Thursday, December 31
(Fireworks display under Brooklyn Bridge, October, 2009)
As an Italian-American, I can't say I have followed the Italian traditions for New Years, perhaps out of laziness or because my kids don't like sausage and I don't like lentils very much. (Ok, it's not the taste as much as the after effects, but I digress) So we don't eat anything special in my family on New Year's Eve. But in Italy, New Year's Eve is celebrated with a meal consisting of a special type of spiced sausage called cotechino, it is said to symbolize fat wallets in the coming year, and lentils, which, because of their shape, symbolize coins, and as such, prosperity for the coming year.
Italians frequently drink spumante as their wine of choice on Capodanno (New Year's Eve), and their underwear of choice is traditionally red- it's supposed to bring luck in the new year. So, after a meal of sausage and lentils, washed down with some spumante, you take in the traditional fireworks display wearing your red underwear. If you have the time, you can toss some old items you don't need anymore out of your window to get rid of the old and ring in the new.
So, to everyone, Felice Anno Nuovo! And if you want to try the cotechino and lenticche recipe, here's one, courtesy of florencevillas.com
1 1/2 cups green lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound prociutto, pancetta, or bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 small fennel bulb, diced
1 shallot, minced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound sweet Italian sausage with fennel
1 medium can of chopped tomatoes
1 small dried chili pepper, or red pepper flakes to taste
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Most lentils sold these days do not need to be soaked ahead, but it is best to follow any package directions that come with the lentils you buy. Put lentils in a pot of boiling, salted water; when the water boils again, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or according to package directions. Drain..
Saute the bacon, onion, carrot, fennel, shallot and garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet. When vegetable are soft, remove and brown the sausage in the same skillet. Set sausage aside on paper towels.
Remove all fat from the skillet and return the bacon and vegetables to the pan; add the tomatoes, hot pepper, and bay leaf, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the sausage and heat through, simmering for 5 minutes or more.
Season with salt and pepper and serve on a large platter accompanied by mashed potatos.
Serves 4 to 6 people
Sunday, December 13
One day in 1964, my mom left work on her lunch break and went to Market Street in Philly bought a collection of pixie knee hugger dolls for Christmas decorations. They were made in Japan and were decked out in sparkly outfits and hats. She still lived at home with my grandparents then and she began hanging them from the chandelier at Christmastime. When she and my dad got married, she took the pixies with her and hung them from the chandelier in her new home. They have been dancing from the chandelier for over 40 years.
My mom, who is the consumate Christmas decorator and should really be doing the window dressing at Barney's, begins decorating the day after Thanksgiving. She sends my dad up to the attic and the procession of boxes begins. She carefully unpacks everything and places them in their pre-arranged spots. As kids, she would direct me and my sister as to where to place each decoration. But it was watching my mom hang up those pixies that I most looked forward to every year. They were my favorite Christmas decorations and I used to watch them sway and turn as they dangled. When Christmas dinner got boring, I would stare at the pixies and blow up towards the chandelier when nobody was watching so I could make them dance. I don't know if as a kid I thought they were magical or just mesmerizing, all glittery and sparkly, but to me, they represented the holidays at home.
One year, as an adult, I was discussing decorations with my mom. She had recently had surgery and didn't feel up to the usual lavish decorating marathon. I said "you're going to put the pixies up, aren't you?" "I don't think so, it's a lot of work." I said "You have to put them up! I'll come do it for you! It's not Christmas without them!" I was actually whining! Well, she put them up afterall, without my help. WHEW!
In 2006 I decided that in my new home where I finally had a chandelier, I wanted some of those pixies. I began to look online because I had never seen then in any stores. I couldn't find them anywhere online except eBay- and those were all used. There were no new ones to be found- they hadn't been made in years! Rats! So I did the only thing I could, because by then I was hell bent on getting those pixies- I started bidding on other people's throw aways! But guess what? Many other people had the same idea! The ones I wanted- the sparkly, blingy-outfitted ones, were rare- I could only find the ones dressed in felt. So the prices were high and I kept getting outbid. In 2006 I managed to win a few but not enough for my chandelier. The next year I went through the same thing- I won a few auctions and had to salvage a few good ones from each lot because some were filthy or just really battered. I won some more in 2008 after Christmas and by then I had about a dozen. I was already excited for Christmas 2009.
It's now 2009 and I finally have my complete collection of other people's used Christmas decorations. Today I decorated the house and the tree and the first thing I did was the chandelier. It took over an hour to get the clear string attached to their little hats if they didn't have their original string, then position them. They are larger than the ones my mom has, but this year I got to recreate a little childhood magic in my home for my children. I hope these don't disintegrate from age because when they are married, they will only have a pile of pixie dust!