The Lighter Side: Five Shades of Grey

Written by Judy J. Thompson

Five couples, five houses, a theme and lots of swapping … swapping of recipes, that is! My partner and I belong to a themed dinner club. Every two months we meet the other couples and we vicariously travel to different countries, or historical periods, or just go willy-nilly with odd themes.

We take turns hosting and we rotate responsibility for the courses, which consist of appetizers, either a soup or a salad, the main course provided by the hosts, dessert and the “free ride.”

Now don’t get your knickers in a knot … the free ride is the couple who hosted last. They only have to bring a beverage geared to the theme.

Going into our fifth year, we’ve been to England, Turkey, Denmark, Mexico, Tuscany, India, Austria and Japan, to name just a few destinations. Sometimes we shake things up by having a “Martini Weekend at the Cottage” or have themes such as Calgary Stampede, Pirate Night, Victorian Tea, Childhood Favourites or Mardi Gras.

Each couple brings their course and an accompanying beverage to match the theme. This way we learn to cook foods we wouldn’t normally make and try foods we have always wanted to taste, along with beverages — alcoholic or virgin.

Some themes and recipes were stellar hits while some were flops. Often we’d go whole hog and decorate for the theme. Turkish Delight was a memorable occasion. The couple who hosted had a backyard affair, and erected a Sultan’s tent with old curtains, cushions to sit on and a low coffee table to eat at. Hanging from the center of the structure was an old wrought iron chandelier with candles. When we were sated, we pushed away from the table to lie under the stars.

Pirate Night had the hosts decorating their dining room like the captain’s quarters of a ship and dressing up like a motley pair, speaking Piratese.

Victorian Tea was a wonderful soirée with foods that Queen Victoria might have eaten and a beautifully set table, as if Royalty itself was attending.

One themed evening, The Brier, saw one of my flops, which was a Stilton Cheese Ball. Instead of making one big ball, I opted to make many small ones which depicted curling stones. Bent toothpicks were sticking out of the tops, representing the handles. Not only was it overwhelming to have so many balls on one plate, but they tasted horrible!

We reminisce about past dinners, and the one we most laugh about is Retro Night — the ’70s.

Our menu included appetizers: celery with Cheese Whiz, cocktail wieners dipped in grape jelly, and Harvey Wallbangers. The main course was coq au vin, Parisienne potatoes and mushrooms, paired with Baby Duck wine. The dessert was apple cake with ice cream and apple smoothies.

As we looked at the spread before us, we found the meal lacked colour. There were drab brown-greys, or an angry purple-grey, or an ugly green-grey, a whitish grey or just plain grey. The soup/salad dish was one of those disgusting hues too, blending in with the rest of the colour scheme. No wonder none of us can remember what was served for that course!

Laughing, we did come to one conclusion … if people in the ’70s took drugs, it was probably to perk up the appearance of the food. It tasted good, but it looked unappetizing and lacking in culinary colour. Retro Night was definitely five shades of grey!


About the author

Judy J. Thompson

JUDY J. THOMPSON is a freelance writer and resides in London with her husband, Victor. She has two children, Heather and Matthew and one grandchild, Liam. She works in a local bookstore.