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March 12, 2007

Free Meals Jeopardized? Time to Play Cheap Host


We’ve all known that one person in a circle of friends who suspiciously invites everyone over for dinner at some time. Most of us interpret, correctly, that this is because this one friend may or may not actually like the people he socializes with, but more importantly sees everyone else as a free meal.


If this is you, eventually you will catch wind that your friends are becoming restless, that they are considering not including you in the next round of invitations. You feel obligated to ante up, to preserve your gravy train of cheap meals.


Salvation for you – a cheap meal to maximize your moochery – comes from some cold, leftover rice and a wok.


A word of caution about kitchen-related puns here. While entertaining your guests, you might be tempted to hold up your pan and say to guests, “Wocka, wocka.” If you do, you will be treated with steely glares of white hot contempt. In your embarrassment, you will find yourself tempted to mutter something about a childhood of Fozzie the Bear. This will cause your guests to look at each other silently, stand up and make excuses as they leave. The only way you could have erred worse is if you’d taken a guest’s utensils, thrown them into your street and declared, “Why, there’s a fork in the road.”


It is better to move forward boldly.


You can brain your closest guest with your wok and claim that it was all a sight gag. This is indeed bold, but your dinner party will end with you being dragged out of your home by the police.


Or, you could bow and depart the room. You are still operating from a social deficit, but you have now declared your intention to recover.


It is time for misdirection. Start singing sea shanties. This will put your guests into a mind for seafood of some kind. Some will dread this, since seafood is itself a mildly controversial food and difficult to get it right for everyone in attendance.


Instead, chop up onion, jalapeno pepper and boneless pork. Here is a word on food size. The base of your meal is rice, which means you will want chunks of onion and pepper that are complementary in size, nice and small. You leave the pork a little bigger, but not too much for reasons that shall soon present themselves.


Begin to sauté them in olive oil, garlic, cumin and perhaps some oregano. If your pork chunks are too much bigger than your vegetable chunks, here you will run into the age-old dilemma of vegetables that are nicely cooked and seasoned and left standing there, tapping their feet and looking at their watches as pork takes its own sweet time. Considering the social disgrace you’ve already made of yourself, it’s best not to compound the problem.


Into your wok, dump your cold rice and break up the clumps into individual kernels. Dig out a nice sized hole in the middle of the rice, and add more olive oil. Turn on your stovetop to high heat and wait for the oil to get nice and hot. Continue singing, to deepen the misdirection.


Once the oil is hot, crack an egg into the oil and scramble it. Once the egg is nice and set, stir the egg and rice together – with just a dash of cumin (in a move called in some circles, “a little cumin here, a little cumin there”) until the rice is warmed up.


By now your pork, onion and pepper should be nice and softened. Once it is, combine the two groups of food in the wok, add salt and pepper and stir fry for another half minute.


Presentation is now of utmost concern. When you walk into the dining room, your guests will undoubtedly look bored and be expecting fish. But, you have a wok of fried rice, southwest style. Tell them something like, “I’m sorry, but I think tonight we see that dear Mr. Kipling was wrong. I give you East meets West.”


Provide them taco-sized corn tortillas for added effect. Some of your guests will titter at the idea of breaking bread with so refined a host, and interpret your meal as a deeply cultural statement. Others may raise a water glass in your honor or clap appreciatively. You may even hear someone say, “Well played.”


And, I say with a wink and a nod, they’d be right. The cheap meal gravy train, for you, will continue to roll.


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