Flowers for Christmas dinner
Jeezie Louisie, I look up from digging myself out from under a pile of papers and computer tasks and find that in nine days we’ll be sitting down to the traditional pumpkin pie breakfast with a heap of wrappings burying the carpet. How the hell did that happen? What happened to the memo cancelling November?
I blame two of the women in my life: my editor, who deliberately chose to drop the proofs onto my desk the week before Thanksgiving, and my daughter, who dawdled overseas instead of coming in the door on December 1st demanding that we set up the Christmas tree. And since the tree is usually the thing that gets me moving (must be the smell that triggers the reaction of Fir tree=shopping impulse) and we’re not getting the tree until Monday (and I just don’t want to think about the Charlie Brown trees that’ll be available then) I’m only now turning my mind to the question of Christmas.
And to the Christmas meals.
The night before Christmas, I like to keep the food light but festive. Some years we’ve done crab or shrimp along with a soup that balances those flavors, but since I don’t much like seafood in general and shellfish in particular, I can now use an excuse a new Jewish family member to remove them from the options. I may take another look at the take-away menu of the Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria (fabulous food, as are Gayle and Joe themselves) so I can join the festive and put off the work.
But for the 25th itself, my family is adamant: Christmas equals turkey. Even if we’ve just managed to get the bones and leftovers out the door from Thanksgiving, we have to have turkey, a form of protein that rivals tofu on the boringometer. Which means that I have taken to playing with all the peripheral elements of the meal. One year I substituted celery root for some of the potatoes in the mashed potatoes. I often start with a small serving of tart crunchy salad (again I often depend on celery root here) balanced by a tiny cup of sweet, rich soup (cream of carrot with a pear tossed in, perhaps, or something with chestnuts) just to set up the taste buds for dinner. And although parsnips are not a part of our traditional family diet (my mother must not have liked them) I often make the yams roasted, tossed in a bag along with some cut up parsnips and a bit of oil and salt, and roasted high after the turkey comes out.
But I’m thinking this year of doing delicata flowers instead.
Delicata squash are one of the gifts of the modern foodie movement, that has brought us arugula and brown mushrooms. They’re small and elongated, the perfect size if you want to split them lengthwise and fill them with anything—sauteed vegetables and ricotta cheese are a favorite here—but the great thing is, the skin is tender enough to eat. So if you choose the delicatas with the most raised ridges to them, and just slice them crosswise, you end up with these very interesting rings. Drop them into a plastic bag with a little olive oil, salt, and whatever spices go with the dinner you have planned—Chinese five spice powder, Mexican chili mix, Moroccan spices or just cinnamon and nutmeg—then roast them in a nice hot oven for twenty minutes or so, turning once on the cookie sheet. Voila: delicata flowers.
Your family won’t even notice the turkey.