A perfect Christmas dinner requires an all inclusive recipe of a festively decorated home, conversation inspiring libations, wines of the world, fantastic food, family and friends drawn together with the love and desire to gather upon spiritual tradition.
It starts with our tree, 9 feet tall, it's real. It's aromatic and decorated with white little star lights twinkling. All of our decorations have to be carefully unwrapped from their protective tissue paper. My favorite ones are the delicate shimmering icicles. There are 40 in all. In all actuality the tree would be beautiful with those alone.
We listen to Christmas songs by Harry Conick Jr. and drink our Rum laced Jamaican Sorrel. This Sorrel is a red flower (a species of Hibiscus) that is made into a drink at Christmas time. It is the Islands' festive drink and everyone offers it during this time. After the lights and Icicles are hung, and we have unwrapped decorations collected from my family's lifetime and our travels from around the world they are strategically placed. We have made a tradition to buy at least two ornaments from where ever our travels take us to display on our tree. A whale and soaring Eagle from Alaska, beautiful feather bird from Prague, glass mosaics from China, little sushi rolls from Japan with each ornaments unveiling each of the family proclaims which is their favorite and why. My eldest son Justin loves the ones he carefully made in grade school with popscicle sticks and glitter. Our guests have always admired the eclectic charms and the stories that hang with them off the crisp Evergreen branches.
Living in Miami, we have no fireplace. I set up little alcoves in corners on the floor, windowsills, table tops and green velvet clad risers laced with Christmas holly. We create a flickering warmth with some fifty odd candles, Christmas stockings and holiday flowers placed around our home. It is not quite the same as having a massive stone fire place with mesmerizing golden flames; but our mood is set. Oh yes and our Afro American and Caucasian Santa's (table decorations we bought at Macy's). They are plugged into the wall, gyrating and singing "Jingle-Bell Rock".
I learned back in the start of my restaurant career that fine glasses do in fact make a palatable difference in the wine showing well. We decant fantastic wines from around the world and fill our crystal goblets. There are many reasonable priced wines it is unnecessary to break the bank to enjoy them. Although one of the perks of being in the restaurant business is that we have the ability to drink highly allocated wines (Rubicon, Sassicaia, Catena Zapata, Hillside select) at wholesale prices. The round bulbous goblet is for red varietals. They should be of thin glass and about eight inches tall. The rounded bowl of a red wine glass may be held cupped in your hand with two fingers balancing around the stem. We want red wine to be somewhere around fifty-four to sixty-four degrees. White wines generally go in a more narrow glass than reds. Champagne flutes that are straight and narrow are my favorite. The tiny effervescent bubbles trail from the bottom to the top of the glass in an appealing burst of flavor and elegance.
So now the menu, there are always the traditional must haves. Crispy golden skin organic free range turkey bird stuffed with roasted chestnuts, dried cranberries and buttery toasted pecans. The bread part of the stuffing must be artisanal which I dice the night before to crisp for flavor absorbency. Our bird is brined in juniper berries and garden herbs from the garden my son Christian planted for me on Mother's day. Every slice of turkey trickles juices of flavor. A porcelain bowl of a pilled high mountain of mashed potatoes beckons with its bubbling cover of New Zealand cheddar cheese; They are served with some" bits and pieces "of turkey pan gravy. We have a melt in your mouth casserole of Applewood Bacon braised Brussels sprouts. My daughter Ashley is the baker. She prepares a perfectly moist and cream cheesy pumpkin roll studded with toasted almonds and dusted with 10x sugar like a blanket of new snow. A must is her all American Granny Smith flakey crust apple pie alamode warm with melting Vanilla Haagen-Dazs.
Our multicultural guests (an extension of our family) who have embraced our "American" Christmas bring their own ethnic traditions to connect the vast map of cuisine joining our table. French goose liver pate with crispy bread, a platter of Cuban pulled pork, Pilipino lechon or Jamaican rice and peas to name a few. English Figgy pudding with "hard sauce" is for the adults.
Miami sure is a melting pot. My parents always said "pull up a chair the more the merrier". I thank them for the love they taught me to share over the family table. I am grateful for the gift of entertaining which they have passed on to me. Our Christmas is complete now with the spirit of the holidays in our home and our hearts; this is what makes for the perfect Christmas dinner in my eyes.