Thursday, February 13, 2014

Holiday Traditions and Communal Dining

My favorite holidays have to be Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was different this year because our niece decided to host the celebration in her new home. Her new home was 45 minutes away from us, or as we say "out in the boondocks". Far enough from Chicago that the sky was almost black on a starry night.  The area is so remote that I was unable to get her address on my GPS. When we arrived we discovered a relatively new subdivision of town homes. I am a traditional guy and I was about to experience a rite of passage, like my brothers and sisters did when hosting Christmas instead of our parents. What was I expecting you might ask? Tradition!
We forgot the stuffed celery
In our family it was rare for us to have a sit down meal for Christmas Eve. It is really about finger food and sandwiches. There were things that we always had like shrimp cocktail, rumaki, deviled eggs, one or all of my mom’s hot appetizer puffs (chicken, crab, or ham), stuffed celery sticks, black and green pimento stuffed olives, some type of meat sandwiches (usually ham or turkey).
Deviled Eggs
Sometimes new traditions were added when one of us got married and introduced our spouses’ favorite foods or traditions to the mix.  Sure there was apprehension but generally speaking change is good. As an example, while living in Boston my sister and her husband were introduced to a cheese fondue that became a new tradition in her family. My wife's aunt made Swedish meatballs so they were introduced along the way too. Change is good but tradition trumps change. There I go drifting again.
In addition to the cheese fondue, my sister brought a box of Fannie May Mint Meltaway's, another family tradition.

My niece had decorated her home so that it was warm and inviting. Her main menu item was Italian beef, Italian bread, sweet peppers, jardiniere, and a whole pot of au jus. 

Another of my niece's made hot chicken appetizer puffs just like her Grandmother did for all of those years before. When trying these I couldn't help but think Mom was guiding her.
Chicken Puffs
My niece that was hosting the party really jumped the curb and went off the road to tradition by introducing a high-tech chocolate fountain and assortment of fruit to coat, marshmallows and graham crackers. This was an entertaining diversion, especially for the children and some of the grown-ups too.

One thing that I really missed this year was rumaki. My mother always made them with chicken livers and water chestnuts. We eliminated the chicken livers from our version and went with just the water chestnuts. They were always delicious but did mess up the broiler.
Water chestnut rumaki
I just kept thinking about that fondue. In a family setting, or with really good friends, communal dining can be fun. In a restaurant setting it can and often is a nightmare. Sitting down over food with total strangers is not my idea of a good time.
For many years my wife loved to go to a local Japanese restaurant for their teppanyaki style cooking. I'll admit that at the beginning and after a few Mai Tai's it was a lot of fun and we did it often. Unless you go with a group of 6-8 people you can expect to be seated with 6-8 total strangers. We were once seated with six high school age boys and girls on a prom date. I'm sure they loved sitting with us as much as we enjoyed sitting with them.
Cheese Fondue
My sister's fondue got me thinking. Anyone who was married in the 1970's probably was given at least one fondue pot as a wedding present. Each pot came with long handled color coded dipping forks. Fondue parties became the rage. What you made in the fondue pot determined what you dipped into it with the forks.  A good paring of wines to compliment your fondue was essential.
Depending on how many fondue pots you had determined how many things you could dip into them. More often than not the host had a cheese fondue made up an assortment of cheeses. You would dip bread cubes, or fruit chunks into the sauce and enjoy the extremely rich molten lava treat. No double dipping allowed.
For meat and fish a fondue filled with peanut oil would literally fry your selection. Dip shrimp or vegetables into a tempura batter and then into the hot oil would take it to a whole new level. Of course you needed a selection dipping sauces to go with it. To cook meat or seafood you needed an electric fondue capable maintaining a proper cooking temperature. Most fondue pots use a candle or Sterno cans to keep them warm.
Let's not forget a Fondue pot filled with some decadent chocolate dip. Not exactly the high-tech chocolate fountain my niece had but a similar result. Arrange a platter of fresh fruit for dipping and you’re on your way to a wonderful ending to your communal meal with family or friends.
The most popular fondue restaurant that I know about is "The Melting Pot." Expensive but good I hear. It is one of the restaurants on my bucket list. To learn more about the Melting Pot visit their website at There are so many recipes on the Internet for fondue and dipping sauces I will not try to cover any of them.
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about a Raclette. My cousin in Germany spent New Year’s Eve with friends and a Raclette. A Raclette is similar to a fondue and designed to be enjoyed by friends and family. To learn more go to Williams-Sonoma at
Q. Did you know that if your bread falls into the cheese fondue proper etiquette dictates that you buy the table a bottle of wine?

© TMelle 2014

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