…holiday photos and musings.
Soon after Thanksgiving I was fixin’ to get ready, as they say down here. I made my annual Egg Nog from a boozy 1920s recipe created by expats living in Shanghai, known as Shanghailanders. It’s so lethal it technically does not require refrigeration and becomes outrageously smooth after a year of “curing.” Admittedly it’s pretty swell after two weeks. Or two minutes. But I would recommend that one always firmly, firmly hold the container in which you are whipping heavy cream for said nog. Just sayin.
On a spiritual level I covered my bases and nodded to my Myers ancestors with latkes during Hanukkah. I then poured some nog, trimmed the tree, retrieved the college boy/sous chef, set a table for extreme feasting and began to descend with purpose into that sugar-cheese-alcohol infused trance we call Crimmus.
The Night Before Christmas …
Although Christmas Eve is always a blur of frantic preparation for the 25th, this year it became a spectacle unto itself. At some point my stubborn, arrogant alter-ego decided that what I really needed to do was make Beef Wellington. If you are unfamiliar, it’s a massive cut of rolled beef tenderloin snuggled in prosciutto, which is wrapped around sautéed shallots and mushrooms, and then baked in a flaky pastry. It was nerve-racking to plan, exhausting to make, stunning to present, divine to savor, but nearly impossible to carve without going full-on slaughterhouse. Still, it was outrageously good and our clean plate club celebration was topped off with gelato, egg nog and no shame. Okay, there might have been a little shame.
My Tante A is not French but she is the figure of style, grace and generosity of our family…by marriage of course. I should point out that she is also clever and beyond hilarious, so she’d be my aunt by choice regardless. Everyone looks forward to her legendary Christmas dinner year after year – the flavors, colors and textures are unique, inspired and divine. Simply divine. But as the cousins grew up, married and had children, space at the Christmas table grew tight, although always available.
I am the oldest cousin by six years and would be bringing along three 6-foot+ hungry mens from Atlanta. That’s a lot of real estate. After some intense North-South negotiations which involved moving the actual dinner from an afternoon meal to 7 or 8 at night, I adopted some new family traditions: we have warm panettone and bacon for breakfast, homemade French onion soup for lunch and a quiet Bloody Mary before the final dinner prep. And then I re-create most of Tante A’s Crimmus menu right down to peppercorn count. There is just something about that accidental forkful of caviar, turkey, cardamom rice and tomato aspic that brings me straight home to Savannah every time. And that’s enough for me.
We toast Tante A every Christmas, grateful to share her delicacies, even from afar.
Final note: Mother’s delicious contribution every year is Caroline’s Christmas Day Dessert known as much for its heavenly decadence as its parsimonious scarcity. Homemade almond macaroons nest in a coffee-and-rum-infused chocolate mousse which is then bathed in whipped cream. You really want to be on Caroline’s good side around Christmas lest you become the victim of her left-handed street justice. I’m so not kidding.
Caroline’s Christmas Day Dessert
- 12 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup strong coffee
- 6 eggs, separated
- 2-4 tbsp. dark rum
- 1 dozen almond macaroons (recipe below)
- whipped cream for serving
Heat coffee in a saucepan on medium low and add chocolate chips to slowly melt. This can be done in a microwave or with a double-boiler if you prefer, but I find I have more control directly on the stove.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and temper by drizzling a thin stream of melted chocolate as you whisk, 1-2 tbsp.. Remove chocolate from heat and mix in the tempered yolks and rum; set aside.
In another bowl, beat reserved egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.
The final assembly involves pairing the mousse with the almond macaroons and here is where a choice must be made – Mother lines the bottom and sides of her serving bowl with macaroons and fills the interior with the mousse mixture. I line only the bottom of my serving dish, top with 1/3 of mousse and repeat to make 3 layers of macaroons, ending with mousse. This is totally a matter of personal preference with no right way, other than my way.
Serves 6 to 16 people, which varies depending on the disposition of each diner. It contains raw eggs, which can be problematic, but Caroline has never served a portion large enough for anyone to die from it.