Thursday, January 2, 2014

Random Bites: Holiday 2013 Edition

There was a multitude of random bites that were ravished over the holidays.  I will save a couple of particularly stellar eatery experiences for later posts, so this Random Bites will take a brief look over some dishes that were served as centerpieces of holiday soirees and the events themselves.

Cookie Sunday Redux - Due to our ever more obnoxious schedules, it's gotten ever more difficult to make all of the holiday shindigs and the one we've had to sacrifice the past couple of years is one treasured family tradition: Cookie Sunday.  I've written often about this cocktail-fueled baking extravaganza and how much we enjoy it, so in an effort to keep it going, we decided to recreate it ourselves with the Posse. Kiko graciously offered up her recently renovated abode and the big day served as a christening of sorts for her spanking new kitchen (dig those Ikea cabinets!).  The Posse wholeheartedly embraced the idea and arrived en masse for some serious baking hoo-rah.  True to the family event, Kiko and Tiffany, her bud from New Orleans, whipped up some jello shots for the party.  These two would later become the Lucy and Ethel team of baking as they stumbled their way through creating their cookies in hilarious fashion; frequently punctuating the process with funny asides inflected with Tiffany's NOLA accent such as: "we gotta cream the freakin' buttah".  In the end, Cookie Sunday was perfectly rebuilt...cocktails from warm bourbon cider to Rum Chata were sipped while countless cookies emerged including Deb's awesome iced sugar cookies and our monster cookies.  Carl's anasazi beans, Mike's beef and noodles and our cheddar biscuits were but a few examples of the hearty dinner that capped off the day.  Can't wait to do it again.

Beef Bourguignon For The Soul - I suppose the more popular use of this phrase utilizes "chicken soup", but when referring to a holiday dinner that truly warms my heart, this title is more apt.  Our annual get-together with my former bookstore cohorts is one of my most anticipated of the year.  This singular evening, hosted by our beloved Jane, is like the dinner party equivalent of a security blanket, comforting and blessedly familiar.  Even the centerpiece dish is a repeat and what a repeat it is: a recreation of Julia Child's ultimate comfort food, her soul-warming Beef Bourguignon.  Served with creamy whipped garlic potatoes, steamed asparagus, a tomato and avocado salad and finished off with Linda's decadent salted caramel chocolate cake, it was a marvel from start to finish.  The food may always be more than fine, certainly, but the company is what makes this meal.  Jane's always entertaining tales and Ronnie's twisted humor make it impossible to finish dinner without tearfully gasping from laughter.  Every year, when I'm going to this dinner, I am typically stressed out and exhausted upon arrival and every year, I leave relaxed, refreshed, armed with food gifts and ever so grateful for this precious holiday gathering.

The Family That Dines Together...A plethora and yes, random bit of bites swirled through the family get-togethers this year, both traditional and new.  Keith and his sister constituted one of two hosts for the annual Christmas gathering this year, which means we handled set-up and clean-up and Dave and the guys deep-fried the turkeys as the main entrees.  There was plenty of ways this 100-strong event could have gone off the rails with the impending ice storm and the illnesses that were coursing through various family members, but as usual, everyone rallied, and the meal was marvelous.
 Aunt Ursie's German dishes like her brightly cooked purple cabbage (with nutmeg, apple and cloves) and hearty potato salad and Rhonda's rice pilaf were always welcome traditions that were perfectly paired with that succulent bird.  This event was the first time we also finally got to meet Shelby's adorable daughter Kinsley.

Christmas Eve and Day brought anticipated traditions like the oyster soup that has been passed down through generations, the creamy clam chowder and even the cranberry salad with dubious origins (is it store-bought?  Or homemade? Only Keith's Mom Helen knows...).  This year had an audacious newbie with Kim's upstart banana pudding, which is like the Vanilla Wafer-studded banana pudding of our youth on steroids.  We had a guest join us this year in the guise of South African student Erick who also joined us for Thanksgiving and astoundingly, we didn't completely overwhelm him.  Instead, after he caught his breath in the chaos of it all, Erick seemed to recognize these boisterous family gatherings as I do: special, delicious moments with a wonderful family.  Cookies for Santa, appetizers at Aunt Diane's always stunning home, so much goodness, so many blessings.

The Dessert Table of Doom - Finally, at the New Years Eve celebration at my place of business was the ultimate centerpiece of decadence: a serpentine dessert table that featured everything from a towering chocolate fountain to trays of flaky macaroons to this sumptuous apple tart.

All of these random bites come together to make the month of December a truly celebratory way to round the old year and celebrate the new.


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