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Friday, December 21, 2007

My Least Favorite Holiday

What's a seafood hater to do?

It's tough to grow up in an Italian family and have to deal with Christmas Eve when you just can't stomach seafood.

Is there any seafood I can tolerate? Sure. I can eat tunafish out of a can if it's very cold and covered in condiments. I can handle fried clams (you can fry your shoe and it will taste good). I have tried (and the emphasis is on tried) to handle foods with anchovies mixed in. Just because I can tolerate it doesn't mean that I enjoy it.

Growing up my maternal grandmother was the worst. She wasn't much of a cook to begin with. (The cooking, including the Italian cooking, was done by my Irish grandfather believe it or not. It was he, and not my grandmother who gleaned the wisdom of my Italian great-grandmother's old-school cooking.) Despite her lack of skill in this department, she would often commandeer the menu on Christmas Eve. She had it in her head that it HAD TO BE ALL FISH. She took it almost as religion. My brother tells me when my great-grandmother was still alive that she would often make other meatless dishes like homemade manicotti. My grandmother felt that since 7 fishes weren't practical for her to cook or for my family to eat in one night, whatever was on the table had to be fishy. She would make pasta, but it would be her mother's version of spaghetti aglia e olio. (My grandmother was born in the US and learned to speak Italian through her native-born parents and grandparents, who were uneducated Napoletani. Grandma always called it something like, "A-ya OI") It didn't just contain garlic and oil though. It contained anchovies. Grandma made me eat it because I could manage to choke it down. She also made tuna salad just for me -cold and covered in mayo, onions, and relish. Since she made it just for me, I was required to eat it.

Grandma was definitely weird about the fish. I can still remember how during Lent she felt that no meat on Friday meant I had to have fish on Friday. She would feed me a tuna sandwich. I don't know why I couldn't just have some meatless pasta.

After many years of spending Christmas with my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandmother began complaining that I never spent Christmas with her. (Dad tended to oraganize the holidays for his side of the family and they tended to be post-Christmas celebrations.) I said, "Let's start a new tradition. We'll have Christmas Eve with you and Christmas day with Grandma Callahan." She loved the idea.

Grandma Tess is a Italian and she's a traditionalist, but she was never one to believe she would go to Hell for breaking tradition. She is also one who HATES to see me not eat. That woman would swallow Drano before she served me a meal of things I could barely tolerate a few bites of. She loves seeing people eat lots and lots and lots of food. Christmas Eve at her house did indeed consist of fish, fish, fish, fish, and fish, but there was also pasta and even CHICKEN.

Grandma Carol has passed away and Grandma Tess is over 90 and living in a nursing home in quite poor health, so Christmas at Grandma's is a thing of the past. The grandchildren have been taking on more of the holiday responsibility these days. My brother is doing Christmas Eve this year (and the entire family is coming just like they did at my place on Thanksgiving) with everyone taking Christmas off. (Have no fear, Kevin and I were invited for dinner at the home of some close friends of his family.)

My brother has assured me that he will not make me eat fish on Christmas Eve. I'm curious to see what he will serve. My brother is a good cook (and quite the grillmaster) and shares my sense of adventure in the kitchen. My sister-in-law is even better. She's an aspiring pastry chef (she has her eye on the French Culinary Institute, which she hopes to attend once both the kids are in school) and her Colombian roots means she makes some pretty fantastic Latin specialites. Her empanadas are to die for. I know dessert will be my domain though. I've already been requested to make another one of those chocolate cream pies I made for Thanksgiving.

Hmmmm...I wonder if she'll make empanadas for Christmas Eve.

I hope they're not fish empanadas.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I love those stories about your grandmothers. EVERYONE has grandmothers that can cook. It's much better to hear about the ones that couldn't, and as for a grandfather cooking, that's just radical...I love that Grandma Callahan served you tuna salad for dinner...covered with relish? I still remember the pot cheese my grandmother always had in her refrigerator. I never touched it, but it looked gross. Luckily her maid, (that's what she called her) Norma, was a sensational Southern cook and we had HER food when we went over. She was my first culinary role model. She used to show me how to make pastry.

Anyway, you're lucky like I am and don't have to share Christmas with in-laws. That's the number one reason to marry a Jewish guy. it makes Christmas blissful compared to folks that have to fight about it.

Merry Christmas! Have a really great one. It sounds like your Christmas dinner will be interesting as well as delicious. Tell us about it.