Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

This was our first Christmas Eve dinner in our apartment in New York City, where we have spent over a year downsizing and choosing the most important parts of our past lives to integrate into this new home for this stage of life.

Last year, we took the family to the house in Florida where we assumed that we would celebrate Christmas in the future since it is larger and in a resort area. I took all the heirloom ornaments collected from my childhood and the childhoods of my children. I had the tree set up, ready to be decorated. I managed all of the not insignificant preparations for Christmas from New York. A friend found a kitchen assistant who was a former army cook to help me manage this difficult dinner for seven people. Everyone had arrived by the morning of the 23rd. By early evening on the 24th, the tree was still not decorated, while I was in full banshee state with a large whiteboard in the kitchen to remind me of the times that all the different foods had to go onto the stove or into the oven, when these foods had to be checked and re-checked.

The undecorated tree stood forlornly in the dining room. Finally I took my crisis to the General, otherwise known as The Husband. “Get those ungrateful wretches out here to decorate that tree or I will throw the standing rib roast in the pool” is what I think I said. These are not adolescents.  These are four sons who are men. But they were still as sullen and disinterested in the so-called spirit of Christmas as any 15 year old who wants to steal from your purse and then take the car out for a joyride without a license. The husband had one of those talks with the tree trimming crew and soon Christmas music and happy sounds surrounded the tree. The army cook and I toiled like the kitchen veterans we were, and dinner turned out well. Immediately after dinner, those at the table walked away, leaving mess duty to the Army cook and me, while the adolescent-adult men whined about nothing to do and could they take the car to Miami for fun?

This year we made a family decision that all Christmas Eve celebrations would be in our New York City home. The son who is a new parent was undecided about attending with a four-week-old baby. They were taken off the guest list. We then invited four dear friends to join us along with two sons and one girlfriend. (The other son is living in Malibu and could not come home for Christmas.) The number of guests for the precious glass table that seats 12 under the beloved 1840s gas chandelier would comfortably accommodate the nine guests. Then the new parents decided that they would attend Christmas Eve dinner after all.  Now the number was 11.

One of each. How hard could that be?

I have moved my crystal and china several times since I married The Husband. I am always terrified of nicks or cracks, and rightly so. Esperanza, my aide-de-camp of 30 years, and I spent two hours in the china closet finding the right holiday plates, wine, and water goblets for 11. Then we discovered that the red napkins and placemats bought at Williams-Sonoma (bought last year in Palm Beach for that Christmas party and brought back to NYC for future Christmas dinners) were only nine in number. No problem. I would just go to the NYC Williams-Sonoma and buy two more. “No Miss, we don’t carry those anymore.  They were only for the 2010 Christmas.” Everything else available was garish. I finished other Christmas shopping with my son’s girlfriend, my kind partner in crime, and returned home with all shopping completed in one afternoon. Only missing napkins and placemats.

When I returned home from shopping, the Husband had “that look” on his face when I know he plans to sell me something I probably can’t afford. He had Christmas music playing with the decorated tree glowing next to the piano.   “What?” I asked in a none too kind tone. “You just got home” he said. “Let me get you eggnog…and would you like some bourbon in it?” “It’s only 4 p.m.”, I said. I knew I was in for it when he pulled out that old remark, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”.  I took the eggnog but refused the bourbon, knowing that I would soon need my wits. Then he said, “In the spirit of Christmas I have invited two more guests.  Followed by the real deal closer, “You know what Natalie would have done.”  Natalie was my dear mother-in-law who died in 2008, and was famous for welcoming anyone lost or in need into her home…sometimes for months. I took the bourbon.

The Husband had invited the lovely girlfriend of another son and her father, whom we had not yet met, to join us since their plans for Christmas dinner had fallen through. I could only think of napkins and placemats and not enough matching plates and goblets. I swear I thought I would have a stroke. “Honey, it is only a dinner,” he said. This is like ruining a Manolo in a crack in the sidewalk and being told, “Honey, it’s only a shoe.”  Of course I was upset!

On Monday, I found one hour to squeeze in a run to Gracious Home with one of the plates that I have always used for Christmas. I found my favorite saleswoman, Marina. I told her to get an assistant and that we had 45 minutes to solve a tabletop crisis. Thirty minutes later I had 14 new water goblets, 14 red wine goblets, 14 new clear glass plates for the first course and 14 new glass plates for dessert. I found 14 round red placemats and 14 Christmas dark green linen napkins, and four new red candles with glass wax-catchers to fit into the silver candlesticks.

Then I called the Husband. “I have solved the crisis of no matching plates and crystal and no linens for the table,” I informed him calmly. “I knew you would find a solution right in our own china closet “he replied. ” I have just spent 45 minutes at Gracious Home and the bill is $1,000.00,” I replied. “I am putting this on your credit card.” “Are you nuts?” he asked.  I replied as nicely as I could, “At this point, I am now sane. The problem is solved. The table will be beautiful for 13 guests.  But I can go to nuts in about a nano-second if that is the game you want to play.” Game, Set, Match.

On my birthday, December 21st, Esperanza and I spent three hours washing and ironing napkins, removing sticky, sticky stickers from all those glass plates and goblets. Then I set my Christmas Eve table. I love doing this. I am not an artist who paints or sculpts or composes beautiful music. But I am an artist of the table top. Kathy had sent me a beautiful flower arrangement that morning for my birthday, and it was just the right dark red for the aubergine walls. It was the perfect size and shape for the center of the square table. I found a way to squeeeeeze 13 place settings onto a table meant for 12.  It was beautiful.

