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What’s for Christmas Dinner?

Posted by on Dec 22, 2009 in BLOG, Christmas, culture, family | One Comment

I must start with an apology to my readers – Last post, I said that this entry was going to be about my grandmother (Lola Elen)’s favorite holiday recipes. This proved to be a no-go, mainly because my lola, who opens a seasonal catering business for the holidays, literally keeps her recipes under lock and key. Where she keeps that key I don’t even want to surmise. I asked an aunt what the chances were that she would allow her generations-old family recipes to be shared with all and sundry on my blog, and in true Web 2.0 fashion got the following response: LOL.

I’ve seen her culinary magic unfolding for countless years throughout my childhood, but the sheer number and variety of ingredients in her dishes is enough to confuse even the most photographic of memories. There are 6 different kinds of protein in her Chicken Relleno alone, not to mention the process of deboning, re-stuffing, baking, and basting said bird til it resembles not so much a chicken as it does a delicious, chicken-shaped Macy’s Thanksgiving baloon.

Chicken Relleno, you ask? Whatever happened to ham for Christmas?

It’s no surprise to any reader that people have different Holiday meal traditions. Each Christmas dinner is an amalgam of seasonality, family history, culture, and occasional competitiveness between different branches of the family.

Growing up in a family of food nuts, Christmas dinner for me was almost a sporting affair.  Around the pre-requisite lechon (whole roast pig), my grandmother and her sisters pitted their most scrumptious concoctions. Tita Cita volleyed with a killer potato salad, paella and lengua (ox tongue in mushroom sauce). My lola – with “volunteer” labor from her daughters and granddaughter – answered back with the aforementioned chicken relleno, cold prawn salad and hand-made fettuccine with garlic sauce. Tita Chit then threw down an unbelievable mango tart, sago gula melaka (a Singaporean dish made with tapioca pearls, and a coconut-molasses sauce) and finished it off with dreamy, crunchy, creamy Silvanas. All the best recipes from Europe and Asia, with a Filipino twist, down the hatch and into another year’s photo album.

These days my Christmas dinners are a wee bit lighter, though they’re spiced up by my fiance’s South American roots. In Oregon, where we share Yule with his family, my fiance’s grandmother whips up her own traditional food from her hometown (Moyobamba) in Peru. In addition to fat-kid-making lasagna, we also have juanes (chicken, mixed with minced meat, spices and rice, steamed in a banana leaf), papas ala huancaina (steamed potato with a bread and nut sauce), and an out of this world seco de cordero, or lamb stew.

I’m excited for the day that all these dishes, gleaned from generations of cooks and from all corners of the globe, will one day come together at my own family’s Holiday meal. My future kids will bitch and moan about having to prepare them, but I can regale them with stories of my own childhood, whining about the 12 recipes of pasta I had to crank out by hand before I went out to play, or the eggs I had to stick up countless deflated chicken butts to help make the catering schedule. And complain as they will, they won’t be able to resist digging into their Filipino, Peruvian, Italian, Singaporean Christmas feast. Hell, maybe we’ll throw in a good old American Ham in there, just to take it up a notch.

What’s for dinner on Christmas?  Family, tradition, and love. I wish that for all of you this holiday.

Now tell me what’s on YOUR table!

1 Comment

  1. Melissa
    December 23, 2009

    For my family, it is less about the dinner and more about the desserts/treats. Persimmon cookies are always at the top of my list but oddly enough, my Grandma's fruit cake is pretty amazing. No kidding. The booze never really bakes out of it all the way so it is wonderfully spicy and boozy and delish!!! I can't wait to get home and devour all of the sweet treats my family has made.

    Happy Holidays!