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HOLIDAY FOOD

There's no better way to say Happy Holidays than to host a festive party. You can do it. Southern Illinoisans love to get together, and that is evident by the number of community festivals, church potlucks, fraternal fish fries, barbecue dinners and chili cook-offs held throughout the year. Why not do it at home?

Opening the warmth of your home to your extended family and friends sends a message that you think your guests are extra special, and you want them to feel part of your innermost circle. If you're not a fantastic cook, it doesn't matter. If you aren't the most creative decorator, don't worry. If you are a busy career couple that doesn't have time to cook, your friends will expect a partly catered affair, and there are plenty of ways to achieve that. If you are a stay-at-home mom busy with little children, let them help cook. That's what your guests will look for: Gingerbread men decorated by kids and little brownie balls made by the hands of children.

The food and decorations are ancillary and simply support the overall goals of seeing people you don't often see and catching up on every family's activities. There is no better festive gift to give your friends than the opportunity to relax and enjoy your special holiday time and the chance to visit with others. You can be the perfect party-giver, and your home is the perfect place.

The choice of party styles comes from a long list. A Sunday afternoon coffee, with a big buffet table stacked with decadent desserts, is a beautiful opportunity to show off your baking skills or your friendship with the local bakery. A Friday night pizza party, complete with a buffet of make-your-own pizza supplies and an array of international beers, is a great way to almost eliminate preparation time, yet present an incredible meal. A wine and cheese event has a menu that can be purchased from the supermarket deli. Transfer the foods from the plastic deli trays to your holiday serving dishes for extra sparkle. A really casual soup party lets you leave three pots of soup simmering on your stove. Set your countertop up with soup toppers like crackers, shredded cheese, chopped onion, bacon bits, tortilla chips and just about anything else you love on your soup. The mess stays in the kitchen and you can simply provide an array of big mugs to hold the fare.

Host the kind of party that works best for your schedule, style and your circle of friends and family. Never hesitate, though, to host the ever-popular cocktail party or the elegant sit-down dinner party. If you invite your guests home for the holidays, they will cherish the memories you will make.

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