Home for the Holidays
Cooking for Two
By: Charles Giuliano - Dec 21, 2020
Astrid has a phenomenal gift for floral arrangements and decorating. It’s a flair that she inherited from her mother.
Early on I started bringing home flowers once a week. There was a flower shop in the subway station at Arlington Street.
Once I messed up and forgot. My goodness.
But what to do for birthdays, holidays and Valentine’s? Then it’s business as usual or a bigger bouquet.
That slacked off in summer when we had our house in Adams. There were lots of flowers to cut from the garden beds. She was also amazingly inventive with wild grasses and weeds.
Right now, our loft is a blaze of color and lights.
From the local farm stand she bought a bunch of fir branches trimmed from Christmas trees. A cluster of them is our annual “tree.” With vintage balls that she brought with her from Germany years ago.
During her weekly talk with Olivia yesterday she said that “We have seven stations of flowers and lights in the loft.”
She had been decorating with a vengeance. Seemingly even more so this year.
It’s an act of defiance against all we have coped with. In the holiday spirit we will spare you the details.
We got our presents wrapped and sent in time. Through Amazon the girls got what they wanted from Oma and Opa.
So now it’s just the two of us waiting for Santa.
There are a few items under the tree but the greatest gift is each other.
We’ll be home alone and not going anywhere.
For us there will be no icy highway or packed airports and planes.
Frankly, that’s quite all right for us.
Food is the real celebration but with reasonable health and diet restrictions.
It will be traditional German red cabbage for Christmas. Growing up her family often combined that with goose. We tried that one year but it was frozen and disappointing. She suggests duck if it’s available at Big Y.
One year they had turducken.
It’s a concoction most fowl so to speak. A deboned chicken is wrapped with a deboned duck and then an outer layer of deboned turkey. With three kinds of meat it was exotic to say the least.
For Thanksgiving we had a turkey roll which was quite nice with no waste or fuss.
Then I bought a split fresh turkey breast on sale. We ate off the sucker for a week averaging a buck a meal ending with tacos then a couple of nights of soup.
It’s been ages since we have dined in an actual restaurant. We used to join artist friends for weekly Chinese. That’s just a memory. Now we stay in touch by e mail.
The summer arts season was a bust. So, all told, other than Sunday drives, and alfresco sunset dinners at golf courses, we haven’t gone anywhere or done much. That’s saved a bundle on gas and cash.
A few times we popped in on our friends Bob and Pennie which is a nice destination for a scenic country drive. We keep our masks on and social distance on their deck.
Recently, we delivered flowers for her birthday. But it was too brisk to hang out very long.
Lately, the weather has been real nasty. Instead of shopping we opted to eat out of the freezer. It’s always too full so nice to make some room.
We had a couple of dinners of Polish sausage, sauerkraut, beer and tarragon. It’s super simple to make and packed with flavor.
Rather than complicated gourmet meals, requiring the skill of Julia Childs, we opt for simple but tasty peasant food.
Yesterday, for Sunday dinner I made rice and beans. For me, that’s go to comfort food. With Astrid, less so, but she enjoyed the dish which we will have again tonight.
I like to think of myself as a peasant like millions all over the world for whom rice and beans are a nourishing and balanced staple. Though ours were a bit more fancy. More like middle class or enriched rice and beans.
Overnight, I soaked my favorite, a bag of black-eyed peas. The water was drained and then the beans were thoroughly washed. We had bacon and eggs for breakfast and Astrid suggested that I cook the onion in the fat. She also saved a nice piece of thick Danish bacon for the beans. I added a couple of diced, smoked, Polish “hunter” sausages. In the fridge I had a jar of juice left from soaking dried Chinese mushrooms. What the heck, I chucked it in.
It simmered for a half hour and the beans were perfect.
To stay healthy I am trying not to cook with salt or at least less.
At the table, however, I wailed with the hot sauce. Astrid tried a dash but was aghast at how much I used. What the heck, rice and beans ain’t nothin' without hot sauce.
Most Americans are pretty chicken shit about spices. My friend Michael, a former professional chef, told me about spending a week in Szechuan just to eat.
“It’s peasant food, and super cheap, but the best cuisine in the world,” he said. “There would be tears running down my cheeks the food was so hot. There were killer chili peppers in everything and brutal condiments.”
Thinking globally, what to do about Christmas Eve?
I had a long chat with my goombah neighbor Linda. We agreed that traditional Sicilian cooking meant eel or seafood for the occasion. She may go with lobster tails her new favorite.
For sure, they don’t have eel at Big Y except in their sushi which Astrid likes. She grew up on eel and dad made it a few times on Christmas Eve, as well as cold, octopus salad on the Christmas table as a side dish. He was a heck of a cook when inspired.
“Hey Doc, what is this?” asked my uncle Jimmy Sullivan seemingly enjoying it.
“That’s the octopus” Dad replied as Uncle Jimmy gasped and spat it out.
He must have been thinking of the giant squids in Jules Verne's "Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."
For the most part, that side of the family was strictly meat and potatoes.
The last time I had octopus was grilled for lunch in a Porto restaurant with wine guy Brad Smith. It was dynamite.
Actually, I’m thinking Portuguese for Christmas Eve. My favorite Gloucester restaurant is the Azorean. We go for the Monday night special of cataplana.
This is a copper pot and lid with various seafood combinations. That entails fish, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels etc. in a wonderful garlic, white wine sauce. Often there is some rice at the bottom.
I’m thinking of some variant of that with fish, shrimp, mussels and saffron rice.
It’s the catch of the day that fishermen brought home for their families. Nothing fancy, just what was abundant and cheap fresh off the boat.
That’s a bit challenging in the land locked Berkshires.
Hey, we do the best we can. Mange bene.