One of my best memories, one that is worth much more to me than money in the bank, is of Christmas at my Grandfather’s when I was a young girl. My grandfather was a larger than life personage. At least to me. In actuality, he only stood about 5 feet 8 inches, if that. But he had girth. He was first generation American Irish, born of immigrant parents and raised in the Bronx. The term self-made was created for him. After winning a scholarship to Fordham University and then Fordham Law, he went on to become a successful lawyer and New York State senator. He made a fortune, and even without the height, carried himself like a man to the manner born.
He considered the 11 children his wife bore him, part of his fortune as well, and loved each one dearly. Though, my mother, being his first born, in my opinion, was his favorite. I idolized my grandfather. I have little memory of his wife, my grandmother, who died when I was three. I didn’t miss knowing her at all because for me, he filled the bill. He was everything. Grandfather, Grandmother, Hero and Chief. He stands before me today as clearly as he did all those years ago, in his navy, pinstriped suit, hand on his gold pocket watch, blue eyes twinkling behind rimless eye glasses, a smile inching across his face.
Christmas traditions abound all over the world. For instance, in recent years KFC has become somewhat of a Christmas meal tradition in Japan, mind boggling tidbit that it is. However did you ever wonder how noted chefs and restaurateurs celebrate Christmas? As it is usually their busiest season, with all of the parties and holiday dining, some shine it on and let someone else do the cooking, preferring to lay low and veg out on the couch in front of the tube. Others go the busman’s holiday route, keeping their home fires burning while stirring their pots and aiming those meat thermometers straight into the middle of the roast.
Michael McCarty, the iconic restaurateur, creator/owner of Michael’s in Santa Monica and Michael’s in New York City is definitely your DIY Christmas Traditionalist. He’s the whiz kid/enfant terrible who brashly and boldly opened the Santa Monica restaurant at the ripe young age of 25, and did he ever cause a ruckus! In what has proven over the years to be both his nature and his signature style, even at 25 he had the knowledge, taste, and chutzpah to wake LA and shake it up. He created a glorious outdoor dining patio and interior rooms where diners could look at museum quality art by LA’s top artists including David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses and Robert Graham to name a few. The excellent cuisine, made from the finest, freshest ingredients, was perfectly and elegantly served in this beautiful art filled environment. It may sound like a big reach for one so young, but not for Michael who set himself on this course 35 years ago and hasn’t strayed since.
Infused with the holiday spirit, I’ve found myself putting eggnog-type flavorings in everything lately, including these French crepes I made for breakfast.
They’d be equally good for dessert, perhaps with a dash of rum in the warmed maple syrup on top?
Here’s the recipe, which makes 8 thin crepes:
Happy Holidays! One of our favorite quick appetizers are these Italian Stuffed Mushrooms. They usually show up on the holiday table because they are so easy to make and serve.
You can even throw them together early in the day and bake them off right as guests are arriving.
Having a hot appetizer that is so easy to make is a godsend on party day. I often double the recipe because they disappear so fast.
I hope you have a great day, have to get back to cooking as I am going to be making my Lobster Bisque, it’s just not Christmas without it.
I went to storage and found my mother's recipe for Holiday Fruit Cake. A lot of people think of fruitcake as something to use for a doorstop, but this is not your average fruitcake. It's really delicious.
My mother would make it for the holidays for a handful of people, including Leonard, who loved it and looked forward to it every year.
Here's a scan of it written out in her handwriting as a 2-page pdf (which you can download here). She used a check mark instead of a quotation mark for "same as above", and medium dry cherry should be 'sherry'.)
She usually baked it in round bundt cake type pans with a hole in the middle. Leftover mix would be baked in a normal loaf pan.
Sharon Robinson is a singer, music producer and Grammy winning songwriter, as well as author of "On Tour with Leonard Cohen, photographs by Sharon Robinson" (powerHouse). Sharon’s mother, Mildred Robinson, was a well-known caterer and restauranteur in Beverly Hills during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Sharon's new Album, Caffeine, will be released in early 2015.
