Somewhere along the line, our Christmas feast shifted from Christmas day to Christmas Eve. Our Eve used to be the seven of us, along with Sitto, Aunt Hilda and everyone’s favorite cousin, Alberta. Hilda liked a screwdriver to kick off the evening, something to soften the edges after all of the output from her kitchen—the huge pan of grape leaf rolls, the massive platter of baklawa, each piece cradled in a silver paper cup and the whole thing wrapped up with a bow, and always Alberta’s buttery almond crunch. The shot of the tree is from years and years ago, in the sunroom on Wagon Wheel Lane, just before midnight Mass.

This year we will have the smallest group of us together here in Michigan on record. That won’t stop us from counting our blessings (in the wake of national sorrow, I think we are all that much more mindful. Here everyone is healthy and happy, and a new baby will join our ranks soon—Jesu, yes, but also a baby Abood) or from serving up a feast, one that will go like this:

Appetizers and Bubbly
Spiced nuts, chicken liver pate, grape leaf rolls (rolled thin and small, thumb-sized), classic shrimp cocktail

Baby lettuce salad with fennel, persimmons, and pomegranate seeds; lemon vinaigrette

Popovers, in the old style of the Country Club of Lansing, warm from the oven
The recipe is here.

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Crispy Onions and Maitre D’Hotel Butter
Tips: Bring any meat to room temperature before cooking. Season it liberally with salt and pepper while it sits out coming down to temperature. Pan sear in a bit of butter and olive oil to caramelize the tenderloin’s exterior before roasting in a 400 degree oven to an internal meat temp of 115-120 degrees for medium-rare. The meat keeps cooking after it’s out of the oven, so go easy on the temp if you like your meat pink. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Be sure the butter is also room temperature, so it melts beautifully over the meat. For the onions, slice very thin circles, dredge in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pinch, garlic powder), fry in very hot canola oil until golden, and top the whole tenderloin or each serving with them.

Rice with garlic, sauteed mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, and scallions

Asparagus, roasted, topped with a dusting of parmesan
400 degree oven, good olive oil drizzle, salt and pepper, 25 minutes. Top hot asparagus with parm.

Broccoli, cooked simply in salted water, for little John. Halved grape tomatoes for him too.

Finale of Buche de Noel. Mama has wanted one of these cakes every year and we’ve never done it, so we’re baking one for the first time this Christmas. Wish us luck!

Plus, always: Christmas cookies (many kinds), baklawa, dipped chocolates