Thursday, December 16, 2010

Drive-by Hors d'Oeuvres and other holiday pastimes : : Anne McAllister

I have revisions to do right now. And I'm doing them -- bit by bit. But it's hard to focus on them because Christmas is coming. Have you noticed?

I have. And while I don't go overboard at all, every Christmas we do at least a few of the same things. This is in the interest of 'tradition' and 'nostalgia' and 'doing things for the children so they'll have fond memories.'

Sometimes it even works.

Every year we get a live Christmas tree because it feels like something authentic (for us). If you have an artificial tree or no tree at all, that's fine. We don't care what anyone else does. We just enjoy the challenge of going out and picking the perfect tree.

It's never quite a simple as it ought to be -- like the year seven of us went out looking, found The Perfect Tree (everyone, amazingly agreed that it was The Perfect Tree). Then we carried it (literally) the half mile or so home and discovered it wouldn't stand up. At all. No matter what.

So we carried it back again (literally) and threw ourselves on the mercy of the tree salesmen, who all thought it was hysterically funny -- but after much amusement, they kindly let us pick another tree.

This was followed some years later when we were ultra-purist and went out and cut our own tree. We used to be able to do this fairly locally. But then one year we couldn't. So my youngest son and I drove an hour up into Wisconsin to a farm where you could cut your own. We hiked miles through snow barefoot (well, not barefoot, but it was miles and the snow was deep!) and at last we spotted the perfect virginal untouched tree high up on a hillside (covered with drifted snow).

We hiked up. And up. And up.

And when we finally reached The Perfect Tree we discovered that someone had spray painted it green.

We drove home and bought one off a lot. And that was the end of purist Christmas tree hunting.

We have certain things we bake every year beginning with my mother's date bars. They are the most scrumptious crumbly cookies known to man (in my opinion and hers). And she used to bake them for Christmas gifts -- until great-grandma wrote her a thank-you note for the "little meat pies" at which point she gave up and started sending recognizable fudge.

But while I don't give them as gifts (because they would never last long enough to be packed up and why would I give them away, anyway?), I always make them. So does my daughter.

And we make spritz. In fact for the past two years it's been a neighborhood project, er, party. My friend Nancy the Cat-slayer (no, she doesn't, but we have photo that makes it look like she is about to) and I invited two friends from China to bake with us last year, intended to give them an American Cultural Experience. To make it more authentic, I invited my neighbors to come and bake with us. It was so much fun last year that we all did it again Wednesday afternoon.

My 87 year old neighbor offered to bring the Peppermint Schnapps and liven things up. In the end, she didn't. Probably just as well as things were pretty lively anyway and she might have scandalized our Chinese guests. They now consider themselves a part of our local tradition. And they make better spritz than I do, that's for sure.

One tradition that has been on hold is the making of Christmas stockings. A friend made my children stockings, and when the grandkids began arriving, I promised to make them for each one.

But I fell apart after the oldest two boys because the first girl to come along had a massively LONG name and it stopped me cold. I couldn't see how to make it fit on the stocking without making very small letters. So I didn't do it at all. If she missed it, she didn't say so ( but she doesn't live in the same family as the boys, so it would have been harder to notice).

Still, it wasn't until this year -- five grandchildren later -- that the mother of the youngest (who has a very SHORT name) said she'd love it if he had a homemade stocking. She looked hopefully in my direction.

So I made six stockings. All I can say is, thank goodness for nicknames -- which the massively LONG-named granddaughter, now 10, has since acquired -- because her nickname fit.

We have other traditions, too. There is the homemade wreath, which we won't go into because sometimes it is not a pretty sight. There are the batches of biscotti. I could write a whole blog on biscotti alone. But I'd rather be baking them. There is the annual hunt for the great-grandparents' brass candlesticks which always get put up, provided we can find them. But we haven't been lighting the candles recently because, traditionally, we almost always seem to burn the house down when we do.

And then there are the new events which, one hopes, never become traditions. This year it is a Christmas party (I use the term loosely) for an organization I belong to that promotes exchanges between people in different countries. We've had some wonderful experiences both traveling and hosting such exchanges.

This year the board decided to have a 'traveling hors d'oeuvres' party. It's a fund-raiser. We are on the board, thus we are going. We are also providing an hors d'oeuvre. (More than one, actually, a whole tray of them).

The logistics of this event are frightening. It has been set up so that there are two houses next to each other where we are expected to congregate (in two separate houses) with our requisite hors d'oeuvres and then switch houses halfway through the first hour.

Then we drive across town and go to two other houses, also next to each other (where presumably there are more hors d'oeuvres) where we meet the same people we just met across town, consume more hors d'oeuvres, switch houses again, and then go home.

The way I calculate it, we still will only see half the people, but we will see them at both places. Provided, of course, that we can park.

We are currently having one of the snowiest Decembers on record and there are no places to park on either street at the best of times. Not for five people, let alone for 40!

So you see why I have started calling this the "drive-by hors d'oeuvres party." Clearly there's going to be no place to stop. Nancy the Cat Slayer is driving and DH and I are to leap out, run inside, deposit the hors d'oeuvres while Nancy TCS circles the block. This does not even address the problem of exactly how to keep the spanakopita warm while it is en route when the temperature has been below zero all week.

Somehow I don't think this is going to become a tradition. At least I hope not.

What are you planning for the holidays (Christmas or any others you are celebrating)? Have you had holiday disasters, too? Misery loves company! You'd make me feel better about my spanakopita-on-the-move event tonight with a little holiday disaster oneupsmanship. Or you can tell me about your perfect holiday. I'll simply turn green with envy. So comment -- please!

And happy holidays to everyone!


