Eating Christmas

Christmas, Family Style

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.

Growing up in a family that has had as much divorce and remarriage as my own, the saying "you can't pick and choose your family" hasn't carried that much weight.

Au contraire my committed absolutists, I always say, family law is booming, one-way tickets out of Dodge are readily available, and, if you feel so inclined, name changes are always a possibility.

But then I remember something my mom told me.

See also: Steak on Fry Bread and the Winslow Christmas Parade

"Marry whomever you want, Katie... But think real hard about whom you want procreate with. Because those guys, they'll be in your life forever. Whether you like it or not"

It's the one catch to my whole cut-and-run family philosophy. And for me it rings true every holiday season.

Like most children of dissected families, I spend major holidays carpooling from one family-catered event to the other. I eat twice the food, get twice the hugs, and am forced to make twice the amount of small talk with distant relatives I see but once a year.

While I'd like to say the transition from one house to the next is smooth and effortless, the truth is it's more akin to traveling to the moon and back in 24-hour period.

I start the family holiday crawl off where it's easy: my mom's.

The holidays are her time to shine with hearty minestrone and matzo ball soups, buttery popovers and whole roasted chickens, mac and cheese that's made from scratch, dripping in variety of creamy cheeses and lightly coated in french bread crumbs...

She is the green thumb equivalent to cooking food which is something that someone who has nearly lost her thumbs in the kitchen can really appreciate.

While the atmosphere at my mother's house is mellow, intimate, and bears a striking resemblance to pages of Kinfolk Magazine, my father's side of family affairs are a far cry from anything remotely comforting.

Past holidays dinners with my father's family have involved drunken brawls, ex-cons, strippers, rehab intervention, and of course there was the time that my uncle decided to shoot down the coyotes of Paradise Valley with a crossbow in his own backyard.

LIke being on another planet, it's hard for me to breathe here. I don't feel grounded. I don't know how to talk to the natives because I've never burned down a Baskin Robbins or driven to Mexico on a school night to buy drugs. Having next to nothing with this genetic other half, I think, "How accurate can paternity tests actually be?"

But then it comes, the food. Of course it's never the same thing being served at my mom's -- there's usual slow roasted pork green chili with hand-cooked tortillas, bean and cheese casserole, pot roast served with sautéed vegetables and potatoes -- and yet, it feels the same: familiar and warm. It's food that has hit my taste buds countless times and has yet to lose its shock value. Food that makes all the trivial arguments over who can do the most pushups or whether or not Frankfurt is actually the capital of Kentucky all fade away.

Most important, it's food that makes both sides of my life feel like family.

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