I can't speak for the other members of my family, but Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. It is the one meal, the one gathering, the one event that I look forward to. Every day of my life.
And it is an event. We sit down to dinner together at around four o'clock in the afternoon usually; it's rare that anybody gets up from the table before nine.
We are a tightly knit group, this family of ours. There is Aunt Anna and Aunt Rita, Cousins Josephine and Frank and Alec and Joanna and Joanie. Brother Joe is on hand, of course, and the missus and me.
You have heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes? It is a Christmas Eve tradition, thought to have its roots (like my family) in Southern Italy. The meatless meal consists of seven different seafood types, though I have never met anybody who is strict on this point. We certainly aren't. I did a loose count of last year's Feast and came up with 10 different species on the table.
I had been planning to post this greeting straight from the Christmas Eve dinner table, but an illness is looking like it will cause me to miss the trip back home this year. I have been trying to remember the last Christmas Eve that I did not spend with the family. I can't. That's good, I guess. But it makes not being there this year all the harder. And not just because of all the great chow I'm missing out on.
Speaking of great chow, here are some scenes from last year's Christmas Eve festa. It's the best I could manage under the circumstances.
Anna's baked clams. I don't know how, but they get better every year. (Which would mean that I am missing out on the best baked clams ever, no?)
All our meals have a pasta course, and on the Eve it's Rita's choice. (Last year she went with a marinara, but often it's garlic and hazelnuts.)
Rita's (and now Joanie's) fried shrimp. I'm not a big shrimp eater, but these just kill me. I probably down 10 of them during dinner, and they're huge. (There are usually two or three platters just like this one around.)
If there is a centerpiece dish on the Eve, this is it. Anna's seafood salad, with lobster, calamari, scungilli, octopus and shrimp. (The sliced olives were a new addition last year.)
Baccala (salt cod), a must-have dish, and usually prepared two ways; baked here. (My favorite.)
And the baccala salad. (Also very good.)
Mussels steamed in wine, and (back by popular demand in '09) stuffed calamari. (Broccoli is the only vegetable that is ever on the Christmas Eve dinner table, by the way, though none of us knows why.)
Stewed eel. (Yes, we all eat it.)
And baked lobster. (This has always seemed like overkill to me, but I do mange to find room for a taste.)
Merry Christmas everybody!