What We Ate: Christmas Eve Edition

I’m working on recording our holiday celebrations— what we ate, what we carried over from years past, and what we started anew— so that we can refer back in future years and see how our celebratory canon has grown and changed.  For both Mike and me, food is our rhythm, what centers us, so we’ll start there— with what we ate on the eve of our celebration of the Christmas season.

Growing up, we nearly always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house.  My grandmother would make a big pot of something or other, we put on Christmas carols and light the fire, and look at all of the ornaments that predated our births.  There were always sugar plums, hunks of peppermint bark, and Poppie’s chocolate-dipped, chunky peanut butter filled Ritz cracker sandwiches.  If I was lucky, I’d been there the day before, setting up the double boiler and dipping those peanut butter smeared crackers into the melted chocolate, with the bits and bobs of cooled chocolate drizzle peeled from wax paper as my reward.

We rotated what was in the aforementioned dinner pot— sometimes a stew with chicken and green chili, sometimes posole, and sometimes, most memorably for me, pashofa, a Choctaw stew of hominy and pork.

Traditional preparation of pashofa over an open fire is incredible to me.  Ours was never so traditional, using canned or dried hominy and the stovetop rather than a fire, but it was still warming and filing. One of these days, I’ll learn to prepare hominy myself.  This recipe is what I’ve used to re-create my grandmother’s.


  • 2 lbs pork (something bone-in— I like ribs, but you could use ham hock or bone-in loin)
  • 1 lb dried white pearl hominy, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot.  When hot, brown the outside of pork enough to make your kitchen smell really, really good. Remove from heat, add hominy and enough water to cover by a couple inches (you’ll read a lot of recipes that say you should bring the water to a boil before adding hominy, but I’ve never noticed a difference). Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for two or three hours. Pashofa is done when hominy is tender and broth tastes meaty.  If you find the flavor is lacking after a few hours, turn up the heat and continue cooking without a lid to concentrate the liquid.  Salt to taste.  We always served with hot sauce, raw onion, limes, and/or fresh cilantro. 




Before moving to New York, I’d never heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and even still, its mysteries are still relegated to the Instagram feeds of friends. We’ve no plans to convert to Italian-American Catholic traditions anytime soon, but I was struck with a little holiday inspiration on a very, very tired shopping trip a few days before Christmas Eve.

Mike was going to be working late on Christmas Eve, and I had plans to be out of the house running around with last minute errands and serving at our parish’s family Christmas Eve service.  A big, homecooked meal wasn’t in the cards.  While we were stocking up for Christmas dinner (more on that to come later), Winnie lost it.  She was d-o-n-e with being out of the house, with being in the cart, with being held, with all of it.  While Mike stood in the checkout line, I walked the aisles with Winnie, pointing out the kitties on the pet food, the cows and goats on milk cartons, and suggesting we smell each bag of coffee beans, you know, for fun.  We meandered down the aisle containing canned fish, I remembered that we were probably low on them (we go through sort of a ridiculous amount of what Mike and I have affectionately deemed the “tiny fishes”) and I started browsing to see what looked good.  Dang, I thought, I kind of want a lot of these.  Hey! I thought again (I was doing a lot of thinking), maybe I want SEVEN of these! SEVEN TINNED FISHES?  You don’t say.

So here’s what we had.  These aren’t recipes so much as suggestions/ingredient lists.

Seven Tinned Fishes

Fishes, tinned.
Fishes, tinned.

Kippered herring

  • tossed with toasted pecans, chopped parsley, hot Calabrian peppers and golden raisins, with a splash of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar

Bonito del Norte tuna

  • combined with cara cara orange supremes, diced Cortland apples, and ruby red sauerkraut (any kimchi or lacto-fermented veggie would work)

Sardines in oil

  • pureed with sherry, a healthy dash of Colman’s mustard powder, and capers

Portuguese sardines with tomato

  • tossed with finely chopped olives (we used a variety), diced avocado, and a squeeze of lime

Anchovy filets

  • served with butter, cornichons, and bread

Smoked sprat deviled eggs

  • Boil eggs, mash yolks with mayo and prepared mustard in a 4:2:1 ratio. Add one sprat for every two eggs, continue to mash until sprats all but disappear. Fill egg whites with mixture and sprinkle generously with sweet Hungarian paprika. 

Herring with herbs

The miracle of the loaves and the fishes started to make so much more sense after this meal— I think we ate those gussied up tinned fishes for another ten days, and still didn’t make a dent in them.

Fishes, de-tinned.
Fishes, de-tinned.

For Christmas Day, Mike and Winnie cooked up a breakfast of yeasted waffles and smoked salmon tart and a dinner of cocoa and coffee rubbed beef tenderloin, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas shrimp (some day I’ll write down the recipe), and roasted Brussels sprouts.


