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A Christmas Story. Ours.

December 26, 2008 by Joan Nova in Family-Size Meals, Potpourri | 13 Comments

Traditions (Old, New, Still-Evolving), Photos…and Food!

About Tradition. When my sister and I began to raise our families and gradually take over holiday dinners from the generation before us, we also began to inject a more foodie approach to the menus. Being half-Spanish and half-Italian and 100% American, those 3 cuisines generally dominate for the special occasions. Yes, it’s still fish on Christmas Eve and a roast on Christmas Day, but you never know what specifically or how it will be presented. There’s no set menu year-after-year. While we like to think we pay homage to ‘tradition’, we define it loosely and are always recreating the formula. Our kids follow suit and are building on the experience. Some might classify us as hard-core celebrators because not only do we gather to celebrate the calendar holidays, we create additional reasons to get-together, even if it’s for leftovers the next day! I guess, truth be told, we’re more about the ‘merry’. (Stay with me until the end of this post for proof of that!)

December 20 • The Children’s Annual Show & Boat Parade
Tradition: Decades ago, my sister started this tradition with all the children in the family. It involved rehearsals, coupled with cookie bakes, and then the big night of the show for the entire family and friends. She did it all — the scripting, costuming, dealing with ‘opening night jitters’ and playing the donkey more than once! The show went on year-after-year, much to everyone’s delight, until the children started hitting their pre-teens…and were ‘over’ it. Now, grown up, some with children of their own, it is one of their fondest childhood memories. Several years ago, my niece with the assistance of my sister, started the tradition again. It’s my hope that it will continue for a few years more with this cast of ‘characters’ and that they, too, will remember it fondly and continue it with their children in the years to come. Here’s a taste: Play video clip from Frosty the Snowman.
A Florida tradition is the holiday boat parade down the Intercoastal Canal – fireworks and boats dressed up like Christmas trees. This year it was scheduled the same night as the children’s show and my sister’s clubhouse (the current theater of the children’s show) is on the canal so after the show and our traditional pizza party, we walked outside to see the fireworks and boat parade…a festive way to start the holiday festivities.
Fireworks & Boat Parade
December 23 • The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center
This year my son treated me, his daughter, and girlfriend to a pre-Christmas Eve special night out (perhaps starting a new tradition?). We went to a new/artsy/eclectic restaurant (I’ll review it another time) and to the Florida Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center in Palm Beach.
We had a great dinner, the show was magical, and it set the stage for what awaited us the following day at my niece’s house.

December 24 • Christmas Eve
Tradition: In the early years, my sister did an all fish dinner in the Italian tradition on Christmas Eve and I did Christmas Day. More recently it’s become a shared responsibility…she with her daughter, Teri, on the Eve and I with my son, Jim, on the day. 
Teri is not only a good cook, she is a hostess with the mostest! The Christmas decorations were as magical as The Nutcracker’s set design and the menu was fish-a-licous! A moment about gift-decoration. A while back at some other family dinner, my niece went around taking a ‘funny’ picture of everyone. “Make an ugly face”, said she. Well, those ugly faces appeared in large size on the gifts. There was no question  who each gift belonged to!

Menu: Assorted fish hors’ d’oeuvres, cheeses & crackers. First dish: shrimp & artichoke salad. Main course: Crabmeat Cannelloni and Spaghetti with shrimp, feta, black olives, followed by a ‘traditional’ fried fish and salad course. Dessert: A chocolate fountain.

December 25 • Christmas Day
This year I wanted to do a Latin-inspired Turkey dinner. When I mentioned ‘turkey’, my son immediately said that he’d been dying to try a fried turkey. He also wanted to make a pumpkin flan– so the division of responsibilities for the dinner became apparent. He’d buy the fryer and do the turkey and flan and I’d do everything in between. Side Story: A key trait for a good chef is being able to ‘think standing on one foot'; that is to say, things don’t always happen as planned. A fried 20-lb. turkey takes less than an hour but, obviously, it has to be done outside. Christmas morning was raining and it wasn’t letting up. At 10:30 we had to make the decision to abort the fryer plan, but we were now pushing it for a 2:00 dinner. Enter ingenuity. The turkey went into surgery for back bone removal and flattening, it was done on time, and was probably one of the juiciest turkeys I’ve ever had. (Jim had injected a mojo-citrus marinade into the flesh the day before.) 

