And now the work begins…
New Year’s Day is always a time of sorting through, throwing out, putting away and generally trying to take back control of my house from the festivities that have ruled it since back before Halloween. While the decorations aren’t coming down just yet (my six year old son won’t hear of it for another week), it will feel nice to soon see the place without any type of holiday ornamentation. After all, there are menus to plan and cooking to be done…
The kitchen is currently unusable. There are the seemingly endless number of food containers to sort through and, eventually, return to their rightful owner or store for use next year. The amount of food that has passed through here is really obscene. I try my best not to let anything go to waste, but inevitably something ends up pushed to the back of the fridge only to be rediscovered too late to be resuscitated into anything palatable. Fortunately I’m past the point when anyone feels obligated to give me some kind of kitchen gadget as a Christmas gift – they are all far too intimidated by the assorted weaponry on display and stay well away from adding to the arsenal. There is also the assumption that I have a massive library of cookbooks at my disposal which I use to whip up dinner creations and party surprises. The truth is, my culinary library is rather modest. I’ve managed to avoid the urge to pick up A Day at E Buli or Alinea from the local bookstore. I have Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook – how much food porn does one person need? I have a few essential Kentucky cookbooks (I would be remiss if I didn’t), but I stay away from other regional publications. I have at my disposal my mother’s library if needed. Through all of her travels she has amassed a library of hundreds of cookbooks from around the United States, mostly local or regional publications. Her favorites are I believe the various Junior League cookbooks from the cities she has visited, always a good source for insight into local cuisine and tastes. Some years ago her collection was one of a half dozen featured in a local newspaper article on cooking libraries in Lexington. Having this extensive resource so close at hand makes it easy to delve into when I’m in search of an idea or inspiration. So with gadgets and cookbooks struck from the gift list, what I up end with as gifts more than anything else at Christmas is food – and that is exactly what I prefer.
It amazes me how people who rarely cook during the rest of the year during the holiday season suddenly turn into Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray, whipping up cakes, candies and a mind-numbing as well as tooth rotting assortment of other confections. The quickest way to my heart (and stomach) is when I’m given something that is NOT sweet. My neighbor showed up one night with the obligatory fruitcake, but also brought gumbo and salsa. She knows what I crave, and spice along with heat are the perfect counter-balance to the endless parade of sugar laced goodies this time of year.
Alcohol is always a good gift too. It may sound sexist, but while the women are cooking the men are apparently all out hitting the liquor store as I can’t remember the last gift I was given from another guy that wasn’t at least 90 proof. I myself seldom show up at a holiday party without a bottle of wine in hand, and the occasional bottle of bourbon to go with it. The way I see it, my hosts have taken the time and trouble to cook a meal for me, the least I can do is bring the drinks. For larger more festive parties I will sometimes whip up a pitcher or two (usually two) of sangria, always a nice break from the routine. I prefer a rose’ sangria in the summer, and during the winter tend to stick with this as reds are prone to show up as mulled wine and the rose’ provides a nice thirst quencher in comparison. Careful though, this stuff will sneak up on you.
So now that it has all ended for another year it’s time to take a break for a couple of weeks, at least from the actual execution of cooking and entertaining. The planning for the whole rest of the year generally starts now. If you ate it at my house in 2008, chances are you won’t see it again in 2009 – at least not at a formal party. While I may revisit some dishes for casual weekend cookouts or get-togethers, the larger more organized occasions will see 100% new creations (original, inspired or borrowed). The winter serves as a creative lab session for everything that is to come. There will be dinner parties in the spring, racing events that will require food and beverage, and then there is that Steeplechase Tailgate Party in May around which so much of the year revolves (for more info on this year’s event click on 2009 Tailgate Party). Summer will bring numerous cookouts and improvised social gatherings, and the fall will see a return to cozy sit down dinners as the night air starts to cool. The advantage to doing so much research, planning and brainstorming now is when the time comes it is relatively easy to pull an idea out of the hat and head to the market. Also, with so many ideas kicking around in the back of my head, it helps to bring forth an idea that I might otherwise overlook when that certain special ingredient just happens to pop out in front of me while shopping on Saturday mornings. I find that having even a semi-organized game plan in my head, even months in advance, helps to feed my spur of the moment creativity while browsing through produce at the Farmer’s Market of the meat counter at the local butcher shop.
So as 2009 begins to unfold, here’s a toast to everything we ate, drank and learned in 2008, and all we will experience in the new year. Thank you Aunt Margaret for the cupcakes, and thank you Aunt Mary Lou for the candy. Thank you Charlotte for the gumbo, Marsha for the fruitcake, Walter for the Sauternes and Kevin for the bourbon. Thank you Mom for the Christmas morning brunch worthy of the finest hotel. Thanks to everyone who shared their holiday season with me and my son and thanks to everyone who took time out of your busy schedules to share our holiday season with us.