On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, I did some ruminating on faith, family, candles and cocoa

Even as a kid, perhaps especially as a kid, I found comfort in the liturgical calendar.  There were some big markers in my little kiddo life— from the time I was born until I was five, we lived in Oklahoma and attended an Episcopal church.  I remembered it as a structured place, with candles and incense and an Advent wreath, as the place of weddings and christenings.  We moved to Texas when I was five, where we attended a Southern Baptist church in a small town.  Even at a young age, my church vocabulary differed from my peers— a christening was now a baptism, and it wasn’t for babies.  Communion was the Lord’s Supper, and it happened once a month, not at every service. I didn’t know what the longest or the shortest books of the Bible were, or any Bible trivia for that matter, which put me at a real disadvantage when it came to winning ichthus-emblazoned pencils in Sunday School.

It was in this context that I found out from my parents that the person I’d thought of as my father wasn’t actually my biological father— something my family had been open about when I was a toddler but which had become slowly concealed and thus tremendously confused in my life.  Within this same conversation, I learned that my mom and stepfather/father/adoptive-father had married when I was two, and that I had served as the flower girl. I had previously dismissed my vague memories of of this as manufactured or misplaced.  At some point after we moved to Texas, the pictures of me at my parents’ wedding had been removed from the wedding album we flipped through often, and I had erased them or deemed them imagined.

When all of this came (back) to light, my mom brought back out the pictures of me at their wedding, taken during a time when we talked openly about my adoption by my step-father, a characteristic I shared with my much-adored grandfather Poppie.  The dress I wore, the scarlet carpet running down the aisle, the smell of the nave, the memories I’d held on the tip of my tongue were now validated as experiences. I could and should trust myself, I learned, and that revelation carried with it the smell of burning piñon, snippets of the Nicene Creed, the feel of embroidered kneelers beneath my tiny knees.  And so the background of the erasing of those memories— that is, the whole state of Texas and the entire Southern Baptist Convention— became interwoven with my feelings of unsteadiness.  Sorry, Texans and protestants— it wasn’t really your fault.

The liturgical calendar, the daily office, and the liturgy itself— the fact that this week of the year would signify the same thing the next year and the one after that and so on—felt safe to me.  I’ve grown my feelings of security enough that I don’t need to cling to that structure for safety now, and that has freed me to see it as a framework through which to celebrate, pause, reflect, and grow, regardless of where I am in my life.


So Sundays in December mean Advent which means that Christmas is NEAR but not HERE, that it is a time for preparation and waiting and contemplating.  Culturally, of course, Christmas starts as soon as the jack o’lanterns start to curl in around the cut edges and ends at the stroke of midnight on December 26th.  That’s great if that’s your rhythm, but ours builds and finishes just a smidge later.


Celebrating Christmas as adults and as our own family unit has pushed us to dig into the traditions we remember from our childhood, casting this one aside but reclaiming this other, and to add on our own markers of the season.  We’ve fully embraced Christmastide as beginning the 25th (or really, at Eucharist on the 24th) and ending with the Epiphany on January 6th, which wasn’t really something either Mike or I grew up with or really observed until we were married.  I wanted to use this space to document a few of the things we’ve done this year and in years past to serve as a record of the family culture we’re hoping to build through seasonal, rhythmic living, including holiday celebrations.

Of course, naptime is nearly over and I still have a punchbowl sticky from this weekend’s wassail, so we’ll see how far I get in coming posts, but I’m aiming for some tree! carols! recipes! lights! action in the next few posts, just in time, of course.


Merry Christmas!

Whitewashed Tombs

I’ve been start-stopping this post for two weeks now, since the Eric Garner decision was announced.  I am utterly unqualified to write it, and my voice in all of this absolutely does not matter.  I don’t say that out of false modesty, but out of respect for those who are and should be driving this conversation— members of the communities who are impacted so devastatingly by racism, abuses of power, and systems of injustice.  None of my thoughts below are original, and there are better voices than mine.  Check out the links below before you read my rambles.

On Ferguson, Justice, and Being an Ally

Sermons on Advent in the wake of Ferguson, Eric Garner, and On-Going Racial Oppression

“Coming Home” | The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“For me, confronting the pain, violence, and for many, hopelessness of that place is critical in order for me to take all of this talk of racial reconciliation and social justice from an academic exercise that I can study and read about till there’s no tomorrow, to an experience of true compassion, empathy, and solidarity. This is about me amending the hashtag, BlackLivesMatter to‪#‎AllBlackLivesMatter‬. All Black lives—especially, especially, the ones seen as expendable and disposable because of where they live, how they speak, what they wear.”


Black Lives Matter: A Sermon | The Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Ross, CA

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“We are not with John the Baptist in the wilderness.  We are not the oppressed, brokenhearted or enslaved returned from exile in the reading from Isaiah. We are the people on whose behalf John is being questioned as a threat to our authority and privilege.

Complicity and indifference is the sin of the white church. The way of the Lord is not straight because of us. Recreate this passage in our day and John is a non-violent, black protestor holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign being questioned by the cops:  “Who are you?” “Why are you doing this?” “What authority do you have?”

Let us remember that John the witness and Jesus about whom he testified were killed by those in power to preserve the status quo.”


