Five years ago, Kitty, one of my closest friends, and I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Asia, specifically, Vietnam and Thailand. During the first two weeks, we toured Vietnam from north to south traveling on the reunification train with 10 other travelers — six Australians, two New Zealanders, and two from the U.K. It was an amazing adventure and I’ve made lasting relationships with many of them.
Christmas Eve was spent traveling on an overnight train from Hoi An (one of the three tailoring capitals of Asia) to Nha Trang (considered to be the Vietnamese Riviera). Kitty, my 2 Kiwi bunk mates and I decorated our tiny sleeping cabin with tinsel, ornaments, and a little plastic Christmas tree — much to the amusement of the train porters. We then invited our fellow travelers in shifts — it really was a tiny space — for a holiday cocktail. By no stretch of the imagination was it akin to traveling on the Orient Express but it was entertaining and amusing nonetheless.
The following evening, we all went to a beautiful outdoor restaurant on the beach for our Christmas dinner. A raucous gift exchange, lots of laughter about some of the adventures we had shared up to that point, and after-dinner drinks at a crazy bar are just a few of the highlights.
After those two weeks, Kitty and I traveled to Phuket for a week of sun, relaxation, and the chance to bring in the New Year. One Thai tradition that I loved was the floating “wish” lanterns. Their origin comes from China but the lanterns are used in celebrations all across Asia and the globe. The floating lanterns, or khom loi in Thai, are extremely popular in certain festivals in Thailand, especially New Year’s Eve. People consider it good luck to release a floating wish lantern since it symbolizes their problems and worries floating away, and is a promise of good fortune in the coming year.
So, after a sumptuous dinner, we joined a group of revelers on the beach and at midnight hundreds of wish lanterns were released dotting the night sky with a glorious orange glow. The lanterns were taking away our 2012 problems and carrying our wishes for a happy and successful 2013. It was a stunningly beautiful and moving sight — the picture above isn’t from our trip but you get the idea. That, along with the rest of our holiday excursion, is a Christmas memory that will remain with me for life.
Now, I didn’t regale you with this tale as a travelogue of a cool trip that I took, not by a long shot. The reason I wrote this is because it’s one of many special Christmas memories that I have — and I hope — one that will join several others in the future. But most of us have some form of celebratory tradition during this period of time. Mine just happens to be Christmas but there are so many holidays that are celebrated near and far where happy and lasting memories are created. Today, I’d like to acknowledge and honor as many of those holidays as I can, and to say, “Cheers to celebrating our differences,” especially during this time of xenophobia, discord, and uncertainty.
More than ever before, I wish you all: Happy Hanukkah, Trevilig St. Lucia Day, io Saturnalia, Festivus for the Rest of Us, Feliz Las Posadas, Merry Christmas, Good Boxing Day, Joyous Kwanzaa, Have a Good Omisoka, Happy New Year’s, Cheerful Three Kings Day (and any other holiday I may have missed)!
Have a wonderful December and a joyous New Year. I’ll be back in 2018!
Cooking for Joan
Last week, I wrote about hosting my annual Christmas Italian Feast for some of my closest friends, and mentioned this amazing meat-laden spaghetti sauce that my great-uncle passed on to my mother, Joan, who passed it on to me. Well, this week, I bring you the recipe. Make it for a holiday feast rather than turkey, ham, or beef. You won't regret it!
Mom's Sauce with Meatballs, Sausages, Spare Ribs, and Pork Chops
Prep Time: 40 min | Cook Time: 4 + hrs | Servings: 8 to 10 | Difficulty: Medium
- 1/2 + cup bread crumbs
- 3 pounds ground meat (beef, pork, veal)
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- Oregano and red pepper flakes, to taste
- 3+ dashes Worchestershire
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
SAUCE WITH MEATBALLS, SAUSAGES AND PORK CHOPS:
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 pound hot Italian sausage
- 3 spare ribs
- 3 pork chops
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 large onions, diced
- 1 cartons sliced mushrooms
- 2 cans tomato paste
- 4-5 large cans of tomatoes (crushed, chopped)
- 1-2 cans water
- 2 cup dry red wine
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon each crushed red pepper, oregano, and basil
- 1 pounds uncooked spaghetti
To Make the Meatballs:
Pre-heat oven to 400 F
Mix all of the ingredients up to salt and pepper in a large bowl
Add salt and pepper. If the mixture is dry, add ½ cup of cold water (or milk) and mix well
Form the mixture into about 30 meatballs
Place the meatballs on greased cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes or browned
To Make the Sauce:
Heat the oil in batches over medium high heat and sauté the sausage, spare ribs, and pork chops until browned, about 10 minutes. Don't worry if the meat is not cooked through because it will finish in the sauce
Remove the meat from the pot and set aside
Keep pot over medium high heat sauté onions, garlic, and mushrooms. 3 minutes
Add the paste and brown slightly
Add wine and deglaze and cook until the mixture is reduced slightly
Add the tomatoes, water, cheese, raisins, and seasoning
Add sausage and meatballs
Bring to slight boil and simmer for 2+ hours over low heat, partially covered
Add pork and simmer for another 1-3 hours
Best made the night before and continue simmering the next day
Make the pasta according to instructions and serve!