I love to entertain, but I’m not much of a “party” person. I prefer modest gatherings of people who meet Anne Elliot’s definition of good company — “clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation,” and are generally of a disposition to have themselves a good time.
I knew this, of course, when I decided to host my first Christmas party in a decade this past weekend, and was most pleased to develop a guest list of good friends who all had a few things in common: a love of making music, a personal investment in social justice issues, laid-back attitudes to housekeeping and personal comfort (which meant that they wouldn’t take much affront at the size of my living room), and a delight in good food.
The former meant that there was a great deal of conversation (particularly about labor, education, homelessness, housing, and religion), some fine singing (with accompaniment by the piano and the ukulele), and a generally cozy atmosphere, while the latter meant that I could indulge in some interesting new recipes. Apart from a few of my personal stand-bys, almost every dish I served was sourced from Food 52 – a new-to-me cooking community website that claims to be “helping people become better, smarter, happier cooks.” Yes, please!
The menu, for those curious about such things:
- Hot mulled cider
- Cranberry Apple Sparkling Punch (I used Forelle pears in place of apples for the ice floes)
- Gingered Lime Punch (I replaced all of the lemon with lime, and made this non-alcoholic by subbing extra dry gingerale for the vodka. I used double the amount of fresh ginger for the syrup and didn’t strain the solids from the pitcher, which gave this a kick and kept it from being too sweet.)
- Alton Brown’s hummus topped with toasted pine nuts and preserved lemon, served with fried pita
- Assorted antipasti (my houseguests arranged the Peppadew peppers stuffed with whipped ricotta and honey, but everything else came straight from the olive bar at Whole Foods)
- Vegetarian Lentil Chili (made with red lentils instead of brown)
- Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili (doubled the beef, substituted green chilis and ancho powder for the adobo)
- A variety of breads for dipping, including a fragrant herb bread made by one guest, a sweet cranberry nut bread made by another, and custard-stuffed cornbread from Marion Cunningham’s LOST RECIPES
- Rum Apple Cake (made with Brandy instead of Rum, thanks to my not knowing the difference, and with flour instead of almonds as we ran out of time for grinding)
- Plates of sliced fresh fruit and simple cookies
Everything seemed to go over quite well with the guests, though I wish I’d remembered to refill the pitcher of Gingered Lime Punch half-way through the night. There wasn’t much leftover food — the vegetarian chili went home with vegetarian guests, those with the longest drives took the leftover fruit bread as their travel breakfast — but what there was has been put to good use: the remnants of cider and punch were reduced to syrup for pancakes, the sliced fruit and ricotta+honey sauce were perfect breakfast toppings for Irish oatmeal, and the cornbread became a decadent base for Monte Cristo sandwiches when served alongside warm soup. I’m going to poach the champagne-soaked pears and serve them over gelato on Thursday when my parents come to visit — provided they’re still firm enough to hold up. (If not, I’ll try my hand at a purée of sorts.)
If the success of a party can be measured by laughter and empty dishes, this one was tremendously so — even with all of the bittersweet musical theater songs sung on request!