A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Food Traditions

This reprint of an older Slate article is right in one way: because there's no single Christmas meal tradition in this country, one never knows what to expect from someone else's Christmas dinner. But unlike the author of the article, I think it's wonderful. People save their old, old, traditional family recipes for the holidays, which keeps ethnic foods part of America but not part of mass culture. If not for Christmas, would I have grown up regularly eating Swedish and Norwegian food, except at the odd family reunion? And all my best friend's Hanukkah dinners I went to in high school -- where else in America do you get to eat food like that? I've never seen a restaurant with Manischewitz on the wine list. That kind of food stays around because of the winter holidays.

Still, I love Swedish meatballs, but not enough to make them for the non-Scandinavian Lawson and nobody else (we usually spend Christmas Day alone together). And I'm not going to make lutefisk, even if I could even find a source in South Carolina. But one needs a dramatic central item for a meal as important as Christmas dinner. So I have thrown myself into what is sort of but not completely a family tradition: tamales. Because of all the time our family has spent living in the Southwest, they seem traditional, even though we're not Mexican or Central American. They're festive and warming and delicious; and they're pretty laborious, so I wouldn't want to make them just anytime. They remind me of home. And if I make a huge batch I can freeze them and we can have a few tamale meals later in the year.

I'll document the tamale-making on Sunday.

I'm writing about future food, not food already prepared, because I've been busy and a little stressed out and forgetting to take meal pictures. Last night we had Thai takeout. The night before that, quesadillas and roasted sweet potatoes. Before that Lawson made these awesome giant square rice noodles with stir-fried beef. So we're surviving just fine. And now that I've got some time off work, I can get back to writing here a lot more.


Sarah said...

After spending Christmas in Tuscon with Russell a couple years ago, I adopted your family tradition of Tamales for Christmas. I spent way to many hours today making somewhere around 60 of them for a big dinner on Tuesday. They are labor intensive, but oh so much fun to open after they are done!

Kris said...

Hi, Sarah! I'm glad to hear you are still enjoying tamales--and even making them. We had some at a party last night (the green corn ones were a little too sweet) and we have some in the freezer ready for tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!

Eva said...

Hey, Sarah -- great to hear from you! Hope your Christmas tamale dinner was perfect.