Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas Eve

Fish dinners are traditional. When I was a kid, we'd have 20 people crowded into my Grandparent's eat-in kitchen , civilly passing platters of pasta, bread and fish of all kinds. This year, there was only four of us, but we ate as well as ever.

All Cookies and candy snacks are my responsibility, since I was about twelve years old. From scratch. Normally I'd spend a day or two prior to Christmas baking about 3-4 different varieties of cooky, decorated, with different types of fillings. I'd also make several varieties of chocolate candies, some molded, some dipped. It's a toss-up as to what's more fun - making them, or watching people eat them. I used to get marriage proposals for my Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies!

This year, with only a few hours of oven time, I only made two (gasp!) kinds of cooky:

Chocolate cookies
I shape them like presents, twists, and balls dusted with powdered sugar. I decorate them with colored frosting and dip them in melted chocolate for extra decadence. Very fudgy, more candy than cookie. Sometimes I put some of the dough through a cooky press... alas, no time this year for that.

"Strawberry Pillows"
Grandpa's favorite cookie. I was taught to make these at about age eight or nine. Mom wanted the help - they are a lot of work. Cream cheese, butter and flour, rolled out thin and "stuffed" with strawberry jam. Flaky, sweet, rich. Although since Grandpa was diabetic, he got special ones filled with chopped nuts.

Baking is thirsty work. I indulged in low-fat egg nog spiked with Brandy and dusted with nutmeg. Oh baby. Flour up that rolling pin.

A quiet, but deeply felt omission this year was my chocolate-dipped Brazil nuts for Grandma. This is our first year without her, and the first year I can remember that I haven't made them. We decided to forgo them this year - just too much work. But we had fun remembering the way she lit up when I presented her with a tin full of the luscious treats, and the way she rolled her eyes when she popped one into her mouth. Someday, when my mother becomes a grandmother, I'll make them for her as a rite of passage, to celebrate her new role, and the turning of the wheel.

As soon as I pulled the last cooky tray out of the oven, my mother reclaimed her kitchen. Time to get real.


2003 Jacob's Creek Chardonnay, for me
Gran Spumante Ballatore Sparkling wine, for my parents
Shrimp Cocktail with hot horseradish sauce
Small dish of sautéed mushrooms - special treat for Daddy
Salad with Mom's balsamic dressing
Steamed fresh asparagus
"Aglio et Olio" (pronounced Allyeh-ool): Spaghetti with garlic and Olive Oil
Angel Hair marinara
Grilled salmon brushed with olive oil, lemon and parsley
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream for dessert (Should be Breyer's, but this year we had to make do with Edy's)

I wanted to make "galama" - a dialectal pronunciation of calamari. Grandma made it simple. Buy small squid, no bigger than the palm of your hand, boil them, and turn them into a pot of gravy (which is what Italians call tomato sauce). Her galama was more like squid cacciatore... but it was easy to eat, friendly, and no frying. Unfortunately, the fish market didn't have any squid. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm in downstate Illinois!

Maybe next year.

Everyone helps cook - even Dad. After dinner however, Dad falls asleep, and Mom and I are left with a mountain of dishes, pots, mixing bowls... I helped as best I could, but all that baking wore me out. I conked out at around midnight. I found out the next morning, however, that Mom had stayed up until 2AM wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts on the dining room table. As she does every year.

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