December 27, 2007 2 Comments
Do you like great food and lots of it? Do you like mingling with interesting people, some you know well, some you may have met and others who are new opportunities to make friends. What about wine, beer and spirits? Did I mention the food– savories and sweets. And the presentation. And the food.
Then our house was definitely the place to be on Sunday December 16. My wife hosted our annual Holiday Party . I would like to say that wehosted it but lets get real. I run to the store and assist with the set up and clean up. She is baking weeks in advance and cooking for days leading up to this festival. I am unwilling, and undeserving, of taking any credit.
And it is wonderful! Let me set the scene and then share the details.
Many years ago (10, 12 we are not sure) This party started out as a modest open house for our close friends. We were being with both sides of the family a lot during this time starting with Thanksgiving, my wife and her sisters’ birthdays (all in November) and Hanukkah (we hosted one side of the family each year). But we did not get to spend time with friends. We both have many close friends from different periods in our life who live in the area. Someone, I am guessing not me, came up the the idea of throwing another party.
I have no idea how many people got invited that first year. maybe 30 -40? This year’s acceptance list was over 100 with an estimated 80 or so coming through the doors. The party goes from 1 pm to whenever. Some how up early, some later, some stay for hours, others put in an appearance. It was 6:30 or so before the last glass of wine was finished (a Chilean red–quite good).
In the intervening hours people come, meet friends they haven’t seen in awhile, mingle with people they never met, make connections, learn about my two names. I like it best when people who know one of us from one part of our lives spend time with people from others. We know so many interesting people that I revel in them getting to know one another. Mostly little groups form of people from the same parts of our lives. That is OK too just not as much fun for me. However, I have only one rule for this party. Have fun and be happy. After all this is a holiday party! No worries about whether other events kept you away this year, how long you can stay, or what you did or who you spent time with. Have fun and be happy.
The two names thing. At work for the last ten years I am Richard. I went for the formal when I started with a new company and at my last one people would interchangeably call me Richard or Rick. It became modestly confusing for some clients. All my friends call me Rick except for the ones who have known forever. They add a “y” the end. When work friends mingle with friends friends they usually find the two names thing amusing. This year one of our friends friends heard someone refer to me as Richard as she was leaving. As she walked out the door and down the steps she just kept looking at me quisically and repeating “Richard?”, “Richard?”. Using that quick wit I am known for I mumbled something about a secret life that I would tell her about later.
My wife and I spend the party starting many conversations and finishing virtually none. The doorbell rings. More food or drink or ice needs to be put out. Someone comes over to say hi. Still, I would have this party ever week if i could. Being surrounded by friends is my idea of heaven.
It takes a little hell to create the heaven. My wife spends weeks or months in advance collecting recipes. There are a few repeated food items but much of the menu gets recreated every year. Did I mention that my wife makes EVERYTHING that people consume? My standard joke is that she does everything except catch the shrimp in the nets. She would do that too if she had more time.
She works and reworks her menu up until the last minute. There are savories and sweets. Some of the sweets can be baked and frozen in advance. She does this in her “free” time between work, household chores and her various activities. (Yes the Energiser bunny is jealous of her energy.) Most of the savory items are made within a few days of the party. We have a normal kitchen, not a chef’s kitchen, with one oven, a modest size refrigerator and just a moderately sized extra freezer.
The amount of planning and organizing is extraordinary. Not only does she have to plan for storage space but the menu has to have a certain balance because some items require either last minute cooking or at least reheating. Even the dining room table requires planning since space is limited, the amount of food is abundant and presentation is critically important. All serving bowls and plates are laid out in advance with labels on what is going in each one.
Then there is the morning of the party. This is where I have to pay tribute to my wife’s friend Carol. (Carol saved our marriage. More on that later.) Carol arrives hours before the party to help set up. This is by no means a small contribution. First, Carol lives far, far away and this year had to shovel snow and drive through snow left by the prior evening’s blizzard. Getting here is the tip of the iceberg. Treys and treys of food have to be set up with each looking gorgeous in its own right. I lack all skills needed for food preparation and presentation. Then as I mentioned food has to be cooked/reheated in order. All this within about 4 hours. My only party prep skills involve going to the store for last minute items and washing dishes. Even setting up the drinks table and laying out the chips gets assigned to my more talented son. We serve in any way we can. Carol also helps replenish food during the party. We could not hire a caterer more skilled, more even keel, more wonderful than Carol.
About the whole marriage saving thing. An exaggeration of course — but not by much. Now, years after our first party I have watched the show “Hell’s Kitchen”. I now know that having someone in command and yelling may be key ingredients to pulling off a great meal/party. At the time I was unprepared and unwilling to play the role of staff. It was probably the party’s third year that somehow Carol decided to come over and help. The annual Holiday Party was saved!
Not that everything always goes smoothly. My favorite mishap was when the frayed cord from the very, very old coffee maker caught on fire. I was outside the house when someone shouted “Fire”. I ran in, saw the fire and even though somewhere in the back of my head I knew that this was an electrical fire, my first move was to pour water on it. For those of you who do not already know, you try to smother an electrical fire since water just makes it worse. Fire finally extinguished but with 30 minutes to party time our house was filled with an acrid smoke. Oh well, the fire story became the hit of the party and a good time was had by all.
The pictures tell only part of the food story. The picture at the top is from the end of the table with the Savories. In the white containers are meatballs and teriayki chicken wings. The guests went through over 12 pounds of meatballs alone. There is the shrimp. And then the good stuff including:
Asparagus and Potato Frittata
Potato Skins (scooped out from small potatoes) with Basil Cream Dip
Chicken and Apple Sausage Puffs
Grilled Portobellos with Wild Rice and Red Pepper Vinaigrette
Baked Brie with Walnuts and caramel
Caramelized Onion Potato spread
Sesame Chicken and Noodles
Salmon Walnut Cheesecake
Salumi Antipasto Platter
Greek Style Picnic Salad
White bean Jalapeno and Bacon Dip
Garlicky Spinach Dip with Hearts of Palm
Focaccia with Gorgonzola and Mozzarella
Focaccia with Red Pepper Pesto, Artichokes and Smoked Mozzarella
Cheddar Polenta Rounds with an Avocado Lime Sauce topped with BBQ Chicken
Goat Cheese in Marinara Sauce
The sweets were lead by the Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Tree. The Tree was this year’s festive center piece. In addition to that there were several different cookies including pumpkin, gingerbread bells, thin mints, white sprinkle and orange cookie balls, peanut butterfinger and the unusual stained glass cookies. For those that wanted something other than cookies, one could partake of candy brownies, creamy lemon squares, velvet cupcakes, butterscotch blondies, cheesecake flan, chocolate ricotta cupcakes, nutella wontons or caramelized banana bread pudding.
Needless to say no one went away hungry.
In case you are interested there are only two ways to get invited to this party. Be or become a good friend between now and December 2008. Incredibly large bribes.
See you at next year’s party.