Christmas has long been my holiday. Since the larger side of my family lives in Iran, and my only close relatives on the small side relocated to Georgia, our holiday gatherings are not grand affairs, and the five of us — my grandpa, grandma, mom, dad and me — typically just celebrate a holiday or birthday with a dinner and dessert. There’s no traveling involved (my grandparents live 20 minutes away), no “morning after” menu with which to contend and no problem wondering how all the food will fit in the fridge. My grandma hosts Thanksgiving and serves the same thing each year, while I look forward to flipping through my cookbooks and planning Christmas dinner well in advance, from soup to nuts.
Menu planning for such a small event, then, should be a cinch, right? Wrong. I’m not really working with adventurous eaters here. My grandparents are meat and taters folk. Their diet, understandably, reflects that of a hardworking, humble, New England family. They’ve always had little, never traveled and didn’t really learn that there’s more than two varieties of onions or that herbs don’t just come in jars. And coming from humble origins myself, I respect that, I do.
Our Christmas dinners are not avant-garde. They’re just homey and comforting, and I like that, but there are so many restrictions. Grandpa doesn’t like nuts, lettuce that is not iceberg, dressing that doesn’t come from a bottle, garlic or anything “foreign” (his words, not mine). He orders his meat medium-well (blech). He devours chocolates (only milk) but not chocolate desserts. Grandma can’t eat breakfast or lunch food like sandwiches, only indulges in white chocolate and has trouble eating ice cream. She thinks chickens don’t have bones and thus will only eat poultry that has been cut off the bone. She also has somehow made something similar to anything that you have ever served and will always make that clear as you proudly present your dishes. I would never know, because she seems to only give my family week-old, leaden loaves of date-nut bread for gifts. The list goes on.