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Joni Woolf: Planning a party? Here are a few fine treats that say ‘welcome’

Many of us receive invitations to holiday parties of all kinds — church friends, school friends, neighbors, friends from the office — many invitations that we want to accept but fear we will have to reciprocate, and don’t know how to put together a party that will be both fun and fairly easy to prepare. The most important ingredient, of course, is not the food and drink. The one thing that can make a party a grand success or a complete disaster is the combination of people you decide to invite — how well they know each other, or might enjoy getting to know each other, what things they have in common, or a shared interest in — whether it’s raising horses, or roses, or children, or perhaps an interest in the natural world, the outdoors, or hunting and fishing — it’s a wise host or hostess that can put together a mix that “works.” Once you’ve done it successfully, you get a feel for “mixing” folks who will enjoy each other’s company, sharing stories and anecdotes that help create a warm and friendly atmosphere where all the guests feel comfortable. (It should go without saying, but I’ll say it: do not talk religion or politics — it is almost always a mistake.)
Now it’s time to think about food. Around Christmas and New Year’s our guests are usually expecting party food. For some of us, when we are guests, this may mean ignoring the pretty little dishes at the end of the table, and simply walking past the asparagus and picking up a spear, walking on, and grabbing a cracker with a bit of cheese. Others pick up a plate and get substantial servings. Do not fret if your guests don’t follow your carefully planned pattern. They are here to enjoy your company. So, relax, and let it happen. The recipes that follow are good for any type party. It is a thoughtful host that offers some foods without meat for those who may be vegetarian or who eat seafood but no other meats. Offer a variety and everyone will find something to their liking. Remember: this is supposed to be fun!
Two simple hors d’oeuvres follow. They are easy to prepare; one is served at room temperature while the other is served when removed from baking.

Christmas Party Pinwheels (from Mark Ballard)
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1 4-oz. package Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
½ cup minced red bell pepper
½ cup minced celery
¼ cup sliced green onions
¼ cup sliced stuffed green olives
3 to 4 flour tortillas (10 inch size)
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and dressing mix until smooth. Add bell pepper, celery, onions and olives and mix well. Spread about ¾ cup on each tortilla. Roll up tightly; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Slice into ½ inch pieces to serve. Yield: 15-20 servings.

Cheese Olive Balls (This simple recipe is one of my favorites and always a hit)
¼ cup soft butter
1 cup grated extra sharp cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ cup sifted flour
3 dozen medium size stuffed olives, drained of juices
Cream butter and cheese until well blended. Add remaining ingredients, except olives, and mix well. Chill 15 minutes. Shape a small portion (between ½ and 1 teaspoon) of dough around each olive. (I flour my hands or use rubber gloves.)  Bake in 400 degree F. oven about 15 minutes. Though delicious hot, they are also good cold. This recipe makes 26 to 34. I double it.

Now let’s get a little more complicated. Variations of this recipe appear in many cookbooks and I’ve enjoyed shrimp prepared this way — or similar ways — for the past 30 years.

Pickled Shrimp
2 to 2 ½ pounds raw shrimp
15 to 20 whole allspice
6 to 8 peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Juice of half lemon and grated rind
15 to 20 cloves
6 buds garlic, sliced
3 small onions, sliced
2 large stalks of celery, crushed or broken
2 large bay leaves
2 pinches dried or 1 sprig fresh thyme
Several sprigs fresh parsley
Few bits dried red pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 medium onions, sliced thin
Handful of bay leaves
Season 2 ½ quarts of water with 2 tablespoons salt; then add above ingredients except the shrimp, 4 onions and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer 20 minutes. Add shrimp and bring to boil again; simmer 12 to 15 minutes. Cool and devein shrimp. In a large pan arrange the shrimp in layers with 4 medium sized onions sliced thin and the bay leaves. Pour over each layer the following sauce (all ingredients having been combined):
1 ¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup warmed cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ teaspoons celery seed
2 ½ tablespoons capers and juice
Dash of hot sauce (i.e. Tabasco)
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
After pouring sauce over shrimp, onions and bay leaves, cover pan and store in refrigerator not less than 24 hours. Will keep a week or more. When serving, arrange the entire mixture on large platter. Have cocktail picks handy. Nice with crackers.

Note: When running short of time, stop by The Maze and pick up several containers of Frances Irlbeck’s famous cheese straws. They are great anytime, but especially with holiday drinks of all kinds. Then head to Koinonia for pecans, take them home and toast them with a little butter, salt and Worcestershire — there’s no better treat. Call the friends. Have a party. We run out of time, and regret we didn’t get together more. So, don’t regret. Do it now. Christmas is coming, and it won’t wait.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net