Growing up, I always wanted to host a Christmas dinner: guests seated around a beautifully set table, the smell of homemade biscuits in the air, amber lights glowing on a fresh-cut tree. So this year at my farm in Indiana—the haven where I go to replenish myself after days of constant doing—Stedman and I brought together nine folks for a celebration complete with the two ingredients guaranteed to make any gathering big fun: great laughs and good food.
Days before the first guest steps through the holly-decorated doorway, my chef, Art Smith, begins dicing, chopping, mincing, and brewing to stir up a menu with some of my all-time favorite fixin's: slow-roasted chicken with wild rice dressing (the perfect "I'm sick of turkey" choice), pantry tomato tart (a dish I've always loved), and sautéed greens with shallots (a scrumptious way to get those veggies in). Art always knows to start the meal with soup. As a child, I would watch Lassie, and there was always a Campbell's soup commercial where Timmy's mom would feed him soup that was "M'm! M'm! Good!" Ever since, soup has been my favorite thing to have for lunch, and in winter I have it almost every day. For this special dinner, I ask Art to mix up the soup I most often request: spicy winter squash. He makes his with butternut squash (it's absolutely de-lish!), but he tells me that any kind of winter squash will do: calabaza, hubbard, or, in a pinch, even a sugar pumpkin.
Few people get more excited about a party than my best friend, Gayle King. "I've just seen Art's menu," she exclaims hours before our dinner. "I can't wait." One by one, soon after dusk, the eight other guests arrive: Stedman's daughter, Wendy Graham; my father, Vernon Winfrey, and his wife, Barbara; my godmother, Rosalind Eddins (I call her Mrs. E), and her husband, Calvin; my longtime pals Mary Kay Clinton and her husband, Tom O'Brien. And of course, there's my one very special guest who steps in, working her new do: my goddaughter, 8-year-old Katy Rose, child of Mary Kay and Tom—whose flip is fabulous.