Veronica Henry, author of Christmas at the Crescent, tells us why you can’t beat an impromptu gathering during the festive season.
Pop ups. You can’t move without something popping up in front of you these days. Restaurants, art galleries, nail bars – one minute there’s nothing, then they are there, then they are gone. They have the element of surprise, and they aren’t around long enough for people to get tired of them.
And as someone who acts on impulse and thrives on spontaneity, I am all for the pop-up Christmas party. Not one that is heralded by a formal invitation weeks in advance. Not one that has a considered guest list, a dress code and a carefully thought out menu. And not one that makes people panic about what to wear and whether they should bring you a panettone or a poinsettia.
No, this is the kind of party when you bump into people out shopping, or at a carol service, or in a field where you’ve all been choosing Christmas trees, and force them to come back to your house to make merry. You feed them the kind of food you only ever eat at Christmas. Two fingers to the fasting, hang the carb-ban; yah boo to low-fat, low-sugar, low-anything. This is about indulgence, revelry, merriment and gluttony. Sparkling eyes and smiling faces; flirtation and camaraderie. Shared moments of reckless irresponsibility, when everyone shuns their punishing Christmas schedule and bins the ‘To Do’ list in favour of good, old-fashioned fun. The ultimate in carpe-ing the diem.
But like a good Girl Guide, the pop-up party thrower needs to be prepared. Which seems like a contradiction in terms, but in fact, it isn’t. You just need a day in early December when you stock your larder and stuff your freezer with edible delights. Spirits, mixers, lemons and limes, sugar syrup and ice cubes should all be bought in bulk. Chipolatas, bags of grated emmental, ready-rolled pastry, mincemeat, crème fraiche – store whatever you need in the fridge or freezer. Make sure you have enough clean glasses ready to go and some snowy white linen to throw on the tables, plus festive paper napkins. Then wait for the moment of opportunity.
Then, as your newly captured guests arrive, turn down the dimmer switch, light the scented candles, flick on the fairy lights and you’re good to go. Throw in an iPod full of festive tunes and your party will find it hard to stop.
Throughout the evening you can produce dazzling seasonal cocktails and what my friend calls ‘substantial canapes’ as if from nowhere. It’s largely a matter of personal preference, but the old favourites work for me every time. Flavoursome, stomach-lining stodge to soak up the booze, which should flow with a measured hand – enough to raise the spirits and get the temperature rising, but not so much that the light-weights need to rush to A&E to get their stomachs pumped.
And there are lots of wonderful accessories to give your food a festive twist and make the occasion memorable. Miniature sparklers, edible gold leaf, silver dragees, chocolate stars – embellish and dust and decorate your offerings to your heart’s content and they will never be forgotten.
VERONICA’S WINTER COSMO
½ litre of vodka (chilled)
½ litre of ginger wine (chilled)
1 litre cranberry juice (chilled)
Juice of 6 limes
6 more limes
1 jar stem ginger
Mix vodka, ginger wine and cranberry juice in a jug with the freshly squeezed lime juice.
Put a ball of stem ginger in the bottom of each glass, and quarter of a lime on the rim.
Fill with the cosmo mix.
For a seasonal twist, put a mini sparkler in each lime quarter and light before serving.
For drivers, omit the vodka and ginger wine and top up with ginger beer instead.