Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

Christmas Party, Dec-18-2004

Last Saturday was our annual Christmas party. It ended up working out well; I'm generally satisfied.

Estimating is tricky, but I'd guess that we had a total turnout of about 80 people, with a peak of about 50. The party got underway earlier than usual; I counted 43 people in the house at 8:10.

There were several of our valued regulars who weren't able to make it: Mike Peck, the Placeways, Dani, the Maltzes, Sharon and Elliott, Jean Siegel, Alaina and Austin. But there were also several attendees we hadn't seen for a while, whom we were very glad to see, particularly: Laura Tweedy, Mark Stevenson, Larry Hutchinson, Jo Erin and Jason, Kristin and Thad.

Lori got a very good turnout among her coworkers, which confirms how well she fits in there. On the other hand, I was disappointed that none at all of my coworkers came to the party. (I'd gotten regrets from a few people, and one coworker sent an "AAAAAARGGGGG!" message afterward.)

As usual, we were busy enough as hosts that we didn't completely enjoy the party; we were always too distracted with preparing food and cleaning up spills and greeting guests. But we're used to that and pleased to be hosts; that is okay. And towards the end, when the party had died down to one room of gamers (playing a riotous game of Apples to Apples) and one room of musicians, I found it very nice to sit alone in a quiet room for a few minutes--and that's okay too.

As usual, we had a Wretched Excess of food. We threw out food vigorously, and we took food the next day to Kevin's Return of the King showing, and we still have so much leftover food in the refrigerator that it's complicating our life.

I finally got around to using the chafing dish I'd requested as a wedding present. There were a few false starts (such as me not immediately finding the sterno holder), but it worked very well for keeping the hot hors d'oeuvres hot.

In an effort to move up the Capability Maturity Model for party planning, I'm recording our plans and how they worked out, with notes for the future:

General notes:
- As usual, we were a bit late in our preparations; we were putting food out as guests arrived. If we can manage it, it would be good to finish preparing food and start deploying food at least half an hour before the first guests arrive.
- Although the party will continue until late in the evening, people stop eating. It's probably pointless to put out any more munchies after 10:30 or so. (I'm not very sure about this time estimate)

