Christmas Day: What to serve?

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, my family (dad, stepmom & brother) joined us for the festivities, including dinner. Thankfully, my stepmom, who’s the most amazing flower arranger and visitor in the world, created three beautiful vases while sipping Kir Royal  and snacking on crab dip & gorgonzola-pear-topped toasts with candied pecans. She wiped down all the Fostoria:  dinner plates, cordial glasses, shrimp cocktail cups and footed iced tea glasses (the footed water glasses aren’t deep enough for my liking). My dad ironed the linens. Everyone helped to set the table with red chargers, the Fostoria, linen napkins and candles. My mom & dad unearthed the rib roast from its bed of salt & carved it. Our plates were topped with shrimp cocktails (in the appropriate cups, of course), salad plates, multiple pieces of flatware on each side. We talked to our kids about how to approach a dinner with lots of “stuff” since the fanciest dining experience they have in our small town is the local hacienda or the “Sports & Burgers!!!!!” joint.

This contrasts greatly to Christmas day with my husband’s family. They’re absolutely amazing. Yet, while my parents love fancy dinners with well-appointed settings, my husband’s family really doesn’t care. It’s not to say that they wouldn’t appreciate the effort, but they truly feel that it’s completely unnecessary. They’re educated. They’re talented. Everyone plays music. It’s not like they’re rednecks from the backwoods who only know how to eat on paper plates with plastic silverware. But when we greeted them in pajamas and invited them to help us prepare an array of finger foods during a gift-opening break (including the crab dip, again!), they leapt into action. They loved it. Maybe they’re just gracious, but I think they appreciate being easy-going (I may get into trouble here…this is not to say my family DOESN’T appreciate being easy-going…).

This makes me wonder…and I’ve alluded to this before…for whom do we cook? Our guests or ourselves? When I was younger (ouch), I subjected everyone to the same battery of expectations that defined my entertaining goals. I thought less about what my guests would enjoy. This holiday highlights the contrast between two drastically different ways of approaching food and family. And both families were very, very happy. So is the wisdom for the cook in realizing a personal vision, or connecting with the vision of others and creating a scene that realizes it for them? Or both? Is the vision of the cook ultimately in making her guests supremely happy and comfortable and fulfilled regardless of her own preferences? How does one achieve a perfect balance of personal satisfaction in an event well-executed but that also is thoroughly enjoyed by all? Hmmm….

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