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'The Party': Sally Quinn on a Shabbat dinner

Sally Quinn
Sally Quinn

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Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Sally Quinn was online Thursday, Dec. 17, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss celebrating different rituals for the holidays.

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Today's Column: Sally Quinn's The Party: The Shabbat dinner

Holiday Guide

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Sally Quinn: Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining me. I look forward to your questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Went to the annual Marche de Noel (French Market) over at the Washington Club, where the French Culinary Society served Dom, Moet and Ruinart champagnes. Best thing was ratatouille with scalloped potatoes cooked by the club's own staff. Do you find for the holidays, you like comfort food? I'm wild for turkey tetrazzini at a holiday party. What about Christmas lasagna?

Sally Quinn: You're making me hungry. I like comfort food all the time. This week I had a dinner party and I served watercress soup which is delicious. Then I had venison with gravy, red cabbage, pureed peas and polenta. For dessert we had a chocolate Buche de Noel or Yule Log. People had seconds and thirds. I don't think just because you are having a fancy dinner that you can't have comfort food. The whole point is to make people feel comfortable and happy. I love turkey tetrazzini and I love lasagna. I always serve lasagna either the night before or the night after Christmas. With the tetrazzi you can get a bit turkeyed out unless you have it several days before Christmas. The key thing to remember is this. Serve what tastes good and what your guests will like. Don't serve food to impress people.

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Trenton, N.J.: I am really interested in hearing how other families celebrate New Year's Eve. It's just going to be my 6-year-old son and me this year and I would like to start some fun traditions. Thanks!

Sally Quinn: Every family has it's New Years Eve traditions which change as you get older and the children get older. We used to have quiet dinners with friends. Then we had a huge Nears Eve party for about ten years which I abandoned after a while. I hate having people start to expect things. They begin to take them for granted. Actually, my husband I and usually celebrate Christmas Eve without our son. When he was younger he would go to bed early and now he has his own plans. It would seem to me that the best thing to do would be to ask your son what he would like to do. Go to a movie or get Chinese food. But I would start him out by the two of you sitting down and making a list of New Year;s resolutions. Things that are achievable. Themain thing would be, what will we do this year to help other people less fortunate than we are.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi, Sally -- I'm loving your new column! Please settle a debate between me and my boyfriend. He's got three friends who are all roommates. One of these friends is, quite frankly, odious -- obnoxious, loud, offensive (making sexist and racist comments) -- and I just cannot enjoy myself when he's around. Now, if we're having a big party, I can see the sense in inviting all of them, I suppose. But what about smaller get-togethers like game nights where one can't avoid people? Inclusive invitations definitely apply to couples, but if I invite one roommate, do I really need to invite all of them?

If it helps, this guy knows I don't like him. But then, he also got offended when he wasn't invited to the birthday party of someone else he knew didn't like him (I'm not the only one). Seems to me that planning an informal gathering of 3-4 people shouldn't require the gymnastics of a wedding list.

Sally Quinn: This is a no brainer. SExist and racist comments are not acceptable. Don't invite him. If he complains and he must or you wouldn't have known he was offended, then write him an e mail explaining why. He clearly doesn't know how to behave. A guest has as much responsibility as a host. If I invite someone to my house I expect them to contribute and to respect the other guests and their feelings. It's rude to your other guests to invite someone who is offensive. He needs to understand that. Also, it may be time for your boyfrined andhis other roomates to make a change. That kind of person is toxic and you don't want that kind of toxiciy in your house.

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washingtonpost.com: Sally Quinn's The Party: The Shabbat dinner (Post, Dec. 17)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Glad you enjoyed your Shabbat dinner. Shabbat dinner is the focus of my week and one of the unifiying elements of my family life. Just one point: kosher wine, like all kosher food, has to meet certain religious ritual guidelines. A rabbi or other knowledgable individual supervised the production of kosher food to assure consumers that these guidelines are followed. The rabbi does not oversee the growth of grapes, although the harversting and processing of them will be checked, and certainly does not bless wine or any kosher food to make it acceptable.

washingtonpost.com: Sally Quinn's The Party: The Shabbat dinner (Post, Dec. 17)

Sally Quinn: Thank you.My hosts explained what kosher wine meant. I specifically asked them.Maybe I misunderstood. Anyway. It was very good.

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New Year's Eve: For the questioner who asked about her son -- maybe this is too much to take on for this year, but perhaps next? For years I've had a sit-down dinner with a "wacko" (guest described) mix of people New Year's eve. About 24 people, I do the seating (tables throughout the hosue) guests range from 6 to 96, all sorts of backgrounds. What's always made it a hit is I do non-holiday food -- one year Chinese banquet, one year Southern picnic, etc. Have an opt-out room for children post dinner; one key alcohol feature (consumption usually not an issue, but do enlist help to keep an eye on same and arrange alternative transport)

Also, for this year, think about those streamers you can throw or silly strung -- just something stupid and silly.

Sally Quinn: All great ideas. But this person may not have the means to throw a party or many friends. I do think silly ideas are great, especialy for six year olds. They'd probably have a hard time staying up until midnight though. But i like the idea of resolutions. It will make the child think about the things that are important to him and to his family.

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Rockville, Md.: RE: Christmas Skirts

That must be a family thing. Many Christians dress up for Christmas Eve and Day but to specify skirts surely is a family thing. Our family thing is to have Charlotte Russe for the holiday dessert. This goes back more than 75 years.

