Sunday, December 6, 2009
The Trim-the-Tree Vision Party
How does one encourage guests to bypass small talk and truly connect with each other?
The most heart-warming party I remember is the perfect model for a holiday gathering.
My late husband Paul von Welanetz and I invited 60 or so guests to a holiday tree-trimming party. We asked each to bring an ornament that had special meaning or represented their heart's desire and be prepared to tell us all about it.
The afternoon of the party, we decorated the tree with only sparkling white lights. Because we didn't have enough seating space for such a crowd, we set out dishes of finger food--dips, bite -sized appetizers and sandwich makings. Our daughter Lexi put plates of nuts and cookies around the house so people would have reason to move about and mingle. Drinks were self-serve on our patio from an ice tub. We made an early version of the recipe below, pouring the whole six cups of pepper jelly into a wreath mold. Unmolded, in the center of a platter it inserted a container of whipped cream cheese in the center and surrounded it with Wheat Thins and spreaders for serving.
Once our guests arrived and had a chance to mingle for awhile, we gathered them in a large circle around the living room and began the tree-trimming. Choosing one of our more extroverted guests to begin, we asked him to "show and tell." He had us all laughing about the quirky ornament he'd made out of paper money, representing his goal of being more playful with money. A man then showed a miniature frame holding a picture of his mother who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was planning to take the next few months off to care for her himself, and to write a little about the experience to share with others.
Jack Canfield, who went on to become co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, brought a white crystalline spider on a web ornament that represented his desire to reach out and create a wider and deeper web of relationships. "I've been focusing too much on my work and not enough on family and friends," he said.
Storytelling continued around the room. Some people made or purchased ornaments that represented their goals, dreams and wishes for the next year, ranging from miniature bestsellers to a man and woman holding hands. Several brought ornaments they'd found in their travels to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. I especially remember a star made of olive wood from Bethlehem.
A woman held a tiny child in a cradle, symbolizing her yearning to have a baby the following year. One perfect crystal heart represented a desire to be more open and transparent. We didn't anticipate how revealing the process would be, or the depth of vulnerability that would be revealed. Moving from laughter to tears over and over again, we celebrated our diversity only to become filled with our oneness.
After waving goodbye to our guests, Paul and I turned out the lights, set another log on the fire and sat next to the twinkling tree. The ornaments were still bunched together in the middle branches.
We left them nestled just as they were and never finished the tree with our traditional ornaments that year because we knew we had been visited by the true Spirit of Christmas.
CRANBERRY PEPPER JELLY
For about 6 cups
Bright red jelly speckled with slivers of candied orange and dried cranberries is my favorite easy appetizer when served with Cheddar cheese spread or whipped cream cheese and crackers. Use any extra as a lively accompaniment to grilled poultry or meats, or for hostess gifts. The recipe takes only about 15 minutes to make!
Wear gloves when handling chiles in case your hands are sensitive!
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely
2-3 large jalapeno peppers, seeded
1-1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 to 3 tablespoons thinly sliced candied orange rind
1 envelope Certo liquid pectin
Place the red peppers and jalapenos in the container of an electric blender with 1/2 cup the vinegar and blend until smooth. pour the mixture into a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan. Rinse the blender container with the remaining vinegar and add it to the peppers. Stir in the sugar, the cranberries and orange rind. Bring the mixture just to a hard boil that you cannot stir down. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. skim the foam carefully off the top, leaving as many cranberries and orange slivers on the surface as possible.
Stir in the Certo until thoroughly blended.
Beautiful, isn't it?
Pour into ramekins or souffle dishes for serving, or into canning jars for gift giving.
To prepare in advance: If you are making the jelly for your own use, it is easiest to pour it into serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It will keep several months in the refrigerator, but will probably disappear long before that! If sealed in canning jars according to manufacturer's directions it will keep for months without refrigeration.