My friend Janice, a wonderful human being, for some years has been inviting me to her family’s Christmas Eve dinner. Janice’s mother is Polish and has passed along the traditions of the day to her two daughters. The three now work together to prepare the Christmas Eve feast. It’s a labor-intensive task made enjoyable by family working together on a project both festive and significant. We guests can only be thankful for their efforts and the consequences - a marvelous meal, totally delicious, totally satisfying and sweetly seasoned with the warmth of friendship.
Christmas Eve is a time of tradition. This year, Janice kept some of the traditions from Poland, but altered or eliminated some. It is a Polish tradition to set the table with straw and to leave an empty place setting in case someone with no place else to go should show up. Some of Janice’s guests, including me, do not have family gatherings to attend so, in effect, Janice is upholding that tradition.
Janice’s grandmother is the origin of another tradition. She crocheted small green wreaths to be worn as pins and gave one to each family member to wear on Christmas Eve.
Yet another tradition was modified by Covid. An elder of the family would give a brief talk memorializing those who had passed in the past year. Then, each guest would receive a wafer, an unconsecrated host, to share with others along with hugs and kisses and well wishes. But, with so many guests from several different households, all of whom had attended other holiday gatherings, Covid could spread easily, so this tradition had to be discontinued. One more loss from Covid. In years past, the warm feelings generated by this observance certainly contributed to the charm and cheer of Christmas.
The culinary side of this celebration started with a fabulous array of appetizers, followed by the main course of (mostly) traditional Polish dishes and dessert. Janice still has recipes hand written by her mother that they use to prepare the feast.
Is there anything so festive as a cocktail table laden with an array of attractive appetizers? Veni, vidi, voravi - I came, I saw, I devoured. Really - how delightful to enter, see the table covered with enticing foods and dig in. As the photo shows, guests were treated to a bunch of beautiful preparations that were as marvelous in the mouth as they were to the eye. All washed down with Champagne.
Cheeses: A California goat’s milk cheese with ash streak and a sheep’s milk cheese with truffles.
Smoked salmon with three dips
Sweet potato balls with chipotle sauce and organic micro greens
Endive filled with crab topped with paprika and mayo
Assorted crackers, olives, etc.
The Main Course
Janice always sets a beautiful table. There is lovely dinnerware and crystal set off by Christmas greenery, colorful tangerines and handsome amaryllis.
The main part of this feast started with scrumptious shrimp, pleasingly crunchy thanks to toasted crumbs of asiago-cheese bread. Then the pierogis, some stuffed with potatoes, some with cheese. I was truly impressed with the silky dough, a joint enterprise: Doreen, Janice’s sister, buys the flour and prepares the dough, Janice kneads and kneads it and Mom supervises. Both cheese and potato pierogis were delicious and I have a hard time deciding which I adore more. But, as a cheese addict, if I can find room for one more, it will be the cheese. The mushrooms, as always, were just marvelous. The preparation brings out the complex, earthy flavors in a dish that looks dense and chewy but virtually melts in your mouth. The carrots (not traditional) and stuffed cabbage were quite tasty. As for wines - your choice of white or red, both excellent.
Shrimp coated with crumbs from asiago cheese bread
Dried bolete mushrooms with cabbage
Carrots with roasted Brussels sprouts
After stuffing ourselves with all those delectable dishes, we took a break to move around a bit and chat some more with everyone, a strategy devilishly designed to make room for the sweet things to come. Doreen made the struffoli, an Italian dessert invoking their Italian father. Chocolates and cookies rounded out the sweet end of the feast.
Struffoli (honey balls)
Coffee, of course, to send us on our way.