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The Canadian Food Experience Project: Challenge Seven December 2013: A Canadian Christmas: Our Tradition of Ignoring Tradition

From the time I can really remember until I grew into my late teens and my grown siblings and their young families gathered on Christmas Eve to open presents, eat, drink and be merry. I was the youngest of five so by the time I was about 7 or 8, my older siblings were getting married and moving out on their own and so it was a great treat to have them all back together for the evening, I got to stay up until the wee hours of the morning and I was still young enough to be spoiled rotten. Starting in mid December, my mom always put out the same little cut glass bowl of minty candies and nuts in their shells with a nutcracker in every bowl. She would get a big gift box of turtles, which she would proceed to eat over the next day and a half until she would literally make herself sick and then swear them off for another year, just to do it all over again the next Christmas day.  We ate exactly the same turkey dinner every single year, the same pies for dessert with nothing changed or added to the menu. The tree always looked exactly the same and it didn't occur to anyone to ever do anything any differently. As I got older, the family dynamic started to change, older siblings spent part of the holiday with the family of their girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband and slowly, traditions started to change and adapt but it wasn't always a smooth process.

I moved away at 19 and spent the next decade traveling the world and living like a nomad and I didn't even always come home for the holidays any more. By the time I settled back in Toronto for good at 31 and moved in with Shack, my family was no longer spending Christmas eve together and I now had to juggle my family with Shack's mom and that side and his dad and that side. We tried to visit with all three on the actual day for the first couple of years, diving our time between my mom in London, his mom up by Lake Simcoe and then his dad in Aurora.We spent the entire Christmas eve/day on the road, it was exhausting and we agreed that this was not enjoyable for us at all so the third year we were together, we left on a road trip and spent the entire holiday together with Christmas in New Orleans and NYE in Savannah, Georgia and it was glorious. This was the point where we officially broke with any family traditions and began to find our own. We weren't with any family on the actual day and it was fine, nobody died, nothing blew up, we still saw everyone at some point over the holiday and we were rested and happy.

a very happy New Orleans Xmas 

The year after that, we added a son to our little unit and that started the era of having my mom take the train to visit us for a bit and then we would all hop in the car and drive east to Kingston to spend the rest of the holiday with my sister and her family. We spent time with both of his parents before we left and it worked nicely. After my mom died, we began spending Christmas Eve at home and hosting an open house with a Mexican feast of Cochinita Pibil , getting up to open gifts on Christmas morning with my mother in law and then the three of us would go out for dim sum before continuing on to my sister's for Christmas dinner and staying there for a few days. This tradition has not really changed, for the most part. The odd year, we don't go to my sister's until Boxing Day because her family is now growing with her fourth grandchild on the way. She is now occasionally invited to go and spend the holiday with the family of her daughter in law and her daughter's family will spend it with her in laws and we stay home and have dinner with our good friends and neighbour's, The Bonds.

we used to invite friends over to help decorate the three when The Kid was little

Okay, I lied. That beautiful silver deer is the one thing that is  ALWAYS out in his full glory every single year.

I kind of like the fact that our traditions have some ebb and flow and that all three of us are open to changes. I have never been a fan of adhering to rigid plans that are not allowed to deviate. I have watched friends who experience so much stress over the holidays and bend over backwards to make sure that everything stays the same every year. They will spend a ridiculous amount of money and lose their mind rescheduling things to ensure that they are home ON XMAS DAY even though it would be easier and half the price to go home to visit a fews day before or after.

a memorable Christmas dinner occurred at Nola
a white Christmas can be overrated to be quite honest

I like that we have a loose framework of what we would like to happen but nobody freaks out when we find out that, this year, my sister is not going to be home so we are going to have make our own dinner plans and will drive up to see them at some point in the week after. Some years we have taken a family trip, usually to the same area of Mexico, as our big gift to each other before right before Christmas. One year, we went back to New Orleans with The Bonds and got home Christmas Eve day so we skipped our open house that year. It was a nice break from hosting a big party and it made it even more fun to do it again the next year. There was a year where we didn't get a tree and a couple of years where we didn't get a tree until the  23rd or 24th. We never make our turkey dinner exactly the same twice although we almost always have turkey because we just really love turkey. Their are no dishes that MUST be on the table, prepared one way.

