|Liz Bachman, Stylist. Photographed by Grace Combs via|
"That grilled shrimp you made was amazing," she said, throwing the bags in her back seat. "Richard said it looked like it was marinated in fescue and clover though. Did you get the recipe from Bella?"
A smile. "No, it was herbs fresh out of the garden."
"Delish. Nice of you to throw your own birthday party."
"Did you see Hubert? You know, he said in passing that it is your turn to host something next. He keeps track of these things."
"Oh, really?" Raised eyebrow. "I have had him to dinner more times than I can count, and I've been over there exactly twice in the umpteen years I've known him. Since when is he tracking?"
"He says he had you over last."
"Fine, I'll invite him," she laughs, "but if he wants to get technical, actually, it's his turn. I asked him to dinner last week."
"I thought he couldn't come."
"And therein, lies the usefulness of arcane etiquette."
Known these days only by certain generations, and my great aunt Lee, the Invitation-Cancels-the-Obligation convention says that the social obligation created when an invitation is accepted is generally satisfied when a reciprocal invitation is extended, whether it is accepted or not.
The reason for this isn't to get people out of giving dinner parties, it is actually so that the person you have invited can, in the words of Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, "snub you while allowing both of you to retain your dignity."
In other words, according to Miss Manners, it allows the invitee not to have to turn down more than two invitations before the inviter gets the message and quits asking. Which, when you think about it, ultimately saves everyone's time and feelings. With the small additional benefit of preventing civilization from descending into chaos.
One caveat. I wouldn't recommend trying this with friends, they'll never let you get away with it.
Do you ever do weeknight dinner parties? Everyone has to eat anyway, so why not make it fun? Keep it low key and easy to clean up with Jennings' quick, yummy recipe for the grill:
Jennings' Grilled Herb Shrimp
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped basil
1 cup chopped fresh fennel fronds
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
Juice of one lime
2 pounds raw jumbo shrimp, peeled (tails left on) and deveined
Combine the shallots, parsley, basil, fennel fronds, dry mustard, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lime juice. Add the shrimp, refrigerate and allow them to marinate for at least 1 hour. Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals, and brush the grilling rack with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Skewer the shrimp, 3 per 10" skewer for cocktails, more if serving as an entree. Grill the shrimp for about 1 1/2 minutes each side or until done.