Saturday, December 15, 2012


It's Christmas, and once again the residents of the Fortress of Blanditude have been decked and festivicated to reflect the joy of the season.

The big silver bunny has been adorned, although he doesn't seem to like it much:

Godzilla has been baubled:

And even Angry Johnny has had his mood toned down just a little for the holidays:

Friday, December 07, 2012


It’s the 8th birthday of Get on the Blandwagon!, and yes, I acknowledge that it’s a poor shadow of its former self. Nowadays it’s little more than a repository for Serendipity Dinner recipes and AndressFest reviews, leavened with the occasional burst of snark about Bunbury or local real estate agents.

At this point I guess a normal person would formally close the blog, but I am neither that organised nor that cold-hearted. Despite appearances I am fond of my blog, and it serves a purpose even if the post rate has sunk to once or twice a fortnight.

And let’s face it, if I didn’t have it I’d probably be forced to keep people updated via Facebook or Twitter. Ugh.

According to the Get On The Blandwagon! Modern Blogiversary Gifts List, the traditional present for the 8th blogiversary is Louis Vuitton knockoffs. Given that I blog more than usual when I’m traveling, perhaps this is a sign to everyone that I should receive a new set of luggage. Specifically, Louis Vuitton luggage with dodgy wheels, zips that break after a week, and Vuitton spelled with two ‘n’s. And an umlaut.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Serendipity Dinners started because I was frustrated at never being able to coordinate a dinner party with my friends and associates. Every time I tried to get a plan together, I came up against a vast weight of social inertia. People seemed interested, but getting everyone's schedules to align was impossible.

It also occured to me that perhaps people just didn't want to have dinner with me and were too polite to say so.

Eventually, in frustration, I said something to the effect of, "Look, I'm having a dinner party. It will be lovely. In fact, tell you what, I will have a whole month of dinner parties. Pick one that's convenient and come. You can come to any of them, and hey, you only need to give me, say, 24 hours' notice. No pressure, no expectations, no need to worry about turning down a specific invitation. If you want to come, lovely, and if you don't, no harm done."

Given that I've had 40 people to dinner in the last month, and had requests for this year's timetable starting back in September, people clearly do want to have dinner with me. Perhaps the simple truth is that they baulk at being tied down to a social obligation - having to be at a certain place by a certain time for a certain duration. It's much easier at a freeform party, where you can slip in and slip out, or even fail to show up, without making a lot of difference to the hosts.

Once the idea of assigning the guest list to Fate was settled, the other aspects of the dinners - the new recipes, the refusal to allow contributions, the secrecy about the menu and the identity of other guests - grew out of that. The gimmick became this interplay of luck, surprise and crowdsourcing: a social experiment as well as a social occasion. This sense of social experimentation has come more to the fore recently, at least in my mind. And as all experiments need to produce findings, here are some of the ones I've made in between crushing pistachios, whisking eggs and pouring sauvignon blanc.

10 Lessons Learnt From Three Years of Serendipity Dinners

1. I'm aware that it forces me to relinquish my usual control freakdom... in the most control freaky way possible. Will there be too many people? Or too few? Will they all get along? Well, it's out of my hands. All I can do is set the table, prepare the food and hope for the best. It's perversely liberating.

2. I like the challenge of creating or generating a scenario in which people enjoy good food and convivial surroundings. It's not simply a matter of being able to show off, or forcing people to like me. I've discovered that I genuinely like being hospitable.

3. People are often confronted by the structure of the Serendipity Dinner. They can be uncomfortable not being able to contribute, not knowing who else is coming, or not knowing what is on the menu. They ask, "Is it okay if..." or "Are you sure I can't..." or "But which one do you want me to come to?", as if they can't handle the dynamics of the arrangements. In fact one woman at my office has literally boycotted the dinners because she can't handle the sense of social obligation it places on her.

