Holiday 2013 Issue

Last Updated December 01, 2013
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Holiday 2013 issue

AT THE TABLE: JOY AND REFLECTION


Last Christmas Eve marked the first time in three decades I spent the holiday away from family. I was on assignment in sunny Costa Rica, working on a documentary film about migratory songbirds—the warblers and thrushes that fly south every winter before returning again each spring full of music. Though I won’t forget the wonderful meal served by our host—chicken in barbecue sauce, boiled yuca, avocado salad— still I wished on this night to be at a different table. I knew that two thousand miles away, Grandpa was working his way around the dining room, wishing everyone health and happiness as he offered them a piece of oplatki, the unleavened wafer that is part of traditional Polish celebrations on Christmas Eve.

After the blessing, my mother begins the meal by serving a crisp Caesar salad adorned with anchovies, decidedly un-Polish, but enthusiastically endorsed by our family as the proper way to begin a Christmas Eve feast. Next comes the bouillabaisse, fish soup topped with steamed mussels, of French origin, but also long assimilated into our family’s culinary canon. Side dishes include, without exception, pierogies, a fresh-baked loaf of bread, and cabbage. I always make the cranberry sauce from scratch—the secret is adding incredible amounts of brandy. Dessert is one of Uncle Joe’s apple pies.

As in my family, food is often the cornerstone of a family’s celebration during the holidays, and I’ve found that these food traditions, when practiced year after year, carry with them a peace and a warmth that few wrapped gifts can match. And even if your family has let traditions of yore fade, you can begin a new tradition this very season.

In this Holiday issue of Edible Jersey, we share with you a number of stories about the importance of food during the holidays. Anthony Ewing writes about his Italian family’s Christmas Eve tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Find out how a hardworking grandmother bakes 6,800 Christmas cookies each year. And there is a story about how the small river city of Lambertville embraces the holiday spirit and keeps it kindled all winter.

But this issue is also notable for two other stories, which have less to do with the holidays. Fran McManus explores a looming battle over the labeling of genetically modified food in the state, a battle which some activists feel is part of a fight for nothing less than the future of our food supply. And Megan Wetherall tells an important story about how two war veterans struggling with PTSD have found healing through the growing of food.

These are serious stories. And as they should be. For the holidays are a time not only for joy, but also a moment for reflection on the things that truly matter.

-Jared Flesher, Editor 

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Feast of the Seven Fishes

7 fishes
If there’s one meal that represents the Italian-American experience shared by many New Jersey families, it’s the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Fried Smelts

fried smelts
These fried smelts are butterflied, making them the perfect appetizer, which is best served with lemon wedges.
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