Marolt: Fondue it up right for the holidays
December 24, 2014
I believe in fondue. There was a time in my life when I didn't. When I was a kid, we would all pull up a cushion around the coffee table in the living room next to a roaring fire in the fireplace and another one below a pot of boiling peanut oil as a centerpiece. There'd be plates full of raw meat, potato wedges and baby onions. Miniature, long-handled pitchforks were lain on our napkins: tools for impaling the uncooked feast before us and then drowning it in the hot liquid that would rise into spattering foam, threatening to overflow the rim of the pot the moment the cold food penetrated its gently smoking surface.
It was our family Christmas tradition. I could see the whole odd thing unfold before my very eyes shortly after sunset, but as for it being anything other than some odd Slavic ritual passed on from the time my ancestors dwelled in eastern European mining camps far from civilization — ba humbug! "Yes, yes, sure dad. It's a Swiss delicacy. Got it." Then how come none of my friends have heard of it? I was convinced it was the dinnertime version of potetzia and Kielbasa sausage, also food items lost in translation and prepared from recipes forbidden to be written down.
After later seeing "fondue" in a few restaurants trying to be retro cool and trying to stage a few hot oil events of our own to revive a beloved tradition, count me as a believer. I see the wisdom in it. There is nothing like the calming effect of hinting of destruction in Biblical proportions should somebody bump the table while screwing around and dump the pot of scalding hot fat. It might reduce the entire house to a flow of molten building materials. It's the antidote for overdoses of fudge and candy canes on the day Santa comes and kids are too excited to go skiing.
To make a long story shorter, our one cherished family holiday tradition is heading out into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree and hosting Christmas Eve dinner at our house. I know. That sounds like two traditions, but since we spend every other Christmas with my wife's family in Texas (which, admittedly, someone not familiar with Texas might also consider a tradition), I divide by two to come up with the mathematical equivalent of one tradition.
Getting the tree might be my favorite day in the holiday season. It is a time that most of us wish would never end and oftentimes appears that it won't. Setting out in search of the perfect fir, we know we will come across it in the first 20 minutes of trudging through knee-deep snow. For those who have never done it, that translates to roughly 50 feet from the car.
Nonetheless, in always seeking the fuller, better-shaped tree, we will hike to the top of the ridge and follow that to the end of the valley trying to one-up last year's effort before eventually turning back at dusk to bag the "perfect tree" we identified hours before. On our way home we always stop at the Woody Creek Tavern for dinner and act like hillbillies since we've dressed the part and they're trying to uphold their image. Afterward we actually do head home to drink egg nog, rearrange the living room, argue about the proper placement of the tree, which we haven't nailed down in 21 years of trying in the same residence, and get grumpy untangling lights and dropping heirloom ornaments that were made by second-graders of many generations and trying to Superglue them back together to look like nothing happened.
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Then comes Christmas Eve! If Tree Cutting Day isn't the best day of the season, then Christmas Eve dinner surely is. We usually have about 30 people over, all related in some way, shape or form. Even if the proof goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, everyone in the house not on the Christmas card is an aunt, uncle or cousin.
The kids and adults are about equally matched in number, but since all the adults are cooking and the ones who aren't doing anything but mindless stirring are usually lost in their own childhood memories or imbibing — probably both — the children clearly have the upper hand. Basically whatever they say goes, because there is so much going on nobody can hear what they say. The best, if not surprising, part is that at the end of the evening nobody is tired except the adults. It ensures that the story of Santa Claus won't die again for another year. I love that!
Roger Marolt hopes you are knee-deep and lost in your own holiday traditions today. email@example.com