Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes - twice!

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Best of Show
Destination: 
Wells, ME, then Milford, MA
Best of Show: 
Shelley's Cioppino

Shelley's CioppinoOn Christmas Eve, we hitched up the reindeer and set out for an evening of feasting and family. Naturally we travelled through three states to do it...

We had a Feast of Seven Fishes at one brother's place in Maine, and then another in Massachusetts. You might think that makes 14 fishes, a feast in anyone's book, but mine is a cautious family when it comes to tradition; for fear of having only six fishes if a recipe fails, we might have a backup fish, or two, or three. I can only assume it was an obsession with compliance with tradition that led to the presence of a bowl of Goldfish crackers and a bowl of Swedish Fish at one of the two homes! 

Between the two events, we had:

Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes

Poached Salmon for Christmas Eve

The Feast of Seven Fishes is a southern Italian tradition that is catching on again among the descendants of the Italian-American immigrant community. The basic idea is simple: while awaiting the birth of Jesus, we abstain from meat and dairy foods. Naturally for Italians this is an invitation to get creative with fish, so traditionally we prepare a feast featuring seven different seafood dishes and as many vegetarian dishes as you like.

It is also important to note that southern Italy has historically been very poor. It certainly was during the great waves of immigration from there in the early Twentieth Century. Many of the dishes passed down through family tradition reflect this: smelts, sardines, octopus, eel, baccala, and anchovies in pasta all are common foods in the feasts that strive for authenticity.

There's really no point in trying to get too authentic about the seven fishes, since many of the seafoods and other ingredients are not available in New England. A certain amount of substitution is unavoidable, which brings up the idea of following the tradition in spirit more than in substance: if my great-grandfather in Campania were to celebrate Christmas Eve in foodie style, how would he do it? If he immigrated to Plymouth, how then?

A Christmas Party at Work

Gingerbread HouseEvery year my employer allows us an afternoon for a Yankee Swap and some goodies. The affair has grown with the company over the years, from an original potluck by yours truly serving 25 employees to a small team of dedicated elves serving the 94 employees in the Lexington office of an international corporation.

A small amount is catered in from the outfit that provides food for our lunchtime meetings; this is because we have no way of preparing hot food in quantity. But you might be surprised at what we set out with just a few creative people who want to show a good time to their colleagues.

Annette's Venetian Birthday Feast

Annette has fond memories of Venice, so we turned to that fair city for the third in our Exploring Italy series of celebratory birthday feasts. Most of the dishes came from Anna Del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy.

We had:

  • A Cato Corner Hooligan cheese (one of Annette's favorites) and some Reggiano Parmesan with a bottle of Allegrini Palazzo delle Torre 2009
  • Risi e Bisi: a hearty traditional soup of rice and baby peas with crushed fennel seed
  • A bottle of Secco-Bertani Valpolicella 2008
  • Baccala Mantecato on Broiled Polenta: another Venetian classic that was far more delicate than we expected from the salt cod.
  • A bottle of an excellent, chocolatey San Giuseppe Amarone della Valpolicella 2003.
  • Stewed Savoy Cabbage: cored and quartered Savoy cabbage cooked on a soffrito of panceta, onion, and parsley and then braised in white wine - the surprise hit of the evening!
  • Stuffed Sole (spinach, golden raisins, pignoli)  in a Venetian Saffron Sauce (a reduction of the fish poaching liquid with saffron and a bit of sugar).
  • For dessert we had something non-Italian: a cranberry mincemeat pie made by a friend and brought down by Annette.

Stocking Stuffers and Fun Treats

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Best of Show
Destination: 
Newton. Boston, and Portsmouth
Best of Show: 
The wacky treats at Baza Market in Newton

The Baza DragonMy stepdaughter Melissa lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Jeremy. Melissa misses the New England Christmas, especially the Christmas stockings that we fill every year (and ship to LA when Melissa and Jeremy cannot get back east).

I always like finding funny and interesting and just plain bizarre goodies at all sorts of markets, including ethnic ones. Some of these things naturally end up credited to Santa Claus. After all, he fills stockings from all around the world, so why limit his treats to what comes from Hershey, PA?

In a recent blog post, Melissa mentioned that one of her favorite things about Christmas is "stocking stuffed to the brim with exotic candies from all over the world". I am glad she likes it! Here's some of what we scored on yesterday's expedition, and similar expeditions:

  • Baza Market, in Newton Upper Falls, MA, (take Highland Ave east from Rte 128) source of that awesome dragon above, plus a great assortment of candies in colorful wrappers printed in Russian. I have no idea if Melissa is getting chocolate-covered herring, but it sure looks nice!
  • Maria's Pastry in Boston's North End - the best marzipan fruits, great homemade panforte.
  • Bahnan's Market and Ed Hyder's, both in Worcester.

Wegmans Supermarket

Wegmans,

9102 Shops Way,
Northborough, MA 01532

 

Ever since Wegmans opened in Northborough, Massachusetts we’d planned to go there.  The chain is famous for the quality and variety of its foods, and once, traveling through Pennsylvania, we passed a Wegmans supermarket, and were tempted by its fabled wonder, but our itinerary dragged us away. 

