Once upon a time, when I was in college, I arranged to cook dinner for Hopkins, my friend Ann (A.K.A. "Moral Support and Cheerleading Section"), my sister, and Mom- Dad was out of town on a fishing trip to Canada, the weekend having been chosen specifically for that reason.
I rose early Saturday morning to begin cooking. I had chosen the menu based on a mistaken sense of universal popularity and the fact that I knew it was something that I couldn't screw up if I tried. I chose spaghetti with meat sauce...and at our house, spaghetti sauce did not come out of a jar. It was an all-day process involving several cans of unflavored tomato sauce, a small can of tomato paste, herbs, spices, onions, and hamburger. In order for the acid to break down in the tomatoes to a point at which I could eat them and not die, and for the sauce to have time to properly develop its flavor palette, preparation had to begin many hours before dinner.
All day, I stood over the stove, spicing, stirring, clarifying onions and cooking the meat. Mom contributed by running up a batch of Italian bread dough in her bread machine, which we stretched into a loaf and set aside to rest.
Finally, a couple of hours before the Moment of Truth, I turned down the stove, left the sauce in Mom's care, and raced upstairs to bathe and dress. Since I was now an officially Grown-Up College Student, I dressed in the first stare of late Eighties university fashion: big hair, khaki skirt, socks, loafers, an Irish fisherman's sweater (pink, in this case), and crisp white turtleneck, finished off with gigantic Anne Klein lions' head earrings and a heavy gold herringbone necklace.
The doorbell sounded and Ann and I began our descent. Halfway down, my loafers' slick soles betrayed me and what was supposed to be my cool, sophisticated entrance turned into slapstick comedy as I careened down the stairs, hitting the wall at the back of the landing with a resounding thud. Ann steadied me and we made it down the two landing steps without further incident.
I stood there grinning at Hopkins like an idiot for what seemed an eternity and what was, in truth, probably less than three minutes; then I started babbling. When I finally managed to govern myself enough to speak coherently, I explained that we were having spaghetti...at the mention of which he turned slightly green. "Oh, God, is something wrong? Are you allergic to tomato sauce?" I asked as my mind flipped into full-panic mode.
"No," he murmured faintly, "it's just that I...I'm working at Pizza Hut."
From the kitchen, I heard my mother snap, "Well, I should hope that THIS is certainly an improvement over anything that is served at Pizza Hut." (Her inflection alone seemed to consign Pizza Hut to a culinary par with a roach motel.) "THIS is homemade. It has taken her ALL DAY, and I daresay my daughter is an excellent cook." End. Of. Discussion.
Dinner was, one might say, a bit strained.
That is why, to this day, although I am an excellent cook and am especially proficient in Italian red sauces, I will not serve pasta to guests.