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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Children's Table

This past weekend we traveled to Barren River State Resort Park to join my family for our family Christmas celebration.  For the past ten years, my family has rented a cabin overlooking Barren River Lake where we gather to eat dinner, exchange gifts, enjoy each others company, and to honor my grandmothers spirit.  As with most families, we   gathered at her farm house for Christmas every year.  When she passed away, we all felt a bit un-tethered. We drifted. Individual families held their own celebrations and started new traditions.  One year, a cousin decided  that we needed to regain the warmth of Granny's house on Christmas.  Choosing a neutral site  allowed us to begin a new, yet familiar, Christmas tradition.  We do it early in December in a cabin on the lake well  before everyone becomes entangled in Christmas chaos. After so many years, we're all older, wiser, and kinder. My aunts are now great grandmothers and my cousins are grandparents.  We still have a children's table for the little ones.
It's always  grey, overcast, and cold for our cabin Christmases.  Perfect for venturing over the hills and through the woods to "grandmother's" house.

Much like Thanksgivings used to be, our cabin Christmas is always a potluck. The same potluck every year.  The same warm and fuzzy feeling food.  We can always count on mashed turnips bathed in butter, 10 hour slow-cooked turkey, mushy dressing, buttery summer corn, italian roma green beans, and dinner rolls.  Those are the standards.  Other things come and go.  When we had a hotel chef in the family, we always enjoyed fabulous exotic cheeses before dinner.  He's no longer a part of the family.  Pity.  One of my cousins, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, usually flies in from Texas and creates wonderful pastries, pies, and cakes.  I have another cousin who is  a truck driver and a pig farmer.  He raises fat hogs for curing and smoking. Occasionally, a smoked ham will grace the table.

I usually take something that requires lengthy explanations and eating instructions. I don't mean to bring explainable dishes, it just happens. A couple of years ago, I waltzed in with a chevre torte.  Right.  They didn't understand goat cheese.  Not then.  Not now. Not ever.

This past weekend, I played it safe....for me.  Adapting a recipe from Southern Living, I prepared a layered sweet potato, yukon gold potato, and gruyere gratin encased in a rosemary gruyere pie crust. 

Using refrigerated store bought piecrusts, I sprinkled the first piecrust with grated gruyere, cracked pepper, and 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary.  After covering it with the second piecrust, I rolled it out to a 13 inch circle and placed the double crust into a 9 inch spring-form pan making sure the dough went to the edges of the pan. 

 I slid it into the refrigerator to chill while I pulled the mandoline from the cabinet to thinly slice the potatoes.
I preheated the oven to a blazing 450 degrees and pulled the crust from the refrigerator.  Starting with the yukon golds, I layered the potatoes with gruyere and salt until finishing with sweet potatoes and cheese. I microwaved 1 cup of heavy cream with a minced garlic clove for 45 seconds, poured it over the gratin, covered it with foil, and slid the gratin into the oven for 1 hour. 

 After an hour, I removed the foil and let it bake  30 minutes longer until browned and bubbly.

After it cooled, I released the springform pan and carefully slid the gratin onto a platter.

It was stunning.

Nobody knew what it was.  "Is it a quiche?", someone asked. "It's a gratin.", I answered.  "Oh, a potato pie?", another cousin countered.  "It's a  gratin.", I muttered. 

It was left to me to reheat the food and organize the buffet for our Christmas dinner at the cabin.   Cola brasied smoked ham, turkey, mashed turnips, dressing, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, bacon soaked green beans, baked beans, deviled eggs, cranberry salads, dinner rolls, and cornbread  all had to be warmed and placed around the small rented kitchen counter to accomdate a large waiting hungry family. It was a Christmas miracle that the food fit.
 I slid my gratin next to a bowl of Green Giant Corn Niblets with Butter Sauce, made my way to the screened-in wet porch, and chugged several Dixie Cups of chardonnay. When the food line dwindled, I took my place in line to eat.  My gratin was completely gone.

No explanation necessary.

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