4. People also struggle with the one rule of Serendipity Dinners: you must email me more than 24 hours before the dinner telling me that you're coming. They tell me in person, or they text me, or they tell me over the phone, or they say, "I can't make it this week, but I might be able to make it next week"... and then never clarify that into an actual intention.

5. Most people don't seem to do the whole Dinner Party thing any more. They do casual barbecues, or bring-a-plate potlucks, or invite you over to watch a movie and incidentally feed you at the same time. I guess that dinner parties are just too much hassle and require too much thought and planning, and who, other than pretentious people like me, wants to be bothered with that? Apparently the dinner party really is being abandoned, according to no less an authority than the New York Times. Which leads us to...

6. After thirteen dinners over three years, the number of reciprocal dinner party invitations I've received is... zero. This isn't a complaint - just an interesting realisation.

7. I'm gratified when people take the concept and run with it; when they take me at my word when I say "Come as often as you want! Bring nothing! Just enjoy it!" and do precisely that. It means that they trust me, rather than feeling that it's all some sort of subtle social trap.

8. Cooking for 12 takes three times longer than cooking for 4. You'd think there'd be economies of scale, but there aren't.

9. I find that I tend to expend all of my dinner party energy for the year on Serendipity Dinners, meaning that I don't cook the great recipes I discover ever again. This is frustrating. I mean, Serendipity Dinners accounted for nearly 10% of the Fridays this year, so I guess that's a fair contribution to my social calendar, but I'd still like to use the recipes more.

10. Single bed sheets are a useful and inexpensive alternative to table cloths.

Monday, December 03, 2012


There were five Fridays in this year's November, so I had to hold an unprecedented fifth Serendipity Dinner. I was tempted to just drop that Friday, but I've always been a stickler for the self-imposed rules of Serendipity Dinners, so I went ahead with it, and I'm glad I did.

Entree was roasted pears stuffed with goat's cheese and herbs, wrapped in proscuitto with a honey and sherry vinegar drizzle, served on a bed of rocket. Main course was salmon steaks with a pistachio pesto, caramelised limes and asparagas. Dessert was a macadamia and golden syrup tart.

I was trepidatious about this final dinner. There was an odd gender balance. None of my close friends were coming. I was mentally and socially exhausted after the epic sixteen person dinner the previous Friday - in fact I'd only finally finished cleaning the kitchen by Thursday. But in my trepidation I'd forgotten the primary attribute of the Serendipity Dinner - if you leave it alone, it'll all work out. Having an intimate five person dinner gave me time to actually sit down and enjoy the food with my guests, and having people I don't know all that well meant that there was plenty of new conversation. It was a gentle step down to finish the month of dinners, like an elegant little flourish at the end of a monarch's signature.

It helped that the food was good, and my favourite kind: simple fresh ingredients, interestingly combined. The entree was delicious and simple, apart from the arduous job of scooping out slightly underripe pears. The salmon had a few tiny bones in them, but only seven or eight per steak so it wasn't too onerous to eat around them, and the payoff in terms of taste was well worth it. The dessert was the best kind - it looked professional and decadent, but it was simplicity itself to make.

The other notable thing about this dinner is that it was the first time I'd been able to use my new dining chairs, which had only been delivered the previous day. They are reproductions of one of the 1950s Eames Aluminum series, originally intended as side chairs for mid-century offices. I'd wanted some for ages, but was unable to source a local supplier, and had misgivings about buying them online and getting them shipped. But I found out that Milan Direct was having a sale, making these elegant leather and chrome chairs from the 20th century's greatest designers the same price as boring chairs from IKEA, so I decided to risk it.

As it turns out, they're a little larger than I was expecting - the seats are amazingly broad, presumably to accomodate vast American arses - but they look great, they're the right height and depth, and they're supremely comfortable. Of course since there were five people at my dinner and only four new chairs I was a good host and sat on a decrepit bentwood chair that I got from the op shop. Throughout the dinner my guests were idly swiveling back and forth, murmering "Ooh, these chairs really are comfy!", while I sat in my little old wooden chair feeling like the biggest martyr since John the Baptist.