Most of us have holiday traditions which we hold dear. In our family, the tree is decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving and taken down the day after Christmas. Turkey is served for the former and prime rib for the latter. Whatever you grow up with, is probably what you cherish and pass on to your children. With each generation this expands as we marry into other families and combine our traditions with theirs.
If I’m expecting guests for a holiday meal, I always like to extend them an invitation to share a dish their family enjoys. Over the years this has produced some interesting results. One year, we had a couple bring a basket brimming with bran muffins. In her Midwestern family, bran muffins were an integral part of their Christmas dinner. Now, I like bran muffins, but must admit previously hadn’t associated them with the holidays. In retrospect, with the properties inherent in bran, perhaps digestively this could prove to be a sound idea. Another year, two sisters brought a tuna casserole topped with rich melted cheddar cheese. Their father had been a commercial fisherman and sometimes with little money at Christmas, this was what their mother made. The cheese, being a luxury, was their treat.
We’ve had some fun experiences over the years with guests as well. A couple my husband worked with brought a huge tray of rumaki one year to our Christmas party. I love rumaki as a rule. However, to be honest while still recognizing her effort, these looked like small rodents that had met a sticky end by blowtorch and then been stabbed with a toothpick. Once in your mouth, almost impossibly, they tasted worse than they looked. Yet miraculously, their numbers grew smaller on the plate during the evening. Surveying the aftermath the following morning, I found these inedible little bundles tucked beneath couch pillows, stashed behind leaves in potted plants, and my favorite, scattered in the cat litter box. Obviously, a personal statement.
Another time, Sug, a lovely neighbor lady of mine in her mid nineties and almost legally blind, offered to bring her green jello mold. I accepted it gratefully, but on closer inspection noticed the jello appeared to have Fruit Loops and chocolate chips in it. Feeling this was begging for a taste test, I took a small bite. I was spot on about the Fruit Loops but what I had originally thought were chocolate chips were, in fact, black olives. I issued a quiet disclosure to my other guests. People gave this dish a wider berth than a barrel of toxic waste. Not ever wanting to hurt Sug’s feelings, I donated most of it to the garbage disposal. Receiving her empty dish as she left she was delighted that everyone enjoyed her contribution.
Another thing I find odd is when people bring something as a hostess gift and then turn around and take it home with them. I’ve had people actually give me wine as a gift, drink most of it while at my house, and take the rest home as a “boozer bag”. One Christmas we had a huge potluck at our house, sixty or so people. It was so much fun and everybody brought amazing food. A couple had contributed a particularly beautiful fresh fruit salad platter. In the center was a four slotted assortment of cashews, macadamia nuts, peanuts, and walnuts. Yum. Coming in they informed us they had another party to go to later in the evening. I thanked them for their contribution and said I would put the fruit out with the desserts and was sure the other guests would enjoy it. On her way out the door she picked up the still wrapped plastic tray, thanked me for inviting them and moved on to the next party. I assume she had volunteered for a fresh fruit platter with assorted nuts at that party as well. The gift that keeps on giving.
My husband’s uncle, who enjoyed his Christmas cheer provided another story. Mike believed in starting his spiked egg nog early on Christmas Day, declaring it had eggs in it so technically could be considered brunch. Living alone, he was often a guest at our table, and occasionally under it, depending on his level of celebration. One year he was well on his way to a good time and was seated next to a table with a lit candle on it. Deep in conversation, and well anesthetized, he didn’t realize that the sleeve on his jacket was on fire. You could say he was relit. Fortunately we got it out before he was well done.
One Thanksgiving I had thirty people for a sit down dinner. I got two birds and a ham, and cooked all but the larger bird the day before. There was a lot of food, but when I’m cooking all day I often enjoy the leftovers more the day after then the meal the day of. Dinner was a big production that year, with family members contributing casseroles, rolls, and pies. After coffee had been served and before putting up the leftovers, I suggested that everyone help themselves so they too could enjoy a repeat performance on the following day. I went in the kitchen to begin the clean up process and get the first load of dishes in the dishwasher. Twenty minutes later I returned to find the bone from one drumstick completely denuded on one plate sitting in a greasy pile, a mashed potato bowl that looked like it had been licked clean by a labrador retriever, one roll slightly burned, a half a bowl of cranberry sauce, and a small tureen of gravy, with unfortunately nothing to pour it over. Shortly whoever had taken the last of the dark meat came back for that. Really? In all fairness there was a piece of pumpkin pie left, although not a dollop of whipped cream. A person with a conscience had left one chocolate chip cookie with a bite taken out of it for us. My husband, who was the Dagwood of the day after Thanksgiving sandwich makers, was devastated. I went out the next day, purchased another turkey and popped it in the oven.
No matter what, I still love it all. Family issues, rude guests, irritated shoppers, all of it. Wouldn’t miss a minute.
Another tradition for us is brunch on Christmas Day. Breakfast truly is my favorite meal. I’d rather go out to brunch than dinner any day. This particular dish is a bit of work but worth the trouble. I like it with a sunny side up egg or two on top. This sounds harder than it is to prepare. You can do it. Enjoy!
Swiss Rosti with Bacon and Gruyere
6 larage russet potatoes, peeled
6 scallions, chopped and divided
4 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup leek, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2-3/4 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. Gruyere cheese
Cook bacon in non-stick skillet until fat is rendered and bacon is beginning to brown. In side dish put 1 Tbsp. green slices of scallions.
Add remaining scallions and leeks to skillet. Cook with until bacon is crisp and leeks are done, about 5 mins. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour bacon fat into small bowl and reserve skillet. Add enough olive oil to bowl to bring it to 3 Tbsp. Add butter to mixture. Place 2 Tbsp. of oil/fat/butter mixture in skillet. 2 Tbsp. of oil/fat/butter mixture in a small bowl and add bacon/leek/scallions. Reserve 2 Tbsp. of oil/fat/butter mixture in another small bowl.
Coarsely grate potatoes on a cuttin board (as if for hash browns). Using an old, clean dish towel (potato juice will stain) place batches of grated potates and wring to removed moisture.
Place potatoes in large bowl and add 1 tsp. salt, pepper, and bacon mixture. Toss to cover evenly.
Heat reserved skillet over medium med-low heat. When skillet is hot, add potatoes and press with spatula to make even layer. Tent with tin foil and cook for 10 mins. rotating skillet frequently until bottom of potatoes are golden brown.
Run a plastic spatula under potatoes to loosen. Place large plate over top and using oven mitt invert onto plate.
Add remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in skillet. Slide Rosti back into skillet browned side up. Tent again and cook 5 mins. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese and cook uncovered until bottom is browned, cheese melted, and potatoes cooked through.
Remove from skillet and sprinkle with salt if desired. So good.