though we bent some of the rules, we certainly adhered to the Crappy Dinner Party in spirit. And in scheduling and prepping for the day, I held fast to Rule #5. Because I was treating the day as an impromptu gathering more than a planned occasion, I didn't have to worry about whether or not hubby would make it through the door in time so that I could shower or style my hair or even change yet another stained shirt. My husband actually was late, but showed up with last-of-the-season farmer's market cherry tomatoes, which we washed and added to our easy meal.

I'm looking forward to a future full of crappy hosting.