Xmas 2011

The only thing I don't think we have ever missed is our Christmas morning dim sum. If we are in the city on Christmas morning, which we generally are regardless of where we end up later in the day, we have dim sum. If that didn't happen, I would miss it. It's our little multi cultural urban Toronto spin on a the holiday that has no roots in either of our very traditional, white bread upbringings.

We often go to Mexico for Christmas - how festive does that look?

As life goes on, loved ones die or move away, friends come and go and sometimes come back again, situations change and so do we. From the age of 5 until last year, a huge part of Christmas was the Avalon Christmas Performance and now that The Kid is in high school, we will go to sit in the audience but I will miss making his costumes and being a parent with a kid up there on stage. I imagine that before we know it, he will want to spend part of the holiday with his girlfriend's family and we will, once again, be on our own for at least part of Christmas and I will  encourage him to make his own memories when he becomes and adult and goes off to make his own way.

who wouldn't miss this??

I guess the fact that we identify the holiday with foods from countries and cultures that have nothing to do with our own upbringing reflects our urban Toronto life. This year we are going to host our open house maybe with Mexican food or maybe we will go Spanish tapas this year, get up in the morning, open gifts over coffee and croissants with The Bonds and my mother in law, go for dim sum and drive to Westport Ontario where my niece is hosting dinner for the first time and I am very excited about this new addition to our holiday tradition grab bag.

The only tradition that has never changed for the last 19 years is that, no matter where I find myself over the holidays, Shack is right beside me  and for the last 15 Christmases The Kid has been in the middle and I am good with that.

Since the only thing that is pretty much a constant is our Christmas Day dim sum, I will share my recipe for pot stickers which may not feel like Christmas to you, but it's totally Christmas in our house.

Pork, Shrimp and Enoki Mushroom Potstickers

500g  ground pork
250g  shrimp
2 green onions, minced
200g enoki mushrooms, chopped
2 tsp minced or grated ginger
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbls cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt

round wonton wrappers (i got about 50-60 dumplings out of this filling)

for cooking: 1 tbls vegetable oil, 1/4 cup water

dipping sauce:
6 tbls soy sauce
3 tbls rice vinegar
1 tsp chili oil
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp minced or grated ginger

mix all together and let sit for at least an hour

I can't do a better job than La Fuji Mama when it comes to showing you the steps involved in making these dumplings so you should just go look at her gyoza pictorial on her blog and while you are there, poke around and read because it's a fabulous blog.

So, peel and de vein your shrimp and then chop them up as finely as you can. Some people put them in a food processor but I don't like that pastey texture, much preferring small chunks of shrimp but that is a personal thing.
Mix all of your filling ingredients together in a bowl. Have a small bowl of water standing by.

Put a heaping teaspoonful of filling on your wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and run your damp finger around one half of the circle. Bring both sides together to form a half circle and pinch the edges together to seal. Then bring each corner together and pinch - kind of like a little tortellini. I like this method because the dumplings stand up nicely but if it seems too much bother, just leave them in their half circle shape and fry them on one side.

I put them all on a large cookie sheet as they are assembled, making sure that they aren't touching. Cover them with a tea towel as you work so they don't dry out.

If you want to freeze some, put the on a cookie sheet, again not touching, and put the cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours before you put them in freezer bags.

If you are cooking the same day, cover them with some plastic wrap and you can leave them in the fridge until it's time to cook them.

You need to use a frying pan that has a snug fitting lid. Heat the pan over med-high heat and add the tbls of vegetable oil, swirling the pan to make sure the surface is evenly coated. Add your dumplings and fill up the pan with as many as you can fit in without them touching. Cook them for 2-3 minutes to let the bottom get nice and brown. Then pour in 1/4 cup of water (it might splatter like crazy but that is normal), put on the lid and turn the heat down to med low. Let them cook for about 6 minutes like this. After the 6 minutes, remove the lid and if there is still water in the pan, turn the heat back up to med-high and cook until all of the water has evaporated.

Now, THAT'S how I say Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night.

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