|Baccala and Christmas Themes // Just a big kid|
December 22, 2002
Being an Italian-American family, our Christmas Eve dinner tradition was to have a seafood feast. No meat allowed. Believe me, it wasn't missed, either....Christmas Eve dinner (which often lasted several hours!), was by far the single most wonderful meal of the year. There was stuffed calamari, and calamari over spaghetti. Lobster fradiavolo; fried smelts (my brother's favorites); four different kinds of fritters: apple, spinach, shrimp, and pineapple; salad (a strange kind: some curly horribly bitter green, stuffed with pignoli, anchovies, and olives, dressed in olive oil and vinegar. i loved the stuffing, hated the green); sometimes clams, or scallops, or another surprise that was on sale at the fish market.
And every Christmas, there was Grandma's baccala salad. Baccala is salted cod. Grandma would soak it for two days, changing the water often. Then she would boil it, cool it, flake it into large chunks, and dress it with lots and lots of fresh lemon juice, flat leaf Italian parsley, fresh garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil.
One Christmas Eve, we passed around the platters, Dad took a helping of baccala, took a taste, and began to choke and splutter.
"MOTHER!", he gasped, "What did you do to the bacccala?!"
Grandma said she'd done what she always done.
"It's terrible", cried Dad. "It tastes like...soap!!"
Sure enough, in the hustle and haste getting everything ready, my grandmother had inadvertently grabbed from the cupboard, not the bottle of olive oil....but rather, the bottle of Octagon dish soap!!!
She never lived that one down. And up until she died, we'd ask her each and every Christmas if she was going to remember to put soap in the baccala.
Another of my favorite traditions, is Dad's "Christmas Themes". Every year he had a theme to the gifts he got for Mom. He'd handmake a beautiful card announcing that year's theme. One year, i remember it was "A Practical Christmas", and he gave her (among other things), a clam shucker. There was a "Blue Christmas", a "Carousel Christmas", there was a "Scandinavian Christmas" a few years ago, when he gave Mom sweaters, a jar of herring, a bottle of Danish vodka, and a cruise through Scandinavia. Dad was always inventive in his gifts, and his themes. It's one of the things i miss about Christmas...it was always as much fun for us, as it was for Mom...and i know Dad loved every minute of planning and surprising her.
When i was old enough, i was pressed into service as Dad's official gift wrapper. (Dad, like most men, is gift wrapping impaired), so i always knew what Mom was getting. "Do you think she'll like it?", he'd asked. And of course, i always knew she would.
Every now and then, Mom and Dad would surprise each other by giving each other the same gift. One year, they each bought a back massager for the other. That was funny.
But the best year, was the year Mom bought Dad a diamond wedding ring. And he bought her a diamond ring guard. They had each shown me what they'd bought....so i was beside myself for weeks before Christmas.
"Do you think Dad will like it?"
"Do you think Mom will be surprised?" Oh, yeah....
Somewhere, there's a photo of the two of them, holding their rings up to the camera, and beaming. Mom, naturally, cried when he gave her the rings. It was one of those enduring, endearing family memories.
i emailed Dad this morning, to ask what this year's theme is.
H and i never did "themes"...though we did give each other back massagers once, a few years ago. But in looking at the gifts i bought for him this year, i accidently did create a theme: i have a couple of baseball gifts, a couple of car-related gifts, and even a computer gift. In short: Boys' Toys.
Now if only i could create a nifty card....i could carry on Dad's tradition, too....(but i think i'll let Grandma's soap in the fish be just a memory...)
At heart, i'm just a big kid.....
It's "Officially", really truly Christmas now.....
i heard "The Chipmunk Song" on the radio!!!!!
*sings along...off key and very loudly*..."me, i want a hoooooooooooooola hooooooop!"
*laughs and dashes off to nosh on strufoli!* Happy!!! Happy!!!!