Eating Christmas

More importantly, I am eager to finally try a latke. I've heard they are to be eaten with either applesauce or sour cream and I don't know if one is considered more Jewish than the other, so I plan to follow our hostess' lead. I'm also hoping she'll serve other famous Jewish foods like blintz or gefilte fish or matzoh balls or chopped liver.

The door opens, and when I see Estelle's two naked foot-long breasts dangling to the waist band of her white cotton underpants, I realize that Lisa and I should have synchronized our definitions of eccentric.

"You're late! You're late!" she screams. And we are. Still, I can't help wondering how much more flesh we'd be seeing if we'd arrived on time.

Luster Kaboom
Luster Kaboom

"Come in and meet my boyfriend, " she commands, her breasts oscillating with impatience. Lisa and I exchange perfectly concealed looks of horror as Estelle trots off toward the kitchen.

"Hoarder," Lisa whimpers as we step into the living room and see the full picture.

In my experience, there are two kinds of squalor: clean squalor (from too much stockpiling) and dirty squalor (from broken perfectionism). Estelle's squalor was the clean kind. It looked like the entire contents of a Big Lots store had been dumped into a 1,600-square-foot house; demoralizing, yes, but not infectious.

In the kitchen, Estelle introduces us to her boyfriend, a silk-screened beach towel bearing the likeness of Tom Selleck. Lisa says, "Hi," but, Tom, being a towel, does not reply.

Before this evening is over, Lisa and I will, at Estelle's insistence, put on toy gun belts and felt cowboy hats and accompany her to her local kosher deli for latkes. Only, because we are so late, they will already be out of latkes. We will put out two separate kitchen fires. We will pretend to eat still-bloody chicken served on a bed of chopped hot dogs, grapes, and spoon-size shredded wheat. And around midnight, when I think I might become "eccentric" myself if we don't escape this place, we will spend over an hour being shown, over and over, the same four tchotchkes (one of which is a Happy Meal toy) as Estelle clings to our elbows begging, "Don't go! I want to show you this beautiful thing."

We will never get around to lighting the candles, which are rumored to be integral to Hanukkah. I will never eat a latke with applesauce or sour cream. And, sadly, my latent Judaism will not be revealed.

But, for now, in the kitchen, Estelle asks, "Manishewitz?" and Lisa nods.

"What's Manischewitz?" I whisper to Lisa. "Another one of her boyfriends?"

"I think it's something Jewish," she says.

Bring it on.


GOOD ENOUGH

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

One holiday season, I stumbled across an inspiring magazine article. The glossy photo showed a cashmere-draped, model-thin mother beaming at her husband while he trimmed the Christmas tree. All the ornaments were homemade. By the tree sat a curly-headed toddler, proudly clutching her crooked tinfoil star. What children treasure most about the holidays, this article proclaimed, are unique family traditions.

Suddenly, oodles of presents under the tree weren't enough. My daughter needed a unique tradition. I thought back to my childhood. Was there anything that stood out? A particular book my mother read every Christmas Eve, pillow fights on Christmas morning, hot chocolate with presents? And then I remembered.

Fantasy fudge. We'd made it every winter, using the recipe on that blue-capped, wide-hipped marshmallow creme jar. I would sit on the counter, strategically positioned by the chocolate chips, while my mother measured out sugar and margarine. She poured in a can of milk and the kitchen was filled with the quiet sounds of bubbling and stirring. I dumped the remaining chocolate chips into the pot, and my mother watched carefully as I stirred with a big wooden spoon. Chocolate melted and swirled; the luxurious aroma made my mouth water. When it was time to add the marshmallow creme, my mother held the jar while I slid a butter knife inside and twisted out a thick glob. I plopped it into the mixture and stirred until my arms ached. My mother finished, and while we waited for the fudge to cool, I licked the spoon.

This is the tradition I decided to re-create with Abigail. Christmas was a week away, but first we were taking a snowy vacation up north. We could have some fudge to take with us.

I ceremoniously tied an apron on my daughter and propped her next to the chocolate chips. Abigail stirred in the marshmallow creme and licked the spoon while I finished mixing. (How did my mother make this look so effortless?) I poured the thick silky chocolate into a pan, and we bundled up in the family room to watch The Polar Express while the fudge cooled.

By the end of the movie, the fudge still hadn't set. Instead of soft velvety blocks, I had a pan of grainy mush.

"What the hell happened?" I asked my husband. "No one screws up fudge."

He peered into the pan. "That's supposed to be fudge?"

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