Privilege Blog

Some Salsa For Christmas, Or, Saturday Morning At 10:19am

Come Christmas morning, I had no salsa.

Let’s back up. I’ve been hosting Christmases, and Thanksgivings, and dinner parties, on and off for 30 years. I’ve roasted, sauteed, stir-fried and baked many a foodstuff. This year, having returned from Hawaii on December 23rd, I was quite tired. How vacations tire one out is a question for another day.

Right now, we’re talking salsa.

We had all determined that East Bay sister, her husband, and daughter, would spend Christmas Eve at my house. As has happened before. They celebrate Jewish holidays, so I provide some red and green round my way. We had also determined that we’d spend Christmas Eve with my father and his wife.

As it turned out, my brother and his new wife were in town, so they came to the festivities too. As it turned out, we had Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant, to honor the Jewish tongue-in-cheek tradition, to recognize the Asian member of our extended family, and to release my father’s wife from the requirement to cook for this clan yet again. She has done her part.

Fun was had. Raucous fun, respectful fun, honeyed-golden-my-god-don’t-we-love-each-other and aren’t-we-fortunate-fun. But I’m still considering that missing salsa.

My daughter and I ran to Whole Foods the morning of December 24th. Remember, we had gotten home the night before, after 10pm. We circumnavigated produce, dairy, boxes, meat. We made a new arc for each considered meal, as there was no way I could plan with the usual list. I’m 55 and I was just too tired. Or so it seemed, as we and the entire town of Palo Alto, California shouldered our carts to checkout in a giant, harvesting push.

For Christmas lunch, I bought quantities of brisket, latkes, brussels sprouts and salmon. When you decide to abrogate your own tradition, room is created to honor someone else’s. As far as Christmas breakfast, all I could do was point and mutter, “Eggs. Milk. Bread. Ham.” The foundation of High WASP mornings. Absent a breakfast direction, I clung to landmarks.

I only knew what I couldn’t do, i.e. plan. I had no one in mind to make happy, at that moment, only my own stamina to preserve.

When Christmas Day dawned, the lunch of brisket and salmon was fine. For breakfast, my brother-in-law stepped up to scramble eggs. But when I told the crowd that anyone could have tortillas in place of toast, my son’s enthusiasm deflated upon hearing that we lacked salsa. I’ve always made him breakfast burritos, and burritos require salsa to be any good at all.

It’s a question of knowing what matters. Serving people, making them happy, isn’t just an obligation. My son by now has forgotten, I’m sure, the lack of Christmas salsa. I have not. For while I was right in thinking that I was too tired to surprise everyone with perfectly charred beef tenderloin, or turkey con Peruvian chiles, I forgot that a large part of holidays and family gathering joy, for me, has been my own skills. I like to make other people happy.

Taking myself off the hook for Christmas meals made a good deal of sense, at the time. It felt like I was taking care of myself. Sort of, not quite.

Let me hasten to assure you, this is not a story of the Mother Who Trashed Christmas When She Forgot The Salsa. Only a reminder that in the New Year, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love. To revel, again, in all the ways learned to fold laundry, change sheets, and make Nina Simmond’s Chicken Hot And Sour Soup. At 55, years of good work give us the right to ease up, but we can also serve without obligation. Teasing out those specifics is the greatest privilege of our later years.

Always doing better, always knowing why.

I made Simple Gingered Chicken Soup for my office, a few weeks ago. Might have to bring in another pot of something soon. The dual strands of service and pride lit up like Christmas, twinkling.

39 Responses

    1. Because I like to make people happy, here you go! Just use this recipe, or one like it. Now add a half a cup of rice or white wine to the broth in with the 6 cups of water. I like to use another half cup of water too. Then grate up at least two tablespoons of fresh ginger, add couple of twigs of fresh thyme, and substitute cooked rice for the noodles. Or you can cook the rice in the soup itself, during last 20 minutes, if you prefer. I haven’t tried that but I’m guessing it works. If you need more ginger, add it:). Parsley optional, but I’m a huge fan. I call this recipe simple because although you do have to make your own broth, how hard can it be to get a cut up chicken and put it in some water? Not very, and homemade broth, from an actual chicken, is a completely different species from store bought. The ginger makes everyone feel healthier, and apparently is in fact good for digestion. Happy New Year everyone!

  1. Hi there LPC, I was just reading your blog and you left a comment on mine, how nice! Happy New Year! (I too had dreadful cold on run up to Christmas so read your post on yours with great sympathy!) Must go, boy is shoving Warhammer Space Marine under my nose for maternal admiration..

