Sunday, January 12, 2014

Better Than Christmas

A few weeks ago, Miss Chef informed me that we had been invited to a party being held by a chef friend.  We were supposed to wear all black, bring something to drink and a homemade gift for an exchange.

Since we had several weeks—and since it was while I was still very much under the weather—I didn’t think too much about what kind of gifts we could make.  One of the caveats was “no food,” kind of a no-brainer when most of the invitees are involved in the food service industry in some way or other.  So that ruled out the easy things—our canned jam & applesauce, Miss Chef’s beers & cider.

Of course, before we knew it, we had less than a week to figure out and create our gifts.  Fortunately, we were wasting spending some of that time watching a rehab show on HGTV.  One of the small touches the host showed the homeowners how to do was simple glass etching using stencils and a brush-on cream.  A few days later, Miss Chef took the initiative of visiting our local hobby store to get supplies, and we spent a pleasant evening playing with them while Big Bang Theory was on.

For me, she had bought a carafe, which I etched with a butterfly and a sort of border around the neck.



The butterfly was a bit imperfect, due to the difficulties of bending a flat stencil onto a curved surface.  However, just beneath it, you can see the better done little extra I put on.  I couldn’t resist, since the flat bottom of the carafe was so invitingly easy to work with.


Cute, huh?  This is such a simple, easy project.  Just tape the stencil on (in some cases, this is the hardest part), carefully brush the cream over it, wait a minute or two, then remove the stencil and rinse off with cold water.  The cream is an acid, so we were careful to work with gloves on, but to tell the truth, I don’t think it’s strong enough to cause instant burns or anything.

Miss Chef etched a set of four glass tumblers with dragonflies, but I don’t seem to have any pictures of those.  At any rate, she texted me the afternoon of the party to say the hostess was requesting our arrival an hour early to help finish up the food.  This seems to be a trend when we’re invited to chefs’ parties, but it’s also a nice indication of the esteem they have for Miss Chef and her skills.

We stepped right into the kitchen when we arrived, and I was in love.  Most of the chef’s homes we’ve been in have kitchens not much bigger than ours.  It’s always been amusing to me how they can make such great food in such mundane surroundings.  Kris and her husband Nathan, however, have spent a great deal of time and money rehabbing their 1940s-era home.  It was a bit crowded for me to get a full shot of the kitchen, but the entire back wall drew me right it.  It’s a floor-to ceiling open pantry, very much like the one in the old farmhouse I grew up in.


Ours was painted white, but this wood was reclaimed from an old tobacco farm that the couple just happened to be driving by when it was being torn down.  Who has adventures like that??

As you can see, Kris removes most of her supplies from the original packaging and stores them in glass jars.  What a fascinating study of colors and textures.





Before I had much time for photos though, we were both given tasks to complete.  Miss Chef was working on a beef stew, basil pesto, and just generally manning the stove.  I stuffed mushrooms, formed pea cakes and wrapped bratwurst chunks in puff pastry.  Two more helpers arrived about 30 minutes later, and soon it was organized chaos.  (Kris is the one in the middle, with the sheer top.)



Of course, you know I had to get some photos of the food…this “apple” is actually a cheese ball with bay-leaf foliage and a cinnamon-stick stem.

Better Than Christmas (1)


This board had two kinds of hummus, with marinated NC shrimp in the back.  All the food was sourced from local farms; in fact one of farmers was in attendance.  Nice.

Better Than Christmas (6)


On the right are the pea cakes I worked on, with crême fraiche on top,

Better Than Christmas (7)


Sushi rolls.  Kris’ background is in catering, can you tell?

Better Than Christmas (8)


And the desserts!  That’s the most realistic bûche de noël I’ve ever met.  Both cakes were red velvet, and delicious, of course.

Better Than Christmas (14)


After everyone had a chance to sample the offerings, we all gathered in the living room for the gift exchange, Dirty Santa style. 

Better Than Christmas (23)

For the uninitiated, to play Dirty Santa everyone draws a number and takes turns choosing gifts from the pile, starting with number 1.  The “dirty” part is that instead of picking a wrapped gift from the pile, you can use your turn to steal a gift from someone else; they in turn can either steal or choose a new gift.  (There are other names for this game, and many variations—one rule I liked limited the number of times any particular gift could be stolen.)

There was a lot of good-natured theft; Miss Chef had two different gifts stolen from her and our etched glassware was also passed around a bit.  I was surprised that, with all the talented artistry on display, people were so enamored of our easy 5-minute craft.  We received many compliments, so I was glad Miss Chef took the initiative on that one!

After a sneaky assist from Miss Chef, I managed to steal back her third gift near the end of the evening—a heavy brocaded tablecloth made by the farmer who was there.  It’s a deep blue that should look great with our bright yellow walls.  We also got a set of three switchplate covers with wine-themed photos.

Now, you may be curious about the title of this post, which was also the official name of what turns out to be the 14th annual occurrence of this party.  It’s a bit of a long story, involving a zero day on the Appalachian Trail and a game of checkers played with skittles, but the idea is that we are mourning the end of Christmas, but also seeing out the holiday season with a party that’s even…Better Than Christmas.

And frankly, considering I spent my Christmas on the couch with a box of Kleenex and cold medicine, I can say it truly was.  Score one for 2014!


  1. What a great idea for a get-together. That big spread looks amazing.

    1. I didn't even get it all in the photos!

  2. Wow! What a special party that was; your homemade gift, the food, the home you were invited to and the people who attended the party. Everything seemed aligned for the success of the evening. J'espère que cette soirée t'a remontée le moral...

    1. Yes, more gatherings like these are probably just what is needed.

  3. That party looked like so much fun! I like the part in the video where Miss Chef kind of spins around at the end.

    1. I think she was trying to keep out of the picture, honestly.

  4. That is my kind of party! Gorgeous house (LOVE that kitchen pantry and am totally jealous), great food (and the presentation! Nice.), amazing handmade gifts (very impressive) and a very fun gift exchange. IT really sounds like a perfect evening.
    Happy New Year, jj

    1. I do tend to take some of these experiences for granted, so thanks. And happy New Year to you!

  5. Nice Christmas party ideas. The homemade gifts thing was a nice touch!

    1. We've been to one other party with that theme, and it does avoid a lot of the cheesy holiday stuff that ends up in storage or the trash two years later.


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