When I was a kid growing up in Rhode Island, I never could understand all the fuss some families made about Christmas Day dinner. It always seemed weird to me. After all, who could eat a huge ham or turkey dinner after a gargantuan Christmas Eve feast?
Of course, when I got a little older, I realized that not everyone celebrated the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. I thought that was weird too.
Turns out it's not weird at all. The Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, is celebrated primarily among southern Italians. And Rhode Island, the state with the highest percentage of Italians, is home to many southern Italians.
This centuries-old feast celebrated on Christmas Eve has its roots in Medieval Italy and the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence. When Catholics abstained from meat on holy days, they typically ate fish. Why seven types of fish? Historians believe it may be symbolic of Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments. Why Christmas Eve? Because Catholics would await the stroke of midnight, which was the time for the birth of the baby Jesus. That also explains why so many Italians attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
Of course, it's not always easy staying awake after savoring a seafood dinner of epic proportions. Though most families enjoy classic southern Italian dishes such as fried smelts and linguine with white clam sauce, many families (like my husband's) have their own specialties, such as Gram's stuffed squid in tomato sauce.
Jeff and I have been starving ourselves for the past few days. Well, not actually starving. We did have our morning coffee. Oh, and I sneaked in a couple of double chocolate pomegranate cookies yesterday. But those don't count. I was recipe testing.
Why are we starving ourselves? Because on Christmas Eve night, we will be enjoying a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. That means fried calamari, fried smelts, and crab cakes. Snail salad, bacala (a dried, salted fish), and shrimp cocktail. (Those are just the starters.) Then comes the pasta. Two types of pasta, actually -- one with mixed seafood including shrimp, scallops, and lobster; the other with olive oil, clam sauce, and parsley. Then we'll finish with jumbo stuffed shrimp and garlicky broccoli rabe.
Jeff figures if he can lose enough enough weight to tighten his belt by one notch, then that'll leave him a whole notch-worth of eating on Christmas Eve. Genius.
You might think that we wouldn't eat on Christmas Day. We do. Christmas breakfast or brunch always upstages Christmas dinner because who feels like eating turkey and vegetables after all that seafood? Fruit salad, pancakes, and frittatas are much more appealing. Chances are good that even if you don't celebrate Christmas Eve, you'll have a special Christmas Day breakfast or brunch. So if you're looking for Christmas Day breakfast and brunch ideas, here is one of my favorite recipes.
No wonder I rarely got a tree. It’s just too much work. Going out to buy it. Schlepping it home. Carting it inside. Pine needles everywhere. Finding the box with the decorations in storage. Untangling the lights. Discovering that only some are still working. I’m not that together. I have zero organizational skills. Hey, if magical elves appeared in my home to set up the tree, and I didn’t have to go to the lot or do anything, I would reconsider.
And then, of course, there is the religion factor. To get a tree or not to get a tree. Since half of me is Jewish and the other half vague, it’s easier to just call myself a Jew. A tree never seemed to bother other Jewish families when I was growing up in Beverly Hills. This time of year, everyone became his or her own Hollywood set decorator. Each family outdid the next. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses --only in this case the Jimmy Stewarts.
Lets’ face it a Christmas tree is an indicator of taste. Pink-flocked ones seem a bit “Liberace” to me. But I kind of dig a pink tree. A very close friend growing up lived in a home with wall-to-wall white shag carpeting and lots of gaudy gold-trimmed fixtures. Her prematurely blue-haired mother always matched their blue-flocked Christmas tree. Each year I thought wow, everyone’s trees are getting bigger and bigger. Like bigger is better. They seemed to reach the ceiling in some homes and I would think, okay, we can see you have a big penis.
I was the youngest of five boys, most of them out on their own by the time I have any real Christmas memories. Being the baby of the family, and 8-years-younger than my closest brother, I had a different relationship with my dad than they did. He was an old-fashioned father and my arrival had been quite a surprise (they were hoping for a girl.) My mother passed away when I was five-years-old and my dad was forced to raise my brother Paul and me by himself for a few years before he remarried.
