Q. Caught short by unexpected guests and an empty larder, in desperation I opened a can of high-end cat food (Fancy Feast brand — chicken, heart & liver flavour), mixed in a shot of brandy and served it as ‘pate’ with some water biscuits. It was delicious (the brandy cutting some of the natural gaminess of the product) — so popular in fact (I confess I repeated this performance with a subsequent group of expected guests) that now friends are asking for the recipe. I’m tempted to laugh it off and come clean — an economical tip for these straitened times, but my wife is mortified. What do you suggest?
Name withheld, Port of Spain, Trinidad
PS. Don’t try this with the fish flavour unless your guests have been drinking heavily.
A. My personal vet is confident that pet food consumed by humans will almost certainly have no ill effect. Although it may contain meat that has been condemned as unfit for humans, he says that the manufacturers will have ‘sterilised it to bits’ to avoid complaints and law suits from doting pet owners. Mr F. explains: ‘The pet-food maker’s difficult task is to delight the person opening the tin while still pleasing the hungry pet, who would probably prefer something more evil-smelling and of an altogether more hideous appearance. He seems to have succeeded here perhaps too well, and I wonder if he hasn’t delighted the person to the chagrin of the pet. The added brandy is an inspired touch.’ Therefore, while you can rest assured that you have done no harm, full transparency is not advisable. By all means continue to consume the cat food privately within your own home, but trouble your conscience no further: simply stop offering it to guests. Otherwise, warns Mr F., ‘an investment banker with a tummy bug picked up by coincidence in Trinidad may feel aggrieved and might mistakenly blame this snack if he or she knew about it.’
Q. A guest at my country house drifted into the kitchen while I was frantically cooking supper for 14 people. She caught me at a moment when the fridge door had been momentarily left open. As quick as lightning, she asked, ‘Are you defrosting the fridge?’, leaving me speechless with irritation. How should I have replied to this gross impertinence or blanket stupidity?
Name and address withheld
A. Fridges, and fridge doors in particular, are a notorious source of eco-one-upmanship and conflict. Your guest might equally easily have asked, ‘Have you left the fridge open for a particular reason?’ The only way to handle all such remarks is to disarm the would-be demoniser by saying, ‘Be a love and shut it for me will you, I am a bit chaotic tonight.’
Q. A suggestion, not a problem, à propos of the letter to you in the 15 August issue. I was introduced to a politician once who asked me where I was born. I thought this was a useful ice-breaker for most situations where there is a newcomer.
S.M., Weybridge, Surrey
A. Thank you for submitting this useful tip which should serve to trigger lengthy babbling from even the shyest of party guests.
If you have a problem write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated September 19, 2009