You might already know this, but in Mexico, the big Christmas day reunion actually takes place on Christmas Eve. That's the time to get together with family (biological, chosen, or both), to eat until you're ready to burst, to toast and drink to your heart's content, and to go to bed pretty late (dinner usually starts after 10pm, sometimes as late as 11 or midnight!).
And after so many years abroad, it was time to partake in one big, family stuff-your-face affair! Yes, sorry, another food post. Well, mostly!
So, what does one have at one of my family's Christmas dinners? Well, it's a pretty mixed affair, as you'll see:
I must have talked about romeros (or, more affectionately, romeritos) before... Anyhow, this is typical from central Mexico, and it has a strong link to indigenous cuisine, as its made with a type of seepweed (a sort of shrub with edible foliage), mole (a thick, spicy sauce made from countless ingredients, including chocolate, various kinds of chilli peppers, tomato, almonds, clove, and whatnot), tiny potatoes, shrimp patties, and nopales (edible cactus). You eat them with either maize tortillas or with white bread. It must be quite an acquired taste. And the vegan ones my sister made for me... wow, I could never have enough of that!
Turkey and Casserole
This must be a custom imported from the US (I mean, we're neighbours, right?), because I can't remember having this when I was very very young, but it did enter our Christmas dinner soon. This time they served it with applesauce. Obviously, I didn't try this. Nor do I find it particularly exciting. But it is interesting that it forms part of our traditions now. So that's why it appears here. OK? Oh, and since we're importing other traditions, see that tiny casserole in the lower right corner? I brought a set from Canada! So my sister did this Canadian-French recipe with cherry tomatoes and puff pastry (it was a Canadian-French set) - Now, that was super tasty! And now we have a Canadian-French tradition to balance the US turkey. Neat!
This one I used to love before I was vegan. Though its origin is indisputably Spanish, it got bettered - in my humble opinion - in Mexico. It's cod cooked with tomato, a bit of chilli, lots of olives, potatoes, onion and I don't know what else (some people are so secretive with their recipes!). The Mexican twist? You add banana peppers. Perfect! Frankly, even as a vegan, I must say this is super yummy. Or maybe it's all the memories it brings back, because I did grab a tiny bit to try, and the texture, smell and taste brought me this well-being feeling of being surrounded by loving people during a happy time.
This, my friends, besides the vegan romeros, was more proof of my sister's love for me. These things here were very simple dumplings my mom used to make for Christmas and Christmas only. She used to call them "panecillos". This recipe she learned from her grandmother from Odessa, who - according to my research - was, in order of probability a) a Karaite Jew from Odessa (I'd place my money on this option, definitely), b) a Crimean Tatar, or c) a mixed race Turkic-Russian. Anyhow, these definitely go back to recipes from the area, whether you call them kybynlar (if she was a Karaite Jew), chiburekki (if she was a Crimean Tatar), or pirozhki (if she was a Turkic-Russian). I hadn't had these in over 13 years, and I always talk about them. And my sweet sister thought of making me happy by making them for the first time ever completely by herself, and on top of that she made vegan ones with some mushroom based filling! What a fantastic surprise. And I ate so many, sooo many. Nom nom!
Vegan marzipan and cake
Definitely a Spanish tradition. And I barely managed to fit in my stomach a slice of the vegan wine-infused Christmas cake my sister made as well as a few pieces of pure almond marzipan. Too good. Too good.
Now, exchanging gifts during Christmas Eve seems quite common nowadays. In my family we never used to do that because my father insisted gift-giving during Christmas Eve or on Christmas was a "foreign US tradition", and the only time there were gifts at home was when the three wise men ("los tres reyes magos") brought them on the morning of January 6th (a very Spanish tradition). But, those of us who exchanged or gave gifts solely on January 6th were and are a diminishing minority, and social pressure means gift giving on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas, as well as on January 6th. Then again, it was fun to give my sister and her family gifts, and to get some in return! Including a basket full of yummy goodies and a bottle of mezcal! Wow!
Now, a tiny twist that required a tiny dose of cruelty. I like to surprise my husband. It's about the only time ever I do lie to him. So, during dinner, I convinced him I had no Christmas gift for him (that's the cruelty), because I supposedly thought it'd be better if we went shopping on the 25th to let him choose himself. Truth was I had indeed got him a few gifts, smuggled them home, hid them under and behind the tree where he couldn't see... and when we came back from my sister's place, I "accidentally" dropped my ring under the tree and asked him to help me look for it. At which time he found his gift! Under our Chinese tree, with a Danish elf at the top, flanked by two Icelandic trolls, surrounded by Canadian and Mexican baubles. So rewarding. Absolutely priceless.
A very merry Christmas indeed. With good food. Good people. Good gifts. Lots of love. And a successful surprise.
P.S. BTW, we can home loaded with plenty for "recalentado"! That is, leftovers for reheating and eating the coming days! And most of this stuff does taste better after a day or two, eh? Yay!