It can push you right over the edge, you know. Ego. Ambition. The grandiose notion that you can do it all — and that you will.
I like to throw a holiday party on Christmas Eve. Not at night, but during the day. It seems like a less stressful, less fraught time for a party, and for all of us done with shopping, it also seems like a nice way to fritter some time away with friends and drink during the day until all the other traditional holiday stuff kicks in.
I've had to take the last two years off, however, to recover. About the only things I can remember from the last party are bad feelings and exhaustion. I'll address the exhaustion in a moment, but let me very quickly say first and foremost that those bad feelings have nothing to do with all of the lovely guests who came to my party. Not at all. I did, however, end up kind of hating the people who said they were coming and then didn't. And I was already mad at the people I invited who didn't think it was necessary to respond to my invitation.
Of course, compounding the problem is that I'm an insane control freak who cannot handle having anyone else make any of the food. I start compiling recipes and ideas and planning the menu in the fall. Of course, I have to buy a cookbook or two for inspiration — that's a given. I debate endlessly which tried-and-true crowd-pleasers to throw out to make room for new and exciting things. My instinct is to scrap the menu and just use new recipes, but then I remember that I make some of the dishes I love the most only during the holidays, so it would be a shame not to have them, too.
Finally, I settle on what to serve, and inevitably it turns out to be those things that have to be made the day of the party, or at the most, a day ahead. Baked goods, I know, can be frozen, but usually there isn't enough room in my freezer for that to be a viable option. I can usually knock one or two things out, and we always do bagels and lox, so that's easy. Then we move into grandiose territory. The main dish is almost always shrimp and grits, and every year I forget that it takes three times longer to cook than I expect it to. So everyone stands around staring helplessly at the food on the dining-room table while I run, sweating, back and forth from the living room to the kitchen. Last time, I went traditional and made a large salad (with a homemade vinaigrette, of course), fruit salad (with a homemade gastrique), ham biscuits, three kinds of muffins, a coffee cake, a regular cake, eggnog, my own Bloody Mary mix and roasted, spiced nuts.
This is exhausting. It doesn't get completely crazy, however, until I add pie. I'm a true believer in the cult of the real pie crust. Long thought dead, the real, homemade pie crust is what discerning cooks know is the foundation of greatness. Apples, pecans, pumpkin: These things are nothing without the flaky, buttery pastry that serves as their launching pad. There's only one problem with making your own pie crust. It can send you over the edge, spinning into madness. It's just so finicky. The butter and shortening have to be cold, blended with the flour just enough, but not too much. The ice water has to be dribbled in carefully, so that the dough sticks together but isn't wet. Then the whole thing has to be chilled again, and when you try to roll it out, it inevitably starts sticking to the rolling pin or your counter, big tears develop, and you're afraid to lift it into the pie pan because there's a very real chance that the whole thing might fall apart in your hands right then and there.
This is nerve-wracking. This is really too much pressure for a dessert, especially when you already have two cakes ready for the table. It's even more ridiculous if you have a whole house to clean, shrimp to peel and fancy cocktail napkins to dig up. That's why, the last time I tried to make pie, my husband took me by the shoulders, stared me straight in the eye and said, "Just say no to the pie. IT'S NOT WORTH IT." Instead, I said no to the whole idea of a party. Pie, actually, is worth it. It might send me over the edge, but you know, much as I love my friends, I really think it's better to get rid of the precipice that is my holiday party. I can see friends anytime, but pie, lovely pie, only comes around when I'm mentally strong enough for it.