What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 24, 2014

Christmastime is Here.

As my father passed away in 2007 and my mom this past February, tomorrow will be my first Christmas as, (and I write this in all sincerity this as a graying 51 year old), an orphan.  My parents' deaths, at 78 for dad and 83 for mom, while certainly not psychologically paralyzing were each still very sad.  They were both wonderful people and the world was a slightly warmer place with them in it.  And so today, because it's Christmas and despite the temperatures outside, I'm noticing a little more clearly that it's all been a bit chillier for a while.

I didn't think it would hit me as much as it has, but it's very quiet right now and in the quiet the mind wanders.  This Christmas eve it wanders to the house I grew up in:

...and to the many Christmases I spent there.

I'm not really sure when the picture was taken - it was probably sometime in the late 80s.  It was an artificial tree that had to be shlepped up from the basement each year.  It traveled up and down the stairs so many times the cardboard it came in was barely solid enough to remain rectangular.  It took a few minutes to assemble and more than a few more to decorate it with a subset of mom's mostly handmade ornaments.

As far back as I can remember, when I was a kid we never really did the "Feast of the Seven Fishes" thing - despite the fact we're all Italian. For those of you who don't know it, the tradition among Southern Italians is to refrain from meat and meat products on Christmas Eve and there are probably many origins for this tradition but the one I like best came from my Aunt Teresa. She said once that it's out of respect for the animals in the Manger that night who kept Mary warm with their breath.

It's a cute story despite the fact that the meat eating would always resume with great fervor the very next day.

By the time High School came around we'd settled into a very nice tradition of our own: We'd have a nice meal Christmas Eve and then open the presents.  We had to do this because Christmas Day we'd be on the road early, travelling to my mom's sister's house on Long Island.

That's mom and dad on Long Island and you only have to look at the table to see that it's Christmas time.  See what's in the bowl?  That's Strufoli.  Here's a better picture of what Strufoli look like:

They're little crunchy fried balls of dough coated in a sticky orange tinted honey.  I'll say that again: they're little crunchy fried balls of dough coated in a sticky orange tinted honey.  And yes, they are as good as they sound (even twice).  There's no sound like the sound of someone peeling away a few from the pile, then licking their fingers clean afterwards.

Mom's big Christmas dessert tradition, however, was her Zupp 'Inglese:

Ohmigodomigodohmigod.  It's a layer of pound cake doused with rum, covered with a vanilla custard and all of that covered with fresh whipped cream, decorated with full maraschino cherries.  It was great the day she made it and even better a day later when the custard was able to absorb some of the rum.

She gave me the recipe a few years ago and I tried to make it myself.  While I do have the shield sized platter she made it in, I obviously had to cut it down a bit.  I got close but it wasn't close enough:

Maybe next time.

Whether it was roasted hazelnuts or cookies or something else, mostly I recall how warm the house smelled at Christmastime.  I made Anginettes this year:

And there was always music in the house.  Mom loved music - Pavarotti, specifically.  Had a bit of a celebrity crush on him, to be honest.  Have a listen and Merry Christmas:

Some traditions continue.

1 comment:

Maria Lupinacci said...

Beautiful post. Merry Christmas.