Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.
For the first 15 years of my life, the holidays were always an uncomfortable time. My friends would spend Christmas with their families. My neighbors had Hanukkah with theirs. My family did neither.
We were too Jewish to do Christmas, but not enough to be accepted by anyone Jewish outside of my dad's family.
Such is the plight of the half-Jew.
Christmas had no meaning. I couldn't even spell Hanukkah. My brother and I considered adopting Kwanzaa one year, but that was apparently inappropriate.
Then things changed.
My high school romance was with a girl who wasn't very religious, but her family still celebrated the Hallmark holidays. December rolled around and I knew that this was it, my shot at a real Christmas.
For the next few years, I learned that Christmas wasn't about the presents. It wasn't about spending time with family or watching outdated claymation specials. It was really about one thing.
Once a year, the mother of my blonde-haired blue-eyed former sweetheart would wake up before dawn to start prepping her kitchen for the Christmas breakfast tradition.
Before silently arranging the presents under the tree, she'd slice up handfuls of peppers and potatoes for the home fries. The hollandaise sauce would come to life as she turned the TV to watch the Yule log crackle on cable channels that my family didn't get. She poached the eggs as her teenage daughters rose from their beds, shook from their slumbers by the scent of the sizzling ham steaks and bacon reached their rooms.
This wasn't the kind of eggs Benedict you'd get at your local truck stop diner. Nor was it the platter you'd order from room service at 5 a.m. after a night out in Vegas. These were different.
No one could convince me that Morimoto or Bobby Flay could do eggs Benedict any better. From the perfect crunch on the English muffin down to the hearty zest of the hollandaise, everything was immaculate. Maybe it was her experience growing up as an army brat, or maybe it was just decades of practice before we ever crossed paths, but it was clear that my ex's divorced mom had mastered her Christmas breakfast tradition.
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SHOW ME HOW
There were never any complaints about not opening presents until after everyone was done eating. It was the type of meal that we were all willing to wait through, because we knew it'd be a full year before we'd see anything like it again.
Sure, I've had other Christmas meals since then. There've been lavish feasts of bacon-wrapped shrimp and juicy lobster tails, Southern trays full of golden ham and collard greens. But I'm still waiting for the one that takes away my multi-ethnic Grinch-like attitude toward the holidays like that open-faced breakfast sandwich.
Sometimes, you lose a child or a pet at the messy end of a relationship. Other times, you lose half of your stuff. Me? Well, I lost my yearly visit with the old eggs Benny.