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December is a month of holidays, eating and traditions– I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on that. The holiday season can turn even the most cynical of people into those that fawn over a family tradition — or food — or activity.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, my cousins have been discussing my grandmother’s and their great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, homemade pasta and sauce. They have been going back and forth with one of my male cousins and my brother over the recipes, trying to pin down the taste that we all remember so well but don’t all know how to make.
Isn’t it funny how the holidays evoke a special food or a meal that you remember from your youth? For me, Christmas is and will always be associated with antipasto (my dad’s favorite) and baccala salad on Christmas Eve. For my husband, it is his grandmother’s cookies made from leftover pie dough and boiled onions. No holiday was complete unless my Aunt Mary brought the pies (chocolate cream, pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple) which always graced our holiday table. My siblings and I still are trying very unsuccessfully to replicate Aunt Mary’s stuffing — each year one of us tries and each year we agree that it is missing something.
When we are young, we often summarily dismiss our grandparents (or if we’re lucky) great-grandparents when they try to show us something or we just don’t get the recipe since it is “a pinch of this, a little of that” – empty of any concrete measurements and never, ever written down — only memorized in the mind of someone who we usually take for granted until they and their food are no longer with us and we yearn for both.
There are traditions that each of us have, particularly as they surround food, that bring back fond memories. Some of us cook the same foods for each holiday — well, because that is the way we grew up and that is what comes to mind when we think of Christmas.
For my family, Christmas has taken on my different transformations through the years — depending a lot on who was there, or more appropriately, no longer there, to share it with. When I was very young, my grandparents lived downstairs from us and Christmas was a big holiday. The whole family on my mom’s side came to my grandparents for Christmas. My Grandma Caruso made sauce, bracciole, meatballs, sausage and homemade pasta. I remember the pasta making because us kids were the ones tasked with transporting the freshly made pasta onto the clean sheets that were placed on the top of every bed in the house, in order to lay the pasta out to dry. There was homemade chicken soup and of course, antipasto. I remember all that clearly, but the main course, well — after we got done with the antipasto, the soup and the pasta, the main course didn’t get much notice until later for sandwiches or snacking, somewhere after everyone found it in their bellies to have room for the variety of nuts, oranges, grapes and italian pastries that found their way onto the dinner table for dessert.
Then, after my grandfather became sick and eventually passed on, Christmas was a little quieter, since the whole family didn’t gather together anymore and everyone celebrated with their own families and children. That is when I really remember the antipasto, it took center stage at my house and the meal downsized just a bit. Christmas Eve however was still full of fish — we had the eel, the smelts, the baccala salad as long as my grandmother was still alive.
As we got older and Santa took less of a center stage, Christmas Eve became the bigger of the celebrating — still with the fish dishes and with Christmas Eve Midnight mass and presents afterwards. There was still a lot of eating going on–after all opening all those presents makes you hungry and baccala salad is just as good at 2 a.m. as it was a 7 or 8 p.m.
Now, that my grandparents and my dad are all gone, and we all have families of our own, Christmas has been reinvented once again. I have to admit that I have not made an antipasto since my dad died. It just didn’t seem right — although I’m trying to get over that. We often say that Christmas is not the same since he passed, because he was probably the biggest kid and loved Christmas as much, if not more, than any of us actual kids.
Now in our reinvented Christmas, we have some traditions surrounding food and the holidays of our own here at the T’s house– a blend of both of us, with enough of our past to carry our heritage forward for our boys. We have baccala salad on Christmas Eve and I have to say that Tom’s dad is my biggest compadre in the eating of it. I make bread and cinnamon buns which our own own food twist. If I can find it, we have blue cheese spread inside celery that Tom’s grandmother used to make and boiled onions with our dinner on Christmas day, which is usually a rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. There is pie, but no longer the sky high pies that Aunt Mary was famous for — no Italian pastries that aunts and uncles brought with them.
I often try to explain to Tom — an only child who grew up with relatively quiet holidays consisting of his parents, grandparents (and some relatives who would stop in for a visit) that the holidays in my world have always been chaotic –lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food and lots of laughter and from the early days –PoKeNo.
Quiet just wasn’t a word that we associated with Christmas at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses — how could it be when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day could easily be upwards of 35 or 40 people, a good portion of which were children and all were related? Even if we just have “family” now (meaning my siblings, their families and our parents) that is almost 20 people!
As I get older, I realize just how important all that “stuff” that I couldn’t have cared about as a kid really is — it is the basis of tradition and family and is a very big part of who we are. To have one of those raucous, loud, cramped Christmases with all of my family and extended family, both my parents and my grandparents would be a dream come true. Alas, it will never happen again because a good many of those people are no longer with us. The way to keep the memories of those we love alive is through tradition–carrying forward those same things that we have always done. Be it the same foods, the same activities or the same type of celebrations.
During December I thought that it would be fun (and therapeutic) to recreate some of those recipes and some of those memories and to memorialize for my own family some of our own traditions and recipes so that maybe, just maybe, someday when they really care, those things will be there for my boys to share with their families keeping the memories of Grandma Caruso, Nan Dotson, Nanny Smith, Aunt Mary and my dad alive for generations to come.
I thought that it might be fun to try to incorporate a “my own…” section in on, of all days….Monday! Each week I’ll make a concerted effort to “make” something of my own that Monday. Schedules around here have been crazy busy lately, so not as much time to “make my own” as I’d like.
