How food, and sitting down to eat, is such a unifying experience

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My mother is making me crazy. They are the first to arrive tomorrow for a whirlwind week of family and holiday insanity. Her arrival has been preceded by three phone calls. The first required discussing my sister-in-law’s gift and how she did not understand why the Lululemon sweatshirt that I recommended was any different than the sweater she picked out. Ok. Then buy the sweater. She ultimately chose neither.

The second was a brief call during my workday because she had an emergency. Turns out that the emergency was that her best friend from law school needed a stuffing recipe. I deemed this an issue that could be addressed the following day (a Saturday) and told her so. Follow up emails on the matter were received.

The third call, meant to simply verify airport pick up plans, turned into a conversation about how she now intended to make chocolate mousse cake upon her arrival. I tried to explain that I’d already spent the better part of the weekend orchestrating the menu and grocery shopping. She replied that she knew her way to the store near our house and would go on her own. That’s about the point that I just put the phone down.

It’s a tale as old as time. Kids are driven bananas by their mothers. And mothers are exasperated by their kids’ lack of patience.

Surely my mother's favorite Christmas with me, before I could talk.

Surely my mother’s favorite Christmas with me, before I could talk.

Thank goodness there’s food. Over food, everyone calms down. Traditions are remembered. Old stories told. Laughing usually dominates arguing.

Unlike meals, board games will bring out the worst in your family at the holidays. Look at my mother's sly look as she is about to go in for the kill.

Unlike meals, board games will bring out the worst in your family at the holidays. Look at my mother’s sly look as she is about to go in for the kill.

Whether with friends or family or even strangers, a meal can unify like few other activities. There’s a collective agreement on the process of a meal, plus, it naturally engenders conversation. With mouths full, you have a moment to think before you speak. With bellies full, you feel satiated – you’re not looking to fill any gaps, physically or emotionally.

Everyone brings a little something to a meal together. Whether it’s the food itself, or colorful commentary, or just some wisdom. You’re expected to contribute. And, you’re expected to respect the contributions too. And, you’re generally expected to have a good time – let loose, tell a joke, burp, have the extra glass of wine. A meal, most often, is joyous.

My family will need this in the next few days. And, likely, your family will too.

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Holiday party food that doesn’t take 10 hours to make

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Tis the season. For multitasking. As we speak, I am simultaneously making my grocery list for the holiday meals, ordering some last minute presents, chastising my cat for licking the gifts already under the tree (gross), blogging, and trying to figure out how to eat some food so as not to head off to my pasta-making class with an empty stomach and – at some point – freak out from hunger while rolling linguine.

Earlier this morning, I checked and replied to work and personal email, wrapped a few presents, cuddled with the same offending cat, and made an appointment to have my nails re-done, since all of the above have led to them being chipped and awful. Yesterday, my mom called me and said she hoped she wasn’t waking me. As though I had time for sleep.

I bet a few of you just read that and thought. Yes, that sounds pretty similar to my days right now. It’s such a cliché that the holidays are busy. But, damn. The holidays are busy.

That is, no doubt, what led to the requester of this post to ask for some ideas on party food that doesn’t take 10 hours to make. As well established previously, I am super lazy. I would rarely make something that required more than 30 minutes to make. So, she is in luck… I have a few recipes to share.

Pancetta Crisps With Goat Cheese and Pear – Ok, confession time. This is the single easiest thing I have ever made that people go absolutely bat-shit crazy for. It’s an instant hit and I’d highly recommend it.

Caramelized Onion, Gruyère, and Bacon Spread – Cheese and bacon on bread. You get the idea.

Potato-Gruyère Tartlets – This one is good on lots of fronts. 1) It’s potatoes on dough, which makes it carb-tastic! 2) It only requires a little gruyere, which is a perfect way to use up the leftover bits you have from the recipe above. 3) Puff pastry appears complicated, but it’s NOT! You buy it at the STORE! Anyone out there attempting to make their own puff pastry at this ridiculous time of year, I will slap your pretentious face.

Caramelized Onion Tartlets – You already have the puff pastry, make two kinds of little dealies to put out. Then it looks like you made a bunch of amazing stuff, when really you just repurposed some ingredients.

Scallops in Orange-Butter Sauce – Scallops and shrimp are the best possible things to serve to look fancy-pants but really aren’t. Both are incredibly simple to cook. If you want to ante-up the fancy-pants even more with this recipe, you can substitute bubbles for the white wine.

Saucy Asian Meatballs – Serving meatballs will make your dad happy because it’s traditional and meat-y and he’s barely recovered from you telling him you’re making a roast beef for Christmas dinner instead of turkey which is what your family has done since the dawn of time and you are messing with something that wasn’t broken in the first place. (True story.)

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So, when typing the above sentences… I made an edit. I originally wrote that I never cook anything that requires more than 30 minutes to make. Never say never.

My all time favorite holiday party dish is Grilled Camembert With Exotic Mushroom Hash. This dish is not especially complex, but it does require multiple steps and special equipment. For the record, it also allows you to light food on fire – for the win!!! Overall, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass. But, it is also divine. And, it will absolutely be on my holiday table this year.

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