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Surviving Holiday Entertaining Without A Second Mortgage

We’re back in the kitchen (because that is seemingly where Aunt Toby lives – check out the sleeping bag under the dining room table) because…sigh, it’s the holiday season.

(Cue scary music; big organ sounds and the deep-voiced actor we all know and love: “It’s the holiday season; the time when friends and family…..” screech as the needle goes over the record.)

If you are like me, “holiday entertaining” are two words that rank up there with other two-word favorites: “root canal” and “emergency hysterectomy.” I hate to entertain. If you had ever met any of my family members, they will tell you that every holiday used to be spent at someone else’s house; favorite birthday party spots were: the movies, bowling, and “just give me the credit card, Mom.” (Not necessarily in that order.)

But, since it appears to be my niche to be the Martha whatshername combined with Suzy Orwhatever, I will do my yeoman’s task here and talk about how to survive the holiday season with friends and family and not have to take out another home equity loan.

First (and this is cheating, but what the heck; this whole posting is going to be about cheating), if you live in a large city, where people ARE different and have way different expectations (and expect this thing called “elegance”), then I will direct you to an absolutely lovely and somewhat hilarious article from today’s NY Times:

Big City Winter Wonderland Whizbang Holiday Affair

Second, (more cheating) if you are not, or don’t have friends who require (nay, demand) “elegance” or “fashionable” or “clever,” follow me. None of this is any of the aforementioned, but will definitely do for the holidays because what we do at the end of the year, frankly, is invite people over because…well, because it’s cold and dark and we want to get together, which is enough of a reason for anyone.

1) Whatever you do for the holidays, do that. If you decorate, decorate; if you don’t…well then, don’t. Your house, apartment, cardboard box or hovel is NOT a shooting location for Dwell, O or any other magazine. It’s your living place and whatever you like to do for the holidays, do that. Or not. If you want to go all out, check out people selling Christmas trees or a “cut your own” places for some of the trimmings. You can use the stuff at the bottom as well as anyone can and they just might sell it to you super cheap or for no cost – you are hauling this stuff away. Put the greens on the mantle. Smells great.

2) As the article above emphasizes (and I’m cribbing it here because it is such a great idea): What is important about this? Hmmm? It’s the people. What do people need: Food, a place to sit down if they need to sit down, stuff to drink (alcoholic for those who are above age; something nifty and sparkly for those who don’t drink or who are not of age).

3) Food and drink. I am a very big proponent of letting people have their way with my kitchen. (If they can cook and clean up for themselves later, so much the better – I provide pretty aprons.) Two great and simple ideas that require you to do only the prep before the party and then participate with everyone else:

a) Personal pizzas (get pizza dough from the store or make your own; spread it out on cookie sheets and mark out “territories” for people to spread toppings on. Cut up peppers, pepperoni or sausage, onions, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, other toppings as your creativity devises, and bake at 400 degrees F for 15 min). Also a good hearty green salad, red wine (or sangria) for the adults; punch or soda water and juice for the kids. Fruit for dessert.

b) Personal omelets. This will require two pans and people willing to wield them, but the same goes: whipped up eggs, cut up stuff for the “innards” of the omelets. Nice rolls or sliced sweet breads, and perhaps some fruit salad. Good coffee and nice teas. No one will try to go home “under the influence” – always a plus.

c) The heck with this meal business; go straight to having them in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for tea, coffee and desserts. Don’t forget to have decaf for those who don’t indulge and go all out with the desserts – whatever “tiggers do best,” do that. You can always rationalize, by offering cheesecake or carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, that there is some protein in it (hey, it’s what I do…).

Places to sit: I don’t know what it is, but no matter where I’ve been or what the occasion is, everyone ends up in the kitchen. So, why not start there and forget this “juggling plates on the arm of the sofa with the glass” thing? Clear off the counters, set up the dining room table just in case and let people stand there and eat. It’s what they want to do – you know it, they know it and they’ll have a much better time.

Music. Ahem. I am going to reveal a secret – unless you have, sitting out in one corner of your living room, a lovely tuned family piano, with appropriate seating and music so that some amazing and wonderfully adept guest can sneak away at some appropriate point to quietly play “seasonal” and Broadway tunes, then…forget the music. Seriously. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” et al. does not make for good digestion. Tomorrow morning, people will turn on any radio in the country and be assaulted by seasonal tunes. If you have kids that need entertaining, set up a tv and a dvd/vcr in a separate room with a limited selection of holiday classics (whichever holiday you like – I was brought up celebrating Chanukah but I can tell you that the holiday classic in our house was “White Christmas” with Danny Kaye – hey, the Jewish kid was the best part of the entire film) and a helpful teenager to keep the fighting under control.

There you have it: cheap, neat, tidy, filling and nutritious. Happy Holidays.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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