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Just as leaving an old house is reason enough to give a party, so is moving into a new one.

Catherine and Doug Hoffberger had just sold their Homeland house last fall and decided to rent the charming “Baker House,” a circa-1900 Baltimore County farmhouse on a hill surrounded by 60 acres of farmland. They had just moved in when holiday season loomed, but thought they’d rather give a housewarming than a holiday party.

Doug’s mother, Hilde Eliasberg, known for her Mount Vernon dinner parties, thought it would be fun for her and her husband, Richard, to co-host the event at the new house since they love large gatherings, but know that parking in their part of town can be nearly impossible. Catherine thought it would be easy to park the cars of a hundred or so invited guests on such expansive acreage. They decided to hold the party on Saturday, Dec. 7.

“I ordered five-dozen roses from Calvert Wholesale Florists,” says Catherine. “I’m a pretty well-organized person, so I arranged for my housekeeper to come the preceding Thursday. Olivia [aged 3] was to be in nursery school and the baby sitter for Charlotte [21 months] was all arranged. Hilde had ordered 10 double-blooming amaryllis. The tent for the outdoor terrace was also supposed to arrive on Thursday.”

Most of Baltimore awoke that Thursday, Dec. 5, to the first huge snowfall of the season. This might have caused some people to cancel this ambitious a party, but not Catherine.

“Canceling was out of the question,” she says. “But with school closed both days, and both housekeeper and baby sitter unable to get here, I had to improvise.”

She first called the snowplow people to clear the drive, as well as the terrace, for tent setup. The tent was five hours late arriving the next day. Instead of the valet parker, she ordered buses to ferry people from the main road (where they could park) up to the house. And she asked Doug to pick up the flowers. “But they were the wrong color— pale yellow! Calvert exchanged them for the soft red ones I’d ordered. Hilde’s amaryllis never bloomed because of the early frost. So at 10 o’clock Friday night, I dashed out to Home Depot in Timonium and bought five azelea topiaries to complement the ones that Suzanne Rafferty had created.”

Catherine clipped greens from the nearby trees, and purchased two-dozen green Lady apples from Eddie’s for the centerpiece.

“I learned my lessons in improvising early,” she said. “Our outdoor wedding was rained out in the middle of our vows, so we moved the party indoors midstream.”

The snow had a magical effect not only on the setting— glistening on the trees and cradling the old farmhouse in a warm blanket— but on the spirits of the guests. No hot toddy could have been as successful an icebreaker as the few minutes the guests had to get to know each other traveling up to the house on the bus. Catherine’s imaginative improvisation made the joyful and warm gathering seem effortless. A true housewarming. n

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Oyster and clam raw bar
Jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce
Mini chicken Wellingtons with honey mustard
Artichoke hearts stuffed with Parmesan
Petit vegetable egg rolls
Parmesan-and-scallion cheese puffs
Smithfield ham with homemade biscuits
Beef tenderloin with bearnaise
Norwegian smoked salmon with capers
Crudités and dip
Brownies, lemon bars and macaroons

Mini Chicken Wellingtons
1 1/2 (6 ounces) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced
4 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, minced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
6 ounces mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, domestic), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
sprinkle of salt
splash of sherry
4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 egg, plus 2 tablespoons water, beaten with fork
1 package Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed 30 minutes before preparation)

Sauté the diced chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of the butter until partially cooked. Remove to side. Sauté the minced shallots, garlic and mushrooms in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent. Add the chicken, thyme and sherry, and warm through. Add the cream, stir and remove from heat.

Roll out 1 sheet of puff pastry dough on floured board (marble is best) to 12 inches by 16 inches. Slice into 4-inch squares. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the chicken-mushroom mixture in the center of the square. Moisten the edges with your fingers in the egg-water mixture, form into a purse or ball-like shape. Place on cookie sheet. Do the same with the second sheet of dough. Brush egg-water mixture over all before putting into a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Yields 24.

RESOURCES
Catering Carlton & Co., Baltimore, 410-484-6110
Flowers Suzanne Rafferty, Poise & Ivy, Baltimore, 410-235-4376

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