I took photos. Many photos. I even downloaded them onto my computer at home. But I had such a fun, non-stop, friend-filled weekend, I didn't have time to stop by here to report. And I'm not sure when I'm going to get a chance as this week is looking a bit chaotic. So consider this the quick (or not so quick) summary and the photos will follow. And the how-to pictorials as well. Although those will probably drag out for a while. I took A LOT of cooking photos. A lot. I think I downloaded around 500 pictures a lot. So hopefully I will soon be able to teach you how to make red velvet cupcakes, peanut butter cups, Christmas citrus squares and candy cane sugar cookies.
In the meantime, you should know I had a fabulous time at my party this year. For some reason this isn't always the case. There are just some years where the dynamic is off and I worry too much about refilling the punch bowl or get stuck talking with someone I don't really know and don't get to talk to the people I really want to catch up with or the people I really want to show up don't or . . . I just have party let down. But this year, it was amazing!
Last week, starting on Wednesday, I stopped at a grocery store and then baked every night. There is something so soothing and gratifying about baking. I really just love it. Although on Friday night I was questioning my love as I ticked off what I had accomplished and considered what I had left on my very ambitious list and what should be crossed off. I washed my hands almost constantly and had to wash many dishes which left my hands very dry. And lotion doesn't really mix with baking. I was also getting worried about decorating, I had the boxes out but still hadn't made a move toward decking the halls.
I went to bed close to 2 am with lists scrolling through my head. A friend was flying into town on the red-eye and was due to arrive first thing in the morning. I told her to pick up a key from the doorman and just come in and crash on the bed I made up in the living room. But at 730 I jolted awake. I hadn't heard her come in yet. So I sent her a text, made a stop in the bathroom and tried to go back to sleep. But I was wide awake. She arrived a few minutes later and was surprised to see me up. She wasn't ready to sleep yet either despite a restless night on an airplane so we had a breakfast of cold cereal and chatted before diving into the baking full tilt.
She helped for a while and then crashed on my bed. I put on one of my favorite Christmas movies - "Family Man" - and made red velvet cupcakes, pumpkin cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies and "everything" cookies and probably some other things. And questioned whether the party would be worth the effort.
When the line for the oven got backed up waiting for cupcakes and cookies to bake, I took brief rests on the couch in 8 to 10 minute intervals and fielded calls from my mom and a friend with a newborn who couldn't make it. When my friend woke up from her nap, we kicked things into high gear and I forgave every debt she owed me - she once made me play wingman for her snowboarding and the "friend" I was supposed to occupy turned out to be married . . . and our lift passes were $90-something, so there was some indebtedness, but we are even now. Because then she brought in further reinforcements. A friend of hers lives in the Bronx and showed up around 430-ish to help. And he was a big help! In year's past, it has taken me a solid day to put up my decorations. I think it took him 20-30 minutes to string lights around my entire apartment. We then put up the decorations and again, the whole process was complete within about an hour. Impressive what 3 people can accomplish instead of one. We then turned our attention back to the kitchen and focused on the final prep work of making frosting and decorating cupcakes and torching brownie s'mores - a kitchen blow torch is fun! Again, my helpers were invaluable. And wait until you see the photos of the finished product. I have to say it was stunning (because I was not the one to arrange everything, I'm just the baker)!
After cleaning up the whirlwind mess of a kitchen, running the vacuum and stashing unwanted odds and ends in cupboards and closets, they took off to grab dinner around 8 pm - the party was slated to start at 9 pm - and I promised there was nothing left for them to do. I had showered earlier in the afternoon and ate a late lunch/early dinner around 4 so I focused on making myself presentable. A full hour to myself to prep felt indulgent. There was plenty of time to iron and put on makeup and rewet my hair and dry it. I even had enough time to make the punch and put a cheese plate together before the first guest arrived . . . promptly at 9 pm. He was a little embarrassed to be the first partier but was happy to light candles and look busy while we waited for more people. We didn't have to wait long as people started trickling in within a few minutes. I piled a selection of goodies on a plate and took it down to my doorman and by the time I returned, the party felt underway. And it was snowing outside.
This year I did not monitor the buffet of desserts. I didn't refill dishes. I refilled the punch bowl a couple of times but mostly I just enjoyed myself. I had a variety of interesting people shuffling in and out of my crowded home all evening and stayed up way too late talking with a few people on the couch until I literally couldn't keep my eyes open. My final guests helped gather the cups and plates and stowed the remaining sweets in tupperware bins before saying goodbye. I crawled into bed sometime after 330 am.
