I love Christmas as an adult. With no hint of religious guilt (I’m a Buddhist and I’m celebrating what?) or need to buy all the gifts in the world to prove my love (my family and I finally decided on calm, with one or two presents each), Christmas this year was just the chance to relax, lay on my parents’ comfy couch reading our new books (this one I bought for my sister-in-law was the most popular, with loud guffaws coming intermittently from the living room), and play with my nephew.
Oh yes, there was plenty of time on the floor with Elliott, throwing balloons at the Christmas tree, sharpening pencils, and giggling at the phrase “flippity flip.” I didn’t say we had a normal Christmas. We had our Christmas.
Aside from the books I bought for the family, I also gave a different Vosges chocolate bar for each adult: a Black Pearl bar with ginger and wasabi for my brother; a Barcelona bar with almonds and grey sea salt for my mother; the Red Fire bar for my father; and a Naga bar for my sister-in-law, with curry powder and coconut. And, I also made a small jar of Meyer lemon sea salt for everyone. This is the easiest gift in the world, a trick I learned from Jamie Oliver when I was laid up with my bad ankle. Simply crush your favorite plain sea salt in a mortar and pestle with the zest of two Meyer lemons. When it’s all bashed up and blended, lay the lemon salt on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil and let it rest overnight. Or, if you’re in a hurry, bake it for a bit in a 200° oven, until it has all dried. It’s slightly sweet and deeply redolent of lemon. And you could do this with any fresh herb you like. Impress your friends. And make your salmon sing.
My mother didn’t quite know what to do with herself when I showed up on Christmas Eve afternoon with four boxes of food and condiments from my kitchen. She’s a great cook — she’s the one who taught me — but she has been in pain these past few years, and she never really cooks. My dad tries, but, you know. Since I couldn’t count on their kitchen being stocked, I brought my own with me. And, as I do here, and with all my friends, I danced around, showing them all my finds. “Have you smelled this sea salt? Look at the color of this pumpkin seed oil! Oh, and we’ll have to make this hot chocolate, because it’s just transcendent with the chiles and cinnamon.” My parents were a little dazzled, and delighted. My mother ordered my father to write down all the names. Who knows? Maybe they’ll start cooking again soon.
But the find of the week for me was this spectacular grape chutney from Tuscany. When I had stopped in at Les Cadeaux Gourmet, my favorite gourmet kitchen shop on Queen Anne Avenue, a few days before, Seis opened a jar of this, pulled out a spoon, and had me try some. (He’s a talented chef with an abiding love for food, and I never grow tired of asking him for suggestions.) That’s all I needed. A densely spiced chutney from the Piedmont region of Italy, it’s filled with pears, quinces, fig, pumpkin, and plenty of grapes. And it’s spectacular. That one taste danced on my tongue all day.
This chutney is only one of the many spectacular food finds imported from Italy through Ritrovo, an importing business in Seattle, dedicated to small farms and long-standing food traditions. From their website:
RITROVO imports are distinctly “small farm” products created by food artisans throughout Italy who emphasize organics and small-batch production. They champion the use of local, often limited crops and heirloom varietals. Many raise the ingredients for their products on their own farms using family recipes.
I love supporting any company that puts money into organic, local growing. And especially one that brings me food this good. I’ve been living on their Dr. Pescia honeys since August, and I recently started using this fruity, green olive oil. It makes everything taste of summer. And next, I have to try their truffle salt. Ach. This is what I have discovered on this gluten-free odyssey: splurging, just a bit, on the very best ingredients, makes everything taste extraordinary. I never miss bread rolls or cookies. I’ve never eaten this well. Ritrovo is halping to make the food from my kitchen spectacular. You should try some of their foods as well.
So, I cooked for two straight days. Pork roast with sour cream/horseradish sauce, plus the grape chutney from Tuscany. Mashed potatoes. Sauteed slivered brussel sprouts with Meyer lemon zest and poppy seeds. Butternut squash with smoked paprika. Chocolate financiers. Pancakes with gluten-free flour. Cranberry sausages. Slow-cooked scrambled eggs. Standing rib roast with an herbed sea salt and cracked pepper crust. Braised fennel. Seared broccolini with pumpkin seed oil and slivered almonds. And gluten-free sugar cookies. Everything tasted great, even though the sugar cookies spread faster than bad news in a small town. (Maybe if I’d read this post by David Lebovitz first, they would have been wonderfully still.)
And best yet, I didn’t grow even a bit sick. Everything made me feel wonderfully whole. This is the first Christmas of my life in which I didn’t feel totally bloated, logey, and ready to nap at 3 pm. I’ve never felt so good on a holiday. After Christmas Eve dinner, I felt fed. I felt happy. I felt like there was still a little room, because I didn’t eat that much. The tastes were outrageous, and that was enough. And I finished out the evening later than everyone else, who had retreated to bed long before. So I lay in the bedroom at my parents’ house, reading Ruth Reichl and feeling grateful for my health.
Making gluten-free feasts for the people I love, starting new food traditions, and ending up wonderfully well? That’s one hell of a good Christmas.