This is the merrymaking time of the year when we are, in turn, guests and hosts, sipping and nibbling other people's culinary creations or presenting our own festive foods to others.
Here are some ideas for beverages for both organized parties and drop-in guests, recipes that can accommodate a group or a few singles. Although drinks may be hot or cold, with a fruit or vegetable base, this is the time of year for hot drinks, so be prepared to serve one or two.
Make a batch or two of Hot Citrus-Cider Punch to serve a crowd and then refrigerate any that's left over to be easily rewarmed later. It's good cold, too. Garnish with a few cranberries and a wiggly strip of lemon peel on a little pick.
Eggnog can be purchased in the dairy department of your local supermarket, but it's fun to make your own. Double or triple the recipe to have enough; it keeps well. Ladle from a punch bowl into small cups and dust with nutmeg. Store the surplus in the refrigerator.
Half an hour before serving time, rinse glasses and mugs needed for cold beverages in cold water and place, still wet, in the freezer. If you like, dip the rim in a saucer of sugar (for fruit ades) or salt (for a vegetable drink) to coat it before freezing.
Add sliced strawberries and almost-transparent slices of orange to the fruit punch bowl. For extra eye appeal, use regular ice cubes or freeze water or lemonade in gelatin ring molds.
An easy, last-minute hot hors d'oeuvre to serve with party beverages is Cheesy Bits. Make plenty; they go fast. Or bake Tiny Cream Puffs and fill with Shrimp Filling. These puffs can be made earlier and then popped into the freezer to be retrieved and thawed when needed.
The recipe for Chicken Wing-Its makes 50 pieces, but they disappear in a hurry, so make an ample supply and have plenty of napkins on hand.
For drop-in, but no less welcome, guests, easy nibblings to keep in the refrigerator are a jar of pickled herring in sour cream or tomato sauce to spear onto crackers, or a bowl of unshelled nuts to crack as the conversation flows.
Share the food, savor the friendships, and enjoy the time. Hot Citrus-Cider Punch 1 gallon (16 cups) apple cider or apple juice 1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate 1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 tablespoon whole cloves 1 tablespoon allspice
Combine first four ingredients in a large kettle over heat and stir until concentrates thaw and sugar dissolves. Tie cloves and allspice in cheesecloth bag and add to cider. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove spice bag and discard. Yield: about 18 punch cups. Egg Nog 3 cups cold milk 3 eggs 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch of nutmeg
Put all ingredients in blender and whir for 20 seconds. Pour into small punch bowl and sprinkle each serving with extra nutmeg. Yield: 8 small punch cups. Cranberry Delight 2 measures cranberry juice 1 measure orange juice 1/2 measure lemon juice (frozen or fresh) Ginger ale to top up
Fill goblet half full of ice cubes. Pour in juices and then fill glass with ginger ale to taste. Cheesy Bits 3 slices bread 2 tablespoons melted butter 1 egg, well beaten 1 cup finely grated American cheese
Slice bread into 1-inch cubes. Mix butter and egg. Dip bread cubes in mixture and then roll in cheese. Arrange on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. until cheese melts and cubes are brown. Tiny Cream Puffs 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1 cup water 1 cup sifted flour 4 eggs
Put butter and water in saucepan and bring to rolling boil. Add flour all at once and stir vigorously over low heat until mixture leaves sides of pan and forms a ball, about 1 minute.
Remove from heat and beat in eggs, all at once, and beat until smooth. Drop by slightly rounded teaspoonsful onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 400 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool. When ready to use, slice with a sharp knife and leave a small ''hinge'' on one side. Shrimp Filling 2 cans (4 1/2 ounces each) broken shrimp, drained and rinsed 1/4 cup finely chopped celery 2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 teaspoons minced onion 1/2 cup salad dressing 1/4 teaspoon salt
Chop shrimp fine, and combine with rest of ingredients. Chicken Wing-Its 20 to 25 chicken fryer wings 1 cup water 1 cup soya sauce 1/4 cup pineapple juice 1/4 cup salad oil 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste) 1 teaspoon ground ginger
Break the chicken wings apart at first and second joints. Cook the tips separately for broth. Mix rest of ingredients and pour over chicken wing joints in plastic bag. Tie with a twisty and refrigerate overnight. Turn once or twice.
Bake, uncovered, on a flat cookie sheet at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until tender and brown.