Just the other week I was starting to feel good about how this whole pandemic thing was going. Then it’s a freaking donnybrook with this omicron variant. My family drove to Mandeville today to get tested so we can see my parents, and while it was good to breathe the air in St. Tammany, I’d have preferred an at home test.
But we will soldier on, and I am planning to cook dinner Christmas Eve for the family. As few as 10 years ago, that would have been a far too involved undertaking. The problem is that there are very few holiday side dishes that I don't like, and I use the term “holiday side dishes” very broadly.
The Peytons are rice people, traditionally, but I will allow mashed potatoes on my holiday table. One must have some form of sweet potato as well, and to complete the starch category we’ll bake bread. Oh, and probably cornbread. Maybe biscuits.
Then there’s the green stuff. My grandmother pulled a lot of vegetables from her garden when I was a kid, so depending on the holiday we had green beans or mustard greens with bacon; squash and zucchini with onions and butter; turnips in butter or, my favorite, with a cream sauce. Now and again they’d boil some spring onion bulbs and serve them with salt and butter.
I like to make turnips, because I love them very much. Where before I’d have made some sort of gratin that had to be carefully watched during its last few minutes under the broiler, now I steam them and add butter and salt.
I am now approaching the point of this column, which is that I have learned through hard living that you can overdo your holiday meal plan. Because if you’re trying to make sure the gratin you made – which involved slicing many small turnips on a mandoline and then layering them in an overlapping pattern in a gratin dish, alternating with splashes of heavy cream and dashes of salt and ground pepper – doesn’t burn while you’re also tending the black bean soup, making sure the roux for the sauce doesn’t burn, trying to figure out when to drop the fresh spinach into the water that you also need for the artichokes and don't ask me about the mashed potatoes, they will go in the oven soon and yes, you can change the temperature for the pie… if you find yourself in that position, you will regret it.
So, now I steam turnips and add butter, salt and pepper. I will roast some sort of bird and we will have mashed potatoes, a salad to be determined and probably Brussels sprouts with bacon. I will make a sauce from the roast bird drippings and Eve will bake pie and probably bread.
These are all dishes that are not hard to do, but which benefit from attention. Bad mashed potatoes are a very sad thing. These last few years I think the food we’ve cooked has been as good or better than when we spent three or four times more effort – and time – on the meal.
My advice to you all is to scale back just a bit if you’re cooking at home and feeling overwhelmed. If cousin Frank doesn’t get the green bean casserole this year, he’ll survive. The ambrosia you’re considering making? Ok, that I endorse and now I’m going to have to find my grandmother’s recipe.
I hope you all have a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday and a wonderful new year’s eve.