A Cook's Diary

Christmas Eve menu, 2014


I get a little nostalgic during the holidays. When Speedy brought up the matter of the Christmas Eve menu, images of a two-year Sam being asked by her father what she was eating while camcording her flashed through my mind.

“Farmer’s pie,” Sam replied.

A year later, while decorating the tree, there was the not-quite-two-year-old Alex putting her foot through the loop of the Christmas ball and walking around dragging the glittering sphere like an anklet.

Memories like that make Christmas special even though the religious significance has been lost on me a long, long time ago.

“What’s our Christmas Eve menu?” Speedy asked a few hours ago.

Finger foods like last year,” I replied, “all pica-pica.”

“Like the mini sandwiches at the English tea party?” He was particularly keen about the cucumber sandwiches.

“Yes,” I said, “and dips and salsas, and a platter of cold meats and cheeses.”

“And fresh fruit salad,” he added.

That sounds so un-Christmas? So un-Filipino Christmas? Probably. Filipinos are fond of huge spreads with multiple dishes enough to feed twice as many people as those sitting down to dinner. And many of those dishes will be a repeat of what were served last year. The “traditional” dishes are always staples — ham, quezo de bola, chicken relleno, embutido, morcon, fruit salad (made inevitably with canned fruit cocktail), hot chocolate… Okay, I like ham (but only if it’s good ham) and I like hot chocolate occasionally but I’ll pass on the quezo de bola and fruit cocktail salad.

I’m anti-excess, is that it? Partly, yes. And partly because I abhor the idea of adopting a “traditional” menu just to conform even when I’m not even fond of the things in it. And partly because the thought of cooking ’till my bones ache then feeling totally exhausted to enjoy the meal and my family’s company makes me frown. I want to enjoy the moment too. So, I will only cook what we can consume and what I can manage without falling asleep while the oven is still on.

And the truth is that making a menu at this time is like writing it on water. The menu will change several times before the day we go shopping for the ingredients. Although I have no intention of entertaining objections over the pica-pica theme, chances are, there will be additions. Cupcakes and cookies, I bet, will be on the girls’ list. Sam already mentioned food for the gods last weekend but with raisins instead of dates. I have yet to hear what Speedy, the dates lover, have to say about that. I can almost hear one or both of them suggesting that one baking pan can have dates while the other can have raisins.

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