 

Now we have a Wegmans nearer home, and it was an opportunity to be seized. Heading west on Route 9, we took an exit onto Route 20 toward Northborough, and made the next right onto Shops Way.  There it was.

 

I’ve always loved markets.  I’ve wandered plazas in Mexico where women spread homegrown chilies on blankets.

Tea with Visitors from Germany

Brunch for OwenOur old friend Owen lives in Germany now, so we don't see him very often. He was visiting the US this week on family business with his daughter Sarah and a lady friend, Brigitte. Our opportunity to see them was a Sunday brunch. Because Brigitte doesn't get fresh seafood very often and seldom sees New England fare, I set up a little highlights of New England brunch: 

  • We started with scones and Rhode Island johnnycakes, with New Hampshire maple syrup, wild Maine blueberry preserves, and local cranberry preserves, plus some traditional lemon curd and Double devon clotted cream from Mrs Bridge's Pantry in Woodstock, Connecticut
  • On another plate we had some Grafton Village Special Reserve Cheddar, from Vermont.
  • Then we had scrambled eggs with chives and sage from the garden (still good thanks to this bizarrely warm December!) and my celebrated Lobster Salad with fresh-from-the-harbor lobsters from Wood's Seafoods, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • We finished up with a Christmas Pudding and Hard Sauce to make the brunch extra-festive.
    So we represented all six New England states in one brunch!

The Christmas Party Acquisition Expedition

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Worcester, Hanover, Norwich
Best of Show: 
The Black Forest Cafe

Black Forest Cafe, Amherst, NHEvery year as Christmas approaches, I host a sort of party at work. This has grown from the first one when I just made some goodies to share with my colleagues, to a much larger event sanctioned by the company for which I get a budget for goodies for the 80 people or so in our Lexington headquarters.

I need a lot of goodies for that many people, and I don't like to get them at the supermarket. So every December we make a special acquisition expedition to get the goods. This trip took us from Plymouth to Worcester, then up Route 13 to Amherst, NH and eventually as far as Hanover, NH and Norwich, VT.

Naturally such an arduous journey requires appropriate foodie sustenance; we were happy to find what we needed at the Black Forest Cafe on Route 101 in Amherst.

Antiquing in Southern Maine

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Route 1 south of Portland
Best of Show: 
Flo's Steamed Hot Dogs

Flo's Steamed Hot DogsOur adventure this Saturday brought us antiquing along Route 1 in southern Maine. We had a specific goal in mind: a 1950s style juice pitcher just like one I had broken the night of Lorna's Tuscan Birthday Feast. (Note to self: If you put a pitcher of water in the freezer to chill, set the oven timer so you don't forget it!)

We had been in this area many times, but we typically stayed along the scenic roads out along the shore, ME 102, ME 9, and other byways. This time our mission kept us to Route 1, where so many antiques shops are, and where we finally got to the iconic Flo's Hot Dogs.

It's not really hard to get to Flo's. The problem for us is that we usually are beyond during the brief 11am to 3pm open time, or we are looking for breakfast, not a hot dog, or we just had breakfast. But in this case the timing was right.

I like Hot Dogs, especially steamed ones, so I was glad to get back to Flo's. Flo's Hot Dogs is a tiny yellow shack on the east side of Rte 1 in York, not far inland from Nubble Light and York Beach. Hot dogs have been sold here since 1959 and it looks it. The inside has a lunch counter with maybe a dozen stools, but on a good day there might be 20 people standing in a queue behind the stools waiting for hot dogs.  Saturday was a good day, cool but sunny, so the place was packed at about 1pm when we arrived, 20 strangers amiably chatting and waiting for dogs.

There is a protocol to ordering dogs, and it is clearly posted above the counter.

An Unexpected Local Treasure

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Plymouth, MA
Best of Show: 
The New World Tavern

New World TavernWe live in Plymouth, Massachusetts, just a few blocks from Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II replica ship. It is a tourist town, and many restaurants suffer from what we call "the Tourist Effect", which is the tendency to abandon repeat customers in favor of slick advertising and an endless stream of tourists who do not know where the good food is. 

When we heard that a new beer-themed restaurant was going to open downtown, we thought sarcastically "Great! Just what Plymouth needs is another big sports bar with lousy food!" But being fearless explorers, your dauntless Foodie Pilgrims donned our pith helmets and went to the New World Tavern.

 It was a revelation! Fabulous! Incredible! And hopefully not doomed to drown in a swamp of mediocrity, outcompeted by cheap beer and worse food. The food was exciting and new and delicately prepared, and the beer was varied and fresh. The help was knowedgeable and friendly.

I won't go into any more detail here, except to say that Richmond and I have decided to make a careful scientific survey of the New World Tavern. There is much to explore there, and it seems we have discovered an exciting new world of foodie-beer goodness right on our doorsteps! Stay tuned for the Discovery Journal of your intrepid pilgrims.  

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