Kate Flora: It is December, and I realize that with Thanksgiving so late, I am giving my annual 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.
The 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.