I don’t know how you spent your New Year’s Eve, but here’s how mine went. In the last moments of 2014, I was at my cousin Tommy’s eating tacos and watching hours of Bizarre Foods and Restaurant Impossible on Netflix. Pause for obligatory champagne and live stream of Times Square. I then spent the first moments of 2015 watching a Youtube video of a cat meowing “Auld Lang Syne.” I’m perfectly content with this.
Food and family. These are my basic needs. But can we all agree that the holiday season is exhausting? Join me in a collective sigh, will you? The Christmas food binge is behind us now. Breathe.
Now for many of you, it’s been over for days and days. But if there’s anyone who knows how to keep a feast going, it’s Armenians. When I was growing up, my family had separate full-blown dinners for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. We’d usually also go out to dinner after church on Armenian Christmas. That’s the little-known bookend treat of a holiday Jon and I now host at our apartment. Today is the actual holiday, January 6th, the Epiphany, but since no one feasts on a Tuesday, we did family dinner a couple of days early. Marjorie was really sick so she and Adrian couldn’t make it, which had me moping around and pouting for a good portion of the afternoon. Nothing bums out this hostess like taking two place settings away from her table. *sniffle* Speaking of tables, here’s ours, gussied up in all her glory.
I about swooned when I found that red elephant-print silk at a fabric store in our neighborhood so I asked Grandma if she thought could make us a tablecloth out of it. By George, I think she’s still got it! (Look, she even made matching pillows!)
Since I posted my entire menu on the blog last year, I’ll do the same today:
- Marinated artichokes, pickles, pickled hot green peppers, and olives
- Jon’s spicy lemon garlic hummus (want the recipe? *wink wink*)
- Labne with mint and pomegranate seeds
- Rarebit puffs, recipe by Nigel Slater
- Jon’s homemade borscht
- Peperonata, courtesy of Mom
- Blistered mini bell peppers
- Güveç (vegetable casserole)
- Forbidden rice
- Scalloped potatoes, also courtesy of Mom
- Mixed greens with homemade lemon mustard vinaigrette
- Grandma’s walnut and almond cookies
- Tea and Armenian coffee
- The Devil Wears Prada on DVD (not dessert, technically speaking, but equally decadent)
It was a fun meal to prepare, a mix of some of our trusty go-to recipes and a couple of experimental first attempts. Now don’t ask me too much about rarebit, because I’m still not entirely sure what it is and if I’m saying it correctly. All I know is that these pastry puffs from Notes from the Larder are a sort of riff on it. The Internet is telling me that traditional rarebit is basically a cheese sauce on toast. And I’m telling you that if Welsh rarebit and Armenian burek had a baby, it would basically be Nigel Slater’s rarebit puff recipe.
I’ve never heard of a burek filled with Mascarpone, Parmesan, and spicy mustard before, but that’s what this was. Greasy but kind of delightful. I used Jon’s homemade mustard in the filling, and it sent just enough of that spicy tingle to my distinctly Armenian nose.
The güveç was a whole other first-time debacle. In very poor judgment, I decided to consult a tragically misguided ‘70s cookbook instead of my mom’s recipe (AKA perfection). Güveç is a traditional Middle Eastern vegetable stew or casserole. I’m a huge fan of any dish that’s both a classic family recipe and a vegetarian meal, so I was excited to try making it myself.
It took three days of course-correcting to get this recipe to where it needed to be. Draining excess water, more time in the oven, adding desperately needed peas and potatoes, more time in the oven, pulling out the undercooked potatoes and replacing them with par-boiled ones, pulling out the flavorless raw tomatoes and replacing them with canned San Marzano tomatoes, more time in the oven, oh, and did I mention more time in the oven? This recipe was all over the place, but in the end, Mom coached me to a successful save. I had four happy campers at my dinner table and that’s all I could ask for.
And since, as I said earlier, I’m so accustomed to back-to-back holiday dinners, what’s one last Christmas dinner while we’re at it? Though Armenian Christmas isn’t typically another gift-giving holiday, Malvina and I started a tradition a few years ago of waiting until January 6th to exchange presents with each other. So after our long first day back at work, followed by a killer Zumba workout, we came back to my place for dinner and presents. Among other delights, she gave me Nigel Slater’s latest cookbook eat, which I can’t wait to dive into.
For dinner, I made a classic Armenian dish (hah!) of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatball recipe (and spice kit!) was a lovely gift from my old friend Sasha and her boyfriend Alex, who now live in Austin and own the fabulous Gregorio’s Food Trailer. They were delicious! Thanks, Sasha!
It’s a satisfying time. Crystal is coming over tomorrow night to pore over my cookbooks with me, to cook and talk food. I’m engrossed in a beautiful book called Provence 1970 about the year that fate brought M. F. K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child, and even more American culinary legends together in Provence. And Jon and I are finally starting to plan our first trip to Armenia this spring. I feel like this year is going to be a good one. I can taste it.