There are two things going on tonight which could cause universes to collide in your very own living room.
There is the Super Bowl, which will be glitzier than ever as it marks its 50th year. This Super Bowl is so important that the NFL has switched from its tradition of using Roman numerals (which would make it L) to a gold 50, like the one on your grandparents’ anniversary cake. This way, no one will ask what happened to Medium and Small.
And at kickoff time, only three episodes will remain in the final season of “Downton Abbey.” Desperate souls are clinging to the Dowager Countess’ every sharp retort and wondering why Lady Mary would get involved with a racer when her husband met with death via motor vehicle.
The Super Bowl is like Christmas. Even people who don’t have much to do with the Baby Jesus the rest of the year decorate their houses like an explosion in a Victorian doodad factory and drink eggnog by the quart.
The game has become a similar holiday of its own. Some guests at your Super Bowl party may not have watched a game all year. In fact, a mere 30 percent of respondents in a new Bon Appetit magazine poll said they would be attending a party to actually watch the game. Most will just be there for the food or because their significant others dragged them along.
Around 8:30 p.m., these guests may begin fidgeting, checking their phones and wondering if they set their DVRs properly. Tiny, discreet beads of sweat may dot their patrician brows.
“Downton Abbey” is on at 9 p.m. In their minds, it’s Cam Newton vs. Mr. Carson.
I urge you not to fight this confluence of seemingly contradictory worlds, but to revel in it. “Downton Abbey” offers many guides for a successful Super Bowl party, if you know where to look.
As you complete your menu planning for tonight, ask yourself: What would Mrs. Patmore do?
First of all, the strong-willed “Downton” cook would make her assistant, Daisy, do the sweaty grunt work while she dressed up sauces, plated the meats attractively and made sassy remarks.
Unfortunately, your manor may lack a Daisy. However, the model can work if you cast your guests as the assistants.
Encourage them to bring dishes that show off their cooking prowess or at least to pick up a tub of guacamole at the deli counter. Prepare a few of your prized delicacies, give them a starring location at the table and let others contribute the supporting players. Less work, more glory for you.
When if comes to Super Bowl menus, there are two factions. One thinks a proper game-day spread consists of wings, nachos, sausage balls and other finger foods. The idea is that a grazing spread is sufficient to fuel the many, many hours of screaming, falling on the floor in despair and touchdown dancing that the game will require.
An equally vocal faction requires larger fare, things that one would eat in a more elaborate manner with bowls, plates, forks and spoons. These items, such as chili, hearty soup or sliders, would provide ample opportunity for sloshing onto the floor during the activities listed above. On the upside, those dishes are more substantial and often can be parked in slow cookers so preparing them doesn’t make you miss a great play. And it gives people something to do during the long halftime, since the possibility of catching a wardrobe malfunction has been eliminated.
Next, color-coordinate your festive scene to match your team. Consider your space a “Downton” of football from tablecloths to cutlery, and go all out the way the Crawleys might, if the Crawleys liked to don foam fingers. The difference? Tacky decor is not only acceptable but expected.
However, I suggest restraining your football patriotism when it comes to the food. Do not try to dye dips, cheeses, spreads or anything – except maybe cake frosting – in team colors. A friend once used blue food coloring on onion dip for a Tar Heels basketball game. It came out the color of mucus. Mrs. Patmore would have been appalled.
As a host, your guiding light is Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, that model of manners in all circumstances. Channeling her will help you handle anything, even if a Broncos fan shows up at your Panthers party or some lazy guests irritatingly contribute nothing but bags of ice. Even if, as 9 p.m. approaches, an antsy person in a “Keep Calm and Ring Carson for Tea” T-shirt asks if you perchance have a second television.
Don’t emulate her granddaughter, Lady Mary, who would openly berate phone-checking guests for not appreciating the joys of watching muscular young men cavort in tight britches.
Moose is a Raleigh cookbook author and former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at debbiemoose.com.