"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 2014 (Musings and Menus)

Preparations for Christmas this year are just about done. The presents are all bought and wrapped, the tree is lit, the house is decorated and plans are firmly in place for who we are visiting when. I've enjoyed the run-up to Christmas this year. The girls helped me decorate and seemed to enjoy it - I wonder how many years I have left of making snowflakes and decorating cookies with them? We staged a small Christmas piano recital for family and friends, and we went to Vancouver to go see the lights in Stanley Park. 

2014 Christmas Altar

Because we finally sold the property we have been trying for many years to sell, we have a little extra money this year. Which is a good thing, because my husband LOVES to shop for and buy Christmas presents, and often we have some friction around much we ought to spend vs. how much we (ahem: he) actually end up spending. This year I was able to mostly relax around it and let him go to town. 

I can't help, however, contrasting Christmas in the U.S. with Christmas in Oaxaca. Sure, people here go to parties during Christmas season, and many of us go to church, but if we are honest we have to admit that Christmas, for Americans, mostly revolves around buying gifts and exchanging them. That is not the case in Oaxaca, where we have spent more than a couple of Christmases, most recently in 2012.
Christmas 2012 in Abuelita's house

Christmas in Oaxaca begins on December 16th. For the nine days leading up to Christmas, there are Posadas, a celebration, a reenactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph before Christ's birth that moves from house to house and involves pinatas, singing, and food. Although parish-based, Posadas truly are open to everyone, including random tourists who are brave enough to accept a waved invitation. 

Aside from the posadas, there is a nearly endless string of parties and visits. Everyone wants to entertain at Christmastime, and pretty much everyone does. On Christmas eve, the neighborhood Posada finishes its nine-day journey at the local church; there is a big street festival and mass is spoken, and then everyone heads home for a big, late dinner. And then that's it; that's Christmas. Christmas morning is for nursing hangovers and - eventually - cleaning up. Gifts are reserved for Epiphany, on January 6th, and are pretty much just tokens.

In many ways, Christmas in Oaxaca is a lot less stressful, not to mention expensive. The holiday is much more about events - parties, mass, going downtown to look at the decorations, visiting family - and much less about spending money and gifts. Of course, it is still expensive and stressful to entertain visiting family. The average American family might be totally aghast at the thought of hosting three or four different families, sequentially or simultaneously, and feeding them all and being gracious for weeks on end. Or at the thought of throwing six to eight parties during the Christmas season instead of one. Personally I'm thankful to not be hosting any parties at all.

I am, though, doing Christmas eve dinner. Just here at home, and the only invited guest is P., Rowan's ex-boyfriend, who is leaving Christmas day on a greyhound to go back to the mid-west from whence he came. We love P. and will miss him, and are glad to have him with us. So I'm only cooking for six, which is fewer than the number of people  cooked for every single day last year, when P. and the cousins Alehida and Shidezi were living with us. But of course it has to be special.

I asked Homero what he wanted for Christmas eve dinner, and he said "Roast chicken, but not like you make it. I want it like my grandma makes it. And also the noodles she makes. And the potato salad."

If there's one thing I think all us wives can agree we don't like to hear about our cooking, it's that "it's not like Grandma used to make." Especially if Grandma happens to come from an entirely different country with different, unavailable ingredients. At least I have the advantage of having eaten Grandma's Christmas eve roast chicken. It is, indeed, delicious. I think I can come up with a pretty good approximation. Also it is true that Grandma herself showed me how to make her guajillo salsa, which is, as Homero says, "good enough to make you eat the tablecloth where it spilled."

Abuelita's Guajillo Salsa

20 or so guajillo chiles (dried California or New Mexico chiles are good substitutes)
3 cloves garlic
large pinch whole cumin seed
tsp. white vinegar

Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle. Also heat a kettle of water to boiling. Wipe with an oiled napkin, but do not let any oil remain. Tear open chiles and shake out seeds. Toast, turning often, until they become highly fragrant and begin to emit fumes - about 1 minute. 
Put toasted chiles into a blender canister and cover with boiling water. In the same hot skillet, put the peeled garlic and turn until blackened in spots. Also roast the cumin seed until toasty-scented - about 30 seconds. Add to blender canister, along with vinegar. Allow to sit and soften 1 hour. Blend on high for a few FULL MINUTES, until as smoothly pureed as it will ever be. 
Pour into a small saucepan and simmer to reduce. When finished, the salsa ought to coat the back of a spoon. Serve with roasted chicken and potato salad. 


Anubis Bard said...

Happy Christmas, Aimee - and to your family as well!