Privilege, Darkness and Advent | The Rev. Julie Hoplamazian, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“This season of the year has become largely about light and easy preparation: holiday parties and decorations and shopping. None of those types of preparation truly anticipates the salvation of the world, because none of it actually enters into a season of darkness that awaits a savior. Wrestling with others’ suffering might not feel particularly festive or in keeping with the holiday season, but that is the step we take when we do real Advent work.”


Our Deadly Immoral Wilderness | The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“After one hundred sixty-six years of faithful worship in this beautiful place of grace, we have come to know that what is truly beautiful to God are lives of compassion, kindness, mercy, humility, justice, and love. Do not forget, though, the God of Love is always the God of Justice. A god who remains silent in the face of atrocities and injustice is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


On Saturday, Winnie, Mike, and I marched, alongside our friends, neighbors, and those whom we’d never met and would never see again.  We had done the same the week before, and I mention this here not for a pat on the back, or to check the box next to civic engagement on my Self-Actualization survey, but to be sure that I make every effort to note that I stand alongside those who live every day under the weight of racism, oppression, and systemic inequality.  I don’t speak in absolutes very often, primarily because I think there are few absolutes, but I hope I am very clear when I say that this side, the side of speaking out against unjust systems, unjust actions, apathy, complacency, bigotry, downright disregard for humanity and even more the side of living in opposition to these evils— this is the right side.  This is the way.  This is it.

I’m still sussing out where we— Mike, Winnie, and I— fit in, what we should be doing and changing.  Because outside of these moments of solidarity, the strongly worded feels on the internet, the aching in my gut, all is well with us.  All is relatively easy, kind, and hopeful.  And that’s just not the way it is for so many, and it is by no merit of our own that we live the lives we do.

Beyond that, it is nearly Christmas, and while Advent is a quiet time of waiting and preparing, these weeks have their way of brightening early, giving way to celebrations and cheer.  There just isn’t anything cheerful about a powerful system stealing the lives of young black men.  As Caolan noted in her post, when we found ourselves marching toward the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, we also found ourselves face to face with people who had come to watch the season’s celebration, people who said the following things to us:

“I wish YOU would stop breathing.  Really, right now.  I wish you would STOP BREATHING.”

After clarifying that she knew why we were protesting: “That’s no excuse for ruining a nice Christmas tradition. People came here to have a good time.”

As a well-heeled woman elbowed through the crowd of protesters: “Could you MOVE?  I can barely breathe here!”

And a very concerned Italian woman looked at our toddlers, and then at the crowd, and then at the toddlers, waved her arms and said, “Pericolo! Pericolo!”  I felt like replying, ‘But the crowd is peaceful, and whatever danger there is in this city isn’t targeting us.’  Instead I smiled, my default expression when faced with such cognitive dissonance.

What I should have shouted from the rooftops at all who found the death of a man and subsequent outrage to be an inconvenience was: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  The only reason that you are here among the crowds, listening to Mariah Carey sing, and gazing on the glittering branches of some massive tree is because of the birth of a child of color who grew up to be a man of color, a radical who turned over the tables of the money-changers, who told us it would be easier for a camel to march right on through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, who was persecuted and killed by the state’s hand?  I should have stomped my feet and said,


Woe to [us], scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For [we] are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So [we] also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside [we] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

How could we forget what humanity meant?  How could we be so quick to dismiss the loss of life, the grieving of a family— of multiple families!— over the loss of their father, husband, son, brother, friend? What was the point of a beautiful edifice, of an hour on Sunday, of these holidays and lights and trees if they didn’t move us to reach out and grab one another and sob with misery that we had allowed our brothers and sisters to feel such pain?

Millions March NYC was powerful— tens of thousands gathered, moving by the power of our own outrage.  The cold felt good, the grey sky and whipping wind in agreement with our steps.  Bystanders joined.  The drunken Santas only caused my head to involuntarily shake. Marchers moved uptown, then down to One Police Plaza, across the bridge to Brooklyn, winding through the borough all the way to the Louis Pink houses in East New York, where Akai Gurley was killed, past the precinct where the officer who shot Gurley— the officer who texted his union rep before calling for help for a dying, unarmed Gurley— worked.

As we walked, I felt a weird sense of hope that I and others like me, that is to say those shrouded in privilege, wouldn’t forget so quickly this time, wouldn’t go back to our easy lives forgetting that all over our country our neighbors live in fear— real, justified fear— for their lives and the lives of their children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. But implicit in that hope is the belief that inertia is the only force at work here, that we lack the will to make change, and in the same manner that I believe that the police are absolutely capable of maintaining the safety of our citizenry without resorting to lethal violence, I believe that we, the citizenry have will and agency and the ability to effect change, that we have a choice in easing back into complacency or choosing to continue to fight and be outraged.  I think this is the part of the post where I am supposed to say, “I’m going to do my best, and I hope you will, too,” but that sentence makes me sick, so instead, here’s this:  Hold me accountable. Make me do better than my best, demand that I challenge myself and my community not to rest a single moment until real change is made, to push and push and push some more, because that’s all I have to contend with, the pushing— not the racism, not the grief and loss, not the micro- and macro- aggressions lived day to day.  All I have to do is push.  If I don’t, call me out.  I’ll do the same for you.