Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Ah....The Holidays

I'm still stuffed. We had The Dinner finished and eaten four nights ago and I still can't look a real meal in the plate.

Each year my friends, Research-Geek and her husband, throw a Christmas Party for our dear friends. We eat, exchange gifts and watch a Christmas movie or two. This year we were eight for dinner. Sometimes we are more, never less. Usually the food prepared is finger food and appetizers. R-G's husband makes this great sandwich with crusty bread, meat, cheese and onion heated in he oven. Sometimes he makes a ham and we all cut and pick off of it as the night goes on. None of us stand much on ceremony and we all love to eat good food.

This year, however, we decided to do things a bit different. We thought it might be fun to do a formal dinner, black tie optional (an option no one chose this time around claiming the tuxedos were all at the cleaners). R-G and I met a few weeks ago to plan the menu. We wanted the flavors of the season to come through, warm rich meats, root vegetables and warm breads. We brought ideas, a cook book and a magazine to lunch one day and poured over all the yummy treats we saw. We decided on two appetizers, rumaki with water chestnuts and salmon pizzas, two entrees, turkey with gravy and an herb stuffed pork loin, four side dishes, stuffing, green beans with lemon and hazelnut, sweet potatoes, and squash cassoulet and one desert, a honey cake topped with toasted almonds. Oh, and let's not forget, one can of cranberry jelly plopped on a plate, with can marks and all, in a solid lump. Some traditions never die.

We had our menu. Now we needed a plan. Google has a documents and spreadsheets feature that was perfect for sharing all the information between the two of us while planning. Yay, Google! I started a spreadsheet for the ingredients, kind of a shopping list for us, then another for the equipment we would need, and then the final sheet, a cooking schedule. I also added all of the recipes to a document so we would have easy access to them without having to pull out cookbooks or try to remember an original recipes while in the heat of battle. R-G arranged things with the butcher for the pork, panchetta and bacon. I already had the turkey so we were set for the entrees.

We planned our shopping for the day before the feast. Little did we know that a winter ice storm would hit the night before. But did it stop us??? NO! We forged on, meeting for lunch at a great Irish pub downtown. From there we headed over to the farmer's market, hoping that at least one farmer would be there. We were in luck. There was one farmer. Only one. And his stall was loaded with all the goodies at excellent prices. He had gorgeous pears and apples at 2lbs for a buck. Really, everything was a buck, the only difference was how many pounds you got for your dollar. I made a mental note of where his stall was and planned on going back many times in the future.

We also made a stop by the spice shop while we were there. It always smells soooo wonderful in that little shop. There are two ladies working behind the counter who have been working behind that counter since I first visited the market 36 years ago with my parents. They know their trade. The first thing R-G found was Celtic Sea Salt and the first question she asked was, "what makes it Celtic?" And the reply, "It comes from the Celtic slat marshes on the shores of Brittany." Good answer. An ounce of this and a bottle of that later, we had everything we needed for the feast as well as some special items for ourselves. I picked up some candied ginger and cinnamon sticks for a treat closer to Christmas...and some of the salt, of course. We finished our shopping and went our separate ways for the night, R-G to pick up some chairs and me to bake the Honey Cake, both extremely happy knowing we were having a white Christmas.

The next morning, 9am, I joined her at their home to begin the preparation of the feast. We spent the day chopping, dicing, grating, sauteing, simmering and roasting. We started at a fairly steady but leisurely pace. The turkey went in, the stuffing was cooking, and the broth was simmering for the gravy. About half way into the day we also began the drinking, wine, a very nice red. As the day wore on, our speed increased a bit. I started to feel the rush of adrenaline that I get as I approach serving time. But everything was going as pretty much as planned or even early. I was very pleased with the way things were turning out. Meats were golden brown, the sweet potatoes were speckled with spices and glistened with butter and the gravy came out a luxurious, creamy deep brown ready to smother the turkey in rich goodness.

As our friends arrived bearing gifts, they were greeted with glad tidings, a glass of wine and heavenly aromas, as well as some yummy rumaki and a crispy salmon treats. We sat down to dinner first, leaving the gifts for after and desert beyond. The feast was divine, with everyone digging in trying a bit of everything we offered. We lingered over the table, some having second helpings, some just enjoying the conversation. We laughed as a couple of the guys tried to corral the cranberry jelly to keep it from slipping off the plate as they passed it around the table again, this time an on edge disk sliding perilously close to disaster.

After dinner, gifts were exchanged with an abundance of glee. It is such a joy to watch every one's faces light up as they open their packages. We moved around the room one at a time, each pulling from the pile in front of us, some ripping with abandon, others slowly unsticking each piece of tape. Eventually, we finished the unveiling, each now with a pile of unwrapped goodies in front of us, books, CDs, DVDs, more books, and other gifts, all special and unique.

We finished the evening with cake, coffee, and, this year, White Christmas in the DVD player. It was the perfect end to a perfect day. R-G and I have prepared meals together before, but nothing this extravagant. I can't think of a better way to spend a day than working in tandem with one of my closest friends creating something fine for the people we love.

Now.....what shall we do next year?.....

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