The menu will be the same, except for a new first-course salad: sautéed sliced pears with ginger, cinnamon, and a touch of brown sugar on a bed of arugula and frisée served with the famous popovers.  The main course is unchanged:  standing rib roast for 14 (at this point I am ready for any wandering shepherd who might come by), mashed potatoes and celery root puree with more sour cream and butter than the American Heart Assn allows in a year, and the traditional broccoli and red cocktail-tomato wreath. Dessert will be warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and raspberries.

I have only 12 matching cups and saucers for serving coffee after dessert.  I will just have another glass of wine.

I know that most of you have your holiday traditions organized in a much less chaotic way.  I admire you. I try to emulate you. But perhaps a bit of chaos is the métier in which I work best.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you who take the time to read our evolving ‘zine, and especially to those of you who are becoming involved in the conversation with comments, sharing the posts and writing for the site.

Cheers!

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. December 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

    This should be a special post so that everyone could read it.
    Thanks for the morning laughter. You do tequilla shots in order to make your caek,I pray in order to remove the brocolli and tomato wreath from the mold. Yours sounds so much fun!

    Reply
  • hillsmom December 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Well, perhaps you might like to add this to your Holiday recipe collection…?

    Hello folks its December and once again I’ve been inundated with requests for my
    Tequila Christmas Cake recipe so here goes:

    Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every
    year!

    1 cup sugar
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1 cup water
    1 tsp. salt
    1 cup brown sugar
    Lemon juice
    4 large eggs
    Nuts
    1 bottle tequila
    2 cups dried fruit

    Sample the tequila to check quality Take a large bowl; check the tequila again
    to be sure it is of the highest quality..

    Repeat.

    Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
    Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again.

    At this point, it is best to make sure the tequila is still OK. Try another cup
    just in case.
    Turn off the mixerer thingy.

    Break 2 eegs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
    Pick the fruit up off the floor.

    Mix on the turner.

    If the fried druit getas stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a
    drewscriver.

    Sample the tequila to test for tonsisticity.

    Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something.

    Check the tequila. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.

    Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.

    Greash the oven.

    Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.

    Don’t forget to beat off the turner

    Finally, throw the bowl through the window.
    Finish the tequila and wipe the counter with the cat.

    Cherry Christmas

    (I just couldn’t resist!)

    Reply
  • Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen December 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    There is never TMI for this site! Sorry you had a Christmas morning without power. One of the many reasons that my downsized life from the big home in Pound Ridge is happier: No Power Outages twice a month!

    I used cherry tomatoes but berry tomatoes sound like a great choice. No gelatin, I swear. I now have a new secret: Esperanza brought two new plastic jello ring molds. Perfect removal of two wreaths! I swear that no gelatin was used. Just lemon zest in melted butter dribbled onto the layers of the broccoli and tomatoes, press and pray.

    Merry Christmas!

    Dr. Pat

    Reply
  • hillsmom December 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Hi Dr. Pat, Many thanks for the recipe which sounds rather interesting. (Are “cocktail tomatoes” what we in the north would call cherry tomatoes? Or are they the berry tomatoes? Berry tomatoes are, to my way of thinking, the only ones which have a little taste of the summer.) Are you “leaving out” a bit of lemon/garlic flavored Knox Gelatin as a binder?

    Yummmm…standing rib roast for 14! Does one have to take out a second mortgage to get one…;^) I’m sure it was all spectacular. We had quite a scare this Christmas morning awakening to a power outage! Yikes! Fortunately only out for about an hour. But, I knew I should have pressed my silk blouse last night. TMI?

    Reply
  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. December 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

    As you know, I am a Southern cook, so in spite of myself, I might leave out some secret to this recipe, just because…well I don’t know, but it is just what we do.

    Steam fresh broccoli florets. Lightly saute cocktail tomatoes in olive oil with just a bit of pressed garlic in the olive oil. Then wash your hands (again)and place broccoli and cocktail tomatoes in a decorative fashion in the bottom of a ring shaped jello mold. Add layers of broccoli and cocktail tomatoes until the mold is full. Add a bit of melted butter with lemon zest to every other layer. Press each layer except the first layer lightly to encourage the broccoli and tomoatoes to become very good friends. Just before the main course is served, get down on your knees and pray for a successful unmolding of this sometimes taciturn wreath. Place the serving plate on top of the jello mold. Turn upside down, continuing to pray. Tap the top and sides of the mold. Wiggle the mold just a bit. Pray some more and remove the mold. If it works, it is then brought to the table where the cook is rewarded with “Ooohs and Aaahs”. If it doesn’t work, wash your hands again and put it together as best you can, present it to the assembled dinner guests and disappear quickly with it to add to the plated entree.

    Reply
  • hillsmom December 24, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Wonderful story. Perhaps when you get a chance, would you explain the broccoli and red cocktail-tomato wreath? Is it something to be picked at and eaten? I’m just wondering. Thanks…

    Reply
  • S. Bewkes December 24, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Fabulous!! I’m sure everyone who is attending will be appreciative and charmed by all your efforts!! Cheers! Wishing you and all the contributors to this wonderful site the happiest of holidays!!

    Reply