The stars aligned on Saturday. That's the only way I can explain it.
We woke up to a gorgeous blue sky and a crisp wind. We trudged downstairs and started cooking (me) and cleaning (Kyle). Scents of minced garlic and Murphy's oil soap filled the air. Christmas music played softly in the living room, and my nerves -- the nerves I'd been feeling for probably a week, the worries about the food and the decor and the timing of everything -- they dissolved entirely.
We had it under control.
My great-aunt's silver and my mom's hurricane vases and my own crystal glasses gleamed on the table. The alternating ivory china and black plates stood out against the gold chargers. Little wine corks holding calligraphy place cards were nestled in the soup bowls, along with vintage Christmas pins I found in an antique store.
I filled up a bundt pan with ginger ale, strawberries, and cranberries, then placed it in the freezer. Perfect ice ring for the punch -- sparkly and golden and red and best of all, not made of punch-diluting water. If you make punch (and why wouldn't you, it's delicious!), make an ice ring with fruit juice or pop.
I set out the menu...
And I even took Bailey out for a quick walk. That is how relaxed I felt!
I came back and popped the garlic and thyme crusted prime rib in the oven.
Let me just interject this recap with a note: I wish I had a photo of the prime rib. A photo of the green beans. A photo of the punch, and the prep work, and the cheese plate, and a million other little touches. These were things of beauty. But as I'll explain in a later post, tips for party-planning newbies, you really need a designated "photographer" for an event you're hosting. Lesson learned.
People started arriving around 4:30, so out went the appetizers. Cheeses, crackers, baguette slices, raspberry & pomegranate jam, champagne dill mustard. Prosciutto slices and grapes. No cooking, no real assembly. Easy peasy.
Everyone was mingling, laughing and drinking and catching up. My brothers and I shared a toast.
Everyone gathered together in the living room to watch the "debut" of some highlights from our wedding video. I sat down with a glass of champagne punch and a plate of cheese, laughed over the speeches and grinned like a fool through the ceremony footage, and just felt totally relaxed and happy -- this hostess thing wasn't so bad after all!
Things in the kitchen were under control. The french onion soup, made on Friday afternoon, was now simmering on the stove. The caesar salad was ready and waiting for a splash of dressing and a quick toss. The prime rib was tented in foil, because it finished cooking much earlier than I expected. This particular development gave me a brief panic attack, but it ended up being wonderful because I wasn't checking the oven every few minutes.
Even if I occasionally looked like this:
I felt like this:
Dinner was served shortly after six. My mom helped me assemble the first course out in the kitchen -- she ladled the soup into the bowls, then I tossed a toasted baguette on top and sprinkled a little gruyere cheese to melt over it.
Everyone else waited around the dinner table while Kyle poured champagne and wine. Then, with a little toast from Mr. Host with the Most himself, we clinked glasses and dug in.
Kyle and I handled the rest of plate clearing, prep work, and plate assembly ourselves out in the kitchen between courses, and it was much easier than I'd imagined.
After the last slurp of soup, we stacked the bowls and re-emerged with little cordial glasses filled with a scoop of lemon sorbet -- a "palate cleanser" that we thought would make a fun little touch. Then we gathered those up, went back out to the kitchen, and plated the caesar salad that Kyle's mom generously made for us (complete with homemade dressing and homemade croutons!)
After all the ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the salad (seriously, even my veggie-hating brother loved it), we took everyone's salad plates and brought out raspberry sorbet. Kyle and I ate it quickly and went back out to the kitchen -- he to carve the prime rib, me to scoop the sour cream mashed potatoes and toss the green beans almondine.
My mom made the sour cream mashed potatoes, and if you know me at all, you know that was one of the highlights of my night. I love love love potatoes, and I have a(n)
The green beans were really good -- still crisp from the blanching, topped with toasty, lemony slivered almonds.
The prime rib -- ooooh boy. I kid you not -- Kyle ate two pounds of it himself. AND he didn't add A1, which is absolutely unheard of.
We had champagne refills (actually, we kept the chilled bottle on the table for easy access, because we're classy like that). I passed around a little bowl of raspberries to add to the bubbly, because that is my favorite way to drink it -- and I have tried many ways.
We had a Josie Becker spice cake too, which is the stuff of dreams, but we couldn't sit down to eat that last dessert course -- everyone was so full, we had to get up and move, because otherwise we would have burst.
Is gluttony a sin even around Christmas? No, I tell you. No it is not.
Then, because any good gathering of Beckers includes guitars, we sat around and sang and played our favorite 70s tunes. America, the Eagles, Crosby Stills & Nash. We even added in some current favorites, like the Band Perry and the Civil Wars (check out "Barton Hollow" -- just do it. You're welcome).
Luckily Kyle's family likes the same sort of music and didn't think this was totally bizarre (or if they did they very politely hid it!) I love parties that include music, not just tunes playing on the Bose in the corner, but real live music. Guest music. It's such a fun touch, better than just sitting around talking and eating and drinking all night (though that is very fun on it's own too).
Bailey, who sometimes gets sad when we have other people over because all of our attention isn't devoted to her, still got some extra lovin.'
We watched some more of the wedding video, and refilled some more wine glasses, and sliced up some spice cake. We gathered for some family pictures, and at one point in the night I looked at my watch and announced, shocked, that it was almost midnight.
Dinner started at six. Those hours flew by!
We were having fun, yinz. I hope everyone at our house on Saturday night enjoyed it as much as I did.
Truthfully, I couldn't have hosted a party (or at least enjoyed hosting one) without so much help from my husband, who was the best co-host of all time. Murphy's oil soap! Sorbet-scooper extraordinaire! Master of the late-night heart-to-heart!
He even wore his new navy blazer for the occasion!
And our moms, who so generously offered some of our favorite foods. They are awesome (the moms and the foods). And Kyle's sister Janel, who brought delicious wine. And my dad and brothers, who brought guitars and tunes galore. And Pete, master of the drum set, who after much persuasion finally banged once or twice on that stockpot. And my grandma, who even though she couldn't be there, was there in spirit thanks to the punch bowl, which was a vital part of the night's festivities.
And Bailey, who provided many laughs while trying to pose for an "all together now" photo. She is a reluctant beauty.
We are so very lucky to have such wonderful families. Cheers to a new Christmas tradition!