Gathering the light on Christmas Eve


The menu never varies at our open house on Christmas Eve. It is, as near as possible, a faithful recreation of the one Mom used to  set on the table with loving care: a good rump roast embedded with pieces of garlic, brushed with EVO, dusted with freshly ground pepper and sea salt and sprigs of rosemary.

As good as the roast is every year, it’s the mashed potatoes that keep the young folks coming back. This year we await Jeremy Walls and the Hildebrand young ones — Jake (who is flying in from law school in London if the snow clears), Clay and Abby. Annually they burst through the porch door shortly after the first star has risen in the sky wishing everyone Merry Christmas and asking the signature question of the evening: “are there mashed potatoes?”

I’ve never been sure why mashed potatoes matter so much but they clearly do.

Jake and Clay both always ask to spend some time turning boiled potatoes into mashed ones which is fine with us. They use the old fashioned masher with great gusto, adding warm chicken stock, half and half and a stick of butter to the mix at my directions,  working it til its pretty creamy despite a few chunks that prove its the real McCoy.

Everyone does enjoy Mom’s signature roast recipe and the au jus gravy it produces. Usually, I serve asparagus as a side vegetable along with the many accompanying dishes that the kids parents and our other friends bring.

If the night runs true to form, and I certainly pray that it does, the peace of Christ settles over the house as the adults and kids arrive. It isn’t a quiet peace. No, it’s much more of a jubilant peace, with Lessons and Carols, Placido Domingo and Pavarotti booming in the background and the little touches we’ve incorporated into the evening over the years adding to the glow: Abby — who will always be the youngest until the next generation arrives — has the task of fetching the Baby Jesus from his heavenly hide-away (out on the porch with the wise men) and settling him into the manger.

Presents are opened after dinner but before Midnight Mass  broadcast from the Vatican when we sit, surrounding the television, enraptured once again as the story of the ages unfolds like a perfect rose.

Mom’s Perfect Christmas Eve Roast

Ingredients: 5 pound rump roast; sea salt and fresh ground pepper; garlic cloves cut into slices; 2 tablespoons flour; fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions: Make small slits in the top of the roast where its fatty; put pieces of garlic in the small slits; rub with pepper and salt; dust with flour and, brown quickly in a heavy frying pan on top of the stove. I use a meat thermometer and bake at 350 degrees until it reads medium rare. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, two hours should  do the trick.

Mom’s Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients: 2 pounds of potatoes of yoru choice; 1 teaspoon kosher or other good salt; 1 cup half and half or heavy cream; 1 stick of butter; 1/2 chicken stock.

Directions: Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they are large and add the potatoes to a large pot with enough cold water to cover them by at least an inch. Add salt to the water and bring it to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pieced with a knife but not too, too soft (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes and return to the pot and cook them on the stove top for a minute or two to evaporate some of the water still in them. Then mash by your method of choice (we use an old fashioned masher). Blend in the butter, half & half, chicken stock and any other ingredients you prefer. Season with salt and pepper.

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