Prowling Through the Cookbooks

Kate Flora: It is December, and I realize that with Thanksgiving so late, I am giving my img_2988.jpgannual Christmas party this weekend and must shove that turkey aside to make room for party food for fifty. We’ve been giving the same party for many, many years. In the early years I used to cook for about three weeks to get ready. Little phyllo dough triangles with spinach and feta, and others with curried walnut chicken. Artichoke toasts on mini-pumpernickel bread. Mahogany chicken wings. Empanadas. Chicken balls with almonds, apricots and cream cheese rolled in toasted coconut. When I look back, I wonder how I did it.

One year, just as I’d started to cook the hot hors d’oeuvres, the power went out. We put sterno in the oven to keep things warm, scrounged around for all the candles in the house, and borrowed a camping lantern for the kitchen. No one knew it wasn’t deliberately dark, and when the power came back, around nine, everyone decided to leave the lights off.

Each year sees me scaling back a little more. And yet each year also finds me thumbing through cookbooks and checking out on-line cooking sites, looking for one or two new recipes to introduce to the array. A few years ago, it was crab cakes, one of my husband’s favorite foods, with a chive-caper sauce. Two years ago? Tiny potatoes wrapped in bacon and served with dilled sour cream. This year I think I’ll do those little smokeys wrapped in crescent rolls. I’m still on the fence about an herb topping.

IMG_0002The years have seen a lot of changes. The neighborhood girl who was my party help, and once showed up in a prom dress for the party, has teenagers of her own. The two boys who used to don Santa hats and pass hors d’oeuvres (and sampled the margarita punch) have grown up and moved on. Three of the guests are now widowed. When I’m at the Christmas-crazy grocery store, piling my cart with shrimp and ham, caviar and chicken wings, I sometimes think: Do I really want to do this?

Still, that moment when I finish lighting dozens of candles, and Ken finishes the punch, and the doorbell rings with neighbors and friends arriving, is magical. There is such a warmth and joy in seeing everyone come together. We’ve done this so long they just walk in, grab punch, stow the desserts they’re brought for the second half of the evening, and start talking. There’s no awkward moment, just a smiling “we know the drill.”

Soon, that will be happening, so today I’ll make chicken wings and try to find that one special new recipe to try out this year.

Friends, do you have special holiday traditions that mean the season has started for you? Share them with me, please. And one lucky person who comments on this post will receive a copy of my mother’s mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder.


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19 Responses to Prowling Through the Cookbooks

  1. Beth French says:

    My husband and I frequently go out to eat with three other couples from our small town. We all met when our boys were in Cub Scouts. On New Year’s Eve we go to one couple’s house for “soup night”. We all make a soup to share and there is plenty of Christmas leftover sweets and booze to go around. Yes, we all know the drill, too. There will be a Polish soup, fish chowder, a taco soup, corn chowder or some other non-meat offering. We all stand around the kitchen drinking and filling up on nibbles and talking like we haven’t seen each other in months before the main meal is served. I think I’ll bring along an hors d’oeuvres this year!

    • Oh, soup! I love soup recipes. And here’s a quick and dirty hors d’oeuvre recipe for you.

      Boil a batch of tiny potatoes until almost tender. Cool. Wrap in bacon pieces. Secure bacon with a toothpick and bake until bacon is crisp. Serve with dilled sour cream.


  2. Darcy Scott says:

    Wow Kate, I’m in awe. I have a friend In York who who throws the same kind of party every year and I don’t know how she does it. In lieu of a tradition, I’ll offer my favorite simple hors d’oeuvre to add to your arsenal. Slices of English cucumber, topped with dabs of Boursin and bits of smoked trout. Heavenly!

  3. Sis, you got the social gene, I got the insanity one. It cleans up a lot easier and faster, unless bodies are involved.

  4. Sally A Fortney says:

    I don’t entertain but I do bake and share with friends and family. One tradition is to listen to my Christmas albumns from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I think I have about 30 now.

  5. Crystal Toller says:

    There is a live nativity in Ruther Glen, VA every year the first weekend in December at the local Berry Farm–Mount Olympus Berry Farm. My son and I go to this every year. We have done this since he was an infant. He loves this tradition and I can see me doing this with future grandchildren.

  6. Julianne Spreng says:

    Thanks for the inspiration. My parents always had a party or gathering of some sort going on holidays or not. We grew up with a home full of visitors and finger foods. For years we did the same thing in my adopted neighborhood after I married. Through the decades children grew, families spread, and friends died. It became harder to get everyone together, so one year it just stopped. Everything we do in this life is a choice, and I choose to revive this tradition.
    A new favorite recipe I found is a twist on the old hot spinach and artichoke dip, but use fresh spinach, roughly torn instead of frozen, squeezed to death spinach. The substitution is amazing!
    Happy holidays and long friendships to all.

    • Julianne Spreng says:

      Forgot to mention, if you’re not using a plastic bag to prepare you’re deviled eggs, you’re working too hard!

  7. Julianne Spreng says:

    P.S. If you aren’t using a plastic bag to make your deviled eggs, you’re working too hard!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am very impressed. The gathering in some ways must become more special each year. Your post was also so much fun to read. I would love to see your shopping list and your to do lists. They must be miles long! Merry Christmas to you.

    • Rae Francoeur says:

      Oops. I didn’t identify myself when I commented. Fan Rae Francoeur here. Wonderful blog. Wonderful writers.

    • Rae Francoeur says:

      Oops. I didn’t identify myself when I commented. Wonderful blog. Wonderful writers.

      • Thanks, Rae. A compliment from you is a real treat. You really wouldn’t want to see my shopping and to-do lists. They’re scary. Today I decided it would be fun to add some sausage and cheddar balls to the mix, too. My poor vegetarian friends are going to be horrified! And you’re right, it is a very special thing to look around the room and see all my friends and neighbors happily catching up.



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