'Twas The Party Before Christmas...

A sit down dinner for 14 a week before Christmas? Sure! Why not? The house is already decorated.


“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love…” or so Frank sang. I’m always in love, so nothing’s changed for me, but it’s that time of year when our streets, malls and homes change as holiday decorations are hung, Christmas trees are trimmed and menorahs are lighted.

I love the holidays… when else do we get the aroma of chestnuts roasting even if they aren’t being roasted by an open fire? Every year, to bathe in warmth and goodwill of the season, my husband and I host a Christmas party.  Then there was the year we hosted two.

I have been in a Book Group forever… sort of… but over the years the group has morphed into a “The Food & Wine’s The Thing, Never Mind The Book” Book Group. We’ve had a couple of brief intermissions, and members have come and gone, but the group became a “family,” albeit an ever-changing “family.” We may not have had time to read a selected book each month, but we did try to meet once a month at each other’s homes to catch-up, eat, drink and be merry. 

But after a couple of decades filled with weddings, births, divorces, career highs and lows, disappointments and deaths, our monthly meetings have grown further and further apart as we continued to not read the selected book.

Every few years during our heyday, The Food & Wine’s The Thing, Never Mind The Book, Book Group (hereafter referred to as TF&WTTNMTBBG) had holiday dinner parties which included our husbands… a sort of pot luck dinner in that each couple provided a course. We hosted the last of those parties.

I wasn’t thinking about hosting one, but at a TF&WTTNMTBBG meeting, I was carried away by impending holiday spirit (or the wine) and volunteered to open our home for a group holiday party…

I mean, our house would be decorated anyway, right?! Piece of cake, right (especially since someone else would be baking the cake)?! And, just because we were having our annual Christmas Eve open house for the entire county of Los Angeles (OK, I’m exaggerating – but at least 30-35 people would be coming and my husband does all the cooking) doesn’t mean we can’t host a sit-down dinner for 14 the week before, right?! I mean we’re only providing the appetizers and champagne cosmos, a bottle of white and a bottle of red … No big deal, right?!  Yeh, right.

Heaven forbid I put out a cheese platter and a few “spreads” from our local gourmet shop… Not with my husband co-hosting! So for three days – yup, three! 3! days – after I decorated I washed more than a dozen champagne glasses, more than two dozen wine glasses (the red & white thing), more than a dozen “cordial” glasses just in case we wanted to be cordial, and more than a dozen water glasses. I figured out how to make my antique pine dinner table that sits eight comfortably expand to accommodate more fourteen (a long, wide piece of plywood on top of my old pine farm table and a hijacked pine side table as a “dais”). I ironed Christmas linens… set the table, set up a bar area, etc., etc.  WHILE husband made his appetizers.

The first was a ‘canape’ straight out of Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” cookbook, (page 49 if you have the cookbook, or you can find it online): Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps w/ Goat Cheese Mousse… certainly not your every day cheese on a cracker.

The second was shrimp on a fork with avocado salsa, also straight out of the Thomas Keller cookbook (page 46, or online)… and, of course, the forks had to be silver which all had to be polished.

The third was an Ossabaw dip. Translation: roasted garlic and sun-dried tomato cheese spread (recipe below). No cheddar in a crock for our guests.

And the fourth appetizer was salmon poached in champagne, with a mustard dill sauce made from cream cheese, mayo, champagne honey mustard and chopped fresh dill – blended to taste.

See what I mean... between marketing, prepping, cooking, assembling = THREE, count ‘em - THREE days!!! For appetizers!!!

But everyone else outdid themselves, too.

We had a rich butternut squash/pumpkin soup. It was so good you felt buttered, squashed and pumped. There was a sensational salad concocted of prosciutto, arugula, radicchio, pomegranate seeds, sliced persimmons with fresh burrata cheese in a honey mustard dressing, plus an entrée of delectable curried chicken and rice with many tasty toppings including homemade chutney, raisins, peanuts, toasted coconut, chopped scallions, cilantro with a side of fresh, sautéed (butter!) string beans.

And then came the piece of cake we didn’t have to make part, an amazing cheesecake with a raspberry grand marnier sauce.

We ate. We sipped wine. We cordially sipped port and stole each other’s grab bag presents… and when the dinner party was over, we felt sated and happy and very ho, ho, ho’d… I didn’t even mind that I had all those dishes and glasses to wash or that we still needed to plan our Christmas Eve party.

As it turned out, this was our last TF&WTTNMTBBG holiday party. Just as our ever-changing ‘hood ever changes (and not just its outward appearance each year for the holidays), our lives continue to evolve and change, but joyful memories linger on.

Happy Holidays (an old English 12th Century word “Haligdaeg” which means “Holy Day”) everyone! Eat, drink and be merry and remember, be kind to you dishwasher.


                                       Ossabaw Dip

             (Roasted Garlic & Sun-dried Tomato Cheese Spread)


Prep:     5 minutes

Cook:  45 minutes

Cool:   15 minutes


5 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons olive oil

¾ cup sun-dried tomatoes

½ cup dry white wine

12 oz of cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup finely chopped green onions

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil; drizzle w/ oil.  Fold foil to seal.  Bake at

425 degrees for 25 minutes; let cool 15 minutes.  Squeeze pulp from garlic cloves into a small bowl.


Combine tomatoes and wine in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes or until wine evaporates and tomatoes are soft.  Process tomatoes and garlic in a food processor until smooth.  Add cream cheese, and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.


Spoon mixture into a small bowl; stir in green onions and Parmesan.  Serve warm w/ crackers.  Richard served the spread w/ toasted slices of baguette.


Makes 2-1/3 cups.



Ilona Saari December 16, 2012 at 06:40 PM
PS - thanx for your kind words, Irene.
Pam December 17, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Recipe sounds good. I didn't know you didn't like mexican. Most of the recipes I have been grabbing lately are mexican. I still think you need to do a little webisode at least once in a while.
Ilona Saari December 17, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Thanx, Pam - but my days on camera are in the past if I have to be the writer, director, producer and "on talent" person... Getting way too old for all that <g>... I do like cheese enchiladas, tho. ;o)
Sharon Crigler December 25, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Wonderful! It is also wonderful to have been invited to the Christmas Eve bash - amazing food in every room:)
Ilona Saari December 25, 2012 at 07:01 PM
So happy that you were able to join us last nite. Hope you had a good time.


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