Taming Traditions: How to Make Your Feasts Healthier & Still Enjoyable

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Chef Lisa‘s back with her saga of Christmas celebrations past and present.

mussel2My husband grew up in an Italian American family in New Jersey.  A benefit of this is the observance of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, an amazing event to behold.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this tradition, it is common in families of southern Italian descent to eat (at least) seven different seafood dishes the night before Christmas.  It has something to do with Catholic abstinence from eating meat and sometimes dairy products on holy days and Fridays.  On Christmas, it’s back on the meat train.  But Christmas Eve is all about things that used to swim.

For our first Christmas Eve together many years ago, I attended his family’s celebration.  My mother-in-law is an amazing cook, as was evident by the speed at which piles of beautiful, huge, delicious piles of food disappeared from her dining room table.  Deep-fried calamari, smelt, and shrimp flew off of plates like they were going out of style.  Dishes that were exotic to me, such as fried eel, stuffed squid, and baccala, vanished just as quickly.  I knew that this was a delicious tradition I wanted to continue.

Many years later, my husband and I were confronted with a conundrum; we celebrate Christmas Eve by ourselves in Vermont, and we try to eat reasonable portions.  Suddenly seven different fish dishes in one night (or even one day) seemed crazy.  But it just isn’t Christmas without all of Mom Ruggerio’s all-stars on the menu.

Luckily my husband had a great idea that started a new tradition for us: the Week of Seven Fishes.  During the seven days leading up to Christmas, we eat seafood.  All of our favorites from Mom’s feast make the menu, and we have some wiggle room to add in other ideas, such as French provincial mussels or a Portuguese seafood stew.  Instead of the insanity of preparing seven or more dishes in one night, we have a leisurely stroll down memory lane all week.  It prolongs the holiday celebration, heightens the Christmas anticipation, and keeps a tradition going in a healthier, less stressful way.

How can you make your feast healthier this year?

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