  2. Hello Lisa, Happy New Year. I like the way you are able to bend and reform traditions in your family. By the way, the brisket and salmon sound great, but for me latkes are too greasy–next time I recommend a potato kugel, like one giant latke made in a pie plate, and not as oily.

    Have a great 2012. Road to Parnassus

    1. Also, you can buy baby bok choy, cut them in half, rinse them, and then put that half raw in the bottom of your large soup bowl. Then pour in the soup. It will cook the bok choy for you.

  3. Isn’t it funny, as much as I enjoyed the entire post and all that it says, more than anything I too want the Gingered Soup recipe!

    Thank you for making this past year so much nicer, in so many ways. I send wishes that 2012 is all you hope, and then some. You are a gem whose friendship I treasure. (“Sadly, she crossed over into the much-too-emotive zone. Revoke her Privilege privileges.” Heh-heh-heh.)

    1. :) BTW, chicken soup hints. Organic chickens cook fast, 1 and a half hours will be too long. Don’t let this boil much during the simmer, keep a close watch. Cook uncovered for more flavor. And you don’t really have to brown anything if you don’t want to.

  4. I know just what you mean. I’ve rocked back and forth for perhaps the last decade trying to figure out how to reconcile the Christmases I used to do with the work I now do (work with a schedule that really interferes with Christmas!). Along the way, I’ve recognized that saving my energy doesn’t always save my spirit — there’s a weird economy here that I haven’t quite figured out, but I’m getting closer. As, I’m sure, are you — in fact, I know the salsa mattered more to you than to anyone else, and that you had a splendid time together anyway. And we have all those future Christmases to get even closer to perfection (which we never quite want to achieve anyway, right?) Happy New Year! May there always be salsa!

  5. As our tribe has expanded, we simply have no place to include everyone in the Christmas brunch we used to have at our place. (If everyone came, we would have 20!) Our traditions are gradually changing…we simply make the rounds of the adult children’s homes and try to leave before we have worn out our welcome. I like what Mater wrote about seeking that balance between memories and our current energy levels. If you had salsa, it would have been something else that would come up missing. Sounds like you had a busy, busy day.

  6. It’s not like kugel is diet food — I’ll take latke’s. The applesauce is healthful. Our tradition is hot chocolate and croissants. Long-ago mother made them from “The Art of French Cooking” but that quickly gave way to Sara Lee – nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.

    Because we had a late arrival Christmas Eve the festivities didn’t start early so I ran out for the rolls Christmas morning. I got the “opps we baked too much” bag that was $1 off!

  7. Happy New Year, Lisa. I also suffer from anxiety about not having the one thing that will ensure everyone always feels cared for. As a result, my pantry is overloaded and my friends accuse me of being a survivalist (in the city, no less!)

  8. We broke with tradition (Thai food) this year, and due to the fantastic weather last weekend, threw some steaks on the grill for Christmas dinner. Whatever works.

    We’re in a period of shifting what the holidays mean and how we’ll celebrate them. Can’t decide if I feel freer or more adrift.

  9. Hi Lisa
    I am relating to this post because I made the decision to not throw a plum pudding together as per usual for the troops. Purely because I couldn’t be bothered.
    Never again…I missed it more than anyone else at my table.

    Happy new Year!
    Annie xx

  10. I will have to try the ginger soup, it sounds delicious!

    Sorry about the salsa! Im sure he is forgiving, but you are disappointed, and that’s an unfortunate memory to have. I know what you mean about the trade offs of energy versus bringing joy to others. I am throwing a NYE dinner party for, among others, a vegan, and a woman who hates the texture of onions, and can’t abide even a tiny bit of spicy heat. My traditional NYE spread is turkey mole. This is, frankly, a pickle, and I’ve run myself silly finding ingredients and side dishes everyone can eat. But it’ll be great to make a warm meal that everyone enjoys, have friends gracing my table, laughing and chatting over good food. I’m glad I had the energy to make it happen.

  11. Missing salsa or not, I think you got the recipe right: good food + family + good will = success. And if you are interested, I have the simplest, easiest, most fool proof beef tenderloin recipe in history. I’ve made it for 5, I’ve made it for 85. Works every single time. Drop me a note if you want it. And a very Happy Healthy and successful New Year to you and yours Lisa!

