Two days before Christmas, gingerbread cookies are all frosted, the shortbread cookies are gone, the homemade marshmallows are topping coffee and hot chocolate. The real cooking frenzy is about to begin. The more savory stuff is about to come at a rapid pace.
Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve we will continue a fifty-one year tradition for my family, we will eat what my mother prepared for her first Christmas Eve as a married woman and every year since: pork chops, baked macaroni and cheese, and applesauce and family made fruitcake (We will eat no other fruitcake). I’ve asked her why she chose this meal, her response: “I really didn’t know how to cook anything else!” We usually ate pretty late, because my mom usually didn’t start wrapping presents until that day and the whole house had to be cleaned before the extended family came over on Christmas Day. Around 9:00 PM, we’d sit down to this meal, which really set it apart from the rest of the year, because we usually ate promptly at 5:30 PM.
When I lived alone thousands of miles from my family, I made this meal for myself on Christmas Eve. Visions of feetie jammies, Mario Lanza caroling, and the raw anticipation of a kid on the big night run through my mind as I prepare this meal. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it. This year, my mom took pity on my family and shipped a bottle of her homemade apple sauce for us to eat. Florida can only grow two kinds of apples (I only know of one orchard) and they are ripe in the spring, so making applesauce around here just isn’t practical and the jar stuff from the supermarket leaves much to be desired. We’ll eat our meal knowing that my sisters and my mom will be eating exactly the same meal 1800 miles away.
It’s funny that Christmas Day for us has less in the way of food traditions, growing up we would have roast beef, ham or turkey, with whatever sides we felt like having that year and with assorted pies—always including mincemeat and squash--for dessert. This year, my family will be really non-traditional, we are having chao shi (Chinese roast pork), mien tang (noodles in broth with shitake mushrooms and greens), and eggplant with garlic sauce. We will have pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert (if any are left at that point, hmmmm might need more).