Wednesday, December 28, 2011

May Your Days Be Merry & Bright All Year Long

Table set for Velija
My family is quite large.  On my Dad's side of the family, I have something like 24 first cousins, lots of aunts and uncles, and now many of my cousins have children of their own.  My Mom's side is considerably smaller, but we added a new family member this year when my cousin Christopher got married and I imagine it'll continue to grow, but probably slowly.  Because of how close we all are, our Christmas celebrations often have stages.  But stage 1 is always our Slovak Christmas Eve dinner: Velija.  It's a vegetarian meal with seven to twelve dishes served.  There is always an open seat should anyone need a meal, hay rests under our plates and we start the meal by breaking Oplatek and a prayer. We celebrate Velija with my mom's side of the family - attendance shifts over the years, but Grams always celebrates it.  Christmas Eve Day is my favorite day of the year, largely because of the anticipation of our Christmas Eve dinner.  Velija is probably my favorite meal all year long.
My first attempt at gluten free/vegan Pierogies!
 Our menu was out of this world.  My mom made risotto, I made peirogies.  We had butternut squash soup, gluten free rolls, a variety of pickles and olives, candied carrots, salad, and the non-vegan gluten loving folks (everyone but me!) enjoyed traditional pierogies and lobster.  We were full, but all had a few peppermint patties anyway!
Surprisingly small portion of my family
From our very quiet Velija, we go to my Aunt Debbie's house.  It's wonderful chaos.  So many people everywhere!  We do a great Yankee Swap with gift certificates - I ended up with Bed, Bath & Beyond this year but there were so many Chiles and Olive Gardens!  
Christmas Day Feast
Christmas Day we all get together at Grandma's house for a buffet-style meal that includes meat to make up for the vegetarian meal the night prior.  Here's a glimpse of our table-loads of cookies, risotto, ham, pickles, clam chowder, much food.  I enjoyed a few Coconut Nogs with Kahlua so food wasn't my priority.  But can you blame me?  
Pastry Cream and Pastry Shells
Back when I ate all kinds of foods, I baked everything, all the time, so I still do special orders when I get requests.  My friend's mom ordered a platter from me this year that included Cream Puffs, Eclairs, Lemon Bars, Magic Cookie Bars and Peanut Butter Bars.  Oh man, it's fun to bake with butter, sugar, flour and eggs sometimes even though I don't eat them.  I loved how silky the pastry cream turned out.
Wildwood, When You Reach Me, The Miraculous of Edward Tulane & The Magician's Elephant
One Day (wrapped), Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, Looking for Alaska, Octavian Nothing, Awkward Family Pet Photos, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, The Maze Runner....happy reading, folks!
And  I gave a whole bunch of books this year.  I forgot to add a few to the stack, but as you can see, it was a YA Christmas.  Peter Pan and Winnie-the-Pooh are two of my all time favorites, so it seemed appropriate to share them with others.  Both copies of Octavian Nothing are signed, John Green just rules, The Hunger Games Series is addictive and fantastic and Awkward Family Pet Photos is for my 14 year old cousin who insists she doesn't like to read.

May you harness the brightness of the holiday season and keep it with you all year long.

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