Santa Baby, Just Slip a Table Under the Tree For Me

Our entertaining Doyenne has been an awfully good girl all year. She lists for Santa everything she needs to assemble her fantasy party shack.

When was the last time you went to a four-star debauch of a party, the kind you exit giddy and reeling from the spirited talk, raucous laughs, good food and drinks, and danceable music? I bet your answer is “just the other night,” for it’s my belief Kansas City has way more than its share of rockin’ parties, especially this past Royal October. I’ve asked Santa for a few items that would make the hosting of such parties a snap. Here’s my dream list:

A show kitchen and a prep kitchen

My friend Dan Nilsen, a frequent host, recently built a lovely new house in which he cleverly installed two fully-equipped kitchens back-to-back. There’s the big, gorgeous, front kitchen with marble countertops and a gleaming sink that never seems to attract soiled dishes, dirty pans and other party wreckage. Then, behind a nondescript, swinging door there’s the smaller but highly efficient prep kitchen, where the mess—and the magic—happens. In the prep kitchen the dishwasher gets loaded, the pans scrubbed, the onions chopped. In the show kitchen, the party rages on in photo-ready perfection.

An adjustable round table

There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation, which is why for a dinner party I prefer a round table.Although I’ve been to plenty of fun dinners at other-shaped tables, I don’t think I would ever trade my circular table for a different shape. I would, however, trade it in for an expandable round Jupe table like the one owned by my friends Bonar Menninger and Ann Cain (she who collects the Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica dishes I so covet.) Through the magic of carpentry, their round table can grow bigger and smaller to suit the number they are seating. I was surprised when Ann told me how reasonably priced the table was and that it came from Nebraska Furniture Mart. It looks like they bought it at auction from Sotheby’s.

An under-counter icemaker

An ample ice supply is the backbone of any self-respecting cocktail party. Regular readers of this column might remember that only recently I became an ice snob, eschewing the vulgar, cloudy “crescent” ice produced by most refrigerators (including my own) in favor of the crystal clear “tube” ice, available in stores and the homes of those who own a nifty under-counter icemaker. As long as I’m asking, I would prefer the kind that every six hours melts the old ice and generates fresh.

A P.A. to do my bidding

Those who know me well know I have an imaginary personal assistant named Nancy Anne, who makes a lot of mistakes. For Christmas I would like a real personal assistant who makes no mistakes and doubles as a lady’s maid. My real P.A. would be on top of all my correspondence: invitations extended would be properly mailed rather than texted; invitations received would be replied to immediately; thank-you notes would be dispatched promptly for everything. I would send my real P.A. zooming around town on all manner of errands: to the Asian Market in search of ingredients for Beijing Bellinis; to The Better Cheddar for Valrhona baking chocolate; to Oklahoma Joe’s (excuse me, Joe’s Kansas City) for takeout short ends. Can you see the solid advantages my P.A. would bring to me and all who have truck with me?

Tim Whitmer on piano

A live pianist tickling the ivories makes any gathering seem more like a party; guests feel the love the minute they walk in the door. I would ask Santa for a perennially tuned Bubinga-wood baby-grand piano, with local legend Tim Whitmer at the keyboard. Tim always rocks the house, plus he is marvelous at chatting up shy guests. As long as I’m asking, I would request the talented James Albright on an upright bass (they look so chill, don’t they?) to add extra rhythm and depth to the sound.

A roaring fireplace

When you talk about welcoming touches, a roaring fire trumps everything. Gas fireplaces are nice and certainly practical, but in my fantasy party house I would want a real fireplace that burns genuine wood, great-smelling varieties like apple wood and mesquite. I would add to my list a smart-looking basket for logs, a handsome set of andirons, and a minion to tend the fire, while I see to my guests.

A florist on retainer

I would want masses of fresh flowers everywhere, so that my guests feel, at every turn, as though they are walking into a photo shoot at Carolyne Roehm’s house. White tulips in the front hall. A triple-stem orchid on the coffee table. An explosion of insanely expensive, out-of-season pink peonies on the kitchen counter. Yellow ranunculus in the powder room. When it comes to fresh flowers, honey, more is more.

But back to reality

The truth is Santa probably won’t deliver any of my requests this year. But that won’t stop me from having people over, nor should it stop you, because we both know a great party is not about your stuff. Most people just want to have a decent drink and some good conversation with friends, to forget their worries for a while. You can give them a good night using one humble kitchen, crescent ice, recorded music, and roses from the warehouse club. And you don’t need a P.A. to extend the invitation. Trust me, your friends will be thrilled to come.

Giftable Peanut Clusters

If you make only one treat this holiday season, it should be these scrumptious little goodies. I found this simple recipe decades ago in Sassafras, the excellent cookbook from the Junior League of Springfield, Missouri, and have made it many times since. It’s so easy you will feel guilty about all the compliments, but accept them anyway.

Makes six dozen

6-ounce package butterscotch chips

6-ounce package good-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons peanut butter, creamy or crunchy

2 cups salted Spanish peanuts

Melt chips and peanut butter on top of a double boiler over low heat. Stir constantly. Add peanuts and stir well. Drop from a teaspoon onto wax paper. Cool. Store in a covered container in refrigerator.