I love gathering people together under some pretense, and then sitting with them for a delicious meal. This is usually accompanied by a bit of wine and a lot of laughter. Sometimes I think a core part of my spirituality relies on regular gatherings. Which isn’t a bad way to navigate life’s shoals.
Hmmmm. It’s been a while since the last party. Hey, It’s the longest night of the year — that sounds like a reason for a party!
[Six weeks later]
I’m so bored of all this cold and gloomy weather. Hey! Let’s light a lots of candles and have a feast!
[Six weeks later]
Oh boy, it’s about to get really busy with planting and all. Let’s have a party!*
While I’m sure there are deeper reasons, “Let’s have a party!” has always worked for me.
This year I decided to honor my (long dead) Italian stepmother by holding a Feast of the Seven Fishes. Traditionally held on Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition from Southern Italy that came to America in the early 1900s where it went from a way to abstain from eating meat on the eve of the big holiday, to a bounty of seafood. The feast is made up of at least seven dishes, each containing its own type of fish, separated into various courses. There are no strict rules, and no specific fish are required. Every family takes deep pride in their own unique way of orchestrating the feast. This was my first time hosting such an event, and its been almost as much fun talking to people about it as the doing. My friend Suz held one years ago and told me she offered seven fishes, but not in different courses, another friend told me her circle of friends did it as a potluck. Either sounds good to me.
Here’s our menu:
Potato Leek Puree w/ Smoked Salmon
Mini Tuna and Potato Meatballs w/ Homemade Mayonnaise
Rissois de Camaro
Smoked Salmon Spread on Grilled Bread, accompanied by Crudities with Homemade Ranch Dressing
Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines accompanied by Sauteed Peas
Bacalhau Spiritual accompanied by Steamed Broccoli
Slow-Roasted Salmon with Citrus & Herbs accompanied by Potato Gratin with Emmenthal Cheese
Afterwards: A selection of digestifs
Cheeses, nuts, grapes, dried fruit, handmade chocolates, and cookies
Espresso or tea (black or herbal), by request
The smoked salmon in the puree and spread came from Totem Smokehouse in Seattle, WA. The tuna balls are found in Southern Italy as well as Portugal. Rissois de Camaro are Portuguese Shrimp Turnovers and no Christmas Feast would be complete without bacalhau. I confess that the rissois and bacalhau both came from a local caterer (I don’t do deep frying, and making cod — except from fresh — is too big an undertaking).
Here’s the magic: I spent nearly the entire event in the dining room with our friends. Only the pasta and peas needed to be made with me right at the stove. The bacalhau and several other dishes were made in advance and only needed to be reheated. The salmon, because it was slow-roasted, was simply put in the oven and left to do its cooking while we enjoyed the bacalhau. Everyone helped “reset” the table when we switched from salad-sized plates to dinner-sized, and dishes were loaded into the washer, leaving only pots to be cleaned at the end of the event.
The most complicated part was planning what needed to be prepared beforehand, and considering what tableware we did — and didn’t have. Our guests made up the difference — the crucial pasta server, the set of cheese knives, dessert forks, and port glasses. Oh, and they brought wine.
It was magnificent.
We began at 2pm and gently disengaged after 8pm, all replete in both mind, emotion, and body. It was a joy to share in the magnificence we created and I was — once again — blown away by the generosity of spirit my chosen family offers.