Faultlessly Fashionable Grazing

Faultlessly Fashionable Grazing
By Lisa Kirkpatrick

Faultlessly Fashionable Grazing

"Grazing," or sampling little mouthfuls of this and that, may be the new millennium entertaining style, but in my holiday experience, it's always been the fashion. While other families sat down to full-blown feasts of Christmas ham with all the requisite trimmings, we nibbled on my grandmother's densely decadent blue cheese dip, her absolutely addictive "Texas trash" (a party mix that has nothing in common with Gardette's version), moist stuffed mushroom caps, medium-rare medallions of Aunt Joyce's beef tenderloin, pots of Mom's cheesy fondue spiked with Kirsch, and whatever vegetables inspired us. (If we were at my grandparents', there were always generous mounds of butter-riddled mashed potatoes and pecan pie for dessert.) At home in Oklahoma, dessert was often ice cream drizzled with creme de menthe, which made my sister and I feel so grown-up. Although they certainly were eclectic, I wouldn't characterize our holiday gatherings as pot-luck. As a preacher's kid who suffered through way too many family night suppers, those words inspire in me pure terror. But our Christmas Eve dinners were without structure. They were eaten at our leisure and washed down with ample wine and cocktails.

Scan the shelves of the cookbook section at your favorite bookstore and you'll spot dozens of titles promoting "grazing" as the way to entertain. There are books about holiday entertaining, throwing unforgettable cocktail parties, and creating "catered-like" meals on your own. All of these books suggest that the buffet table doesn't have to be boring. They feature recipes for what they characterize as "cocktail food" or "substantial hors d'oeuvres" that dress up the table and wow guests so much more than would your average plate of crudités or a multicourse meal. Like so much else that is stylish at this turn-of-the-century (vintage clothing, martinis, swing music), grazing menus are also said to have retro appeal. Books include recipes for forgotten little treats like petit fours and smoked salmon roulades. And desserts such as bread pudding and homemade ice cream are being revisited in bold new ways too.

I can't say that my family's holiday "grazing" habit was a conscious attempt to be ahead of the times. Our meals of hors d'oeuvres and cocktail foods were born out of necessity -- there were church services to attend, parishioners to entertain along with family, and multigenerational palates to feed. Preparation had to be handled in advance or kept to a minimum. Yet in our food-loving family, no one would have settled for takeout or something too simple.

As the millennium changes, I'll be roughing it in the isolated northern reaches of New Mexico among food-loving friends. We've put together our shopping list, planned our menus for the days leading up to the new year, and intend to make the evening of the 31st memorable. In keeping with my family's holiday tradition, we've planned for plenty of diverse dishes to taste and a variety of flavors to feast on. We may even pack the fondue pot. The funny thing is, even in our conscious attempt to get as far away as we can from all the New Year's 2000 hullabaloo, we've somehow managed to be fashionable.

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