Christmas is always over much too fast for me. Days and weeks of preparation and buildup, then whooosh! suddenly everyone seems to be in a headlong rush of after-Christmas sales and getting ready for New Year's Eve. The Christmas moment itself is all too fleeting.
Our usual celebration of Christmas is on Christmas Eve which is my favorite part of Christmas. Perhaps it's because Christmas still lies ahead and Christmas Eve is all anticipation. The world -- my world, I guess -- really does seem to slip into a shimmery, golden cocoon on Christmas Eve. The tree is lit, the house is filled with voices, and outside the light goes from wintery twilight to darkness. My brother-in-law Josh makes martinis, my nieces and nephew exchange presents, my mother flames brandy over the plum pudding. The everyday world seems to fall away and for the space of about twelve hours the world seems like a different place. I suppose it's my imagination but when I walk outside late on Christmas Eve I always notice the stillness; everything seems quieter and more peaceful than at any other time of the year.
Our Christmas routine has evolved into something that doesn't involve a lot of cooking. My extended family gets together on Christmas Eve and I serve a buffet of smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked bluefish, and a sushi platter -- all of which are more about purchasing then preparing. In addition I usually serve mussels, sometimes shrimp and some other finger foods. I always have too much food because part of my Christmas Eve ritual is to panic about 24 hours before hand -- ohmygod, there won't be enough food! -- and then add yet another thing or two or ten to the menu.
Our Christmas day is pretty relaxed. Mike and I usually spend Christmas day eating leftovers -- smoked salmon is my now traditional Christmas breakfast -- although Mike likes to make English muffins with melted Stilton cheese for his breakfast. Sometimes we got to someone else's house, sometimes we don't but we don't do a big Christmas meal ourselves.
This year when I had my ohmygod-there-won't-be-enough-food moment I remembered seeing a recipe for artichoke and spinach dip on Cottage Living's site which I found after reading this post. Because my family is as artichoke-crazed as I am (apparently there's a strong artichoke-love gene among us) I thought it would be the perfect thing. It was delicious and I even had leftovers the next morning along with my leftover smoked salmon. In the general hubbub of the evening I didn't get a picture of the dip and really it's not all that photogenic. But, hey, how about a picture of my mother and the plum pudding instead?
Artichoke and Spinach Dip
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 14-oz cans of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 10-oz package of frozen spinach, cooked
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup breadcrumbs made from soft bread, crusts removed
1 to 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons prepared mustard (I substituted 1 teaspoon dry mustard)
1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped green onions (white and pale green parts only)
Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 1-quart ovenproof dish
2. Saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until they are soft and translucent.
3. In large bowl add onions to remaining ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
4. Put mixture in buttered ovenproof dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until hot and bubbling at edges. Serve warm.
Notes: I didn't have green onions or hot sauce and I skipped the parsley because at that point I was running out of steam but it was still delicious.
And as always, no big gathering here is complete without a dogs-behaving-badly story.
Jack, the large and elderly dog with the bad hips and general problems getting around, seemed to be having even more problems than usual on Christmas Eve. He remained parked in one place for most of the evening and when he stood up he needed to be helped to his feet.
Imagine my surprise then at the end of the evening when I discovered that a platter of smoked fish that had been cleared away to the kitchen table, and which only a few minute before I had carefully made sure was not close to the edge of the table where Jack could reach it, had been pulled off the table by Jack who'd not only managed to get up on his feet, but up on his hind legs. It was upended over him, and over the floor. There were bits of smoked fish stuck to his fur, and he'd also doused himself with a mustard vinaigrette sauce that had been on the tray. Nothing says Christmas like a big, sticky dog smelling of smoked fish and vinegar.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas. Happy holidays!