Karnes - "Christmas" 2009 (dt)

                          Menu  
 Appetizers  
  • Home-made shrimp dip – with a hint of parsley & lemon; highlights of scallions & red bell peppers

  • cream cheese Christmas trees, topped with jalapeno jelly or cranberries-in-wine

  • Swiss cheese pieces

  • peanut butter filled pretzel chunks

  • baby carrots

  • inch-square crackers

  • banana bread cubes

 Salad  
  • individual plates of romaine, cherry tomatoes, celery chunks radiating from center, tossed with at least a half-dozen shrimp;  dressed with either oil & vinegar or a thick hot cocktail sauce dressing with a hint of honey

  • accompanied by garlic & butter crisped bread

 Intermezzo  
  • the classic Deb Karnes lime sorbet
 Entrée  
  • Beef braciole layered with prosciutto and provolone; stuffed with a mix of Portobello mushrooms, pine nuts, garlic, bread crumbs, and  parmesan

  • Gnocchi flavored with bacon, onions, and olive oil

  • classic string bean casserole topped with crisp onion rings

  • more crisped bread

 Dessert  
  • deluxe chocolate cake, three layers dense enough to imitate brownies, held together with a dense and very chocolate icing

  • no-crust, hint-of-lemon cheese cake – sinfully creamy but especially light, with strawberry topping on side

  • Friendly’s Holiday Ice Cream Cake

 Drinks  
  • McManis 2008 Petite Sirah

  • Kir Royale

 After Dinner  
  • tea, coffee

  • black Sambuca

xx

The warmth of the foyer’s pumpkin glow exuded through the second story window, greeting the travelers as they wound their way up the road, pushing aside the darkness of the depths of winter, marked this evening not only by the blustery, drifting snow of a January weekend but also by the current family events of a couple weeks past.
               An ageing Krypton greeted us the best he could while the new kittens, Kiki and Katie, bounced in and out during the evening.
               Christmas Dinner Party of Ten (the usual, plus Mike & Sheila), once again, was hosted by Chay and Deb, a nearly sacred tradition since 2003. Christmas at Karnes has become one of the highlights of our year.
               Holiday greetings were exchanged and, after approximately 94 seconds of pleasantries, the counter of appetizers, like a magnet, beckoned. The Yule cheese trees with the toppings were a big hit, as was the zesty shrimp dip. Wonderful job, Judy (although we heard a few moans an hour later wishing we had more room for the entrée course).
               The men headed to the basement and participated in the 2009 World Team Championship of Table Bocci, with the two teams splitting the two games, with the tiebreaker to be decided next decade. Talk of hot water tanks distracted us for a few minutes in the midst of our expertly thrown pucks. The women gathered by the fireplace, with Krypton on his usual cushion, to chat about more important stuff, like Jen’s wedding, and so on.
               Chay’s call for the salad course was heeded promptly. With water and wine glasses resupplied, Chay delivered the salad plates filled to the edges with Deb K’s  (yes, K!) salad. We couldn’t decide the star – the shrimp, the cocktail sauce dressing or the crusty bread. (I thought I heard the bread won, in a slight lead.) (Dinner favors of a tree ornament and a tall Christmas mouse again attest to the Karneses’ creativity and hospitality.)
               Plates cleared and Chay reappeared, this time with individual glass-stemmed bowls, each cradling a dollop of lime sorbet, another of Deb’s specialties. Although Chay took the spotlight, Deb was the command center, juggling and organizing the pacing of events, and expertly done.
                A serving hot plate appeared next, soon to be occupied by a bowl of gnocchi and a piping hot string bean casserole (an excellent casserole, Sheila). Then Deb, holding the plate, and Chay, serving, delivered the beef braciole – an eight inch long, two inch diameter, string-tied bundle. All three dishes made for comfort food worthy of the season. Another basket of the crusty bread finished the setting and we dug in. Incipient moans of satiety were already murmuring, indicating dessert would require extraordinary effort.
               All that can be said is, Deb and Chay, we thoroughly enjoy your hospitality, good food and friendship. Christmas at Karnes has come to symbolize the many values we share.
               Dessert could not possibly be handled so we set off to the important stuff – Deb’s 50-something birthday gifts. And…
               …then the Christmas exchange With Deb K’s urging, the Christmas exchange was a bunch meaner (or, more interesting, depending on your point of view) this year. Starting with Kriss, we each took turns selecting a wrapped gift, revealing the contents to the onlookers. Then, starting with Deb K (#2), a “theft” could occur, which Deb K promptly did. A few more thefts enlivened the production, with several trying to hide or downplay the value of their gift, which, of course, only heightened the value of the theft, especially of the cutting boards. Ken complained about lack of men’s gifts, Judy ... the ribbed glasses (innocently, she claims), we suggested how the bowl balls could be used, and Kriss’s last chance to steal was thwarted by her sense of guilt! At the end of this merciless celebration, Chay encouraged several to partake in a shot of black Sambuca.
              An hour’s passage had partially settled the entrée, so we lurched back to the table for dessert. We savored all that we could but, despite our best intentions, the Herculean privilege of trying all the desserts was too Herculean. The chocolate cake, the cheese cake, and the ice cream cake invited us to try a little of each but only a couple could possibly do that.

Early chatter started innocently enough – catching up on news: Christmas celebrations at each of our houses, Jen’s wedding progress (early fall), Ken’s bathroom renovation, an upcoming retirement, the grandchildren, kids’ progress, the blustery weekend weather, school break, and more.
              Of course, there were a few moments of coarseness and ribaldry, and Kriss abdicated her usual role of keeping things nice. Mike entertained us with his traffic ticket and its implication about law enforcement, while Judy’s glass-..., dwarfing the other topics.
              So, we sat and chatted to almost midnight, enjoying the play of light on decorations, the buzz of conversation, thoughts of a year past and a year coming, and the valuing of others’ company.
              A warm and heartfelt thank you, Chay and Deb, for another classic during a hectic season and trying times.