Our planned contributions
  • Tortilla chips and salsa - we got one bag of chips and one jar of salsa, which both got put out and mostly eaten. ("Mostly eaten" is pretty much the target we aspire to; if food is all eaten, we'd worry that we didn't make enough; if there are lots left over, we made too much.)
  • Mixed nuts - we bought one normal-sized can and served the nuts in bowls in the living room and the family room. They were mostly eaten; that was the right amount.
  • Veggie tray - we got Giant Eagle's large veggie tray for $19.99. Mostly eaten.
  • Pretzels - we bought a bag, but never got around to opening them or putting them out. They weren't missed.
  • Mini quiches - we bought a box ("Nancy's" brand) but never served them. This happened with the 2003 Christmas party too.
  • Hot hors d'oeuvre assortment - we bought a box (Nancy's) and served them late in the evening. They got mostly eaten, but without a lot of enthusiasm; I don't think they would have been missed. (But we didn't want them to take up space in our freezer for months on end.)
  • Mini chocolate souffles - after some discussion, we decided not to buy these (another Nancy's product). They weren't missed.
  • Mini cheesecakes - we made these from the recipe on pg. 158 of the Homespun Christmas cookbook. They were tasty and much appreciated. However, they made about 60 instead of the 36 that the recipe said. We had two 15"x10" baking sheets full of mini cheesecakes. We passed the first one around at about 8:30 to oohs and aahs; we passed the second around at 10:30 or 11 and hardly anyone took any.
  • Storebought Christmas Candy - we had a container of jelly bells and some assorted chocolates. There was a lot left over, but it keeps; that's not so bad.
  • Sausage Snack Wraps - from a Pillsbury Classic Cookbook that I can't identify. Fortunately, the recipe is simple and robust enough that I don't need to work from the recipe. We made two recipes this year, for a total of 96 wraps, and had them in the chafing dish at the begining of the party. They were very popular.
    I didn't hear the timer when the last cookie sheet of wraps was done baking, and when I finally took them out of the oven, they were extremely brown--but not burnt. I didn't put those in the chafing dish, but I did leave the cookie sheet out--and all of those overdone wraps got eaten.
  • Herlocher's Dipping Mustard - served as a dip for the sausage wraps. Hardly touched.
  • Brownies topped with Raspberry and Chocolate Ganache - Lori made these, but we never got around to putting these out. People have oohed and aahed over these in the past, though, and my coworkers reveled in them when I brought them to work.
  • Baked Artichoke Squares - from the December 1998 issue of Pillsbury Classic Cookbooks. We baked the crust and mixed the topping ahead of time, so at about 9pm, we just had to spread the topping on the crust, bake, and serve. This pre-cooking was definitely the right thing to do. These got mostly eaten in my first pass around offering them to people; I don't think they would have gone so quickly otherwise. People found them very tasty, though.
  • Mango-Mint Fruit Dip - from the December 2004 issue of Pillsbury Classic Cookbooks. We made a double recipe of this, because we had more than we needed of all the ingredients. But people didn't eat it much; apparently it wasn't obvious that the sliced apples were supposed to be eaten with it. I found it tasty but not compelling, myself. I think this can be skipped in the future.
  • sliced apples and pears with caramel dip - The caramel dip was Marzetti's apple dip. People ate most of the sliced fruit eventually. The dip was clearly used, but there was a lot left (which we threw out).
  • Holiday Cookie Packages - from the December 2004 Classic Cookbooks. Lori made the cookies, and they were very tasty in our sampling, but we didn't manage the time for her to ice and decorate them, so we never served them.
  • Cheese, crackers, and sausage - we bought a "Gibson plate" and another pack of deli cheese from Giant Eagle. Mark then brought plenty of cheese, which was more prominently displayed. The cheeses we'd bought were about half eaten.
  • Cranberry-Pistachio Candy Squares - from the December 2004 Classic Cookbooks. None of the three Giant Eagles that I tried carries chopped shelled pistachios, so I had to shell and chop some for the recipe. The candy was quite tasty, but it made a whole lot; I would estimate that at least 60% was left over. Also, it got a bit melty at room temperature.
  • Spinach Dip Crescent Wreath - from the December 1998 Classic Cookbooks. We bought all the ingredients for this (deciding to use purchased spinach dip instead of making our own), but ran out of time to make it. I don't think anyone missed it.
  • Potato Chips - we bought these and then didn't put them out. No one seemed to miss them.
  • Sun Chips - we bought these and put out half a bag. The half bag got eaten, but I didn't notice any craving for more.
  • A store-bought assortment of Christmas cookies - We put them out, but they were hardly eaten at all. There were so many other tasty cookies that they were irrelevant.

Food brought by others
I know I'm going to forget many things here.
  • Lori's mother brought crab dip and a cheese ball. Neither of them were more than nibbled at.
  • Lori's mother also brought cookies; they were fairly popular, but we had lots left over.
  • Mark Stevenson brought about three roughly 12-ounce blocks of cheese, of which we ate a pound or a bit more. We still have an untouched block of Huntsman cheese that he brought in the refrigerator.
  • Monica brought cherry-cardamom bread, which was nibbled at less than its tastiness deserved, and this super-tasty candy that was like the offspring of a Payday and a Milky Way. Her two plates of that candy didn't get completely eaten, but lots of people (including me) raved about the candy.
  • Lori's colleague Charmaine brought a salad that involved broccoli slaw and ramen. It was apparently fairly popular; I heard people praising it, and it was mostly eaten.
  • Lori's boss Kelly brought pierogies and an electric skillet. Despite the fact that she brought them fairly late (around 10 or so), they went fairly quickly; they were very tasty.
  • Lori's colleague Kathy brought shrimp, which were completely eaten.
  • Lori's aunt Laurene brought Swedish meatballs; I found them tasty, but they didn't seem to be eaten much.
  • Joyce and Michael brought crackers, hummus, and some sort of spinach dip. They were fairly well received, but lots was discarded at the end of the night.
  • Lots of people brought cookies and candies of various sorts that were usually well-received; I've lost track of details.

