Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas 2012

After a few days of gluttony, we're embracing a pared down diet over here. Christmas was, as always, a family affair that rotated around the dinner table. Christmas seemed to sneak up on us this year, and I felt woefully unprepared. Most of the presents were bought a few days before they had to be given out, and we didn't do our meal planning until just before my parents arrived. I choose to blame this on a combination of celebrating Sinterklaas and being busy with things that interest me more than decorating a tree: finishing a free-lance project, reading Slate, getting outside for the few minutes a day that it isn't raining, keeping a toddler from careening to certain injury from the top of the sofa.  I'm not a Christmas fanatic, and I am often very glad to live far away from months-long Christmas displays in Target and the custom of putting up the tree on Thanksgiving evening.

What I totally got behind this year was our Second Christmas (December 26) dinner. We usually celebrate with my parents, who are staying with us, and a few close friends. In the past I've viewed it as a chore, since one of our friends doesn't like seafood and the other doesn't like cheese.  Because I tend to shy away from preparing meat, mostly because I am lazy, I've had a difficult time coming up with menus that suit everyone.  This generally leaves me a nervous wreck.  I also prefer to make fun desserts, although the crowd of meat eaters at our table gets less excited about my efforts than I generally do.

This year, we did it differently.  I nixed the dessert and bought some nice bonbons (insert frowny face for no Holiday baking), and Niek declared we would be roasting pork belly.  Pork belly?  Where are we going to get a 6 lb. pork belly? It turns out that there is an amazing butcher about five minutes from our house.  I must have walked past that place hundreds of times thinking it was nothing special.  His display case holds mostly potato salads and a few chickens.  Given the modern Dutch penchant for heat-and-serve meals, I wrongly assumed he would not have pork belly.  When we walked over there on the Saturday before Christmas, the place was packed.  Niek asked the lady behind the counter about our cut of meat, and I heard her shout into the back, "Do we still have pork belly today?"  The butcher came out and asked how much we needed.  Next thing I knew, he was hoisting almost half a hog onto a back counter and grabbing a sharp knife. Honestly, it's been years since I've been to a real butcher  shop, and I've never ordered such a large cut of meat.  Even though it was a really simple cut, it was pretty awesome watching him work.  We were so excited about our purchase, and we couldn't stop talking about having an actual butcher in our neighborhood. I'm kicking myself for not going in before now.  I think that experience is what got me excited for making the meal and entertaining friends.

Niek did most of the cooking, although I stepped in as sous-chef/baby wrangler throughout the afternoon. Here's Niek getting ready to prep the huge chunk of meat we bought:

The roasting pan we borrowed from my in-laws barely fit in our oven.  Seriously, we had about 1/8" on either side.  We were so terrified it wouldn't fit.  The recipe we used called for cooking the meat at a high temperature (250 degrees Celsius=482 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first hour in order to create a crispy skin.  It certainly worked, but it also created a smokehouse in our living room. Our oven is so small that the meat came closer to the oven's heating elements than we would have preferred. We had expected a bit of smoking but not to the degree we had. All our windows stayed open for about an hour.  It was either get a little cold or feel like we were living in a campfire.  

I'm so proud of Niek's cooking abilities.  The meat was delicious, says the woman who has no great love for pork.  It was, however, a really fatty cut and not one that I would want to eat weekly.  For Christmas, though, it hit the spot.  I was sad to see the evening end.  This is really the first time I felt like I truly embraced the fun of a second Christmas.  The 25th was all about my father-in-law's amazing meal--and it certainly was amazing--but the 26th was our chance to relax and have fun in our kitchen. I suppose we'll have to get more adventurous next year, since we now know where to buy our meat.

Even the toddler had a good time.  Did you know giant spoons are more interesting than food?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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