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The Horrible Success

In January of 2007, I planned a dinner party for several people. It was the first I had ever fully planned, and it was my way of saying thanks to the couple who invited us over the week before to share their dinner with them.

At their house, dinner was a buffet style. They had made tacos, and this way everyone could choose what they wanted to put in them. I loaded up my taco with a little of everything, topped it off with salsa and homemade guacamole from avocados I had brought over, and I watched my date do the same. When we sat down to eat, I asked him if he noticed anything was missing.

"No," he replied. "What do you mean?"

Feeling that it was a remarkably unobservant remark for a veteran Police Officer of 13 years, I pointed out the one obvious fact he had failed to notice.

"There's no meat."

"What?!" Incredulous, Pete looked at me, down at his taco, and back at me. I could see him thinking for a second. "You're right!"

"I think they're vegetarians," I said quietly. George and Rachel were still putting together their tacos, so that moment of privacy was the only moment I would be able to point out my simple observation without incurring an uncomfortable silence.

"So," Pete said in a much less tactful way when they sat down near us, "you're vegetarians, huh?"

"Oh," George and Rachel proclaimed. "We forgot to tell you. Yes, we've lived a Vegan lifestyle for the past 3 years now," Rachel explained to us, "but I was a Vegan long before that. It just took me a while to convince George." She kissed him sweetly on the cheek while his mouth was wrapped in a big bite around his taco. He smiled a bit.

"Yeah," he concluded after chewing his bite and clearing his mouth. "I wasn't easy to convince."

Before I realized it, the night was nearly over and we were headed home. I couldn't seem to stop myself from speaking when I invited them over for dinner the following week. I'd never cooked a Vegan meal in my life.

I started cooking that Saturday at 9:00 am. It had taken me all week to decide on a menu, and then I discovered that there were so many options that I couldn't decide between them. The final decisions were left to Pete. The dinner party had grown from 4 people to 5 couples, so I knew that no matter the menu, I would have something for everyone. Still, the majority of food was to be Vegan by design.

The first thing I worked on were the appetizers. I chopped the stems and crumbled the bread crumbs for the stuffed mushrooms, wrapped the brie rounds in the Phillo dough with walnuts and Jalapeno Pepper Jelly, and sent Pete to the store for more pears. The baked brie was to be served with apple and pear slices along side a variety of crackers.

Then I got to work on the salad. What Pete's sister described as a "California Salad" is precisely what I made. I started out with the fancy lettuce variety – arugula, baby spinach – the like. Then I tossed on some chopped walnuts (left over from the baked brie) some Feta, also to be used in the lasagna, some sweet yellow peppers, later to be cooked in with the vegetarian lasagna, and some raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was wonderful! I served this to the guests as soon as they stopped chowing down on the appetizers and chit chatting over the days events, a good half hour after the first couple arrived. They also turned out to be the last couple to arrive. The rest of the group except Rodney (minus the girlfriend) cancelled at the last minute.

Then I made the HAND ROLLED lasagna – two different kinds. I had the traditional meat and tomato, but also the spinach and cheese. It was very good, I'll admit. I had only made it once before. While the guests worked on their salads, the Lasagna was baking in the oven, making the whole house smell wonderful. Noses turned to the air, sniffing wildly as George mopped up the last bit of Raspberry Vinaigrette with a baby spinach leaf.

Next I tossed the ingredients together for my own Cherry Cobbler Cake – a whopping 4 ingredients. This cake is simple, fast, and always a party favorite. I threw that in the oven just as the Lasagna came out and the guests were setting down their salad bowls. Each piece of lasagna came out as a beautiful presentation, and having previous experience as a food server, it was nothing for me to carry three plates at once. Pete carried ours. Ever the polite hostess, I even offered choices.

I had plated two servings of the vegetarian lasagna for George and Rachel, knowing full well from the previous week that they had been Vegan for years. The chances of that changing in less than one week were slim to none.

"Would you like the Spinach lasagna, or the traditional?"

George and Rachel exchanged quick glances. Rachel spoke up first.

"We'll try the traditional."

Agog, I had Pete hand the two plates of traditional lasagna to our guests, while the third I handed to Rodney. The two plates of Spinach lasagna went to Pete and myself. Our confusion was obvious, I guess. George offered an explanation.

"We went to a friend's house on Wednesday. He had been cooking ribs all day long and it had been so long since I had ribs. I said I would take a bite of one just to see how they tasted. All Rachel had to do was taste the BBQ sauce on the ribs and we were both hooked. I suppose I should have told you guys sooner, but it slipped my mind. We're not vegetarians anymore, by the way." His fork cut into his lasagna and he removed a bite sized piece. "Sorry." He emptied the contents into his mouth and his face lit up. "But if I hadn't gone back to meat on Wednesday, I would have now! This is incredible!"

"It is," Rachel agreed after swallowing her first bite. "I've GOT to get this recipe from you! I've never seen Lasagna look like this before. It's so... well, pretty!"

Before everyone finished eating their lasagna, I claimed to have some errand in the kitchen I needed to attend to. The smell of the Cherry Cobbler Cake wafted through the house when I turned off the oven and opened the door to allow it to cool.

The final touch was the Poached Pears. I'd never had poached pears before and I knew it sounded good, so I was curious. I threw together the ingredients in a sauce pot and got it boiling. While waiting, I collected the empty and polished lasagna plates. Had they been any more spotless I would have accused them of licking the plates clean. Then I returned to the kitchen where I peeled, cored, and boiled the pears, but while they were boiling, I garnished the desert plates.

The desert plates were garnished with Raspberry Syrup and Chocolate Syrup swirled in one corner around an orange slice and a raw apple slice. The cake went in another corner, the poached pear next to that. A single scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream finished the presentation, and it came out looking like a miniature work of art. When the desert was served, I got the biggest compliment of the evening.

"This is the best desert I've had in so many years," Rachael proclaimed.

"Everything has been so wonderful!" Pete said.

"Wow, Amanda – you've outdone yourself here. Wonderful." Rodney thanked me.

"I'm so full I feel like I cant swallow any more, and yet I cant stop eating!" George cut a slice of pear off with his spoon and tasted it gingerly. "Oh Wow," he said in a hushed tone. "This is the best desert I've ever tasted." George smiled up at me and then looked at Rachel. "Why don't you ever cook like this?"

Rachel's face fell in embarrassment and she refused to look at me for the rest of the night. She didn't say much after that, and it was clear that she was extremely hurt by what George had said. While I was openly embarrassed for her, inwardly I was stunned that my food had garnished such a compliment.

It was a crowning achievement; a great and horrible success, and an overall wonderful moment for me while also being a most humiliating moment for Rachel. If only the 8 people invited had showed up rather than just the three that did, maybe the comment would have been lost in random conversation.

There were certainly PLENTY of leftovers. To this day I've not made another batch of Vegetarian lasagna though. I know I probably wouldn't eat it if I did. It was good- very good. I just got rather burned out on it.

George and Rachel never came over again, and we never were invited to their house for dinner after that. We rarely saw them at all, and the few times we did, it was clear that Rachel still had rather hurt feelings. She hardly spoke to me.

Part of me wonders if she thought my purpose was to out-do her taco dinner we had at their house, but I know that wasn't the point at all. My only purpose was to make something I would enjoy making and that people would enjoy eating. I wanted to be creative and I saw my moment to try something new.

It was, in the end, a horribly successful dinner party that I'll never forget. I've got money on the fact that Rachel won't forget it anytime soon, either. I still feel bad for that one.

Rodney, Myself and George.

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