As I write this, three Tahitian vanilla cakes are infusing the house with their aroma and a lemon curd is about to materialize on the stove. The long table in the dining room, the one that seldom gets used, is already covered with the crimson red Russian linen tablecloth my mother gave me (Russian linen being the best in the world, or so she says). The “good” Wedgwood china, whose pattern has been discontinued and that I found in the back of a consignment store in Palm Spring ages ago, is stacked and ready to be laid out, right next to the sterling silverware that has been in my family since time immemorial. I haven’t thought of a centerpiece for the table yet but, between the glittering pine cones I sprayed at some point in the last decade and whatever flowers I can cut from the garden, I will come up with something.
The six layer cake with the lemon curd is an experiment, which is why an emergency Panettone is sitting on the sideboard, just in case the layers start sliding when I frost them or the dog gets to it while I am not looking. It’s a traditional cake from Alabama, a place with which neither myself, or any of my guests, have any connection whatsoever – sometimes I have fun borrowing from traditions I know nothing about. Well, it was a toss-up between a German Stollen and an Alabama cake and the deep south won.
Tomorrow my guests will show up with their dishes, I will make some mashed potatoes and roasted tomatoes and we will sit down, no doubt grateful we have each other.For years, I bitched about my “Jewish” Christmas and how it never resembled the holiday of my Italian memory – it would only come close whenever a member or two of my Italian family would travel here but they have since decided that to leave the freezing European cold for a moderate Californian one is not to their liking, and they would rather show up in the Spring when they can all sport their bikinis. Italians are big on tans, present company included – and yes, we do know about skin cancer.
So, every year, I would concoct an elaborate meal for my benefit, while my Jewish family went along slightly bemused – hard as they tried, they don’t understand sitting down at 1:00 for lunch and getting up at 5:00, just in time to get dinner organized. This year I managed to get together a varied group, some Italians, two Texans and an Israeli, in addition to my family, all in need of company for one reason or another – it will be an experimental Christmas and I know the food will be lovely and the company warm.
And all that should stop my bitching. While I was helping my staff doing roll-ups which, for those uninitiated to the restaurant lingo, is the mind numbing task of rolling silverware inside napkins, I was trying to keep the conversation alive – they don’t know me well yet, they are all very young and slightly intimidated by the crazy woman who has just become their boss. I asked them what they were all doing for Christmas – I swear I have better conversation openers but I started from the basics – and when the turn came for J to answer, his pretty little face frowned, he shrugged his shoulders and said “Nothing – it’s just my brother and I” (his brother also works for us and he is just as adoringly cute). I quizzed him as to where his parents were and it turned out the whole family is still in El Salvador – only the two of them have made it north of the border so far. I had to stop myself from inviting them over, it would have been inappropriate, but I filled with sadness at the thought of some shabby room here in the city, with no Christmas tree and no Christmas ham and two boys with nothing to do.
Just two in a sea of thousands who will not be marvelling at a 6 layer cake (if it doesn’t slide, that is) or eat like piglets like I will. Sometimes life reminds you to be ashamed. Today was one of those days.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! BE BACK ON MONDAY