Here is what I learned last night:
1. Like butter, milk, and bacon, you should always keep a back-up quart of ice cream in the freezer.
2. If all the snot in your head is crowding out the brain cells, put your husband in charge of the garnishes.
I learned this when we had one of my husband's professors and his lovely wife over for dinner last night. I'll be quite frank: I wasn't in a good mood about it. I was looking forward to meeting these people and wanted to make a good impression, but I was also coming down with a cold and wanted to curl up with tankards of orange juice and chicken broth.
But the perfect hostess does not cancel at the last minute, even if she risks getting her guests sick. The perfect hostess knows that if she gives the impression of being organized and hygienic, her guests will never suspect her of giving them the sniffles.
So forward we went. I'd made a big pot of white chicken chili and a sour cream coffee cake the night before, so all I had to do was set the table, light the candles, and warm up the chili after work. Easy. Or at least it gave the impression of being easy--sort of like those messy buns where you need four hands and half an hour of earnest teasing to make people think you just threw it together. (I used to whine about not having a big sister to teach me how to make messy buns, but in the age of YouTube I suppose that complaint is no longer valid.) I was a little concerned about the coffee cake--it had fallen mysteriously as it cooled--but decided that on my list of things to worry about, dessert wasn't nearly as important as "make sure not to leak snot into the chili while stirring."
It turned out to be a lovely evening. Much laughter, and I mostly understood the architecture-talk. (Mostly. There were a few bad moments early on when they walked in and said, "Oh, what a lovely home!" I thought they were talking about our decorating, but then they said it was a great example of modernist something in the something style, as evidenced by the roof joinery, and all I could say was, "Mmm!") We were having such a good time that no one looked at me funny when I cut into the coffee cake and understood the mysterious deflation: The bottom third wasn't cooked.
"Ha! Ha!" said I, giving my husband a hunted look that meant Please tell me we have ice cream and frozen berries in the freezer so we can improvise some sort of berry crumble.
"Yum! Cake batter!" he cried.
So we got through that. We had a nice conversation over tea and none of us even noticed how late it was getting. Eventually they headed out. The hubby threw plates in the dishwasher and I bagged the leftovers to put in the fridge... at which point I noticed the cup of fresh-squeezed lime juice, the chopped scallions, the shredded cheese, the cilantro, the sour cream, and the pico de gallo I'd meant to put out as garnishes for the chili.
"Ha! Ha!" said I, giving my husband a hunted look that meant It is time for me not to be awake anymore.
"Don't worry. We'll use those on the leftover chili and you're taking a sick day tomorrow," he said.
"I don't need to take a sick day tomorrow."
"You sneezed thirty-eight times tonight and you've turned into a mouth breather. You need to stay in bed."
And so I conclude with this question: If you went over to someone's house for dinner and she sneezed thirty-eight times and, by the time you left, was surrounded by her own little sea of spent Kleenex, you wouldn't blame your subsequent cold on her, would you?