Well, it’s that time of year again (doesn’t it seems like it comes quicker every year that passes?), and I can honestly say, that I’m ready for some cheer! My children kid me all the time, saying that when it comes to Christmas, I am the biggest kid in the house, and I guess it’s true. Memories of happy holidays are something that I have always cherished, and it was certainly something that I wanted to duplicate for my family.
Growing up, one of my earliest Christmas memories is having Santa Clause visit Abuela’s house, late one Christmas Eve. I can remember that my mother had fixed my hair into banana curls, and bought me a pretty new bathrobe, and I couldn’t understand why she was dressing me up for bed. When Santa (my Uncle Sal) came Ho! Ho! Ho-ing up the stairs at Abuela’s house, my knees were shaking so bad, I was grateful for the new, long robe!
And what about the food and the wonderful “aguinaldos”, or “villancicos” (Latino Christmas carols)? I don’t have to close my eyes to smell the mouthwatering aroma of the garlicky pernil, wafting from the oven, or the steamy, delicious, fragrance of pasteles coming from the stovetop, alongside the smoky tang of the arroz con guandules from the caldero , or even the rich, buttery goodness of the freshly grated coconuts Mami used to make her coquito, and arroz con dulce. Wonderful music coming from the record player, tantalizing aromas coming from the kitchen, Mami’s sisters, all dressed up in gorgeous party dresses, the men in the living room discussing sports, the kids trying to peek at the gifts that were placed under the tree…I can’t help but smile when I conjure up those memories.
In true Daisy fashion, I was eager to create memories for my children that they would cherish, as well. We start out our festivities, early in December, I get the kids together, and we drive up to a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut, and we cut down our Christmas tree. We usually have a tailgating party in the parking lot, afterwards, with hot soup, hero sandwiches, and frankfurters, while we blast Christmas music from the car stereo. We then bring our tree home and the next day we invite friends and family over to the house to help decorate the tree, while I put out a huge spread. Everyone looks forward to this tradition!
I am married to a wonderful Italian man, who has Christmas family traditions as well, and I wanted my children to fully embrace all of their heritage, and the traditions that come along with it, so Christmas Eve is a very interesting evening at Casa Daisy. The Puerto Ricans cannot fathom not serving their pernil, while the Italians do not eat meat at all, but fish, so what to do? Easy! I make it all! This way, you can serve yourself whatever you want, as much as you want, and make yourself happy. I usually start putting out food around 5 o’clock pm, and then we take it from there, with people arriving until late in the evening. Our buffet is quite amazing, with pernil, arroz con guandules, roasted duck with figs, langosta al jerez (sherried lobster), and bacala salad, along with white seafood lasagna, manicotti, and bucatelli with anchovies, pine nuts, and raisins. Throw in a couple of salads (I love my romaine, beet, and cabrales salad), and some vegetable sides (red braised cabbage with pears and currants), and we are good to go for a few hours, or at least until dessert! I make sure that there is plenty of coquito available to wash down all this good food, and that’s a fine start to Christmas Eve!
The holidays can be a stressful time, but if you start early, you can cut down on last minute anxiety. I like to make lots of appetizers (little empanadas, seviches, pastel en hoja) beforehand, leaving me enough time to do the last minute stuff without driving myself crazy. In addition, I like to involve my family in the preparations, so that they can enjoy the anticipation as much as I do. Whatever your family traditions are, make sure it’s a good blend of the old and the new to make your experience that much more rich. In keeping with the spirit of the season, I wish you all a blessed holiday alongside your loved ones, I wish you health and happiness in the New Year, and I wish you many happy memories for years and years to come. From my home to yours, Feliz Navidad.