Thursday, December 23, 2010

my office party

I moved into my "painted lady" Victorian 20 years ago around Thanksgiving. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was still unpacking boxes and painting walls.

Just a couple days before Christmas, I was sitting at my very funky, yet to be organized desk... Friends and colleagues were calling and wishing me happy holidays. I could hear Christmas music, Champagne glasses clanging and their office parties in the background. It was sad! I had nothing if I had no office party.

The phone rang. It was my friend, Barbara, also a freelance writer who worked from home. I could hear the loneliness in her voice too. "What are you doing?" she said.

"Oh," I lied, "Listening to Christmas carols. I've got Christmas lights strung around my desk, a plate of Christmas cookies in front of me and I'm wearing a Santa Claus outfit. I'm having my office party by myself! What to come join me?"

When she said yes, I nearly jumped out of my Santa costume! What will we drink? What will we eat? I made a mad dash to the kitchen and started pulling ingredients from the refrigerator.

A little later, the doorbell rang. And for the rest of the afternoon Barbara and I listened to Christmas carols, drank sherry, ate tapas and talked about our plans for the approaching year, 1991. We toasted to the inaugural year of the "Office Christmas Party" with the promise of many more.

I have celebrated my "Office Party" every year since except for last year when at the last minute I had to cancel. My closest, oldest friend, Charlotte, had colon cancer surgery and I flew to LA to take care of her for 5 days. In appreciation and thanks to me and my office-less friends, Charlotte came to the party for the first time this year. She proposed a toast and thanked everyone at the table for letting me ditch out last year to come to her rescue.

Peggy came from Colorado Springs. Going through a difficult break-up, everyone rallied around. I now see she's coming out on the other side!

Paula joined us from NY. She's one of my NY shopping buddies who loves to cook. Extremely successful in everything she does, Paula happened to be in SF with her new boyfriend. Her trip coincided with my party. She works from home.

Jill drove in from Santa Cruz. My totally fun/up-for-anything-gal-pal is so cool. We've eaten great food and drank fantastic wines together in Venice, Paris and Rome. Jill makes really beautiful jewelry in her home studio and like me, she loves clothes, shoes and boots. When she shops, she doesn't just kick the tires.

Let's see, who else... Kraemer is one of the founding members of the "Office Christmas Party." She's attended the second year and has joined us ever since. I've traveled with her a lot too,- Peru, Provence, Italy, Mexico, Florida, Costa Rica and Thailand. She's gorgeous, smart and office-less!

Shannon lived in NY when I first met her years ago. She came to my first cooking class in Venice. In the introductory letter for the course, I told everyone to bring their favorite knife. My idea of a favorite knife would be an 9 or 10-inch chef's. Shan showed up with a paring knife. Living in NY and never having cooked before, that was her idea of a knife... We've been friends ever since.

Linda is my Italian designer/gorgeous/go-to zen/go-to enlightened/cute/sexy friend. She brought a bunch of red roses, love and calm to the table. Hey, no office either!

And then there's Mariangela, my business manager, who I adore. She's smart, fun and a good friend. We've traveled a lot, put some great ideas together, and had fun doing it. She's answers a lot of questions my students have about my classes in Europe, Australia and SF. And everyone says the same thing about her? "I love Mariangela." So do I. Not for what she does, but for who she is.... She has no office, I'm her office.

Finally, last but not least.... there's me,-- the cook, chef, writer, TV personality, wife, sister, daughter and friend who also has no office. I decorated the mantle, wrote the menu, cooked the food, set the table, opened the wine, served the dinner to my wonderful "officeless" girlfriends.



Smoked Cheddar Breadsticks
Roasted Olives with Meyer Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme
Santorini Fave

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Coriander Oil and Creme Fraiche

Escarole Salad with Satsuma Tangerines, Fuju Persimmons, Kumquats, Roasted Pecans and Champagne, Pear Walnut Vinaigrette

Fire-Roasted Lamb Chops, Homemade Merguez Sausage with "Salad from Everyone"*

Meyer Lemon Sorbet with Chez Panisse Gingersnaps


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
½ cup coarsely grated smoked cheddar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

Mix the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cayenne, cheddar and salt together and place in freezer one hour before use.

In a separate bowl, place the butter in the freezer one hour before use.

Place the ice-cold flour mixture on a work surface and add the ice-cold butter and with a metal pastry scraper, cut the butter into pieces the size of peas and cornmeal. Alternately this can be done in the food processor by pulsing. Place the mixture in a bowl. Combine lemon juice and ice water and add enough of the liquid until it almost holds together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured board and press together as best you can to form a rough rectangle shape. There will be large chunks of butter showing. Do not knead. Roll out dough into a 1/2" thick rectangle. Fold the narrow ends towards the center to meet in the center. Fold in half again so that there are four layers. This is your first turn.

Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and roll again to form a rectangle 1/2" thick. Repeat the folding process. This is your second turn. Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and roll again to form a rectangle 1/2" thick. Fold into thirds as you would a letter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

On a well floured surface, with a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1/8" rectangle, approximately 7-inches by 15-inches. Trim the edges. Cut the dough into sticks 7"-inches by 1/2-inch. Twist them slightly. Place them on a baking sheet 1-inch apart. Bake until golden and crisp, 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets. Remove with a spatula.

Makes 30 sticks