Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Season in New York

The first party, at which I ate 7 or 8 latkes, occurred last Sunday at my great aunt Mays’ place in Teaneck, NJ. The last party, at which I cooked around 125 latkes and ate a least 14 (of three different varieties), was at Avivas parents house in Cherry Hill, NJ. The three parties in between, at which I ate 5, 0 (but ridiculous amounts of seafood) and 10 latkes were, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at our house in the Bronx, my friend Cheo’s house in Eastchester and my Aunt Debbies’ house in Long Beach.

The party at Mays', which lasted from about 430 to about 730 Sunday evening, was wonderful. A family affair, something still relatively new to me although I becoming more familiar with it since I moved to New York. At this party, May and her daughters Gail and Shelly, and their kids Elisa, Shari and Danny, and some of their kids got together with my side of the family, Eric & Rhonda, Debbie & Steve and all my cousins, plus me and Aviva. Normally my second (or third) cousin Micheal and his wife Maureen would also have come, but they couldn't make it this year. May made her delicious and apparently famous (my Uncle actually called ahead of time to make sure the chicken would be there) baked "fried chicken" as well as latkes, hot dog chilli, potato salad, slaw and a ridiculous number of deserts, including the best doughnuts in New York (according to my uncle). Much good food and conversation were had by all, and I left with a great deal of pleasure in the surprisingly large and wonderful family I suddenly have.

The next party, on Tuesday, was ours. Much smaller, with only a few of our friends and many fewer latkes (although I still had five, more than my share). Ellen made a delicious butternut squash soup, Rachel brought more squash and latkes, and Aviva and I made salmon and pie. Fantastic meal, with the added bonus of being in our home, so later on in the evening, after several betons (becherovka and tonic) for everyone, everyone else had to get back to Manhattan but we were able to simply head to bed. Fabulous food and great company ...

The third party was actually dinner on christmas eve at my friend Cheos' house, and it was wonderful. Dinner was basically seafood, as Cheo and his old professor Juan (who is visiting from Chile) and their families made a trough (I would say a platter, but it was much bigger than that) of seafood, probably 5 or 6 pounds each of ahi, yellowtail and swordfish, as well as chicken sausage, vegetable and squid skewers. There were some salads, pie, and fruit as well, but dinner was all about wine and fish. The real joy of the evening was watching cheos' kids flip out when Cheo dressed up as Santa Claus and ran around in the backyard, making the kids believe Santa had come by. They were sad Santa did not come in, until they saw several of their presents were from Santa. When they opened these, getting transformers and electronic books and yo-yos and things, they loudly proclaimed each to be exactly what they wanted.

I have to say, I don't miss Christmas per se, but I do miss the joy and happiness kids get from a well done christmas celebration. And the tree, I miss decorating the tree.

The fourth party was actually Hanukkah on Christmas, a Hanukkah celebration on Christmas day at my Aunt Debbies' in Long Island. This gathering was typical for parties at Debbies', meaning it was a tremendous amount of fun. My cousins Amanda and Toby and Jessica came, as well as Amandas husband, daughter, in-laws (who are really wonderful) and au pair, as well as Debbies' dear friend June and her kids Amy and Logan. As always, Debbie made incredible food, including wonderful latkes (of which I had 10), sweet carrots, an entire serivce of remarkable appetizers (Debbie always has such good cheese) and the piece de resistance, a delicious hanukkah ham. Now you might get confused, as we are mostly Jewish and no part of the Jewish tradition implies a ham, but it was after all Christmas day, and ham is really, really delicious, so after Debbie did the ham to much acclaim last year, she has started a new tradition which I whole-heartedly support. The meal was followed by drinking and more eating and then more drinking and eating, and then by games of catchphrase and apples to apples, during which Debbie and I relaxed and schmoozed while the drunken revelers yelled out 80's music and then degenerated into a skit/dance/I am not sure what referring to a past episode with something called a butt bongo. After the butt bongo episode and several laughing fits, the stragglers (it was 11 pm by this time), of which we were the last (as usual) struggled upstairs or out the door, well satisfied.

Friday, a rest day between parties which we badly needed, was used to get down to Cherry Hill, where on Saturday Aviva and I spent the day preparing for our final party, a gathering of the Buchmans and their giant "extended" family at Avivas' parents house, which is perfect for large gatherings (Aviva's parents were not actually in attendance, being up in Boston to help out with the birth of my new neice, Samara Yael Buchman). To prepare for this party, Aviva and I spent the afternoon making about 125 latkes, sweet potato and cinnamon, as well as an asian style latke, with sweet potato, zucchini, ginger, soy sauce, scallions and sesame oil. I managed to eat several latkes during the preparation, as well as a good dozen of all three types later at the party (I am now officially off latkes, but I think I need to filter by blood to remove the oil).

This party was an absolute blast. My friends Koffman & Aviva (different Aviva) came down from NY, Aviva's (my Aviva) friends Laurie & Vasili, Heather, Jackie & Dan, and Jill were there. Avivas' aunt, grandmother, grandfather, sister, brother-in-law, and our nephew all came, as well as about 35 extended family including the Lilianas (who are referred to for some reason by their mothers first name), the Rappaports and a host of other friends who live in NY and around Philly. We (we meaning Paul, who I now think of affectionately as the topper, organized and we came) made havdalah and later on lit candles for hannukkah, the half dozen toddlers and babys played and smile and ran around, played, we all talked and drank and ate and ate and ate, we had not enough of the excellent food, particularly Irenes tuna dip and mushrooms, and waaaay too much amazing desert. Aunt Irene got a delicious cookie cake, giant brownies made an appearence as well as chocolate dreidels, frosted oreos, pies, banana bread and other various cakes. Shockingly, about 100 latkes, including all the asian style latkes and all of Pauls carrot and potato latkes, were eaten. And after the evening wound down and many people had left, Bucky got back from Boston with pictures and news about the new baby, so we all stayed up talking until around 2 in the morning. It was an incredible night, gone way too fast ... and it made me realize how much I love and feel comfortable with the new family I am growing into, and how lucky I am to have them. Good holidays and good family, reminds me of how lucky I am ... and of how much I really, really like latkes.

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