I’ve lived in this apartment for a little over a year. It’s a nice place-cozy, ample natural light, most of the electrical outlets work. The apartment also has a spacious deck overlooking the swimming pool. However, I’ve mostly used the deck as a makeshift art studio.
A few weeks ago, my brother Greg and his wife Tricia came over for dinner. Before dessert, we went on the deck to admire the moonlight. Under the night sky and above the downstairs neighbor’s barking Chihuahua, Tricia announced, “If had this deck, I’d be out here every morning enjoying my coffee.”
Her declaration was an epiphany. The idea of spending leisure time on the deck hadn’t occurred to me. It served primarily as a workspace and an escape from daytime television.
So, inspired by Tricia’s offhand testimony, I decided to put the deck to good use. Not just a hot dog and chips combo on a paper plate thrown together, something elegant, something Instagram worthy. Without breaking the bank.
The first step involved creating an atmosphere. I envisioned a swank bistro or trattoria perched above a shimmering lake or tranquil lagoon. So I went to Walmart.
I wanted a tablecloth to cover the paint-splattered card table in order to jumpstart the elegance. The seasonal had a red and white checkered “That’s a spicy meatball” tablecloth that perfectly suited the mood. Ninety-seven cents.
I also considered buying some cheap plastic flowers to amp up the décor. But, artificial wisteria fails to meet the Instagram pic criteria. Consequently, I picked up a small vase at a thrift store for a dollar. I would shop for real flowers later.
Planning the menu was the next stage. I wanted an inexpensive, yet elegant Insta-worthy dish. A dinner that was instantly recognizable as chic and also slightly esoteric. A salad seemed in order due to the simplicity and fast assembly; therefore, I thought outside the box.
Watercress has a high tea association and is also an underused salad green. It’s $1.59 a bunch so I picked up a bunch. And, orange segments (suprême d’orange in French) score high on the visual scale so I bought a few for sixty-nine cents. Moreover, color and shape add to the Instagramminess.
For the protein, I considered a pricey steak. However, a seventeen-dollar steak just didn’t fit into the budget. Moreover, in the off chance of an overcooked steak, the Instagram quotient diminishes. I had gone to Publix to flower shop because Publix sells inexpensive bouquets. After picking out half a dozen roses for four dollars, I took a look at the seafood counter.
Publix had lobster tails on sale for $5.99. And, in the fluke of an overdone lobster tail, it would still retain its Instagrammable photogenicity.
The final act involved putting everything together. Even though I would be dining alone, I approached the setup as if a date were coming to dinner. Details mattered.
Setting up the table took longer than expected. The wind was gusting that day and made the tablecloth flap, producing an annoying clapping sound similar to applause at a funeral. The table had uneven padding from sitting outside for seven months. Along with the wind, this meant the vase would topple as easily as a grain silo in a tornado. Taping the tablecloth to the table legs and setting the vase on a plate made for a quick fix.
To complete the setup, I used the high faulting cloth napkins and the sleek, glistening silverware. Now I had an Insta-worthy table.
With the table set up, making an Insta-worthy dinner was the next challenge. The salad came together-dress the watercress and toss in a few orange segments and some avocado I had lying around. No fuss, no muss.
However, prepping the lobster proved more challenging. While removing the shell, the kitchen shears pierced the meat and sliced it lengthwise. While it was cooking, it swelled like a flower blooming. The protein surge resulted in a lobster tail that resembled cauliflower more than lobster.
Undaunted, I followed the Julia Child rule of, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.” The way the lobster turned out was meant to be.
I carefully placed a mound of salad in the bowl, followed by a few orange segments and avocado chunks for garnish. Now, salad assembled, I placed the bowl on the table, snapped some pics and posted them on Instagram. Hours later, a day of military-style planning and execution, as well as carefully thought-out hashtags resulted in ten likes.
Nonetheless, the experience wasn’t a total loss. My Instagram posts also go to Facebook. And, my brother Greg put everything in perspective with a Facebook quote. “Wow! Must be a great time for gourmet food!”
Total cost: $11.02 Total satisfaction: Priceless.