So, for the first My Own Monday:
Potato Leek Soup
Not so bad for a cold, cold winter’s evening? Filled our bellies and now I hear rumors that we’re having chocolate chip cookies for dessert….
Today I dug up the potatoes from the garden. The other day I dug up the carrots.
Today I washed up a bunch of both. Cut up the carrots into bite sized chunks
Added honey from our bees and dill, mixed it together and roasted them for one hour at 350 degrees.
As for the potatoes, I cut them into bite size pieces also, added kosher salt, black pepper, chopped fresh rosemary, oregano, onion powder and garlic powder. Tossed them with olive oil and put them in the oven at 375 for one hour.
The finished product —-
Last night was cold and sleeting and very, very windy. It was a good night to make a good meal. We had a pasta, chicken and veggie dish and dinner rolls.
The rolls, which are one of my new favorite recipes, came from King Arthur’s website. The recipe, which I have changed slightly is easy and for a yeast dough, relatively quick.
- 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast
- 1 1/8 cups warm water
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/4 t. salt
- 3 T. honey
- 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 1/4 c. nonfat dry milk
- 1/2 c. instant potato flakes
- Put yeast into the bowl of stand mixer, add the warm water and a dash of sugar to start the yeast. Let it sit for about 15 minutes or until you notice the yeast starting to foam.
- Add the remaining ingredients and knead for about 5-7 minutes. The dough should be smooth and formed into a ball.
- Place the dough into an oiled container, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour. (I sometimes preheat my oven and turn it off and then put the dough in there to proof.)
- When the dough has doubled, take it from the container, place it on a silpat or other non-stick surface and divide in half. Divide each half into half and then in half again until you have 16 pieces.
- Roll each piece into a ball and place them into two round cake pans which have been oiled. It should look like this:
- Cover and allow to rise until they touch, about another 30 minutes. They should look like this:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place both pans in the oven and cook for 25 minutes or until golden brown. When the rolls come out of the oven, sprinkle with flour to give the “snowflake” roll look.
The original recipe can be found at King Arthur’s site.
The pasta dish was a classic “throw together” with leftover chicken, green bell peppers, a fresh leek from the garden, garlic, oil cured pitted olives, basil, oregano, onions and broccoli florets all sauteed and tossed with some olive oil over cavatappi pasta.
And in response to those of you who ask why I prefer pictures of food to my children sometimes, I leave you with this photo:
One of my recipes for the doomer dinner at Cassie’s is Swiss Chard Mushroom Squares. This recipe, predominantly local, is making good use of the all the swiss chard Tom and I picked from the garden the other night when it was wicked windy and we were afraid that my plastic would blow off. Tom didn’t want to see a grown woman cry like a baby when all of her swiss chard and mesclun that she’s been babying along for weeks now, froze like popsicles.
Having this abundance of swiss chard, I scoured the web for recipes other than the usual chard sauteed in garlic and olive oil. I came across a recipe for Swiss Chard and Mushroom Squares on Kayln’s Kitchen blog and adapted it slightly for my own purposes.
Here is the recipe:
1. Wash and separate one bunch approximately of swiss chard from its stems. Slice the chard into ribbons and then chopped.
2. Finely chop one small onion.
3. Finely mince 2 cloves of garlic.
4. Bring some water to a boil. Add chopped chard and a dash
(or more if you’re brave) of red pepper flakes.Since I was using my mom’s red pepper flakes(known to kill mere mortals, I used less rather than more – my mother almost killed herself attempting to crush these indoors). Cook the chard for about ten minutes or until it is soft. Then drain.
6. After about 2-3 minutes, or when onion is translucent
7. Add mushrooms (8 baby bellas is what I used although you could substitute shitake) and 1/2 tsp. of low sodium soy sauce. Saute until cooked through and liquid has evaporated. About 8-10 minutes.
9. Measure out 1/4 c. panko bread crumbs (okay this is the not so local part – although I admit you can definitely
do your own panko, I just didn’t have the time or the inclination) and
1/2 cup soft cheese (Kalyn’s recipe used Monterey Jack but suggested the substitution of mozzarella which is what I did) (I can say that I have made my own but didn’t today).
10. Mix the cooked and drained chard, cheese, panko and mushroom mixture in a bowl with the beaten eggs. Kayln’s recipe called for Spike Seasoning of which I had none but substituted a mixture totaling 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, celery seed, cajun seasoning, onion powder and paprika (essentially the highlights of that seasoning mix). Stir it all together, (this is where the battery in my camera died and I couldn’t do a picture of the mixed together ingredients but you can close your eyes and imagine it). Add mixture to a 9 inch square pan which has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray and bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Okay, so Tyler and I were looking online for recipes and we came across one on www.cookingbread.com for Challah bread. We decided to give it a try for our french toast for Saturday morning breakfast. Knowing that we had to all be up and out early on Saturyday, I started the recipe yesterday with all intentions to have it baked yesterday which didn’t work out. With soccer games and picking kids up and going to the fair like we promised, there was just no time to make and bake the bread. So….I mixed everything up yesterday afternoon and let it proof until last night. At about 11 when we got home I made it into a loaf and put the egg wash on and refrigerated it until this morning. This morning I got up early, took it out of the fridge, and popped it into a warm 90 degree oven to proof again before I cooked it. I popped it into the oven about 6:50 and by 7:30 we were cooking french toast with this bread. Made with our fresh eggs and our own honey, it did turn out pretty good if I do say so myself. Here is a link to the recipe, courtesy of http://www.cookingbread.com. It was delicious!