December 8-14, 2005
Illustration By: Hyacinth Hughes
Dining & Entertainment Guide
Tidings of Comfort and Joy
As a young wop (OK, half-wop), I'd heard tell of this magnificent traditional seven-fish Italian Christmas Eve meal. Never had it, though. My mom, you see, is more of a meat-and-pasta Italian th an a bounty-of-the-ocean Italian. So when, one year, we were all headed down to Tampa for li'l Hay-zeus' b-day, I begged my grandma Bellezza to roll out the fishies. And did she ever, serving up cod, squid, clams and all manner of sea life that, to be blu nt, I found utterly repulsive at that particular stage in my life. But I asked for it, and I got it.
And now, some 15 years later, I'm betting I could even appreciate it. To hear our own queen of the kitchen, Margaret Battistelli, talk about her grandmother's Christmas Eve seafood tradition, as well as her own creative modificat ions, I'm kind of hoping for an invite. (Just kidding, ma! Don't a-beat me with that-a rolling pin!)
This is the kind of stuff we sent our foodies out in search of for this year's Holiday Dining and Entertaining Guide, the classic dishesChristmas and otherwisethat've been around so long nobody really seems to remember how they came about. Adrienne Saunders and Angelina Sciolla ladle out the straight dope on eggnog, so named for the cup it was drunk from, and wassail, a mulled wine monstrosity that gets its name from the Saxon "we s hal" or "to your health".
Juliet Fletcher answers the burning question: "Just what the hell is figgy pudding?", while husband-and-wife duo Justin Bauer and Char Vandermeer offer practical tips on ensuring your gingerbread house won't crumble. And because Christians don't have the market cornered on bizarre holiday food traditions, Tami Fertig peels open the history of Hanukkah gelt.
Plus we've got fruitcake, stuffed goose and something the Polish call "oplatec," which is apparently some sort of magical cracker that turns Christmas dinner into a chance to air the year's grievances minus the accompanying histrionics.