BEATRIX CLARK: busy in the kitchen, cooking

Having a new kitchen, a proper, grown-up one that fits more than two people, is great. In our old one you could hardly swing a cat but now one child can Heely while the other practises karate, bills and school bulletins have a place, and dinner parties ar

Having a new kitchen, a proper, grown-up one that fits more than two people, is great. In our old one you could hardly swing a cat but now one child can Heely while the other practises karate, bills and school bulletins have a place, and dinner parties are back on

the menu.

This is good because now that I'm middle-aged I'd far rather spend an evening eating, drinking and gossiping with good friends in a warm house than standing around in a crowded club where a cocktail costs a tenner and scantily clad girls are sniffing coke in the toilet.

So a few weeks ago, I called a few mates, had a good look through Delia and went off to stock up on Tesco's Finest.

Preparing for a dinner party is fine until my husband gets involved - then all hell breaks loose. After 16 years of living together, Mike and I still happily share a bed, an office and even the remote control. But put us in the kitchen together and we turn into Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.

It's not that Mike's a bad cook. In fact, he's a pretty good one and makes excellent gravy. But he uses at least 27 pans to make even a simple tomato sauce, never washes up as he goes along, always prepares three times the required amount and puts double cream in everything - not ideal when half the guests are bound to be on WeightWatchers.

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Plus - and this is what bugs me most - when I'm cooking something he peers at it disapprovingly for several minutes before launching into a stream of unwanted advice. I don't interfere with his barbecue - so why should he criticise my stir-fry?

This time, true to form, Mike peered at my poached pears and said my puff pastry cases were a mistake. To be fair, he also made an excellent Hollandaise and washed up the Magimix afterwards.

Once the guests had arrived, the champagne was flowing and hubby and I had kissed and made up, the party went swimmingly. The next day our children told us off for being too noisy - so clearly it was a good evening.

I think dinner parties are therapeutic. You get to have a laugh, have a rant, indulge yourself, strengthen old friendships and develop new ones. And, if you're lucky, when the party's over you might get to make sexy times.