Our lives as a blended family weren't always easy, but Christmas was a time for tradition and like many people we had old ones and new ones. The week after Thanksgiving my dad and I would head out to the local tree lot. We always had a real tree and it had to be a Noble Fir, which has the best branches and spacing for decorations. If Dad was going to pay good money for a tree he wanted as many options as possible and the earlier you went the better the selection. Once we found our perfect tree, up it went onto the roof of our Buick Estate Wagon for the long journey home.
Since we had to wait for everyone to be home to decorate the tree - another immovable tradition - it sat outside in our backyard in a bucket of water so it would stay fresh until the "big night." Sometimes it was Christmas Eve, some years the weekend before. I always wished it was up longer, but the rules were the rules. To set the mood my dad would put on the Firestone Christmas album he got from his local tire dealer every year and then bring down the boxes of ornaments and lights the family had collected.
Baking season is in full swing and it seems that everywhere you turn there are cookies. Everyone loves biting into a sugary Christmas cookie. But I think the best part about cookies is making them yourself, and getting kids and even the adults involved. Baking batches of all different types of cookies is my specialty at Christmas. I bring them to parties at the office and share them with neighbors and friends. I always have some on hand for when people stop by to visit, which can happen quite often during the holidays.
There are so many ways to get involved in the holiday baking fun. Hosting a cookie-baking party is a great way to bring people together. Everyone can decorate their own cookies to eat and take home. Cookie swap parties also have recently become very popular. They offer the opportunity to show off your personal creations and share them with friends. The best part is guests get to go home with a variety of cookies all ready for them to share with their families.
I've never been able to understand why Christmas fruitcake is hated so much. What makes it such a dreaded gift, one that gets passed about or relegated to the back of the fridge? I must say I'm not the biggest fan of the cake, some are rather good, but others are just too dense and way too boozey. But this year for Christmas, I was willing to make a better fruitcake. So when a friend suggested I try making the cake from a recipe she loved just to see if I could possibly love it, I decided to give it a wholehearted try. I usually love other cakes that contain dried fruit, so what could be so bad about fruitcakes? And if they turned out better than expected, I'd have something more traditional to hand out as gifts to my fiends and neighbors.
First, I set myself some ground rules: I would under no circumstances use bright technicolor candied fruit, but instead use naturally dried fruits. And I would not soak the cake in booze and age it for days as most recipes suggest; I would only soak the fruit in booze. I simply don't like a soggy cake and I don't intend to preserve it for years to come, which in the medieval past was the reason why these cakes were so laden with alcohol. I wanted a lighter cake that had the likeness of a good nut bread but with a holiday flair. And I believe I was able to achieve that and more.
I was surprised by the results. The cake was dense but had a nice texture. The dried fruit was very flavorful from my combination of rum, a traditional ingredient, and vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with herbs and spices. The many ground spices also contributed to a fragrance and flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie. For a beautiful cross-sampling of colors, I used dried papaya, cranberries, pineapple, golden raisins, dark raisins, and dates. A bit of crystallized ginger added hot spiciness.
If you’re a mom or dad, you know how hectic it can get around the holidays. You wish there were more hours in a day, your mood is less than jovial and your toddler can feel it. But you don’t want him to get lost in the shuffle; he just wants to be a part of the planning, baking and all the wonderful festivities. Make time for the two of you. Not only is it fun, but a great way to calm down and enjoy the moment.
Here are some fun and easy holiday activities and recipes for you and your toddler to do together:
- Before the holiday begins, go to the library and pick up a few age appropriate holiday books and spend time reading with your child.
- Play holiday music in your home or car. The tunes are catchy and toddlers love to sing along.
- Buy him a holiday activity book. Put on holiday music and ask him to make some special pictures. Then decorate your home with his beautiful pictures!