Whenever we had people over my mother would inevitably shout down the stairs to my stepfather, “Carl, why are you cleaning the cellar? No one cares about the boiler.”
“Marjorie, I am not cleaning the boiler, I am cleaning the washing machine, and YOU do not KNOW where people will be walking! They may choose to come down into the basement.”
We didn’t have a refinished basement, it was a lot of dingy cement, the boiler, the washer and dryer and some paint cans, but the idea that somebody might want to go down there put my stepfather in a panic whenever we had company. That, and under the porch. Those were the two places that he was intent on cleaning for guests.
It takes practice to remind yourself that if people are coming over, what they really want is to relax and have a good time. They are not coming with a clipboard. And if they do, A. it’s a problem and B. I don’t have enough years left in my life to worry about it. When I find myself running down into the bowels of the house to look for the washing machine with a bucket of bleach and a broom in my hand, I remind myself of the options like locking the basement door all together, or the truth, which is if someone wants to go into your basement, they are just going to have to suffer whatever it is they find.
I made a risotto because at the end of the day, I’m still compulsive. I sauted the onions and garlic ahead of time, blanched the asparagus, shocked it, and then lifted the onions out of their pan, added the asparagus, a little butter, tossed it all around with some salt and pepper and a sprig of thyme, and got it out. I made the stock, strained it and had it ready at a simmer to add by the ladleful. 40 minutes before I wanted to sit down, I started cooking the rice, getting the onions and garlic and a little herb back into the risotto pan, stirring around the rice for a minute before adding a good cup of wine, and then when the wine was gone, stock and more stock until it was just beyond al dente, and just about to go tender. I stirred in the asparagus. I turned off the heat, and folded in a little finley chopped parsley, and fresh thyme, the parmesan and some butter.
I bought two beautiful cheeses to serve (an Oregon blue vein and a Piave) with my salad of sauted mushrooms and shallot over a bed of crispy and sassy arugula, and served everything at once. For dessert we had Chocolate Jonty with whipped cream.
(3/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate melted with 2 sticks of butter, then folded into 5 eggs that have beaten first with 1/2 cup of sugar for 5 minutes until thick. Bake at 350 degrees set into a hot water bath until just set.)
Drink a lot of wine and serve the kids whatever they want. Ferdinand picked out a fruity cereal for his guest, raw whole carrots on the side, and ice cream for dessert.