  12. Lisa, a great post, as can be expected from you.
    Times change, and we change.
    I feel like Susan ( Deja ), we are also much in the way of changing our Xmas routines, or traditions.
    Everything this year was already different. We ate so much chocolate on Christmas Eve, that the traditional Xmas foods were left untouched. Then came the storm, the 15 hrs without electricity, and the food definitely had to be thrown away. So no traditional Xmas food at our place.
    Did we miss anything? No.
    Do we really have to savor everything traditional?
    Imo, when there are small children involved, perhaps. Yet some of the old traditions need to be thrown away.
    Let´s create our own way of going through these tough feasts.
    A Happy New Year to you!
    It is already 2012 over here.

  13. It’s very late, or early as it is the morning …
    happy New Year!

    Your sturdy girl style comes through showing that you can come up with something new and different.
    Good to know that at “our age” we are not stuck in a rut!

    Sweet dreams.

  14. May your year be full of joy, hope and happiness. And thanks for this: ” I forgot that a large part of holidays and family gathering joy, for me, has been my own skills. I like to make other people happy.” I could not have put it better, the big joy in cooking, baking, preparing things for gatherings with friends and family.
    Also, did you maybe ate quesadillas? I like those even without salsa…. maybe with sauteed mushrooms or bell peppers? It is part of the what makes tortillas so versatile, you can eat them with basically anything you have in hand and it will most probably be delicious.

  15. I believe in breaking traditions… and sometimes those make for the best of memories. I want a latke now… really badly! Happy New Year, Lisa! Wishing you and your family much happiness in 2012!

  16. I’m cooking gingered chicken as I write.
    But with West Indian elements. Marinated in molasses, grated ginger and garlic overnight.
    Happy new year to you. It’s always a pleasure to visit your delightful blog.

  17. It sounds like a warm and wonderful Christmas and I you handled it with aplomb. This does not surprise me. Nor does it surprise me that you are still fretting over the salsa. You want to make your loved ones happy, and that little thing, a jar of salsa, encapsulates the expected and the known, a small ritual reminder of the things we take for granted as part of family, not the big festivities. I would have fretted too.

    A very happy New Year to you, filled with family and friends and joys, both large and small.

  18. Going to the grocery store when you just got back from Hawaii couldn’t have been easy! Jet lag will always make you forget the salsa! (or the turkey). Sounds like you had a wonderful holiday Lisa, we just got in from a flight last night and didn’t even make the midnight celebrations…………partied out anyways! I have the same question, why do vacations make us so tired? But a good tired at that. Happy New Years Lisa and I look forward to blogging along with you again in 2012. XO
    Thank you for the mention on wrapping at Christmas. XO

  19. Many comments in no coherent order. I don’t like disappointing my daughter on holidays, although she’s 28 years old. Maybe because I’m divorced from her father, that keeping certain traditions intact, have become extremely important to both of us? Big family party this year, at our home, as always. I cooked for 3 days – including 18 lbs. of a very labor intensive brisket. She loves the whole thing, and each year includes more and more of her friends. It does make me happy, but tired too.
    And yes, why do vacations, particularly “resort” vacations exhaust us. We went to Hawaii a few months ago, and came back so tired. I have my ideas as to why, but am looking forward to your post on it.

  20. I never thought I would say but I am so tired of champagne and rich food, my chicken salad was heavenly today.

    Happy New Year Lisa, wishing you all the set that life has to offer.

  21. I was there at Whole Foods on the morning of Dec 24th! (visiting relatives in Palo Alto for Christmas) I wish I’d seen (recognized?) you there – I’d have loved to say ‘hi’ and thank you for all the fun and good information you’ve generously given on your site. But it was very busy, and I was concentrating on locating my designated items and didn’t really look up at people except to avoid blocking their paths. (note to self: look up more and notice people!)

    Sorry I missed you and have a Happy New Year!

    1. Oh how fun it would have been to have a voice say, “Hello, are you Lisa?” My daughter and I would have gotten a big kick out of it. Next time. I hope you had a wonderful trip to our neck of the woods!

  22. Very nice post. Thank you for the effort you put into this. May you and yours enjoy a Happy and Healthy New Year!

  23. Belated Happy New Year, dear Lisa. I loved this post–it resonated, as they say. This was my first Christmas really working (a deadline on the 23rd!) and we traveled the weekend before. And we hosted everybody for Christmas weekend. I did my best to keep all the balls in the air, but obviously dropped blogging with quite a thud. Here’s to new beginnings!

Comments are closed.