December 10, 2009

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Martha Stewart Made Me Do It Happy Holidays from Kate.... This is not a column about insider trading. Aren't you relieved? This is a column for those of us who are trying to get through the holidays with some semblance of style (the occasional shower, clean jeans, or bit of glitter) without having to guild the turkey carcass or serve seventeen kinds of cookies on our collection of antique silver platters covered with homemade doilies. This year, I am so far behind that I can't say for sure that we will be having Christmas, but I'm trying. When I can remember. Which is why I'm thinking that it's a grand idea, this business of making a list and checking it twice. I'm not sure it applies so well to a woman of a certain age. That's me. The woman who can no longer remember anything. Whose store of proper nouns has been stolen, with the rest of my vocabulary not far behind. I thought this season was supposed to be fun? Normally, I'm so organized. My holiday shopping is done by mid-November, so I can deliver presents to my brother's family at Thanksgiving. This year, aside from buying that dump truck load of books I mentioned last week, I've done nothing. No baking. No holiday cards. No stocking presents. No tree. One spindly little amaryllis that might eventually produce a bloom. The charmingly ugly construction paper turkey my niece's students made is still taped to the dining room window. I have no idea what I'm doing, despite daily trips to the post office. I may have to break down and make some lists. For example, this Saturday, I expect that shortly after 7 p.m., the doorbell with start ringing and 50 or more of my closest neighbors and friends will arrive for a holiday party. This is a party that I can blame, entirely, on Martha Stewart . Nearly thirty years ago, she published a cookbook called Entertaining. A neighbor bought it for his wife, who made fantastic hors d'oeuvres that she served at a party. My husband was impressed, bought me the cookbook, and we decided we had to have a party. The party has gone on ever since. I'm still using Martha's recipes, and the part has become a neighborhood tradition. Years ago, I used to cook for three weeks. I'd make dozens of phyllo dough triangles stuffed with curried walnut chicken, and dozens more with spinach. I'd make artichoke toasts and tiny orange muffins with smoked turkey. I'd make a hundred miniature smoked salmon and leek quiches. I'd chop, roll, bake, marinate, and freeze. I'd peel eggs for hardboiled eggs by the hour. That was when I was young and supple and not desperately trying to cut another 10,000 words out of a manuscript. That was when I could stand in the kitchen for six hours at a stretch without moaning, "Oh, my aching back!" One year, just as guests started arriving, the power went off. I couldn't finish cooking my trays of goodies. No problem. I put sterno in the oven to keep things warm, put out every candle in the house, and borrowed a camping lantern so I could work in the kitchen. Lulled into happiness by candlelight and bowls of margaritas, every had a fine time. No one even knew we didn't have power until three hours later, when the lights suddenly came on. It was a magical evening. Now, party time is almost here, and, with no memory and no list, I can't quite remember what it is that I'm planning to serve. Eggs again, probably, since two of my neighbors have already declared that they are stealing the platter and eating them all. That brought a prompt, "We SHARE in this family." Golden brown Asian chicken wings, a recipe I got from a colleague in the Maine Attorney General's office. Smoked bluefish pate, from one of my old Thea Kozak's quick and dirty recipes. Crab cakes with caper sauce because my husband grew up in Maryland. Pedro's Secret, aka The Giant Taco, because we always have it, and it's so much fun to put all the layers together. Meatballs and tiny sausages, because they don't take any work and everyone loves them. Shrimp, likewise, with the Martha Stewart touch of a red or green pepper full of cocktail sauce in the center of the platter. The almond-stuffed dates with bacon are still a question mark. The wise hostess stays with her own demographic. It probably won't matter whether I remember to serve food at this party or not, because all my friends also have memory issues. Together, we'll make it work. We'll light the candles, put out something on some kind of platter, put out the annual bowl of margaritas, and celebrate the season. Once again, we'll blame Martha, and love, and friendship and have some of that fun this season is supposed to be about. (At right, Sheila's apple cake, from One Bad Apple. Delicious!) P.S. Martha could use some competition, or an updating. Anyone got a great hors d'oeuvre recipe to share? The smoked bluefish can be found in the recipes section of my website. Let me know if you want that Mahogany Chicken Wings recipe.
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Holiday Expectations posted by Leann Sweeney It's that time of year again, and in the past I have felt an overwhelming amount of pressure at the holidays. Make things, decorate things, shop for things, clean-up things, bake things, plan things, send things. It's just too many things, isn't it? No wonder I bordered on being declared mentally incompetent by January 2nd. Then you have to recover from all those things and I've decided that recovery period lasts until the following Thanksgiving. The burning question? Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? It's all about expectations. Your grandma did it, or your mother did it, so you must do it, too. And notice I'm speaking about women, because let's be honest, for my generation, putting up outside lights and cutting a turkey were about all we could expect from those who do not deal in holiday "things" until about December 24th. Good example. I've made a huge Thanksgiving dinner every year for about thirty years. All by myself. And I was always proud when everything got on the table at once and it was hot if it needed to be hot and cold if it was Jell-o or cranberry sauce. Everyone smiled and thanked me. I did appreciate that very much, but why the hell was I working alone all those years? We went to my son's home this year for Thanksgiving and since my son was off and since his mother (um, that would be me) TAUGHT HIM HOW TO COOK, and he was off work for the week, he did the dinner. And guess who helped him for two straight days with these preparations? My husband. But that's not the best part. My husband wanted his grandmother's style of cranberry sauce made with sugar, oranges and cranberries all ground together. I found him a recipe I thought would be close. He made the cranberry sauce all by himself. And then he came to the unhappy realization that our son is ALLERGIC TO ORANGES and he could not eat this concoction. And when my husband told me he simply forgot until it was dinner time and our son passed on the cranberry sauce because of this, he felt awful. I would have sympathized except that I, too, am allergic to oranges and have been since I was about five-years-old. We have been married 38 years and he's just realizing this? This is why many men are not in charge of all these THINGS. That might require some long-term planning and lots of lists--and of course THOSE things are only done for the paying job. Who'd be dumb enough to do all that work and not get paid? (Um, that would be me, honey.) For some reason, I just don't feel the pressure this year. Presents are being sent from websites with the cursory $6 "gift wrap" option. Gift cards are so handy, aren't they? And an e-mail Christmas card works quite nicely, thank you very much. But the best part of this is that not only do I not feel the pressure, I don't feel guilty either. If the people in my family don't know I love them unless I slave for 5 days in a kitchen, wear myself completely out and make sure they have awesome, beautifully wrapped packages, then too bad, so sad. I won't be tired this Christmas. Thank God I finally came to my senses.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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