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Feasting for the holidays, revised

By on October 25, 2020 in Columnist with 1 Comment

By Susan Sampson

With winter holidays approaching, but with a pandemic still rampant and social isolation still de rigueur, I’m re-envisioning my plans for holiday feasts. 

I don’t foresee a 22-pound golden-brown turkey presented to a crowd of relatives seated around the dining table like models for a Norman Rockwell painting. With the family scattered from Alaska to Arizona, Washington state to Washington, D.C., I see a wimpy Cornish game hen for just my husband and me. 

Afterwards, instead of a cutthroat Scrabble tournament, we’ll kick back and listen to music that’s nostalgic, like Metallica or Led Zeppelin.

 This isn’t the first time that many of us, children of the comfort food era of the 1950s, have resisted tradition, but found our way back to it. 

My husband spent his early teens in Rio de Janeiro, where a holiday meal meant the Brazilian national dish, feijoada, a stew of black beans and mixed meats, chased with a shot of cachaça, sugar cane spirits. He’d still prefer it to turkey. However, traditionally it’s made with pig tails, trotters and ears, and I won’t be cooking that.

 For many of us, the break in tradition came when we left home for college. 

My sister Sandy was artistic. When she got her own first apartment, she tried decorating a cake. We’d had cake at home, but plain, not decorated. Sandy’s cake tasted fine, the frosting tasted fine, but the frosting looked like a pile of green worms, and nobody would touch it.

 Sandy was attracted by the ecology movement. She became convinced that we should eat more vegetables and less meat. The idea wasn’t bad: Eating vegetables was more efficient and better land use than feeding plants to cows, turning the cows into meat, and eating the meat. 

Home for vacation, she studied Diet for a Small Planet, crowded into the kitchen with Mom (who said it was a “one rump kitchen”), and labored for hours to make us a soybean dish. Mom pursed her lips like she did when she scolded a bad kid, and served the soy at dinner, next to a platter of pork chops fried in Wesson oil. 

When my younger son came home from college for a holiday, I did my best doting mother act, and offered him anything he wanted to eat. 

I was thinking of shrimp cocktail, green salad with vinaigrette dressing, baked potato with all the fixings, and rib steak. 

Without hesitation, he asked for the classical menu of college kids, food that was quick, inexpensive and filling: Top Ramen, with Jello for dessert.

When I offer my nieces copies of my mother’s 1950s recipes, they laugh uproariously about spaghetti made with hamburger and Campbell’s tomato soup, chili made with hamburger and Campbell’s tomato soup, beef stroganoff made with hamburger and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and casserole made with hamburger, onions, carrots, potatoes, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. 

They eat millennials’ food, like tofu. Surely that can never become a tradition.

I have never cared for mushroom soup, but frankly, I like some other ’50s dishes, like my mother’s tamale casserole:

n Slice a couple of cans of tamales into 1 inch segments to cover the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan. (I use about six great big frozen tamales from Costco.) 

n Mix together a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, a can of beans or chili, a can of creamed corn, and a can of black olives, drained. 

n Pour it over the tamales and top with 4 oz. grated cheddar cheese. 

n Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until it’s warmed through.

I could have sworn that the original recipe called for dusting the top with cornflakes, too, but I don’t see that on my mother’s stained old recipe card.

With just two of us at home for the holidays, this recipe will still deliver a benefit of family traditional cooking that we haven’t given up — leftovers!

Susan Sampson retired with her husband to Wenatchee in 2009 after practicing law in Seattle for 35 years.

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  1. Sheila Bly says:

    Great! Sounds good to me!,

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