Good Grief, Heathens!
How are we just getting a 'Holiday Meals' category?
Is there another one down there somewhere that I'm just not seeing?
I think this might be the single most important thread we got going here.
Simply because of the close ties to religion, each 'holiday' we cook for is a combination of our own self identity and that of our culture and traditions. That's some pretty powerful voodoo there.
Don't just leave a recipe below. Tell me about the memory each one invokes!
I'm an atheist from a transient home. (Uh...more like gypsies than hobos. ) I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents. Probably more than any other of their other..ten million grandkids. I feel that because of this, I am the most obliged to carry on the traditions I learned from them.
That is one thing religion has over atheism. They are pretty cookie-cutter, to a certain degree.
I'm a self-proclaimed non-breeder. I work out all my nurturing instincts on cooking, gardening and Doberman rearing. We have no reason to do the typical Easter Egg Hunt or Photos with Santa. A lot of 'religious tradition' is sort of menial bullshit you do to please your kids. My closest living relative is my mom's twin's son. My cousin and his boyfriend of over ten years won't be reproducing any time soon, either. Oh yeah. He's atheist, too. But he's only sorta-out-of-the-closet to his folks. My aunt and uncle are the closest relatives we have, (distance-wise.) so while in the U.S, I think everyone rather expects us to go there for all family gatherings. Did I mention my husband is an immigrant? The closest we come to escaping to HIS family for the holidays involves either thousands of dollars in flight tickets, or hours long conversations over Skype.
Since I'm the only one working right now, guess which it has to be?
So what's an atheist from a nomadic, criminally dysfunctional family to do? (Notice I'm only going as far as to mention my cousins and aunts? The closer we get to the nucleus of my family, the scarier it gets. )
Admittedly, the internet helps. I share recipes and chats over wine with my in-laws. It's a lot like having an 'auto-relax-and-advice program on my computer. It keeps us connected.
I also show up to the minimum allowed number of Stateside family events. A select few non-religious ceremonies like graduations or what-not.
But for the most part, Colin and I are on our own. We know that the traditions we sculpt will help shape the happiness of our future. Our holidays are free of religious tradition and family obligation. We celebrate what feels 'right' to us, as a unit. No care for what society demands.
Today is Easter Sunday. Passover. Spring Festivals.
What does that mean to me as a person?
Well, I'm looking forward to gardening. I can't wait to sit out on my balcony, surrounded by my berry plants. Soon I'll be able to pick a strawberry from my seat..without even standing.. and toss it into the bottom of my beer glass, to flavor whatever it is we have on tap from our home-brew kegs.
There is an anticipation of summer in the air. Up here in Northern California, our summer's stretch a good six months, or so it seems. Temperatures never get cold enough to snow, and most people wear sandals nearly year around. I am dreaming of those starry night beach bonfires. A sweet, intellectual sativa buzz tuned into the lights of the city behind the bay bridge. I can't wait for a lazy afternoon of spear fishing and kelp forest photography. I'm even looking forward to the long, exhausting fight of dragging my self and my equipment back up the sand and into our conversion van.
I want to celebrate the steps we made in winter. We have survived some pretty major struggles this year. There are so many things checked off of our 'mandatory to do' list. Visas, passports, paperwork. A lot of it required time and money that I wasn't confident we could consolidate. But we did. We made it over some rough ground. For that we should take pride and reward our endeavors.
There were mistakes made, as well. As a family, we will study those mistakes. Discuss them. Learn from them. As long as they are not a repetition of errors made in the past, we can put each one to rest. In this way, it's been a good year. There aren't any for us that require further examination.
Yet another reason to be thankful.

We've decided to celebrate the Zombie Jew weekend by making something together.
After an atypical eggs benedict breakfast, I'lll be helping Colin brew our new seasonal Irish Ale and then he'll be helping me out in the garden.
Brewing, gardening, cooking.
Celebrating old traditions in a positive, non-religious way.

What's your Spring Holiday recipe?

We also

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In my family holiday meals are festivals of gluttony and I'm ashamed to even hint at the menu. I used to openly state this at family holidays and ask why so much food was needlessly prepared. One year one of my grandfathers said he actually agreed with me and he told me about holiday meals when he was young. For most of the year, meat was something that children only got a taste of on Sunday. He had gruel for breakfast 7 days a week. On schooldays he split a couple loaves of bread and some lard with his 6 siblings for lunch. On non-schooldays there was sometimes milk or eggs to have with lunchtime bread. Most evening meals consisted of more gruel, sometimes with fruit preserves and a little bit of milk. Sunday night the children got either meat or some gravy on their bread.

When Christmas finally arrived, they got to have meat, vegetables, potatoes AND a dessert. It was the happiest thing he could imagine until he got into the navy and found out he could eat a full meal 3 times a day everyday - which almost brought him to tears. Anyway, he explained, since the earliest day of his marriage to my grandmother, they ate a Christmas dinner almost every day. They only way to make Christmas dinner seem special was to cook that heaping pile of food. I suggested that perhaps it would make more sense for us to fast on Christmas day so we could remember how lucky we were for the rest of the year. He agreed, but it I was alone in fasting for Christmas for the next few years.

