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Every Christmas, she invites friends to a tree-decorating party. The group of about 40 guests breaks into teams to hang ornaments that have been divided by color: green, red, gold, blue, and clear. Her guests, she says, mainly people in their 60s and 70s, with a few younger folks mixed in, are from all walks of life.

They may be judges, police officers, homemakers, academics, doctors, or businesspeople. Nevertheless, she says, the teams "get heated," each one trying to outdo the other with their decorating prowess. It's not a competition; just good fun accompanied by a lot of laughter and good-natured jostling. By the time the tree is hung with all its finery, everyone is ready for Dr. Angelou's homemade chili, cornbread, and ice-cold beer. The competitive spirit gives way and everyone unites over the delicious food.

More often, Dr. Angelou cooks for a few friends. One of her favorite simple meals is roast chicken with hot bread, but she also has a soft spot for a dish she first tasted about 30 years ago at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Called Spaghetti Caruso, it's made by lightly sautéing chicken livers in butter before adding them to tomato sauce. "The livers finish cooking in the sauce," she says, and cautions that you "don't want to cook them too long, or they won't be tender."

When her mother and grandmother cooked, she recalls, it never seemed like work, and yet platters of food, beautifully presented, would appear on the table and uplift the spirits of guests. It's a precious lesson that she learned from the women in her family and that makes her own table a most welcoming one.

Maya Angelou's Recipes

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