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img_5921When I was growing up, the Christmas tree never came down before Little Christmas. Little Christmas is also known as the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is when the three kings arrived to visit the baby Jesus. Do you know the names of these kings? Not something that I remembered learning during my Catholic school education, but their names were evidently believed to be Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Little Christmas also marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas which run from December 25th through January 5th. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and I guess that is where the tradition of “de-Christmassing” the house came from in my family. Taking the decorations down before that date is considered to be bad luck in some countries.

In Ireland, Little Christmas or January 6th is known as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas since, particularly in Cork and Kerry (happens to be where our families were from), it is the day that the Irish men take over the household duties and watch the children so the women can go out and celebrate with friends and other female family, marking the end of their duties as hostesses in charge of the holiday visitors.

In Italy, they celebrate Epifania, which is a holiday where Italian children would put out stockings and find gifts from La Befana, an old woman who is said to deliver gifts to children on the Epiphany. She is said to sweep the floors when she arrives, to sweep out the problems of the old year. Italian children leave her a glass of wine and a bite to eat  a better deal some would say than Santa has going for him).

So, see no matter which side of the family you look to for me (Irish or Italian)  Little Christmas has significance. There is another reason the day has special meaning in our family.

January 6th marked my dad’s brother, my uncle’s birthday. Here’s a picture that my brother recently found of my dad (on the left) with my uncle Eddie (on the right). Both of them have left us (too soon) but I can never think of Little Christmas without also thinking of him. Somewhere, I am sure the both of them are smiling down on us. They are both dearly missed.

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Here’s the recipe for bracciole, let me say up front that I cannot take any credit for the recipe, it is my mom’s and my grandma’s recipe. I am merely proud that I am able to continue the tradition.

IMG_5560Bracciole

Makes 6

  • 6 pieces of bracciole meat (for those of you that are local to me Wallingford Locker has great bracciole meat)
  • 12 slices of bacon
  • 1 cup raisins divided into six portions
  • 6 pieces of garlic finely chopped
  • grated cheese of your choice (I use asiago or romano)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • butcher’s twine cut into six pieces each cut about 2 feet in length
  1. Take meat and season with salt and pepper.IMG_5565
  2. Place two slices of bacon on each piece of bracciole
  3. Sprinkle with grated cheese of your choiceIMG_5557
  4. Add one portion of raisins sprinkled on top
  5. Add one chopped clove of garlic to each piece of meat.IMG_5566
  6. Roll each piece up. I find that it is easiest to roll up starting from the smaller or thinner end. If any of the raisins or cheese fall out as you are rolling, just stick them back inside.IMG_5561
  7. When meat is rolled, tie each with a piece of butcher’s twine.
  8. Place in tomato sauce of your choice and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours. You could probably put them into a slow cooker with your sauce and cook for 6-8 hours although I have not tried this myself.
  9. When ready to serve, remove each bracciole packet from sauce, cut the twine off (this is important, no one likes string in their dinner!), slice each with a sharp knife into four pieces and serve.
  10. Enjoy!

antipastoAntipasto. We used to have it at every holiday meal. A large (or maybe two) tray of a variety of meats, cheeses, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes that, as its name translates was served “before the meal”. Its origins are Italian but my dad, who enjoyed antipasto probably more than the meal itself, wasn’t. Irish as the inside of the Blarney Stone, although he had a smattering of mutt thrown in for good measure. I think he married into antipasto since my mom’s parents were both Italian and the holidays were clearly excuses to eat…a lot…especially of the things you only had but once or twice a year.

I can clearly remember the large glass trays that we used and the preparation. I bet every family has their own version. First, the layer of lettuce, then the layer of sliced tomato, then the layers of cheeses, provolone, some prosciutto, cappicola, some genoa salami, a sprinkling of pepperoncini, some cherry peppers, olives. There were additions but usually no deletions. The tray was piled high and hardly any of it was left over when the first course was through.We wouldn’t think of a holiday without it — I think my dad would have cried. I personally think it was his favorite part.

This afternoon, I was making up a shopping list for our Thanksgiving dinner. Nothing big — just our family and my sister and her family – as low stress and casual as Thanksgiving can get. I asked Tom who was sitting nearby if I was forgetting anything from the list and threw out an appetizer before dinner and then “antipasto?” It was like a blast from the past. I have not made an antipasto since my dad passed away. Why? I don’t really know, I’m sure that my boys would probably love it and enjoy it, but somehow it just wouldn’t be the same. Dad was the one that lived for the antipasto and I don’t know if it would be the same without him at the table to join us. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a subconscious sign of respect to recognize the fact that he no longer sits at the holiday table with us. I can’t seem to put my heart into it when he’s not here to enjoy it, considering it really was because of my dad that it was included with every holiday meal regardless of the occasion.

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