Going home for the holidays means two flights, two rental cars, a 250-mile drive and hundreds of thousands of calories of favorite foods in between, including our mothers’ holiday specialties: lasagna and beef wellington.
I grew up in New York. My husband grew up in Maryland. We lived in Maryland for 10 years after we married and visited New York many weekends. We both love New York-style pizza, bagels, Maryland steamed crabs and shrimp, cheap eats and our mothers’ cooking.
For the entirety of my life I have been at my mother’s on Christmas day. And for all those 44 Christmases (at least the ones I remember), my mother has made lasagna. She buys the fresh lasagna noodles from a local Italian deli, she makes the sauce and meat from scratch, she seasons the ricotta and shreds the mozzarella, layers it together and bakes it into gooey deliciousness. Hands down, my mother makes the best lasagna on the planet.
If you are at all familiar with how Italians eat, Christmas dinner will not surprise you and of course does not merely consist of lasagna. It starts with a table full of antipasti—Genoa salami, cheeses, olives, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, crackers and dips. Then it's time to sit down for dinner. Lasagna is always the first course with ham or turkey as the second. Dinner comes to a close after some clean up, digestion, strong espresso, hot tea and a large selection of pastries and cakes.
Even though we get our fill of calories from this delicious Christmas dinner, we still spend part of our visit in New York getting good pizza, bagels and great cheap eats at a real diner.
We drive down to Maryland a few days after Christmas to celebrate New Year’s with my in-laws. There are several places we like to stop along the way, but we usually pick just one. Jim’s or Pat’s or Geno’s Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia are all delicious choices but best in the summer; G&M Seafood in Baltimore has outstanding Maryland crab dishes—shrimp stuffed with crab, crab cakes, crab soup, crab lump cocktail—but this trip we decided to stop at Toucan Taco House, a hole in the wall near our old house with some of the best Tex-Mex this side of Interstate 95.
We always order the chili con queso. I don’t know what they put in this dreamy cheese dip, but its velvety cheesy goodness can't be matched, and I’ve tried at least 50 other queso dips in search of a worthy substitute. Then my husband and son get sunken meat burritos which are just as they sound: beef-filled burritos drowned in cheese and a spicy sauce. I always have the cheese enchiladas with extra chili, also swimming in melted cheese and a spicy sauce.
Finally we have New Year’s Day dinner. After a couple of days of partaking in spiced shrimp and crab soup from the local fish store, it’s time for the beef wellington. My mother-in-law orders the filet mignon special cut from the butcher. She makes her own crust and covers the beef in a layer of ham and then a layer of crust. It bakes for almost an hour and it comes out tender on the inside with a crisp buttery crust on the outside...heavenly. She rounds out dinner with mashed potatoes, a vegetable and finally homemade chocolate mousse.
Eating my way through the holidays certainly explains the extra pounds in the beginning of January, but it also helps anchor us in the reasons we make this wild trip year after year. Our families are sometimes frustrating and crazy, but they are also filled with love and tradition and goodness. I’ll be back in Kirkwood on Jan. 3. Let the dieting begin...