A Christmas Menu and Some Food Memories (Brooklyn, Christmas Eve, 2012)

This Christmas Eve the Sabas are in New York seeing the sights before what I hope will be a very relaxed holiday. Today we’re eating out: it’s Balthazar for lunch and then the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station for an evening snack. I don’t think we’ll need much more than that after lunch.

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This is a deviation from our usual Christmas day traditions, which always begin at my childhood home (in Auburn, AL) and then proceed to the grandparents’ (in Columbus, GA). Usually, my grandmother cooks a rib roast. This year, I’m cooking on Christmas and so it isn’t going to be as complex. Here’s my menu that I came up with over the last few days based on what I had, what looked good in my cookbooks and, of course, input from the rest of the family:

Bloody Marys and tortilla española

Duck with turnips and rice (Arròs amb ànec i naps)

Cooked bitter greens

Panettone and coffee

The duck comes via a recipe featured in Canal House Cooking, Volume 2, and in another version on saveur.com. It involves cooking the duck in a casserole with rice and white beans and root vegetables. I love rice-based meat and veg dishes like this. The Panettone comes via the grocery store. I still have an unreasonable fear of baking.

The holidays are of course one of the best times for eating food and remembering past meals. It’s not surprising that two pieces of writing I like to listen to at this time of year involve in depth descriptions of food. One is Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Each year I look forward to hearing Thomas narrating lines describing roast turkeys and gravy, parsnip wine, and “moist and many-colored jellybabies.”

A close second is Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, in which the main character (a young Capote) helps his friend (an older relative) procure the ingredients for fruitcake. Here is just one passage from the very beginning that sticks in one’s mind:

“Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard’s owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl.”

Of course, these stories are not merely about food, but those ingredients and dishes that only come on special occasions serve as anchors for the deeper, more transcendent ideas.

Happy holidays and best wishes to all.

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