We arrived at Bertrand’s Aunt Bella’s early for Christmas Eve dinner, as we’d said we would since we brought most of the meal, which had to be heated or stirred or grated into, and amidst various stages and temperatures.
As we unpacked in her kitchen, I heard myself say, “Let’s open the wine!” This was a bit odd: it wasn’t even 5:30, but, more significantly, I’m not a big drinker. And yet, I craved a drink.
In immediate retrospect, I chalked it up to a few minor anxieties, ranging from how Astrid’s fiance Eli would enjoy his first Christmas with us, to whether my mother-in-law would balk at an all-vegetarian menu, to concern about getting back to the Berkshires in time to beat the snow since the snow tires hadn’t been put on yet.
But the real reason hit me about an hour later, when everyone had arrived and I sat on the sofa catching up with Astrid. After hearing about her and Eli’s wedding plans and their Bay Area real estate search, when she asked what was new on my end, this is what came out of my mouth: “Well, we not only got cut from our usual Christmas dinner invite but I just learned we also weren’t invited to another friends’ Christmas party last week.”
I know; so mature. The Christmas dinner cut is not surprising. It involves a misunderstanding that’s complicated and delicate, but I’m nevertheless confident it will heal soon. But this more recent party invite, or lack thereof, has thrown me. After running a number of possible reasons through my head, none make sense, so, well, we scratch our heads and occasionally say to each other, Isn’t that weird?
And so, that was why I suggested the bottle be uncorked a few hours early. This kind of petty shit throws you, leaving your imagination to run wild. It has also caused me to pause and think about those we’ve disinvited. It happens, you say to yourself, when you imagine the hurt feelings it might have caused. I even wrote a post about it once, after were confronted, albeit in a pleasant, dinner party conversational way, by a woman who’d noticed that we’d stopped inviting her and her family to our dinners. It was an awkward moment, but I was impressed and, well, grateful that she brought it up because it was, indeed, an oversight, and one I felt pretty shitty about. They were put back on the list, and since then, we’ve become closer friends.
But sometimes names are removed on purpose, because, well, it’s a natural social evolution. The usual reason is the simple fact that you’ve grown apart, which happens. You might go back and forth about whether to scratch those few names off, but your house can only fit 50 people (or, in our case, your porch can hold 20), and now that your kids have become friends with that big family down the street, it’s getting too crowded. Come to think of it, when was the last time they had you over? You convince yourself that the disinvited seems to be really busy with other stuff (thanks, Instagram), so they probably didn’t even notice when the invites stopped coming. But notice, they likely did. No matter the reason, or the outcome, it is a delicate dance.
But back to the positive stuff: the food! Despite my early pouring of my icy rose, I never even caught a buzz, and our dinner was a lovely one. Bella, a Brit, had those paper firecracker favors that came with hats, jokes and whistles, and Bertrand led us all through “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls” and “Knick Knack Paddy Wack.” The veggie menu was warm and cozy and flavorful. Bella made her delicious Borscht, Bertrand made sauteed mushrooms and Bon Appetit’s Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad and I roasted fingerling potatoes (under my friend William’s text guidance–he gets annoyed when I ask for a recipe more than three times…) and my new go-to, a radicchio and onion tart.
It’s inspired by one I experienced at Kismet in Los Feliz back in the Fall. None of the dishes were overly Christmasy or overly seasonal, for that matter, so they’re pretty evergreen. Since it was light, no one felt stuffed or logy afterwards. I think we all felt somewhat virtuous about that, although I bet my mother-in-law had opinions about a missing roast of some sort. But, like our recent shuns, she, too, shall get over it.
Radicchio and Onion Tart with Crumbled Feta–serves six
- 1 pack of frozen phyllo dough
- 4 T olive oil, divided
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced sideways in 1/4-inch strips
- 1 head of radicchio, sliced sideways in round one-inch ribbons
- 2 T pine nuts
- half cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 T pomegranate seeds
- handful of frisee, roughly chopped
- 2 T your favorite honey
Remove the dough from the freezer the night before making, and place in fridge. When you’re ready to cook the radicchio and onion, take dough out of fridge and let thaw more. Heat 2 T oil in large frying pan. Add onions and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. You want them to be somewhere between transparent and caramelized. When done, remove from pan and set aside in bowl. In same pan, add remaining 2 T oil and heat. Add radicchio and cook until darkened and soft—about 20 minutes. Remove from pan and set in a second bowl. Keep heat on under pan and stir in pine nuts. Let brown for about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375. Unfold phyllo dough gingerly and place over parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cover dough with the cooked onions, followed by the radicchio. Sprinkle with feta, then pine nuts, and, finally, pomegranate seeds. Place in heated oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and slice into individual portions. Before serving, drizzle honey over each slice and top with frisee.