First Noel, first meal.

Suddenly, I have dubbed myself Suzy Homemaker.

As if declaring my independence and remaining in Chicago for Christmas has flipped some switch inside me that renders me capable of cooking, cleaning and entertaining. After 26 years of near-dead latency. I won't argue with this newly unearthed instinct, but the restaurant-frequenting, squalor-dwelling Paige is slightly alarmed by the shift. I'm hosting Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow night for four, making Christmas morning brunch for the Knight and me, and have invited eight friends to ring in 2010 at my apartment. My 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. I think the bar will be located in my bedroom. Decorative ice tongs and vodka and throw pillows: perfect. Tomorrow night, though, won't be so much with the fitting people in as it will with timing dishes and finding enough plates for everything. And fitting so much food into such little tummies. But we'll manage.

Tomorrow night's menu: Assiette de fromage (that's French) Turkey with sausage-and-apple stuffing Cranberry sauce with orange zest Mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon butter Sauteed broccoli rabe with pinenuts Roasted plum tomatoes with thyme Garlic and parmesan dinner rolls Secret dessert from my belle amie Aurore

Oh, and booze.

This all came about because I actually made good on my self-care promise to myself last night.

At 8 p.m., I pulled back my bed and hopped in with Gunther, five cookbooks — my recipe file from my grandmother, Everyday Food, Baking Bites, The Complete Book of Soups and Stews and Macaroni and Cheese — and a sheet of paper for my shopping list.

The cookbooks weren't helpful, really. Mostly, they just made me hungry — not surprising, considering the one-two punch I'd dealt myself earlier. Watching the Biggest Loser reunion show and eating boxed Lipton Noodle Soup for dinner? I should have known better; I wanted to get out of bed and start baking right then. It's almost as bad as grocery shopping when you're hungry. I already had all I needed to plan the menu lodged deep within my imagination, though the books did help me stay focused. They kept me pinned me under the covers, tethered to my laptop and the task at hand. By the time I went to sleep two hours later, I had three pages of menu, recipe and shopping list ready to print out this morning. I have found my roost, and I am ruling it. Hard.

This Christmas Eve dinner isn't just a meal, obviously. It's my first Christmas on my own. My first self-financed Christmas. My first Christmas spent with a boyfriend. (Which feels like a lot bigger deal than it actually is, probably.) Most days it still feels like I'm just playing house, but I'm playing for keeps, dammit. So this meal is really…fuel for my sense of independence. Or something. And I'll try not to take it too literally if the turkey won't fit in the oven, the potatoes are watery, the rolls are doughy and the only thing that really comes out right is the booze. It's my first try.