‘Twas The Night Before Christmas …

… and more Ghosts of Christmases past have surfaced.

Coming from a large family, Christmas was anything but quiet. When it was merely the six kids, it was chaos and pandemonium. Imagine six kids attacking the tree looking for gifts with their name on it. A finite amount of space didn’t stop us. At some point the parents would try to take charge and regulate things, a bit. It never lasted for long and only quieted down when the last gift was opened and the look of is that it?!? was shared by us all as we were surrounded by piles of boxes, paper, and bows.

One of my fond pyromaniac memories was burning all of the wrapping paper in the fireplace. Back in the day, anything burnable went into the fireplace – never the trash – and we had a fire pretty much every night. The colors of the flames when different colored papers were burning was better than a Presto Log!FireplaceNaturally, we’d over-pack it and the roaring flames would start licking the outside of the grate, reaching up towards the stockings. I remember the roaring noise it made and the heat felt across the room. Funny that I don’t remember ever being told not to start a fire – only to be careful and don’t burn down the house. Of course, these are the same parents who let me walk down to the corner Safeway store along 19th Avenue when I was a mere 4 years old. I think we grew up differently, back then – and that’s probably not a bad thing.

One of my more fun memories is the one year my mother got so plastered she ended up going to bed before dinner was even finished cooking. My mom was not a big drinker and there really are only two times in my life I saw her totally over-the-top.

I was maybe 15 or so and the older folks started Christmas morning drinking a cross between a Brandy Alexander and a Grasshopper – brandy, crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and heavy cream – with Christmas Brunch. At some point it became brandy in a snifter – that just kept getting filled. She was just sipping along, never knowing or realizing how much she was drinking. And then she went down for the count. I remember finishing the gravy and getting the meal on the table while she was led off to bed – waking the following day vowing to never drink, again.

My first Christmas away from home was in 1972. I spent it in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Nothing says Peace on Earth quite like being on an aircraft carrier in the middle of a war zone. On a side note… we were supposed to get the Bob Hope Christmas Show on our boat, but at the last minute, they moved it to the USS Enterprise – that had just arrived on station. They were the big, fancy, new nuclear ship and we were passé. They got Jill St. John. We got the New Christy Minstrels. Sometimes life really isn’t fair.

Back home, the family grew, adding spouses, significant others, more kids, and grandkids. It only got louder and more chaotic. And more fun.

Christmas

No one worried about chairs. You pulled up a piece of floor and sat. Or… did conga lines through the house…

Naturally, copious amounts of alcohol have never been a party to our parties… Much. This was the last time all six of us were together at Christmas – our house in San Leandro in 2000.

Christmas 2000

There’s four of the thirteen grandkids missing, here, and, today, there’s an additional fifteen or so, from them – mergers and acquisitions.

From that chaos we went to relative civility. Less kids and less chaos.

Christmas 2009

But still a lot of fun. And now there are a couple more little ones to watch with delight.

But even that fun has come to an end with Nonna no longer traveling the 90 miles north. It’s a quiet dinner for two celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fish with a huge pot of Crab Cioppino, instead of the feast that Tom makes.

I definitely do miss that spread.

But… circumstances change and you have to adapt. We adapted by making Cioppino.

Crab Cioppino

Every time I make this I make it just slightly different – more peppers, less peppers, with mussels, without mussels, lots of anchovies, just a few anchovies. This is readily adaptable to what you have and what you like.

Crab Cioppino

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bulb fennel, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bottle good Chianti
  • 4 cups clam juice
  • 1 No 10 can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 lbs dungeness crab legs and claws
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 24 clams
  • 24 mussels
  • 1 lb Alaskan cod cut into chunks
  • 1/2 lb calamari
  • 1 lb scallops
  • 1 jar anchovies
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes – more or less, to taste
  • Greek oregano – we use our own we grow and dry
  • Salt & Pepper

Get a large pot.

Saute onion, fennel, bell peppers, and garlic in olive oil until vegetables are quite wilted and beginning to get tender. Stir in the anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook until anchovies dissolve.

Crab CioppinoAdd one bottle red wine – I use a really good chianti – and bring to a boil. Simmer about 10 minutes and add the clam juice.

Add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up as you add them.

Crab CioppinoAdd a hefty teaspoon of Greek oregano, a hefty pinch of salt and a hefty pinch of black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then simmer about 30 minutes.

At this point you can turn off the heat and save it for later or bring it to a boil and carry on… My personal preference is to make it in the afternoon, bring it to a boil, and then and let it simmer a bit. About 30 minutes before adding the seafood, I bring it back to a boil.

In about 5 minute increments,

Add the dungeness crab.

Add the clams and mussels.

Crab CioppinoAdd the cod chunks.

Add the shrimp.

Add the scallops.

Finally, add the calamari.

Crab CioppinoFrom start to finish on adding and cooking the fish should be about 20 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and add more red chile flakes or hot sauce, as desired. it should have a bit of a kick.

Ladle into large bowls – discarding any unopened clams – and serve with crusty bread.

Crab CioppinoForget the napkins. Have several kitchen towels available. This is one messy meal as half of it is eaten with your fingers.

It came out perfect. really perfect. Really rich without being overly filling. And it had the perfect amount of spice.

This really is something everyone should make at least once. It is ridiculously easy and definitely feeds a crowd.

I had planned a roast for tomorrow night, but we’re going to do this, again. It was too good not to!