Since I lost all contact with family I've started my own Christmas tradition. Rather than fasting or pigging out I opt to savour moderate portions of some very extravagant treats. Last Christmas was oysters and Pastis. Some years I have a really high end paté and little home baked crostinis. Quite often I sample fine cheese with some olives and wine. Anyway, I've never returned to the glutton festival and that choice has just kind of rolled into my minimalist lifestyle.
Hey there! I'm so with you on that. There is only two of us, so I can pretty much cook what I want, when we want (as long as we can afford it.)
Staying 'minimalistic' isn't all that easy for me. This is the first time in YEARS I've had an American kitchen to myself, so now that I'm readjusting back to hot running water and magical contraptions like microwaves (though ours only gets used for popcorn or to re-heat coffee, to tell the truth) it's hard not to go all out.
Because I can fit an entire turkey in my oven, I want to.
But two people do not a turkey need.
Self discipline is keeping me in line so far, but the in-laws will be here for Thanksgiving and they want it traditional style. (With a little upgrades, of course!) so I sorta feel compelled to test-turkey.
Things we will eat in the future are ok. I made an entire picnic ham because it got portioned out for soups, sandwiches and freezing for the week after next. But turkeys are pretty hard. Until I get my own meat grinder to make sausages and mince, I can't really commit to a less versatile meat.
We are pretty minimalistic simply because we are nomads. Shipping is expensive. It's taught me to live and cook local. Unfortunately to most Americans, 'local' means large. I'm still trying to balance that with smaller amounts of nicer things. Like you said, a holiday should make us remember how lucky we are. That's hard to do if you have more quantity and less quality. At some point the balance shifts and the quantity becomes a burden.

Thanks for sharing!
Your grandpa's story is going to stick with me for a while.....

I'll give you a tip on turkey that I used in my restaurant when I put on a full turkey dinner every single Sunday.  Cook almost everything well in advance so your special meal day is an enjoyable day.  Here are the steps:


Cut the biggest piece of skin you can from the turkey and freeze for later (breast side)

Cut the turkey into parts (legs, wings, 2 back pieces, each half of the breast)

Toss all the parts into a big pot of boiling water with onion, carrot, celery, seasoning & salt.

Pull all the parts out and let them cool until you can strip all the meat off.

     In this process, you will separate & save lean meat, dark meat, and 'other stuff'.


At this point you can strain the broth and refrigerate it along with the above 3 items.

This lets you take a break until day two if you like.

Or, if you have time, you can proceed to the following.


Toss all the 'other stuff' back into the broth and return to a boil

Let is simmer for a big chunk of the day

It should reduce to the point that it definitely tastes like turkey

You can add more seasoning if you like

Strain your broth and chill it


Once again you can take another day here.

If you are taking longer you should freeze the separated turkey meat.


When the broth is strained, you can remove the fat that has solidified on top of it.

Thaw out that big piece of turkey skin from the beginning.

You now have wonderful turkey broth that can be used to flavour your 'stuffing'

Make the stuffing in a cake pan, covering with the turkey skin

The turkey skin will brown and be great for presentation.

Use some more of the broth to make gravy

Boil the remaining turkey broth and submerge the amount of turkey meat you wish to serve

When the meat is hot, put it on a platter and cover with that big golden piece of turkey skin

Use a bit of turkey broth in your mashed potatoes for flavour


In this way, on the big meal day, it only takes a few hours to prepare stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  If you make your own cranberry sauce the day before, people will think you are a wizard.  Go crazy and roast some sweet potatoes when you cook the stuffing if you like.  You also have a bit of broth left over for making a brilliant soup.


All of the above might seem like a big process, but by breaking it up you can spread the work out and avoid the headache of preparing a HUGE holiday meal.  You also remove a lot of fat from your turkey gravy and avoid that problem of gravy covered in a layer of grease (can happen to the best of us).  You still get a great presentation and it's more eloquent since people don't end up with piles of bones and connective tissues at the side of their plates.  Finally, this is a much better way to ensure food safety because you know your turkey is thoroughly cooked and you don't end up with unused portions sitting on display for hours on end.

Easter 2011 Eggs Benedict

((I change the recipe every year based on where we live, what's fresh and what it represents to me. I love cooking eggs Benedict because although it's traditional, it's also pretty versatile. The degree of skill it takes means your attention HAS to be focused on the meal, so I consider it a good judge or yearly-marker of my developing skills in the kitchen.)

2 Egg yolks
2/5 c. Duck Fat
1 fresh squeezed lemon
1/4 c chives from the garden
1 tbs vinegar.
2 Eggs
Fresh thyme from the garden
4 slices extra sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz shredded picnic ham, broiled in the oven.

Make your eggs the way you do em. The cheese gets toasted on the muffin instead of butter, then topped with the ham, a dollop of the hollandaise, the eggs, more hollandaise, then the thyme and chives over the top.


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