Nas Dean said...

Hi Anne, your christmas sounds fun!

The rain is not letting up so ours will be one this year without the lovo, food cooked in earth oven. Everywhere its muddy!

Oh well.
Season's greetings!

Joanna St. James said...

Merry Christmas Anne, that is a great Xmas tradition to have with the neighbours

Anne McAllister said...

Nas, I can see where mud would complicate your earth oven cooking! I hadn't thought about that. Have a wonderful holiday season.

Joanna, yes, the spritz baking started off as just a way to give the Chinese girls a taste of American tradition. But my neighbors had such fun that they were calling up to see when we could do it this year. (Clearly people in my neighborhood don't have enough to do!) We used to have a street Christmas party, but it got absorbed into a more general neighborhood one, so we don't get to spend time together -- and this appears to have become one way to do it. We had a blast! And the Chinese girls are getting to be very good spritz makers. The cookies were tasty. And we're all looking forward to it next year.

Estella said...

The only thing we do for the holidays is have a family dinner on Christmas Day

Anne McAllister said...

Estella, thanks. I don't know if your Christmas dinners are all calm and peaceful or not. But I think ours will be this year. First, though, I have to get through the hors d'oeuvres bit!

ev said...

It's a madhouse here, esp when everyone brings their dogs, 3 of which are Dachshund puppies. Nuff said.

My house is a wreck, I can't find the spare room for my mom, the kid is coming home from college tomorrow and there is no food in the house, decoration boxes are all over the place, I have a drunk blow up santa in the front yard (he won't stand up straight no matter what) and one of the outside trees won't light. It did once, and then quit. Then there is the dining room still buried in hubby's computer crap. I know there is a table under there somewhere.

Everything is normal here.

ev said...

You can just bring all the apps here. Plenty of parking. And no snow. Yet.

Anne McAllister said...

Oh, Ev, I so identify with your Christmas. And I'd love to have brought them to you. We nearly drowned in snow getting across town. It was crazy. But a surprising number of foolishly daring people showed up. And we had a good time, even though we all agreed it was a little insane. And I don't think we'll be doing it again -- at least not in December.

Also, the problem with only seeing the same people at every house was confirmed. You never got to see the rest of the group. Obviously we need to rethink the logistics of this.

On the other hand, today I finished my Christmas shopping! I wrapped all the rest of the presents. I have one to mail tomorrow (besides greenies for Sid the Cat at Kate Walker's house) and then I am FREEEEEE! Well, except for the revisions!

Have a merry!

Mary said...

Hi Anne, I loved reading this post ;)

I'm having my family over for Christmas dinner and I am making cookies this year for everyone. Other than that not a lot going on, just a nice argument free family dinner. lol Yeah right. Why is it that some families seem to love to argue during the holiday meal...I just don't get it.

Anne McAllister said...

Hi Mary,
I don't know why some families argue all the time. I suppose for different reasons. Some seem to do it as a form of verbal exercise. Others actually feel animosity. Hard to say unless you know the family, I guess. Mine doesn't argue -- but they make a lot (A LOT) of noise! Have a great Christmas!

Michele L. said...

Hi Anne,

Oh wow, what a cool tradition! My family is pretty laid back so we just have a dinner, exchange presents and that's it. My husband and I, though, love to go around and look at Christmas lights. There is a big light display in a park near us that is just fantastic! Also, we always watch for the Christmas train to come through our town. That is always cool to see! Have you ever seen it? It goes all over the country.

Have a very warm, fun, fuzzy and happy Christmas holiday!

ev said...

So you have 4 houses. 1&2 next to each other, 3&4 the other set. You have Groups A,B,C & D.

1A 2B

3C 4D

then 1B 2C 3D 4A
then 1C 2D 3A 4B
finally 1D 2A 3B 4C
Do the Hokey-Pokey and turn yourself about

Only half would have to drive to the other house each time and parking would probably be easier.

Or you rent a couple of buses to do the shuttling.

Anne McAllister said...

Michele, I love Christmas lights, too. A few years ago one of my sons was home for Christmas and he made a point of going over to get his grandmother and drove her all around the town to see the lights. She always talked about what a special night that was. A few years ago we had a kangaroo for Christmas (in lights) living across the street from us. It was supposed to be an angel, but it looked exactly like a kangaroo. I loved that thing! I even wrote a blog about it on my own blog!

Anne McAllister said...

Ev, we should elect you to the board! You would obviously be a big hit. My idea is that we should have it in June when there is no snow, and we should do it at a park where we can all be together and stop schlepping things around from place to place. Obviously a boring solution which will never be adopted. Maybe you can take my place on the board! I'd elect you!

Kate Walker said...

I just want to come and share your Christmas preparations and drive by some hors d'oeuvres with Nancy the cat-slayer (give her my love.) I also love the sound of your mother's date bars. Yes, I definitely want to come visit.

Sid would tell you that one of our Christmas tradtions he's getting pretty fed up of is the arrival of KITTENS (this particular KITTEN merits the capital letters) but he'llput up with that if some wonderfuol and kind Lady Across The POnd find the traditional and wonderful greenies - but he's not sure he wants to share them with the KITTEN.

Good luck on those revisions - get them done then you can really enjoy Christmas

Anne McAllister said...

Kate, Tell Sid that Greenies are on their way but that he MUST share with all -- though of course they are addressed to him. I'm sure he'll keep the KITTEN in his place!

The date bars are fantastic. Making me drool just to think about them. The rest of the hors d'oeuvres weren't bad either. The snow was something else, though.

I'll get the revisions done as soon as I can -- now that the heroine has deigned to reveal her secret. Why couldn't she have done this months ago?????

Have a merry!