In my family, a really special occasion calls for fondue. Since I was just a little child of the 70s, my parents have pulled out the electric fondue pots and we cook juicy cubes of red meat, whole mushrooms and gouda cheese coated in special batter right at the table. Buttered buns and baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon bits (real ones) and green onions are served alongside.

Fondue is truly a feast. It takes an enormous amount of prep work to cut up all that food, prepare the various condiments (plum, barbecue, tarragon cream and horseradish sauces), and to set up the table. Did I mention we cook the food in a mixture of peanut and canola oil? Last night, I was in charge of running extension cords from the three pots in various directions and taping them down to avoid the disastrous effects of an accident with hot oil.

Since it was Corn’s birthday, there were ten of us, plus baby Lauren (who managed to stay calm at least through the main course and only got cranky before dessert) and the two dogs who were banished to the backyard for the duration. The amateurs (poor Dan, what a time to be on the South Beach diet!) did a good job of keeping their food speared on to the fondue forks, and keeping their forks from getting tangled up everyone else’s in the pot. It takes practice to know how long to cook your food and keep the cheese encased in its batter. Runaway cheese floats to the top and burns to crispy granular detritus that attaches itself attractively to everything else.

Some people might do as many as three courses of fondue – cheese, oil and chocolate – but that’s overkill. Maybe if we were attended by fondue prep work fairies, or had superhuman fondue fork wrestling elbows. Chocolate birthday cake and coffee top off a defiantly unhealthy meal just fine.