The Old-School Party Snack That Doubles as a Holiday Gift
This holiday season, I'm taking it back to 1984. That was my first year on the babysitting circuit, the beginning of a high-earning phase of my life. I was in demand because I had enough younger siblings to know how to get kids to eat their dinner and go to bed, and all I wanted out of the deal was a few dollars, some snacks, and a few hours to watch "Dallas," "Falcon Crest," and "The Love Boat" — "Dance Fever" with Deney Terrio if the parents stayed out late enough. A little local history: In that era of Columbia, South Carolina, staying out late meant going to Wit's End, a dance club on Beltline Boulevard, which sounded like a lot of fun to me. Those were the best couples, the ones I admired, and also the ones with the best snacks.
Often, those people would have friends over for cocktails before they went out. This is an excellent idea because it saves money and alleviates awkwardness at restaurants where hosts refuse to seat people until "everyone in your party has arrived." The fun people would serve snacks with the cocktails, thereby avoiding spending extra on appetizers at the restaurant. You should be like them! We all should. The practice of having people in before going out also affords one the opportunity to use all those little serving plates and silver nut bowls you either inherited, got as wedding gifts, or scored in your favorite secondhand shop. Not to mention the pretty linen cocktail cocktail squares. And the little olive forks. At least once a month, have people in. They'll love you for it, and it's easy.
The snacks for these little parties are simple: ham ball, olive dish, cheese plate, canapés, or Chex Mix. Remember when Chex Mix had a personality? Your parents mixed all the ingredients, drizzled with butter and a mix of seasonings, and baked it in the oven, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Do you remember the feeling of finding a piece of cereal that had a big clump of seasoning on it and how good it was? Those were the days. The packaged stuff, mixed perfectly by a machine, just doesn't have the same appeal.
This year, I've nailed down my Chex Mix recipe, and it's a hit. The secret ingredient? I'll give you a hint: It's Korean. Never mind. I'll just tell you. It's gochujang, a mildly sweet, spicy sauce that gives your Chex Mix the umami you've been craving. (Maybe you didn't know you were craving that, but trust me.) I make mine in a slow cooker, which cuts down on the mess and makes the whole process even easier.
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This Chex Mix is great to take as a host gift, or to keep in jars by the front door for anyone who brings you a present. You can also just eat it — or you can have people in. You can be like those people who trusted an 11-year-old to watch their kids while they were out living it up. They knew what they were doing. Chex Mix was a perfectly acceptable cocktail snack and I was a very responsible 11-year-old. (Really.)
Anne Wolfe Postic is a freelance writer living in South Carolina with her husband, their three sons, and a fluffy white dog. She travels with relish (and often a jar of Duke's mayonnaise). She cooks her feelings and invites people over to eat them. Anne writes and blogs about parenting, etiquette, healthy eating, home cooking, and traveling. She recommends taking all of her advice with a huge chunk of salt.