Menu: Turkey, Picadillo Stuffing, Baked Stuffed Plantains with Chimichurri Sauce, 16-ingredient salad. Desserts: pumpkin flan with praline brittle, homemade biscotti, guava & cheese, Christmas layer cake (store-bought), and turron. 

Spanish-inspired pickies for the bar.

Baked Stuffed Plantain with Chimichurri Sauce

16-Ingredient Veggie/Salad Tray

Picadillo Stuffing

Pumpkin Flan with Praline Brittle

After dinner, the kids got the remaining gifts (half were given on the Eve) and then the adults played “Slaughter Santa”. For anyone who doesn’t know, Slaughter Santa is a hilarious game of stealing gifts. Each of us buys and wraps one gift. By a draw of numbers, we select our order of participation. My nephew made up some playing cards that accompanied each gift (like ‘trade with the second person to your left’ or ‘make 2 people exchange gifts’). So #1 picks a gift and opens it. Then #2 can either select a gift or steal #1’s…and so on. There was a lot of stealing, teaming up, and laughter — and, in the end, each adult went home with a nice gift.

December 27
Yes, they’re baaack. This time it’s for combined Christmas Eve and Christmas Day leftovers — and an evening of community theater. A presentation for the young…and the young of heart.

December 28
Peace and quiet. Rest. Clean house. Begin diet. …until January 4 when we gather again to celebrate my birthday.

Special Ending Notes
Note: Thanks to Laylita for the baked plantain recipe. It was the lynchpin for the dinner. The minute I saw it on her blog, I knew I had to build a meal around it. Recipes for picadillo stuffing, chimichurri sauce and pumpkin flan will be posted tomorrow. They’re just too delicious not to share.

And I leave you now with one of 3 videos – one made for each generation – that my son surprised us with. This was for the ‘senior’ set. Too funny! Tradition #??. Enjoy.

I wish you all a happy, healthy, warm, prosperous and yummy 2009!

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. Lori Lynn says:

    Love Frosty, what a cutie pie!
    Wishing a Happy New Year to you and your wonderful family.

    P.S. (again) I am liking that shrimp and artichoke dish, a lot.

  2. Ivy says:

    I enjoyed your post very much Joan. I love your photos and the lovely presentations you and your sister made. I liked the idea of the presents with the photos. Looking forward to the recipes. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  3. Robin Sue says:

    Joan thanks for taking me on a tour of your traditions! We do a lot of seafood too, you have so many nice recipes here. What a nice time you and your family have. I liked the “ugly” face pictures too, what fun gift tags! Happy New Year!

  4. Angela says:

    What a festive and delicious holiday you had! I love the idea of the photos on the gifts boxes. Great idea!

  5. Peter M says:

    Joan, thanks so much for opening up and showing your family’s Christmas traditions.

    The food is extraordinary and I know the work involved.

    I must say that I’m smitten with that little girl twirling in the madhatter hat during the carols! lol

  6. Art On the Menu says:

    So glad I found your blog via your comment! This looks absolutely delicious and beautiful! Just what’s needed right now to warm up the NW! Craving a fork full of that shrimp…

  7. Bellini Valli says:

    It sounds like you had a fabulous holiday Joan. It has been a pleasure to get to know you over the past year. I look forward to all that 2009 brings!!!!

  8. elly says:

    A great story and insight into your traditions, Joan. I really enjoyed reading it and I definitely enjoyed looking at the food! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

  9. Nathan says:

    That was a very tasty thanksgiving, I would have loved to eat teh 16 tray salad, the platanos, the crackers with guava and cream cheese, the flan EVERYTHING looks soooo goood!

  10. Megabeth says:

    May I ask how you prepped the avocado in your 16-item salad? They look really good…

  11. Joan Nova says:

    Hi Megabeth, It was a dressing I made with cilantro, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and I plated the avocados on a bed of watercress and sprinkled a lot of capers over it.

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