Traditions find their humble origins in an empty plate, never safe from the reach of change. The yuletide feast observed by my family sets off early in December a manic quest for that untasted delicacy that is to be the star of our annual Christmas party. Determined not to be upstaged by Mum’s expertise garnered from many years in the kitchen, I deviated from last year’s special glazed ham to flavours closer to home, realising with a twitch of the lip that holiday preparations can indeed blur the line between cooperation and competition.
The dining room clouded with the air of Yule as mum and I conjured new twists on our classic pies. Instead of the appointed shepherd’s pie, Mum delivered a ‘fisherman’s catch’: a delicate puff pastry brimming with a textured mix of mussels, salmon chunks, scallops and prawns, topped with a generous splash of jus de mer. Not to be outdone, I set forth my trademark earthy-sweet pumpkin pie turned snow fight tableaux, specially made for the tiny tots in attendance. By the time, Mum had her second pie serving, white flags were raised, a truce in place. Dad had no qualms taste-testing our trial runs pictured here, his valuable contribution to ensure a landslide victory on the night. He had but one request, “Where’s Grandma’s signature apple macaroni salad?”, which we gladly indulged. The only deviation from our traditional menu is the Italian panna cotta, beaming with green and red trimmings in the hues of the season’s cheer.
Poised for an evening of entertainment, Mum and I shared the role of the generous hostess. I peddled the tapestry of hors d’oeuvres from friend to relative, enjoying the bright faces which shone at the abundance of antipasti: sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms and, Mum swears by this – French Camembert. You can guess all too well the drinks I served (find them here) our guests while Mum ladled out the camembert stuffed figs with honey, establishing that the delicate cheese is no one-trick-pony. To each partygoer, I advised; accommodate a little extra pecan sprinkled on top, for in any celebration there can be no room for regrets or apologies, only extra servings.
No matter how we resist it, our family’s Christmas customs will never be impervious to transition. For an uninterrupted nineteen year streak, Mum solely bore the responsibility for the Christmas feast. This year, I slowly encroached into her familiar territory, apprehensive yes, but a welcome change in the kitchen’s landscape. I can only hope this is a forerunner to what is yet to come this year. After all the celebrations, my eyes stared back at me from the last china I wiped dry. Then and there, I found myself facing 2013 where I previously started, a bare plate, sparkling, inviting to be filled.