Monday, December 18, 2006

Making Christmas Eve ...

This morning, my mom called to talk about Jell-O.

This year for Christmas Eve dinner, she asked everyone in the family what they'd like. Our meal will be an amalgam of everyone's tastes.

So mom was calling to tell me that my brother Brian asked for Jell-O. Specifically, a Jell-O my mom always used to make that's orange Jell-O and diced canned peaches folded into freshly whipped cream. Chilled, it's fluffy pastel orange Jell-O with pieces of peaches inside. She also used to make a version with lime Jell-O and pears. That's my favorite. But I didn't ask her to make it this year. The menu is already out of control.

I put in a request for chip and dip, Swedish meatballs, and onion tart. Chip and dip was a staple of my childhood Christmases. We had a special chip and dip set, a large green bowl for the chips and a smaller green bowl for the dip that hung over the bowl of chips in a metal hanger. (A quick search on eBay didn't yield a picture of our actual set, but this is a pretty good representation, if not the right style and color.) I've always been a fan of simple flavors. The dip comprises sour cream, cream cheese, and grated onion (onion mush, basically). It is heart-stoppingly delicious. Mom said she's only making a little bit of dip. That's fine, I told her. I only want two or three chips. I just need to taste that bit of my childhood again.

When I think of Christmas Eve, my mind wanders back to our Christmas Eve parties when I was young. I remember that time before all the guests arrived when mom had finally commanded control of the kitchen and everything was ready to go. And I would clop down the stairs to the basement, my dad's domain, and revel in the quiet atmosphere that would soon be abuzz with our extended family. Dad would be behind the bar, finishing his preparations. The Christmas albums would be stacked up on the turntable in the closet, with one already playing to set the mood. The red Christmas lights underneath the bar cast a glow to the whole room. There was a red pillar candle in a black iron holder in the center of the bar. Dishes of nuts were spaced evenly down the stretch. I'd hop up on a bar stool and dad would make me a Kiddie Cocktail. (We never called them Shirley Temples. I loved maraschino cherries. Still do.) I felt very grown up.

Then the doorbell would ring and I'd race upstairs to see who'd arrived. And slowly, the house would fill, and the din would grow. I remember the sharp crack of the pool balls when someone would start a game. It was a small house, but it never felt crowded. Maybe that's because I was smaller then.

And the night would wear on, and it was almost always snowing when people were leaving. And mom would close the front door for the last time and the hush would return to the house. We'd all gather in the living room and sit quietly in front of the tree for a bit until mom and dad shooed us off to bed so they could put out presents. To this day, I don't understand where they kept them all. Their closet wasn't big enough to keep the bounty that showed up on Christmas morning. Half the living room would be filled, presents spilling out from all around the tree.

Ah, but this post is about Christmas Eve. So, as for my additional menu requests: I'm not Swedish, but I love Swedish meatballs. They have a bit of cinnamon in them. And the onion tart has a bit of nutmeg in it, which pairs well with the caramelized onions.

And, I told mom, we have to have the really tiny sweet pickles in a dish with one of her little appetizer forks to spear them. When I was little, I loved looking for the tiniest sweet pickle in the dish. I was fascinated by how small they were.

My nephew Kyle asked for mock Sliders (that's slang for White Castle hamburgers, for those who don't know). They're made with corned beef and sour cream (almost everything is made with sour cream at this time of year) and onion soup mix, spread on rolls and baked, then topped with hamburger pickles. They taste remarkably like White Castles, only the buns aren't entirely soaked through with grease, as with the original.

My nephew Nick, he of the champagne taste, requested leg of lamb and shrimp. Nick is 12. Nick thinks the next family vacation should be to Barcelona.

Gianna, my niece, concurred with Nick's suggestions. But my sweet-pickle request is a nod to her tastes. She loves them, too.

Sue, my sister-in-law, asked for corn, which is so sweet. Sue loves corn. Sue would probably put corn on her cornflakes in the morning. I'm kidding, of course, but it's exactly what I'd expect her to request. It's one of her favorite things. Corn was one of the vegetables at her and my brother's wedding reception. Mom will make mashed potatoes to go with the leg of lamb and Sue will mix her corn and potatoes together.

I'm not sure if my father requested anything special. But he'll be happy with everything on the menu.

Just to lighten things up a bit, we'll have veggies and dip as a starter. Of course, the dip is made with sour cream, grated onion, and blue cheese. And we'll have a salad with dinner. See? Veggies!

Dessert will be an array of baked goods. Mom and I have been at it for a while now. I finished my baking on Saturday. I didn't count definitively, but given that I made 12 kinds of cookies, and most recipes yield around 48 (some less, some more), and I doubled several of them, tripled others, I'd say there are probably about 700 cookies in my freezer right now. Most will be given away this week, but a stash will remain for our holiday snacking. As if we'll need to snack.

Mom wondered what we should do for Christmas dinner. It'll just be her and me and my dad.

I laughed and said, "Leftovers."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth ... everybody knows that NORWEGIANS make better meatballs than Swedes, any day!

9:49 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, you'll have to make some for me someday. "Norwegian meatballs" isn't a colloquialism I hear in food circles, but everyone knows about Swedish meatballs. But then, I grew up making Serbian food, so what do I know from Nordic ball-shaped meat? : o )

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's because the Swedes have the foodies snowed on their meatballs!

3:57 PM  

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