Finished in faux mahogany, to the untrained eye it could be mistaken for a piece of tacky furniture. Yet when you slid the lids aside, there underneath was a range of serving dishes, each with their own silver lid. They were sunk into a metal base. When you plugged the sideboard in, the metal base would heat up thus keeping all the food warm. How fantastic is that? I imagine that after the starter had been served (prawn cocktail I reckon), and the meat placed on dinner plates, my Mother would quietly say,
‘now, if you would like to help yourselves to vegetables from the hostess trolley…’
and the guests would politely shuffle along. Or better still, did she wheel it around the table and each guest would load up their plates, carefully replacing each silver lid so that it didn’t make too much of a clanking sound? Perhaps she would strike poses as they helped themselves, a bit like Anthea Redfern on The Generation Game? Would my Dad be tempted to do a Bruce Forsyth impression,
‘doesn't she look lovely, give us a twirl!’?
Oh what I wouldn’t give for one of those trolleys, I could have hours of Dinner Party fun.
Anyway, as the party preparations reached fever pitch, I would finish watching Doctor Who and be packed off to bed. My bedroom gave me a great view of the guests arriving up the dark lane. As the lion’s head door knocker summoned my parents, I would creep onto the landing and watch the grown up rituals begin. Effusive cries and greetings, mwah’s and handshakes, the wine gifts accepted with thanks, alien cologne wafting up the stairs.
I was – I’m fairly sure – a precocious little brat. Do you think it was because I was once a flower princess at the village fête? Maybe the success went to my head, but for whatever reason, I always felt the guests would welcome a little break from adult tedium. I would time my entrance for about halfway through the first G&T. The conversation would die and my Mother’s face would freeze, her teeth bared in an attempt at a smile. I knew that I had about 5 minutes before she deemed that the mark had been well and truly over-stepped. I’d produce my corny excuse; ‘I heard a noise’, bask a little in the grown-up attention, then scuttle back upstairs. I’d then resume position on the landing so that I could eavesdrop. If someone appeared unexpectedly in the hall, I’d have to dart back into my room, heart thumping, hysterical giggles just below the surface.
I’d wake in the morning to a silent house. Going downstairs was like wandering into an alien world. Not the usual tidy, uneventful kitchen, but a scene from a play, or perhaps the aftermath of a crime. Glasses everywhere. Some tipped over; their contents pooled on the table or swilling happily around in the bottom. Carelessly stacked plates - not even scraped off - waiting to confront my Mum when she came down to start the bleary clearing up. I half expected to see bodies sprawled under the table, or cobwebbed skeletons propped up in chairs. Judging by the amount of empty bottles, I suspect that some of those guests would have done better to bed down under the table rather than lurch happily to their cars, and veer home down country lanes. I don’t think Drink-driving laws had really caught on in the ‘70’s.
The best part of the Dinner Party carnage was the pudding leftovers. Somehow they had made it back into the fridge, and were waiting for me to surreptitiously scoop my fill. My favourite was that culinary classic of my parent’s generation; the ginger biscuit pudding. This über-kitsch dessert consisted of ginger biscuits from a packet, soaked in sherry, sandwiched together with cream, and then smeared all over with cream. How that constitutes a pudding worthy of guests, I don’t know, (born-again Delia might) but the mix of alcohol, sugar and fat was delicious. You see - the seeds of my downfall were sown early in my life.
These Dinner Party memories were swirling around my head recently, triggered by some courgettes I bought. For at least one of her dinners, Mum served a ‘Courgettes Fried in Butter’ dish. To my young mind they looked foul – like green slugs I remember thinking – but I suddenly fancied trying them again. Using Mum’s dish as a starting point I concocted this courgette soup. It’s really simple, and you’ll feel all smug and healthy when you eat it. Do you know how it would best be served? From one of those beautiful heated hostess trolleys! Must have a look on Ebay…
Courgette Soup (...is very good with Archimedes' GF bread rolls)
I think I have fallen in love with this soup. I love it because it's green, which instantly makes me feel as though it has life-giving powers. I love it all the more because my allergic girlie gobbles it up and asks for more. It's a good one for small babies, although it is not advisable to give spinach to children under the age of four months due to nitrates (here's a good explanation). If you are in any doubt, just leave the spinach out, it still tastes good. You might also want to reduce the stock cubes if feeding this to a baby.
4 medium courgettes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small potato
1-2 tbsps dairy free spread
1-2 gluten free vegetable stock cubes
500-750ml water (perhaps a little more)
a handful of spinach/rocket/other green leaf
- Wash the courgettes and slice into rounds
- Peel and roughly chop the garlic
- Peel the potato and cut into slices
- Over a low heat, melt the dairy free spread in a frying pan
- Add the courgettes, garlic and potato and stir until everything is coated in spread. Leave to cook until the courgettes are slightly tender; about 5-10 minutes. Stir often so that the potato doesn't stick and the dairy free spread doesn't burn
- Grind a little black pepper over the frying pan, doesn't that look lovely?
- When the courgettes have softened (you don't want them brown), remove the frying pan from the heat
- Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a large, deep saucepan. Put the pan back on a medium heat
- Add 500ml of water; it should just cover the top of the vegetables. Add more if required
- Bring the pan to the boil and sprinkle in the stock cubes (now I know I'm vegetarian, but I reckon that chicken stock would be pretty good with this too)
- Stir the pan, cover, and let it bubble gently until the potato is tender; about 15 minutes?
- Add the handful of spinach and let it wilt for a minute or two. Turn off the heat
- Use a hand held blender to blitz the soup until it is smooth. If you find it too thick you could add more water at this point
- Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste; I like to add more black pepper
- Transfer your soup to your serving receptacle of choice; if you have a heated hostess trolley I'm going to be really jealous!