Eating Christmas

Ah, the holidays. Christmas is all about love, sharing, sweetness, and light — and keeping the antacids handy. In keeping with the spirit of the season, our food blog, Chow Bella (www.phxfood.com), presents "Eating Christmas," in which some of our favorite writers nosh on the real lessons we learn this time of year.


GLITTER ON YOUR TOAST

By Sativa Peterson

My grandma and her sisters liked to try and out-craft one another.

A new craft project would start with one of them but spread like wildfire to the other sisters once they had been exposed to the craft du jour. One whole year when I was a kid they began making Christmas ornaments. The ornaments were "people" made out of two brightly colored silk Christmas balls stacked on top of one another, the lower ball forming the torso, the upper becoming the head. They each had different hats, feet, and hairstyles made out of felt, push pins, chenille pipe cleaners, pompons, sequins, yarn, tacky craft glue, and the magic ingredient — glitter. They made so many characters: Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course, but also an elf, a Jack Frost, a Swiss chalet girl, a boy and girl skier (whose ski poles were made from toothpicks), a snowman, a snow woman, an angel, a toy soldier, a jack-in-the-box.

But they also included a slew of barnyard animals: a duck, a frog, a pig, a skunk, an owl. Also a Carmen Miranda with fruit on her head, some Pilgrims, a beatnik cat playing a guitar, an elephant, storybook characters like Little Red Riding Hood, and many more. They would get together and show each other the new characters they had come up with. This went on for months. The crafting flotsam and jetsam swelled.

The production of the ornaments spread out, eventually overtaking the entire kitchen table. My grandpa would look for a little space to place his coffee cup; a corner to rest his paper. He was losing ground daily and there was glitter everywhere. On every surface. On his toast. On his shirt. It smelled like drying craft glue. You could see him mumbling "goddamn it" quietly to himself in vain.

I, on the other hand, loved it. My grandma's dining room table was like peeking into the elves' workshop at the North Pole. Little piles of spilled sequins lay here and there as if in the aftermath of a raging little party.

But even this wasn't enough. The sisters brought food to their crafting get-togethers. Cinnamon rolls, festive wreaths made out of green food-colored Rice Krispies treats, homemade bread, and a hot drink mixture that was one of their earlier fads. Called Friendship Tea, its ingredients included Tang, lemonade mix, and clove. Sticky fingers adhered to plates and mugs.

By the time this Christmas ornament craft wave passed, my grandmother had made several complete sets of these people, with enough variety to cover an entire Christmas tree or two. I thought they were marvelous.

Now, Liam, the man in my life, finds them overwhelming. Especially taken in total. But we always put a few of them out each year at Christmastime. I like what they represent: a little good-natured family competition, food as an integral part of being together, going overboard, and being one of those people who, from time to time, gets a little carried away. Isn't that what the holidays are all about?


BRIE PEOPLE

By Laurie Notaro

At the mention of the word "Brie," I immediately became terrified for my sister.

For the first time in our lives, Christmas Eve was not going to be at my mother's house, and my sister had stepped up to the plate.

"I've done it for 40 years," my mom had announced suddenly. "Figure it out on your own."

It came as a significant shock to most of my family. How would our holiday stay intact if we changed venues? What about tradition? No one's ever decided to light a Christmas tree in front of the Empire State Building — it would be heresy! We had never had Christmas Eve anywhere else, and it was very much akin to my mother canceling the holiday altogether.

What were we supposed to do now? Gather at the buffet at Outback, my parents' favorite restaurant (but only before 5 p.m.), or, even worse, meet up in the parking lot of the casino where she'd suggested we have Thanksgiving? If we started having milestone events at the casino, I had no idea what the future held for my family, but if this was the direction we were heading, it wasn't good and could only involve myriad single-wides on a dirt lot somewhere in West Phoenix with a cardboard sign that said "Notaro Village" in Sharpie nailed to the mailbox. And possibly a communal outhouse.

But my baby sister Lisa took it in stride. She simply shrugged and said, "So? Let's just have Christmas at my house."

"Do you — do you think we're . . . allowed?" I stammered.

"Why not?" Lisa said. "She was the one who said she was sick of being everyone's Christmas servant. In my book, that leaves it wide open."

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