One of the first lessons I remember is my mother's counsel, "Don't go to anyone's house with one arm as long as the other."
Because there are so many parties this time of year, here are three really easy, inexpensive and, best of all homemade treats to hand your host. Because December's a sugar blitz, a savoury treat seems especially clever.
(Time required: 20 min.)
"Murph" was my Aunt Magdalene, an elegant but not overly domestic banker. She'd whip this up, put it in a cute pot, and enter in cloud of Chanel and swishing taffeta.
1 4oz. can dry mustard (like Keen's)
1/3 cup and 3 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup water
Combine and cook in saucepan 10 min. while stirring, or in double boiler till slightly thickened. Yield: 1 pot. (What does she mean? Beats me; I'd estimate it makes about 1 1/2 cups of mustard, enough for a good-sized gift jar with a little left for you to enjoy how good it is.) Store refrigerated.
Also appealing is this Moutarde maison au miel de lavande (in French) from Alto Gusto.
Sweet Dill Pickles
(Time required: 10 min. and three days to marinade)
These these start with good old garlic dills, you do just enough to them that they taste different.
1/2 gallon whole garlic dills
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. garlic chips (or chopped garlic)
Mix everything together except the dill pickles. Drain the pickles, slice them into spears, put into that dill jar and layer with the sugar/herb mixture. Refrigerate and shake a couple times a day for three days. Pack in a glass jar.
Painted Potato Chips
Time required: 20-30 min.
Before Miss Vickie's offered every flavour known to humans and some not, my mother made her own flavoured chips to serve with cocktails. It's still a really cool thing to do—you get a chip that tastes like no commercial one.
Preheat your oven to 350F.
She'd just melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and mix in one teaspoon of B-V broth and sauce concentrate. (I don't see why you couldn't use jerk sauce, either, as long as it's not the thick, gloppy kind.) That mixture goes into a small shallow bowl.
Open a bag of good unflavoured commercial potato chips. Take out your pastry brush. Brush one side of each chip with the mixture, using a lightish hand, and place each painted chip on your cookie sheet so they don't touch, 'painted' side up. (Don't worry about covering the chip edge to edge, just give it a good lick.)
Pop into oven and roast, watching carefully so they don't burn. (You are just 'drying' the paint, the chips should not get dark.)
Let cool and pack in a tin to take to your friends. I said take your hands out of there right now!
For those with more time and the willingness to fry, impressively gourmie homemade chips with nori salt will stand out. This is an intriguing homemade potato chip, though if you are getting out your mandoline and making them, any flavour—or none, just salted— will be leapt on. The recipe is from the renowned (now closed) Chicago restaurant, Butter.
PS. For sweet-lovers, that divine sweet and spiced nuts recipe is here. (It says 'walnuts' but you can use any nut or a combo.)
I re-post it every year; last year a reader told me she made it and then she and her husband stood in the kitchen and polished off the batch!