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Holiday Parties: Just Add Cheese

Are you aware it 'tis this season to be jolly? Are your jingle bells sufficiently ringing or are they shakin' a little lacklusterly (I just invented that word) so far this December? 

I'm not quite prepared in the sense that gifts are so low on my radar this year, and Scott and I decided to skip the Xmas tree purchasing and use the $40-ish dollars on our mountain trip this weekend. It feels a little weird to not have a tree in the house, with all the ornaments that bring back so much nostalgia and cheer.

On the other hand, I heard weird rustling noises above my home office ceiling the other day. I'll be damned if I have to climb up our rickety fold-down attic stairs from 1951 and do battle with some mystery critter. No thanks, we'll just settle for the holly branches I foraged in the backyard, red candles on the mantle, last year's Amaryllis that could make a comeback if I can keep from overwatering it, and this Santa art from Scott's family that I just love.

It's titled "The Fun Seekers." So far in the late fall, "fun" for us food-wise revolves around one thing: cheese.

Last month before Thanksgiving Scott and I, predicting that soon friends would scatter to the four winds (or Nebraska, South Carolina, whatever) for the holidays, did a great thing. I don't think I need to be modest here: You can't go wrong with hosting a Grilled Cheese and Soup Party.

Do what now? Yep, we supplied the grilled cheese, friends brought the soups, and then we voted on the best one. The winner was this recipe from our friend A.R,, adapted from Eating Well. 

Chicken Apple Parsnip Stew
Olive oil
1 pound cooked chicken (can use a rotisserie chicken)
1 large onion, chopped

4 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups chicken broth
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Add the oil to the pot and saute onion, parsnips, carrots, celery, rosemary, salt, and pepper until the vegetables begin to soften. Add broth and apples; bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add chicken to the pot and stir in vinegar.

Logistically speaking, tips for hosting a party like this would be:
1) Request everyone bring a Crock Pot and a ladle.
2) Have several power strips on hand for plugging in a zillion Crock Pots.
3) Have ladle rests at each soup station, with cards that each soup maker can write the name of the soup (and mark if it's vegetarian friendly, if that matters.),
4) Utilize your George Forman or panini press to make quick grilled cheese sandwiches. Don't bother with a hot pan on the stove, Luckily we have a George Foreman the size of a Volkswagen .
5) Everyone will hang out in the kitchen so de-clutter and make room for warm bodies and hot soup.
6) Have a prize or two. I went to Julia's Cafe & Books and found two crazy-times-two soup cookbooks (BTW, Crescent Dragonwagon is a thing?)  to give to the winner.

7) Get ready for a happy belly of soup and cheesy cheese.

The other cheese-related thing: How did I forget how good a simple appetizer of cream cheese and pepper jelly truly is? I mean, y'all, you just slap down a block of cream cheese on a plate and smother it with a jar of pepper jelly. It's sweet. It's spicy. It's creamy.

(Sidebar: It's something I could easily eat all on on my own. "What did you have for lunch?," someone might likely ask me. "Oh, just a little block of cream cheese and a jar of jelly. Just a small nosh...")

Luckily I did not make this delight my lunch. Instead, it was friend JB's great idea for our holiday cook-a-thon, where we got together and made a few things together in her kitchen for dinner. Pepper jelly to start, with a mushroom and asparagus bread pudding, roasted Brussels sprouts, Chai-spiced sweet potato and kale bruschetta, a winter salad, and chocolate pudding with a candy cane and whipped cream garnish.

(Another sidebar: You can whip cream in a Mason jar. Just add cream and a little sugar, pass it around the table as you digest the main course, burn a few calories while shaking the jar, and in 5 minutes or less (and no bowl, whisks or electric beaters to clean), you have wonderfully whipped cream.)

So forget about stressing out over the perfect holiday foods this season. Keep it simple: make your guests bring the food to you instead, or keep your list to two items: cream cheese and pepper jelly.

How come the lifestyle magazines don't tell us these things? Happy ho ho fun times to you and yours!


  1. If I have chocolate, bread, and cheese, I am good to go! You must be my daughter! The 'no Christmas tree' brings a sting to my eyes [ being the Queen of Christmas and all! ] but all of the food offerings sound marvelous! I'll try the soup for sure!

  2. Damn it - Now I really want some cream cheese and pepper jelly. That so reminds me of a hang with you and Miss Candice.

    - K to the G


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