There’s just something special about holiday hospitality. When my friend Evelyn recently hosted the December meeting of our four-woman book club, the other three of us practically refused to get up from her elegant red and gold dinner table when we were finished eating. She made us feel so pampered that only the promise of opening presents in front of the fire — and, oh, yeah, discussing our book of the month — made us leave. I love the way she used simple solid red napkins and plates to create such a festive and sophisticated look, proving once again my grandmother’s timeless advice to always buy red things — they’re good for three out of four seasons, which is a record you cannot beat.
And for a record you can beat, we’re back with Cathy’s Hit Parade of Christmas Movies. Coming in at No. 3 is the two-fer I promised you yesterday — the duo of 1954’s “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and its older sibling, the 1942 “Holiday Inn,” with Crosby and Fred Astaire. Does it get any better? Not much. Look, I know these are white- and male-centric movies that do not reflect how life really was for the folks watching in theaters during the 12-year span, but still. This is vintage Christmas: Singing, dancing, fake snow, cavernous New England inns, star-crossed lovers and misunderstandings with some sleigh rides thrown in for fun. It’s Hollywood escapism at its finest — the movies that made me think being a grownup woman meant going out dancing and drinking martinis and wearing evening gowns every night. Sadly, in the intervening years this dream has proved to be false, although I’m somewhat hopeful about the martinis. But I can relive the fantasy every Christmas with these films, and you should, too. Tomorrow, it’s on to No. 2 — one of the few movies my husband and I vehemently disagree about. (And remember that we both walked out of “Wild, Wild West,” so go figure.) Stop by on Thursday to find out which innocent Christmas movie provokes such intense conflict in our house.
Is it just me, or does it seem as if we’ve passed through some sort of time-jumping holiday black hole? Just the other day it was fall and Thanksgiving and everybody was in an autumn-like mellow sort of mood and today suddenly it’s winter and Christmas and everybody is in panic oh-my-gosh-there’s-so-much-to-do mode. And by “everybody” I mean me, I guess. Deep breaths, deep breaths, in, out, in …. At least I got to start the holiday season with a calm and peaceful weekend as we four former college roommates gathered at my friend Debbie’s house in Nashville, Tenn. Debbie is one of those talented women who can create something so stylish and creative from bargain items she finds at the discount store. She’s amazing. I love the red oversized coffee cup she bought for practically pennies a few years ago — now you see them everywhere and not for pennies, either. Her mantle decor was simple and elegant and made me itch to clean the clutter off mine and do the same. That’s one of the best things about good long-time friends: They don’t mind if you steal their ideas. And of course we had food: cookies and casseroles and cheesecake and Chex mix (slightly burned and crunchy, just the way I like it). Our cooking has matured — a bit — since when we four were at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and party food meant Ruffles potato chips with French onion dip. Good times, good times. But I think we four have held up pretty well since then.
Front, daughter Carolyn holding grandson Nolan, sister-in-law Tammie, sister-in-law Susannah and brothers Michael and Mark; and back, son-in-law Jason, nephew Samuel, daughter Liz, parents Ray and Susan and husband John.
Me in the middle, trying to keep my brothers under control. As always.
Oh, wow — how many times does the whole Wood clan gather in one place? Not many, that’s for sure. My parents and my two younger brothers and their families got together with the Alabama side at my older daughter’s apartment in Huntsville, and we had a blast. My son-in-law, Jason, was such a good sport to give up his Sunday afternoon/evening to the Wood invasion, and my husband was equally good natured about sharing his one day off. Thanks, guys! We did the Wood favorite things when we meet in the Rocket City: eat at Bonefish Grill and shop at Fresh Market. We also got in plenty of talking, Nolan admiring and even a game of football — which the girls won, by the way. And I also got a photo of my favorite people in one place at one time. Priceless!
My husband and I are enjoying election night with some fun party food inspired by a story on NPR. Here’s the menu: Deep-dish Chicago pizza with pineapple for Obama, New England crab cakes for Biden, tortilla chips with salsa and jalapeno cheese dip for McCain and wild salmon salad for Palin. To demonstrate party partisanship, I added blue cheese and red wine. Dessert is all-American apple pie, although the NPR story suggested Baked Alaska, of course. We’re settled in for the night, munching away with both laptops going plus CNN on two TVs and NPR on the kitchen radio. Almost everybody I talked to today said their polling places were the most crowded they’d ever seen and more new voters than ever had turned out. I had a half-hour wait at 8 a.m. where I vote, but at 6:15 p.m. my husband walked in and out in five minutes. I didn’t mind waiting though — it was like a neighborhood gathering where I saw folks I hadn’t seen for months and caught up on some good gossip. What a great day when you can combine patriotism, food, family and friends.
When my husband and I went to a party some friends of his hosted in Tupelo, Mississippi, this past weekend, I was blown away by this gorgeous space. It’s the Dance Studio in downtown Tupelo and it is really a dance studio as well as perfect party room. The gleaming wood floors and exposed brick walls were the background for soft fall colors of golds, browns and oranges. There was dancing, wine, good company and good food: Vegetable soup, fried chicken, a mashed potato bar — and cake. (Hmm … cake.) Every time we’re somewhere that has a mashed potato bar, my husband and I remember our wedding in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, four years ago. Our caterer recently had returned from a caterers’ gathering in California and was enthusiastic about the latest trend: Mashed potatoes in champagne glasses with a variety of toppings you add yourself. John and I looked at each other and agreed that while it sounded like a fun idea and we would certainly like to go to that party, the folks at our wedding might think it was a little weird. What did we know? Now a mashed-potato bar is everybody’s favorite party food. Check out The Dance Studio at http://www.thedancestudiotupelo.com/. And go vote today! You do not want to miss out.