CP: When it comes to preparing food for a holiday party, I think people always want to serve things that dazzle or have a certain "wow" factor. But you don't necessarily feel that way.

NL: All the recipes—none of them require any particular expertise or dexterities, I don't have those things. I've learned more the more I've done, but nevertheless, a lot of the cakes and cookies are just like one process—you just do everything one bowl.

The Christmas Chocolate Cookies —you don't even need to roll anything out. You just mix it together and roll them into the balls. They're so pretty and festive, and they really are child's play to me. What I love about them [is] they have a homespun look to them. I think that's really important. I don't want things to look like they come out of a box or a store. …I do think that what a lot of people think of as perfection to me— it's such an elusive idea. I like the homespun because if you can't be homespun during the holidays, when can you?

CP: Some of the recipes in the book aren't your standard holiday fare—I'm thinking of the Choc Chip Chili in particular. How did you come up with that?

It's so easy for a crowd. I don't know how long I've had them, but those red enamel casseroles. Every year you get out the big casserole again, you put everything in it, and it's simple because you cook in advance. You reheat it, you serve it in the same dish you cook it in. It's kind of really paring down the labor but actually intensifying the festiveness and enjoyment.

As for adding chocolate chips—I'm very interested in chili and the way everyone has a different recipe. A lot of chills, sometimes they have a very small amount of cocoa powder. I suppose it's like a molé really. Cocoa powder doesn't really give sweetness—it's actually quiet bitter. But what it has is depth. I think it's like a cross between smoked paprika and smoked cinnamon. It has that kind of depth to it and sort of resonance. And I wondered if instead of using the cocoa powder, if I used chocolate that was dark, whether it would give that same feeling of intensity but without sugariness. (Although a bit of sweetness in a way is a very good balance to the amount of chili, certainly in sausage you've got in there.) And it really worked! It's not a big amount, but it just somehow, makes it darker, more luscious. You'd know it had something extra, but you'd never say it's got chocolate in it. But I point it out in the name of the recipe because I think it makes people laugh, and they think I'm teasing them when I say, "Do you want my chocolate chip chili?" It causes great merriment—after all, this is the season to eat, drink and make merry. It's appropriate!


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