Christmas

mccrestaurantChristmas 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.

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coconutstarBaking 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.

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ImageWhen our Mother was diagnosed with cancer many years ago, once we regained our balance, my sister and I plotted and planned how we would make that Christmas, her last, be the best Christmas of her life. That being such a bold plan where else could we spend that bittersweet holiday but in the countryside of France and where else but in the festive Champagne region? This was our present to our Mother and we wanted it to be grand. The night before we were to leave Maine we opened up a bottle of her favorite Champagne and handed her a glass with an envelope. Tears poured down her cheeks as she viewed the tickets to Paris, her favorite destination in the whole world with her two daughters. We promised her that she would drink Champagne everyday, but that is all we revealed of our surprise dream Christmas together.

The next day we headed to Boston in a thick snow storm leaving behind our hopelessness and entering into a happy, magical fantasy for the next 10 days. No doctors, no treatments, no stress or sadness gnawing at our bones – just great food, champagne, and love in copious amounts. Having made the reservations so close to our departure the four of us were forced to sit in pairs. My mother and sister were seated ten rows ahead of me and my boyfriend. The noise level on the plane grew louder with laughter in the rows ahead of us. I mentioned to the flight attendant that she sure had a wild crowd to tend to that night. She laughed briefly and rolled her eyes. After an hour I headed up the aisle to check on my mother and sister, to my delight and horror they were the source of all the loud laughter fueled by too many glasses of Champagne. The plan for her to relax and enjoy herself again was working already.

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pizzelle1.jpgMy grandmother, Nan, loved to receive shirt boxes at Christmas every year. Not shirts, just the boxes. After Christmas, my mom and I would bring them over her house, where she would stack them in a closet, then insist we sit down at the kitchen table and have something to eat.

Wondering what she did with all those boxes? She used them store her pizzelle cookies. She needed a lot of boxes because she made a lot of pizzelles – for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. It's not just my grandmother, all Italians enjoy them for celebrations.

Pizzelles are round Italian waffle-like cookies made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and are typically flavored with anise or vanilla. The name pizzelle comes from the Italian pizze, meaning "flat" or "round."

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mainesnow.jpgHere in Maine we await a "super storm" that is huge and rushing across the United States, or so they say. Six to twelve inches of snow, turning to freezing rain with high winds.  Sounds  like Winter weather in Maine, not too unusual. It isn't the size of the storm it's what you find to make it fun that counts and I have a plan to enjoy it!  In between plowing I will be making our Mother's tortiere pies and perhaps having a slice for lunch and another with a pot of hot tea in the afternoon to warm up.

What is tortiere pie? To my family it is a ground pork and beef pie flavored with chopped onions, spices and thickened with mashed Maine potatoes then put into a double butter crust. I said my family, the Gagne family, my Mother's recipe, made the same way for at least 5 generations. It isn't like the Belanger's who add no beef just pork, a totally different spice mixture and a Crisco crust or the Bourassa family that adds small chunks of pork instead of ground pork, they add no potatoes, quatre spice and a lard pastry crust.

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