We started with this supply, as best as I recall:
  • 2 Coke - both drunk
  • 1 Coke C2 - barely touched
  • 2 Diet Coke - 1 1/2 drunk
  • 1 Diet Vanilla Coke - mostly drunk
  • 2 Caffeine-free Diet Coke - untouched
  • 1 Sprite - nearly finished
  • 1 Berryclear Sprite Remix - somewhat drunk
  • 1 Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper - half drunk. People expressed themselves as daunted by the adjectives.
  • 1 A&W root beer - barely touched
  • 1 Giant Eagle Orange soda - half drunk
  • 1 Giant Eagle Green Apple soda - half drunk, mostly by me. It was an extremely green color--even the foam was green.
  • Three cases of beer - about two cases or less were drunk, I believe. But that's net--lots of people brought beer or cider.
  • A box of Franzia Merlot - somewhat drunk
  • A box of Franzia White Zinfandel - this was old; it's not clear how much was drunk
  • Some miscellaneous old opened bottles of red wine seem to have been drunk, which surprises me
  • Mulled cider punch (half Flickerwood Winery's Sweet Angel Red, half cider, Flickerwood's mulling spices, in the slow cooker) - This year, we moved the slow-cooker near the other drinks, in hopes that people would spot the mulled punch. Most people didn't try the punch anyway, but those that did liked it. It was about 60% drunk. We had lots more cider and wine in reserve, but weren't called to bring them out.
    Monica noted (as we had noted in the past) that the herb ball we were putting the mulling spices into was inclined to slip open, so I tried to tighten it with a pair of needlenose pliers--which caused the clasp to come off entirely. We need a new herb ball, or a cheesecloth bag.

I haven't kept such track of what beverages people brought.
I know that Mark and Marybeth brought hard cider.
I'm pretty sure that we turned a profit on wine; besides the four bottles or so we were given as host gifts, I see at least two unopened bottles of wine among the beverages.
I know that someone brought a bottle of sparkling wine that got finished without great demand for more. (I helped finish it, because it was already opened; it was pretty good.)
People seemed more inclined to bring hard liquor than previously; we now have bottles of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum (half-empty), Captain Morgan's Private Reserve (mostly empty), and Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur (unopened). Given the general level of inebriation we're aiming for, I think it's reasonable policy to not open our liquor cabinet, but to accept and share the liquor that people bring.

Ice: We had a 40-pound bag of ice and a 22-pound bag for the coolers. We 3 8-pound bags for the ice bucket; I think we used a bag and a half. But ice is cheap.

  • 3 packs of 24 beverage napkins. One was unopened because we forgot to put it out, but the other two were used completely.
  • 3 packs of small dessert plates. (24 in a pack?) We ran out of plates late in the evening and dove into an emergency stash of about 20 styrofoam Christmas plates that probably dated from last year's party.
  • 4 packs of 20 16-oz beverage cups. Probably 3 and a half packs used.
  • 1 pack of 51 insulated 8.5 oz styrofoam cups, for the punch. Probably fewer than 10 cups used.
  • small plastic cups for wine. We seem to be out now, but I don't know how many were used.
  • plastic knives and forks and spoons. No idea how many were used.
  • A pack of party toothpicks. Unopened.
  • Large plastic tablecloth for the kitchen table. This was such a good idea, because it let us relax when we saw dips spilled on the tablecloth.

I may remember more things later, but that will do for now.
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