By Kendra Murray.
When Laurie Sybertz mentioned to her husband Joe that she wanted to host a holiday open house on Christmas Eve, he told her she was crazy. It would be a lot of work, and he questioned how many people would make an appearance. She ignored his doubts and hosted an open house anyway. It has turned into an annual tradition.
Prior to this new Christmas Eve tradition, which started in 2016, Laurie and Joe used to go out for a meal by themselves. Laurie’s parents did the same, which got her thinking, “How many others don’t really have a place to go to on Christmas Eve?” Laurie figured hosting a big party the day before a major holiday was a crapshoot. Christmas Eve means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it’s an absolute-last-minute shopping day. For others, it is a night to go to church and spend time with family. Often, it’s a day spent in the kitchen preparing for the next day’s festivities. And for more than a few local folks, it has become an afternoon filled with good food and good company at Laurie and Joe’s.
Even though she wound up having over 20 guests, Laurie went a little overboard with the food the first year. “I had four or five soups; it was too much,” she recounts. She didn’t ask any of her guests to bring anything, but many brought bottles of wine. “I ended up owning more wine at the end of the night than I served!”
The party has evolved over the past few years as Laurie learns what works and what doesn’t. She has stuck with recipes and food items that people seem to love. For instance, the year she put out a cheese and charcuterie board packed with local and expensive treats, guests opted for pepperoni and cheddar cheese. Sometimes simple and familiar is best.
Her spicy black bean soup is a crowd-pleaser. It’s vegan, so she serves it knowing that all her guests can enjoy it. The recipe is nothing fancy and pulls together quickly (perfect for unexpected company!). Laurie mentioned that she found the recipe in a magazine over a decade ago. It’s not a family recipe, nothing handed down over the years, just simple and satisfying.
She has also offered a sweet potato corn chowder and a fabulous beef, mushroom, and barley soup. Of all the soups she has served at her Christmas Eve open house, the corn chowder is the one that guests seem to really enjoy the most. All her soups are served in big mugs that she has collected over the years. They’re fun and easy to walk around with. Both soup recipes are Laurie’s own.
There are a couple of items that Laurie can count on completely disappearing by the end of the night: kielbasa bites and Joe’s anise cookies. The kielbasa bites might vary a little bit every year depending on what ingredients Laurie has on hand or if she feels like mixing it up. The recipe below features chili sauce, pineapple, cranberry sauce, and brown sugar, but other sauces can be substituted or added, including grape jelly or marmalade. Joe’s anise cookies are always a huge hit. The recipe comes from his sister, whose Italian husband and his family have been making them for years.
While Laurie has found that her guests aren’t big drinkers, they love Sophie’s Eggnog. Laurie’s friends Page and Lanci brought this to last year’s open house. The recipe belongs to Page’s mother, Sophie; hence the name. It’s delicious, fattening, and tastes like the holidays. Laurie also serves cider with Dirty Water Distillery’s Velnias Honey Liquor, which is perfect to warm your bones on a cold winter night.
For their next open house, Laurie expects over 50 people, a much larger crowd than her initial party. There’s a great variety of people, including friends she and Joe met through their years helping to run the former South Shore Locavores programs, members of their beekeepers’ group, and friends from the gym. Laurie says that the most difficult part of the open house is getting out invitations to this eclectic group of friends. She’s got most of the party down pat, though, and Laurie shares, “It gets easier every time.”
Sounds like a great way to spend a cold December afternoon.