Sunday I woke up reluctantly squinting at the clock on my nightstand. I couldn't read the time so I rolled over and dozed a bit longer, content to bundle under the warm covers in the quiet morning. A few minutes later my phone rang. When I tried to answer my voice came out in a husky, gravelling strained croak. Tiffany asked if her call woke me. I tried to tell her no but my voice gave me away and (I was told later) she hit her husband for coaxing her to call even though I hadn't responded to her text message. It was 11 am after all. They had just arrived in the city with out-of-town family and I declined their breakfast invitation and tried to sleep. But I was awake so I headed to the shower thinking maybe the steam would coax my voice back to life. It didn't.
I felt ambitious and thought I would head out since I hadn't left the house since Friday night at 6. But by the time I had showered and got dressed, my body reminded me why I don't stay up until 330 in the morning. My friend woke up and we chatted on the pull out bed in the living room with mugs of tea debating what to do that day. She had an offer from a random boy to go to some Turkish spa downtown. She kept telling me how the steam would help my voice but the thought of putting on a swimming suit in front of strangers in my fully winterized body did not appeal. Not to mention the unappealing trek downtown. So I dissuaded her and we ordered breakfast in around noon. Something savory because there was still too much sweet in the house.
We left the house around 230 and regretted it immediately. It was so cold. I wanted to drop off some treats for a friend who wasn't able to make the party. She only lives a 15 minute walk away. That walk was 15 minutes too far. When I was close to the building I made contact with Tiffany who was wandering the bitter streets with her two boys just a block away. We soon met up and agreed the wind chill factor required an immediate return to my apartment. So our band of 5 walked back with one short stop at my favorite Christmas tree stand. You see, there is this really cute Christmas tree guy who I have had a small crush on for years. Tiffany begged me to buy a tree or a wreath or something from him. But he wasn't there. She bought me the tiniest tree ever anyway and we carried it back to my apartment. The trouble is, the last two blocks to my apartment were almost unbearable. Imagine walking straight into a windtunnel when the temperature is only in the teens. That is pretty much how it felt. Only all of the layers of clothes I had on seemed to magically disappear. They were no match for the bitter wind. We all swore never to leave my apartment again.
I pulled out the leftovers and we feasted on my floor while the kids broke out the Wii. Tiffany - being one of the greatest people ever! - broke out the vacuum and helped me clean up the last remnants from the party. We all took turns playing Wii and chatting and eating and basking in the warmth of being indoors. Tiffany persuaded me to try her home remedy of lemon juice, honey and cayenne pepper in hot water to help my voice . . . but despite a significant amount of cayenne pepper, my voice just kept vanishing. We decorated my teeny-tiny tree with buttons and thread and this project eventually enticed the boys to abandon the Wii in favor of crafting! Although, really, I think it was my teeny-tiny scissors from a sewing kit that attracted Max.
We were soon joined by my visitor's friend (from the prep committee) and we had a full on dessert party II.O. I was persuaded to follow Tiffany and her kids back out into the cold to catch a cab to meet up with the rest of her crew at our favorite restaurant - Vynl (despite the fact that is where I had ordered my breakfast). I resorted to pantomine to communicate with their family (who I was meeting for the first time) and Tiffany ordered for me and acted as my interpreter. And by the way, the butternut squash chowder they have there is divine. And actually doesn't clash with a black and white shake. Both of which felt good on my throat - one thick and warm and soothing, the other thick and cold and also soothing.
After dinner we made a tragic mistake in agreeing to walk back to my apartment. We were warm from the restaurant and food and company and the arctic blasts weren't around on 9th Avenue. It was those last two blocks descending toward the water that nearly killed us. Christian and I opted to abandon the group and run the last block to my apartment to avoid getting stuck waiting for the light. I cannot emphasize enough how bitter cold that wind was. You had to hold on to everything - hat, scarf, small children - to prevent them from being carried away. We herded our way back to my apartment to find my guests where we had left them, trying to beat all my Wii fit scores.
I bid my farewells to Tiffany and her fantastic family and shoved cookies and cupcakes into their hands as well as a loaf of banana bread. We wished each other Merry Christmas and they collected their car and hit the road.
I thought I was exhausted and ready for bed but I soon found myself caught up with the last bits of the party. After they told me they had beat all my scores, I felt compelled to redeem myself and despite my full stomach I reclaimed my title on the pushups by scoring 100 points for the first time on my first try. They then made me do hulahooping - which I always avoid because I am bad at it. I was not warned that I would be hula-ing for 6 minutes straight! It was entertaining for the couch sitters behind me and anyone who caught a glimpse in my windows but I was just happy to finish the task. They ordered dinner in and we continued to Wii - and laugh at each other and ourselves. At 1130 we decided to wind down and I did another sweep of the room to collect the stray cups and bowls and garbage from party number two. I finished up the last of their noodles and made it to bed by midnight. Happy and content but exhausted, vowing that Sunday nights should always end so well.