We are going to Seattle on Christmas Day to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. My sister is my favorite chef in the whole world. Every Christmas she cooks and we don’t just eat — we dine.
Truffles, oysters on the half shell, foie gras, caviar. She’ll roast a goose or make a Bouche de Noel or Bouillabaisse. And there’s always port and Christmas pudding.
This year we’re having goose on Christmas Day. On New Year’s we’ll be on Orcas Island eating cioppino. And next Sunday night, my sister and I are going to leave the kids with our husbands and go to a dairy farm on Vashon Island for dinner.
To get seated at this dinner (which happens on Sundays at the farm), you have to be invited, and you have to email an essay. This month the question was, “What are your great food memories from the holidays?”
Here is my sister’s essay:
My family and I have been cooking together at Christmas every year for the past 20 years. That’s when we kids were old enough to really take control of the menu and divvy up the responsibilities.
Our tradition is to choose a region every year and cook dishes native to that area, finding the very best ingredients we can to make them, from producers who are as close to the real thing as possible. We have been around the world a couple of times with this custom, but the meals that have been the best for us are those that are connected to other family memories that tie us together.
Ten years ago, for example, with memories of childhood trips to the Russian Tea Room in our heads, we folded wild king salmon into brioche with rice, mushrooms, and dill and sipped vodkas that we had infused with anise seeds, lemons, and peppers.
Another time we visited my sister in California, and feasted on citrus of all types—blood orange, avocado, and spinach salad; buttery Meyer lemon tarts—as well as charcuterie and filets from the brand new Niman Ranch, the filets stuffed with local oysters.
After studying in England one year, we sought out a goose, which we massaged for a day and then roasted and served along with chestnuts, Yorkshire pudding, and poached quinces. This year, we are thinking about the Dordogne, where my grandfather traced our family back to the 16th century before he passed away two years ago. We’re envisioning duck, truffles, rillettes…
No matter what the theme is for the holidays, one thing we always count on for dessert is a steamed pudding. The recipes and fruits involved have varied—persimmon, carrot, chocolate, pumpkin, prunes, figs—as have the ingredients in the hard sauce: ginger, brandy, rum, and vanilla.
But there is something so modest and yet so ceremonial about a steamed pudding that feels just right for Christmas. As the pudding cooks away, covered with a homey muslin cloth tied with a string, and then is brought to the table and unmolded with great flourish, I always struck by the magic of how simple things can be truly special if we believe them to be.
Needless to say, her essay got us in.
By the way, when she writes “we” in the essay, that’s the Royal we. Meaning her.
She is the one who dreamed up and executed the Russian Tea Room salmon brioche and infused vodka, the Meyer lemon tarts, the oyster-stuffed filet mignon.
The rest of us are merely her sous chefs.