Friday, January 4, 2008

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (PART III): CHRISTMAS DINNER AT HOME

The next few days at home were spent restaurant-less, as we started to buckle-down and get serious about the food prep for our family Christmas dinner. This year we were having the usual family members join us. Long gone are the times when mom and dad would invite family, extended family, and friends from every nook and cranny of the universe to our humble home for Christmas dinner. Those days were simply crazy. The house would be packed like a clown house, yet the food over-flowed. I will never understand how or why my parents were able to pull that off each year. Anyway – since I graduated from college, the Christmas dinners have been much simpler: less guests and less food prep. It’s only fitting since my parents are getting older.

Sunday morning, my parents and I headed to the Commissary at Andrews Air Force Base. I was straight-up excited because I hadn’t been to the Commissary in years. It brought back sweet childhood memories of those long Summer days when mom would come home from work and tote my siblings and I to the Commissary or the BX to pick-up groceries, or to go shopping. The prices on base were always significantly cheaper than Safeway or Giant, so it was pretty much a “must” to go there for groceries. My mind swept through my years of memories, and the sights and sounds – although quite different – were still, in a weird way, very much the same. The usual run-ins with old family friends also took place; everyone had the same idea as we did. Since I decided to prepare some dishes for the dinner, I also picked-up some groceries to add to mom’s crop. I decided to go with appetizers, and I bought the ingredients to make red bell pepper & Boursin tartlets, a smoked salmon plate, and in Italian sausage & fennel bread pudding. On top of those, I opted to include a dessert: a “sticky bun” bread pudding made with day-old challah bread. My mom had her own menu – made up of some of her timeless holiday classics: roast beef, honey-glazed ham, pancit bihon, kare-kare, meatballs, and a number of other dishes that are usually served during Christmas. Unfortunately, the Commissary didn’t carry some of the more “interesting,” as mom would call them, items that I was looking for: puff pasty, challah bread, and fennel among other stuff. We would make our way to a couple of other stores, including some random international grocery store that mom found somewhere in the back-end of Oxon Hill, before finally heading home. Later on that evening, I drove off – in the rain – to Alexandria, VA to stop-in at Whole Foods to find my missing ingredients. As suspected, I found everything there. I then took some time to finish off more Christmas shopping at Barnes & Noble.

The morning of Christmas Eve was dedicated to food prep… at least for my mom. As usual, she was up early to start the chopping, the braising, the cleaning and everything else that goes along. I still had a couple more Christmas gifts to get, so I borrowed dad’s car to go out. (Actually, my real reason for wanting to go out was to find a Caribou Coffee so that I could get a fix… ahahah…) I drove to Clarendon and found my final gifts at Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble (again), and Harris Teeter (for wine). I also found Caribou Coffee, and got my fix – much to my elation.

When I got home, mom and dad were preparing to have lunch. I was pretty vocal about my craving for wings and mumbo sauce, and mom was quick to make the call to the local Chinese take-out. After placing the order, and getting off the phone, mom broke the news to me: the wings had to be picked-up. I was slightly frantic because #1) I would’ve rather had the wings/sauce delivered (but apparently our order was under the minimum purchase amount for delivery), and #2) I was nervous about going to Yummy Yummy for fear that I’d run into someone. I just wasn’t feeling social, and I was cranky after running around town on a mission. But my craving for the wings outweighed any anxiety, so I was off. Those people who aren’t familiar with the chicken wings and mumbo sauce that can be found in the DC area are missing out. Well, I know a couple of people who aren’t fans, but those types are few and far between. I, for one, am an avid enthusiast. The wings are deep-fried golden, and are the size of what I imagine “do-do birds” to be. The wings are huge –as in seriously laced with steroids. And the mumbo sauce is a cross between BBQ and seafood sauce with a hint of hot sauce or something. I’ve tried looking on-line for the origins of mumbo sauce, but can’t seem to find a conclusive answer. Eh, but yum. It made my lunch.

After the Christmas vigil service later that evening, I began the prep for my contributions to the family dinner. I chopped up veggies, thawed out the puff pastry sheets, and I actually made the Italian sausage & fennel bread pudding – which turned out OK. It smelled great, but was missing something. I couldn’t point my finger on it.

At around midnight, we coaxed Lexie to go to bed before Santa skipped out on our house (ahaha), and the adults exchanged Christmas gifts. The next morning, Lexie woke-up excited as ever to see what Santa had brought her. She got many things that left her smile growing bigger and bigger with each gift. As she played with her new toys, mom, dad and I continued with the food prep. I began working on the red bell pepper tartlets by spreading softened Boursin cheese over the puff pastry. I then sautéed the bell pepper slices, and spread them over the pastry shell as well. I popped it in the oven, and let it bake. I then began to prep the salmon plate by mixing dill with sour cream, and spreading the smoked salmon, chopped shallots, and capers on a serving dish. It was the easiest dish of the bunch. When those were complete, I put together all the ingredients for the “sticky bun” bread pudding, and threw that into the oven as well.

The guests started to trickle-in, and everyone, of course, marveled at mom’s spread. My additions added some new flavor to the mix although my cousin-in-law thought them to be a little too “bougie” for her tastes. Whatever. Those who have a taste for smoked salmon enjoyed that spread. The red bell pepper tartlets were a hit, and were gone before the end of the night. Likewise, the “sticky bun” bread pudding garnered rave reviews. One thing I know is for sure – I will definitely not be making that Italian sausage and fennel bread pudding again. It’s not that it was gross, but it just didn’t have as much of a “yum” factor as I had expected. I actually had to drizzle gravy from the roast beef on the bread pudding to give it more of a kick, and it helped a little.

As usual, we all eased through the night with good food, great conversations, and fun company. It was great to hang out with the fam-bam and play “catch-up.” Likewise, it was even better to have time to play with all of the kids! The kids are growing way too fast. All in all, Christmas dinner was in many ways the same old, same old –but fresh and new at the same time. It was definitely one for the books.

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Coming soon… Home for the Holidays (Part IV): New York, New York!

2 comments:

*live said...

i know you didn't put mumbo sauce as one of your labels. that and "do-do wings" in your post. i can give you my dad's recipe for mumbo sauce - it's been approved my various dc locals. truth be told, i don't like it very much... would prefer the bougie food!

Cookie Everman said...

All this talk about food is making me HUNGRY! Hope the Year of the Rat is going well for you so far.

X0, Ats