A Feast of Friends

Christmas is a lot of different things to different people — a celebration of the birth of Jesus for Christians and Catholics around the world, an orgy of consumerism for most Americans, a reason to eat Chinese food and go to the movies for Jews.

Der Weihnachten eve

Der Weihnachten eve

For me, like most holidays, it’s about food, family and friends. We had my wife’s family for dinner and presents Christmas eve, a tradition of theirs, celebrated this year at our house. I had enough to prepare for between Christmas dinner and our annual New Year’s Eve dinner, and might’ve done a stew or chili. But opted instead for a German dinner — homebaked rye bread, potato pancakes, house-fermented sauerkraut, spaetzle with roasted matsutake mushrooms and duck cracklings, duck confit, pan-grilled bratwurst and crispy duck breasts, paired nicely with a Swiss cheese fondue my sister-in-law, Laina, had made.

And so after playing Santa and sleeping off the Weihnachten Deutschfeast, it was time to get on with Christmas dinner.

Christmas morning, 9:27 a.m.:

We’re done with the opening of gifts. I’m having potato chips and hazelnut chocolate croissant leftover from our favorite bakery and coffee spot in San Francisco, La Boulange, for breakfast, tearing Dungeness crabs apart with my bare hands. Soon, the shells are tumbling in rolling water, on their way to becoming a crab bisque we will eat in the coming days.

Don’t throw those crab shells away. They’ve got a lot of flavor in ’em.

10:07 a.m.:

I’m making sticky toffee pudding, listening to my friend Tim O’Gara on iTunes and drinking Guinness (after all, the recipe called for a cup of Guinness, and I couldn’t let the rest of the pint go to waste). Dipping the wooden spoon into the Guinness-boiled dates, I realize I had no idea how good Guinness and dates taste together. I’d have done this much sooner.

12:41 p.m.:

A bit of Harry Potter Wii with the boy. The Guinness tasted so right that I moved on to a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Cracking crab, unwrapping aging meat, mixing sugar and butter… On the menu, duck and matsutake soup, garlic butter crab, rib roasts (to be cooked as thick rib steaks on the grill — it is Southern California after all), arugula salad with candied walnuts and duck cracklings, sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce.

2:37 p.m.:

Ryan Adams on the stereo; all prep work done. Ninety minutes until a handful of guests arrive, neighbors and near-family. Time for another Celebration Ale?

Oysters, lamenting their unfortunate Christmas demise

Oysters, lamenting their unfortunate Christmas demise

5:11 p.m.:

Friends are here. Don has shucked oysters, I put out leftover Icelandic rye bread with chocolate stout cheese, wine glasses are filling.

We pull the leaves from the hidden middle of the table so we can seat 13 — seven adults, six kids — and the table is set with large platters of steak, crab, salad and pal Ernie’s turkey roll up — breaking my usual form, served family style. It is simple, delicious food. It is a communion, celebrating love and sacrifice, thankfulness and humility.

The holiday table

The holiday table

9:39 p.m.:

The guests are gone. I write a few last words before retiring to bed. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pal Ernie
    Dec 26, 2014 @ 06:48:14

    first comment……Good Night

    Reply

  2. Benjamin Thompson
    Dec 26, 2014 @ 14:05:22

    Sounds less eventful than last year. Traditional Prime Rib Dinner here, nothing really of note except that I actually made my own creme fraiche, delightfully easy to do, and used Robuchon’s recipe for mashers–an awesome ration of 2lb. butter:1lb. butter with heavy cream as needed. I resisted the siren song of adding roasted garlic and kept it all quite British with some parsley added and Popovers for the dinner rolls. No dessert. There was about a hundred cookies, dark chocolate truffles, and cherry, almond white chocolate bark. Bottles of Bordeaux were recycled before the horror of counting the empties.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Dec 26, 2014 @ 16:31:34

      Ah, the terror of the empties. “Look away!!!” My grilled rib steaks were my take on prime rib, which always troubles me because my favorite part — the marbled deckle — gets overcooked. Those potatoes sound better than ice cream — especially with the popovers! Happy holidays to you my friend!

      Reply

  3. Benjamin Thompson
    Dec 26, 2014 @ 14:06:11

    Sorry, obviously meant 2lb. potatoes:1lb. butter!

    Reply

  4. "Cheffie Cooks"
    Dec 26, 2014 @ 15:41:44

    Happy New Year! Cheryl

    Reply

  5. sabine
    Dec 26, 2014 @ 16:23:21

    Like the German touch of your menu – my grandmother would store a huge pot of home made sauerkraut in our cellar, how I´d love to have that now! But back then when I was a little girl, I have to admit that was sort of a repelling sight and smell for me (to the very day, I don´t know a kid in love with sauerkraut, maybe you do). Happy, blissful holidays!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Dec 26, 2014 @ 16:28:43

      LOL. My son was eyeing the crock on the counter suspiciously. “Dad, what’s THAT??” he said. I told him it was sauerkraut. He said, “Why is it bubbling?” I said because it was fermenting. They still have scars from the time I made kim chee, which during its first night fermenting escaped its giant jar and made the whole kitchen look like a bloody crime scene. Happiest of holidays to you, Sabine. 🙂

      Reply

  6. Michelle
    Dec 28, 2014 @ 15:47:17

    Looks like a great day. And how clever of you to start that pudding in the morning. 😉

    Reply

  7. Jessamine in PDX
    Dec 28, 2014 @ 20:00:43

    I’m feeling like I should have bought a ticket to SoCal and stayed with you this Christmas! 😉 We had a pretty mellow family feast, traditional but very tasty, but nowhere near the delights of duck cracklings and fresh crab. Love that you went a German route for Christmas Eve. As Swedes, we celebrate that night as well with a full-on smorgasbord (pickled herring and the like). Next year I may take the path of the Jewish folks though — there’s something to be said for the ease of Chinese food and a movie. No clean up required!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Dec 28, 2014 @ 20:16:45

      I’m with you on Chinese next time — especially since I’ve been on a Szechuan kick lately and decided 2015 may be the year I try to master the dragon and perfect my Chinese chops. Saw a segment on Nicky on a PBS cooking show yesterday, incl. the cheerful owner guy, and that made me happy for a year of tasty meats ahead.

      Reply

  8. writerspilecki
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 15:22:43

    Food sounds great. But you either mean Christians period, or you mean Protestants and Catholics.

    Reply

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