The Feast of the Seven Fishes was particularly successful this year. Our intrepid little group of regulars voted it the best meal we've had. I don't exactly know why. I've asked everybody, and nobody can specifically name what made it particularly good. I think I did everything in the same way that I did in previous years, but this year is all seemed just a little easier and relaxed.
Here's this year's menu, which I'm archiving here because every year I forget what I made the year before...
First Course -
Seafood Salad with Octopus, Squid and Scallops
Second Course -
Linguine ai Frutti di Mare (Tomato Sauce with Crab, Cod, Mussels and Clams
Third Course -
Baked Tilapia with Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives
Here's how I would sum up the highs and lows of the evening. With bullet points...
The Highs -
- The Tuna Crudo was everybody's favorite dish. I credit this less to my abilities as a cook and more to the fact that I drove down to Little Tokyo and bought some really excellent sashimi-grade tuna at the fish market there.
- Nobody got so drunk that they had to go lie down. Most Christmas Eves probably don't have this issue, but it has been a recurring problem in the past. Too many "signature cocktails". Followed by too much wine. And maybe too many aperitifs. Okay, there's a lot of drinking going on.
- The Templeton Rye. My friends Melissa and Scott know my affinity for good whiskey, and brought me a bottle of this amazing, small batch rye. Scott actually had it flown in from Iowa by his brother. And since it was such excellent whiskey, everybody started drinking it instead of the signature cocktail and the wine. Actually, I think this might be why nobody had to go lie down - they were sipping rather than guzzling. Made for a pleasant and mellow evening.
- The baccala in the sauce. Baccala is salted cod, and is a traditional part of the Italian Christmas thing. It's a bit of an acquired taste, as it's really salty and fishy. For the last couple of years, I've been cooking it in a spicy red sauce, and serving it as the last fish course. But this year, I decided to just stick it in the Frutti di Mare, and it was a good decision - just the right amount of fish. I think that's where the baccala will stay.
- The shrimp wasn't raw this year. Last year, I made the Roasted Shrimp with Feta and Fennel also, but unfortunately, probably because of an over-indulgence in alcohol on my part, the shrimp was a teensy bit...raw. Not really what you want in a shrimp. So I insisted on making it again, and this year it was successful. Whew.
- The Santa Tracker got everybody out of here in a timely manner. Do y'all track Santa's journey on the NORAD Santa Tracker? It's really cool. They show you exactly where he is as he makes his way around the globe. Jude and I started checking it in the morning, when the big man was just finishing up with Australia, and I had it up on my computer all day. So about 9:30 - 10:00 on Christmas Eve, the kids started checking it again, and when Santa got to about Texas, they started to panic, and made their parents leave so they could get to bed in time. Which was good, because by then all the grown ups were stuffed with food and whiskey, and would have stayed around for hours more talking if the kids hasn't dragged them out.
The Lows -
- We were two short. Our friends Juliet and Jack's daughter, Mila, got a 104 fever, so they flipped a coin, and Juliet ended up staying home with Mila, while Jack came to the feast with their son, Jackson. And while we loved having Jack and Jackson, we missed Juliet and Mila.
- I forgot the artichokes. Does this happen to y'all? Every year, I seem to forget to put out something. This year it was the stuffed artichokes, which I made from Mommy's recipe, and I must say, were excellent. At least they were the next morning for breakfast, because I completely forgot to stick them on the table. Ergh.
- I should have bought more shrimp for the shrimp appetizer. I only bought a pound, thinking "Well, it's just one of 7 dishes, and I don't want to stuff everybody before we even get started." But the problem was that I bought the big 21-25 per pound shrimp, and so there just weren't that many of them, and since it was served at the coffee table, those darned children got into them and ate most of them. We mostly shove the kids in the other room and feed them only pasta and fish sticks, but if it's out on the coffee table, I guess it's fair game for all of them.
- They drank all the damned Templeton Rye. It was supposed to be my special whiskey, but I only got a sip or two, because everybody loved it so much. But guess what? Jack caught my mournful glances at the empty bottle, felt sorry for me and bought me a new bottle of my very own - tracking it down at the only store that sells it on the west coast! In fact, I just might be sipping a tiny bit of it right now!
So in the end, the highs outweigh the lows, and a good time was had by all.
Tomorrow: Holiday Recap Pt. 2: New Year's Fun House