Every meal is special to me, but this is the time of year when things get even crazier! Hello! Do you realize how many things you can do with a can of cream of mushroom soup? The casseroles alone! The stuff is magic! I use the 98 percent fat-free kind, of course, low sodium. When I lost all my weight a few years ago I learned that food is a drug. Period. But see, you use that to your advantage. Food is fuel. Don't put junk in, you won't get junk out, you know?

You strategize.

I mean, I adore my food. Like, how much time do you have? You know, like, watch out, Rachel Ray! Love her, though. And don't get me started on this new smoothie recipe I just found. Get this: It uses pumpkin! It's my new thing. I buy the cans of pumpkin, and I try to make as many dishes as I can without one being pie. Pumpkin pancakes, turnovers, pumpkin soup. I know, it's silly. But you get all those vitamins, and it just takes like the holidays. Totally. Last season I was on a cinnamon kick. Oh, and did you know that helps control your blood pressure? Super stuff!

I watch the Food Network religiously. I mean, I'm a junkie! If they only knew. Oh, and “Top Chef.” Cookbooks, cooking lessons, Pampered Chef, Calphalon anything. Coat my casket in Calphalon. Kidding! Let's just say my family knows what to get me for Christmas!

When we travel what I do is ask the locals for the best places to eat, and go there. I mean, duh! Those are always the best places. When we get back home I like to experiment, try to replicate what I ate. I've been pretty successful. There's this Charleston restaurant, and next time you're here I'll make you their cheese grits. Fabulous. I'm telling you it's like you're there. And you only have to tip me a little. Kidding!

Hey honey, is there any more wine?

For the Holidays

1. Music to our stomachs. “Apron Strings II” is a project of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra League. It features 200 treasured recipes, selling in book and gift shops around town. The symphony gets net proceeds. $22.95. www.rsol.org.

2. Sweet swaps. Switch sweets by the dozens when Mise En Place hosts an Old Fashioned Cookie Exchange on Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. Or make holidays gifts in their kitchen in a hands-on class with chef Favi Roop Dec. 13 at 2 p.m.  104 Shockoe Slip. 249-1332. www.miseenplaceshockoe.com.

3. Loco for locavore. Virginia foods are fashionably tasty for giving or serving, like Gunther marinades, Byrd Mill bakery mixes, Mount Walden smoked trout, and specialty products from peanut brittle to ham at Belle Kuisine, 3044 Stony Point Road. 272-2811. www.bellekuisine.com.

4. Home cooking for all. The Giving Heart Community Thanksgiving Feast, held Nov. 27 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, offers a warm Thanksgiving dinner free to anyone. For information or to volunteer visit www.thegivingheart.org.


So you invite a bunch of people over who you fortunately never see otherwise and then they expect you to spoon-feed them cranberry sauce while they scratch themselves on your newly reupholstered chaise lounge. And they call you family! Like a few stray genes in common is going to make up for Uncle Drumstick using my cashmere sweater to dry his Chihuahua off after the thing jumped on the table, splashed through the vinaigrette and gave a whole new meaning to “turducken.” Or that my cousin is almost surely stealing my underwear.

No, keeping people away from my dinner table is the means to holiday cheer. The alternative, of course, is to add strychnine to the yams, but while the thought of my brother's wife pinwheeling around the buffet as the spasms start really fills my stocking, nevertheless it's probably best just to take the whole slobbering army out to eat. I say pay someone and let them deal with this crew. It's better anyway — restaurant folk don't know what they're getting into with this horde.

Or maybe they do. You look around at the other parties at any restaurant deep inside the holiday border, and you'll see the same depravity on the faces of adult and child alike as they shovel meatloaf into those churning scream-holes — a whole room full of people who never once got the big end of the wishbone.  At least they're not at my house.

Hopefully these chefs are making this stuff by the pound for these kinds of occasions. I couldn't deal with such disregard. If someone even wrinkles their nose after a taste of my pork tenderloin, I lock myself in my bathroom with a pack of Virginia Slims and a bottle of Robitussin and wait for the sugarplum fairies to make it all better.

So this year, we're going out. And if the family decides they want to come back to my place for dessert, I'm serving urinal cake a la mode.

For the Holidays

1. Gourmet to go. From Cucina, a Museum District food shop, Diane Fraser packs up roasted chestnut soup, baked oysters, sliced roast duck with fruits, or holiday pot pies and paella. 2901 Park Ave. 355-0965. Open weekdays; Saturdays by appointment for pick-up. www.cucinarichmond.com.

2. Somebody else's oven. All six Peking locations serve their three-decades popular Chinese fare for dinner from 5 p.m. on Christmas, www.pekingrestaurants.com; The Jefferson Hotel has all-day service, beginning with breakfast at Lemaire at 7 a.m., cocktails, lunch, cocktails, dinner, cocktails. www.jeffersonhotel.com.

3. 'Twas the decade before Christmas. The Mars Bar claims it never closes, especially on Christmas night. Comfort food in an all-'80s, all-the-time dance club. 115 N. 18th St. 644-6277.

4. You are what you eat. Nov. 28 is food fetish “Leftovers” night — “bring it, eat it, wear it” — at Fallout, the alternative club in Shockoe Bottom, 117 N. 18th St. 343-FOUT.




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