Sally Quinn: WE always put sprigs of Holly at each person's place at the table. After Christmas dinner we all go into the lving room and make a wish and throw the holly on the fire. It's a great way to end the day.

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Washington, D.C.: We've all seen pictures of the infamous red sari worn to the State dinner, but what should one wear to a reception at the White House?

Sally Quinn: It depends on what the invitation says. Cocktail attire is usually what one would wear which means a dressy dress or cocktail suit More covered up than less. And ties for the men.

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D.C.: Invited to a series of holiday parties and open house events. Frankly, it's way too much socializing for me concentrated, as it is, into a week of festivities. What's the "minimum" I must do as a guest? I know I should seek out my hosts when I arrive and leave and mingle while I'm there, but...how can I make the best impression and show friendship with the least effort? (Does this make me sound Scrooge-like?)

Sally Quinn: It makes you sound like a normal person. The holiday season can be exhausting. I try to pace it. But you also don't want to hurt your friends feelings by not showing up. If you're tired, come, have a drink , stay for at least half an hour (try to stay for an hour) and leave.Your hosts will be pleased you came, especially if you act like your having a good time, make an effort and have a big warm smile on your face. If they are your good friend, you will aslo know what is important to them.

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RE: Richmond, Va.: Sexist Racist Guy: Peace on earth this is good thing, but you come across as being afraid of upsetting this guy. You say he was upset when he was excluded from a birthday party. So what? Did you suffer some ramifications (other than being uncomfortable he found out)? If more people shunned him, he would either keep his comments to himself or find a new circle of friends.

Bah Humbug! I am tired of rude people being tolerated while the rest of us suffer!

Sally Quinn: I agree. That's why I suggested not inviting him and if he complains, explain to him why. It's never to late to learn.

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Baltimore, Md.: Dear Ms. Quinn --

Thank you for taking my question.

I think I speak for all your fans in welcoming you back to the Post. You'll always be Washington's "party doll" and a lot of us are grateful for your generous and skilled attention to what really makes our capital run.

You probably get asked this a lot, but who would be your ideal guests at a Georgetown dinner party? And how do you separate Republicans from Democrats, since there is such animosity these days?

Thanks in advance for your consideration,

Sally Quinn: Thank you. My husband will get a kick out of the "party doll" line. I would never think of naming names for an ideal guest list. I can't think of a better way to lose friends. What I do like, though, is a mix. What makes for a good party here is to have some from the administration, the hill, the journalistic community, the diplomatic community, the military, the arts and the legal crowd, and peole who are doing interesting things. I don't invite people for their titles. I invite people I like and people I know will make an effort. When I open my front door to welcome a guest I want my heart to leap up. I want to see someone I care about, who is a good person, who is fun and interesting and will make an effort. As for Republicans and democrats, I don't even think about it. My father was a conservative Republican. His closest friend was Barry Goldwater. They were among the most patriotic people I know. I have many good republican friends and democratic friends and I try to include them in all of my parties. The best way inthe world to lower the level of animosity is to have people sit down at a meal , with candlelight and good food and wine and be able to talk about things other than their political views. We had a dinner the other night with a mixture of people and we started talking about Johnny Mathis and how his songs were the great romantic songs of the sixties. Some of the younger people hadn't heard of him and the older ones started singing Johnny Mathis songs. That's what brings people together is common interests. And that's what alleviates the animosity. You can always find common ground. If you want to.

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New Years Eve with a 6-year-old: Attend a First Night event and push your celebration back a few hours to the afternoon and early evening. He'll be worn out by 10 pm, easy. Put him to bed and spend the rest of the night quietly, either watching TV, reading a book or, as we did one year in unseasonably warm weather, sit on the porch!

Maybe a neighbor or two could come over.

But do an earlier celebration. First night events are FREE and many of them feature family entertainment. There are a number of them in our area including some that are Metro accessable.

Sally Quinn: Great suggestions.

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NW: As a single-mom and by no means wealthy, I raised a wonderful boy who is now a wonderful man. We spent many a New Year's Eve together. Traditionally, we would have dinner (with "NO vegetables and TWO desserts"!), we would tell or write about the best thing that happened that year ("I got a puppy" or "All A's on my spelling tests") and we would write resolutions for the new year that included being kinder, nicer, more studious, etc. The timing varied as he got older but one thing remains the same: We give each other our New Year's hug. I will no doubt miss the day when/if his lifestyle takes him elsewhere on NYE. Sigh. It goes by too fast and traditions make for some wonderful memories.

Sally Quinn: I love those ideas. I hope he sticks around so you can keep them up. Happy New Year.

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For the six year-old: One year my mother was in the hospital over New Year's and my siblings were out of town, and I was about 10 at the time. My dad and I each got to pick the dinner of our choice, and we ate it in front of the television with rented movies. It was small and intimate, and we both had a good time. He also ate pickled herring straight from the jar with a fork, which ruined me on it forever, but that's another story entirely.

Sally Quinn: Yes but you remembered it. Memories are so important. We always had a family kiss where my husband and son and I would kiss each other three times in a row, counting, one...kiss, two...kiss, three kiss. We stopped when he went away to school but have now reinstated it with his fiancee. It's a lovely tradition.

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Sally Quinn: Thanks so much for joining me today. I learned a lot. Hope to see you next week. Sally Q

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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