Suddenly, I was faced with a dilemma I had never thought to anticipate.
How to celebrate Christmas? Not how, exactly, but where?
I had delivered our first child in early November. I had looked forward to being at home - in my own new home - with my new husband and new baby. Just the tree and us.
However, both sets of grandparents let it be known that they "expected" to spend Christmas Day with their new grandchild. In their homes.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, a holiday I had come to love and cherish became one that was filled with dread.
I was exhausted, mostly from normal life with a nursing newborn - which, any new mother can tell you, is far from anything that resembles "normal" - and anticipating a return to work in 6 weeks.
It went on like that for several more years - the Christmas Parental Volleyball game of trying to find our own Christmas while negotiating which parents' home we would go to "first". I had to write which place we had been to "first" in my calendar each year so as not to hurt anyone's feelings the next.
I think it was in those early years that I decided that I would never, EVER, do that to my own children.
And, I haven't.
When our children started to marry and have their own children, I said, "Okay, so here's my Christmas present to you: Spend Christmas wherever you want. At home. With your in-laws. With us. It's okay. Just circle the weekend closest to The Epiphany and we'll celebrate "Little Christmas" together, as a family."
That has worked out very well - for everyone involved. Not only are the children happy not to be confronted with the dilemma of which parental unit with whom to spend Christmas, we all get to be together as a family to celebrate Little Christmas.
It also helps to free me up from the usual liturgical frenetics of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And, oh by the way, the post-Christmas sales are fantastic. Even wrapping paper is on sale. And, you can take your time wrapping presents - although I admit, I was wrapping presents last night. Procrastinators are repeat offenders.
So today is our day to celebrate "Little Christmas". The menu includes a baked ham, with some home made Mac 'n Cheese, along with a huge vat of Seafood Paella.
That's not a picture of The Seafood Paella above. It's one I snagged off the internet, but it looks pretty close.
I'll post a variation of my Grandmother's Recipe below, but for this one, I didn't fry the onions in bacon or add chicken or sausage because one of our kids does not eat meat. I also substituted Vegetable Broth for the Chicken Broth.
If you want a more traditional Paella, just fry in bacon, eliminate one of the fish, add about 1/2 pound of diced chicken, 1/2 pound of spicy sausage, sliced in hearty chunks, and cook in Chicken Stock.
It takes about 45 minutes to assemble if you do it all at once, but when I'm making large amounts, I usually steam the lobster (for about 10 minutes) and the shrimp (just until they start to get pink) beforehand because I find that they don't cook fully in the oven. I also de-vein and peel the shrimp after they are steamed.
I substituted the absence of the chicken and sausage with scallops and crab meat, and added some crushed red pepper to give the "kick" spicy sausage would. You can also fry up the onions and garlic in Pam instead of olive oil, if you are looking to reduce calories.
Do shop around for saffron. My goodness, some stores sell a few threads of the stuff that make it more expensive than lobster.
You can make your own variations - like adding squid. No one but me likes them, so I don't use them. I've also used monk fish, which holds up nicely and can be used as an inexpensive substitute for the scallops.
If you don't like peas, artichoke or tomato, substitute chopped parsley and pimento.
This recipe serves four to six hearty appetites. Obviously, with 16 people, I tripled it by necessity.
It's expensive to make this time of year, but it's well worth it. And, the presentation is so amazingly festive, it just looks like Christmas.
So, here is my recipe for (meatless) Seafood Paella - and off I go, headed into Holy Family Chaos.
I can't wait.
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons saffron threads
1 glug of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1 cup chopped red onion (about a medium onion)
4 - 6 cloves of garlic (well, that's the bare minimum)
1 cup arborio rice
1 each small red, yellow and orange bell pepper, trimmed and cut into strips
3 cups hot vegetable stock
1/2 pound scallops
1/2 pound crab meat
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
12 mussels, scrubbed
12 little neck clams, scrubbed
two 1 pound ("chicken" or "chick") lobsters
1/2 cup artichoke hearts (optional)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup chopped tomato (one medium)
Slice of lemon for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 - 375 degrees
Put the white wine and saffron threads in a small bowl and set aside.
Steam the lobsters briefly (10 Minutes)
Steam the shrimp briefly - just until it begins to turn pink - peel and de-vein and set aside.
Preheat a large, heavy paella pan or frying pan for about one minute over medium-high heat. Sear the scallops briefly, until they get brown.
Remove scallops and set aside.
Return pan to flame, pour in a glug of EVOO (or spray well with Pam). Saute onion and garlic until wilted. Add the rice and saute for about 1 minute until golden brown. Add the wine and saffron and stir until the liquid is completely absorbed.
Stir in the peppers. Add the vegetable broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until absorbed. Keep the stock over low heat. When only 1/2 cup of stock remains to be added, stir in the crushed red pepper, shrimp, scallops and crab meat and cook until rice is tender. Salt and pepper to taste.
Turn the burner off.
Stand the mussels and clams upright in the rice mixture, joint down.
Separate the lobster - claws, body and tail - and tuck each into the rice around the perimeter of the pan (I like to stand the lobster bodies back to back in the center of the pan).
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the mussels and clam shells open and the lobster turns deep red (it may even have a few blackened areas on the claws and back of the tails). About 15-20 minutes.
Scatter the artichoke, peas and tomato over the paella and bake for another 5 minutes.
Place the paella in the center of the dinner table, garnished with some slices of lemon, and allow the guests to serve themselves.
Note: My family understands that the House Rule is that one of the lobster tails is reserved for the cook. The consequences for breaking that rule are . . .well, let's just say it's not pretty.
A Blessed Little Christmas to everyone.