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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Holiday Feast

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Originally published November 21, 2008

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay.

When it comes to holiday meals at my house, looks are everything.

If I imagine my whole family gathering for the holidays, I picture everyone in fancy attire, sitting around a dressed-up table, savoring the taste of golden turkey with fluffy potatoes and glistening carrots. I can even smell the nutmeg on the carrots.

It’s a better two-dimensional than three-dimensional picture, though, because the food doesn’t always turn out as planned. Between lukewarm potatoes and overdone turkey, holiday cooking can be disappointing.

Likewise, in holiday garb, everyone may look picture perfect, but the atmosphere can be less than perfect. A certain degree of mayhem can be expected from the 5-year-old and under set, while the 40 and over crowd has issues of their own, sometimes disagreeing over topics such as childrearing and politics.

Everyone can agree, however, the table looks just right. It’s set with familiar items we all recognize, including antique champagne glasses that once belonged to my mother. Whenever I see the glasses, I recall my mother’s delight when she first uncovered them in an antique shop. I was a child at the time, and her reaction made an impression on me, because I suddenly realized my mother experienced feelings that had nothing to do with me.

When holding the champagne glasses, anyone can tell they are meant for special occasions. The dainty rose vines etched on the sides belie the heft of the glasses. They are cone-shaped like martini glasses rather than cylinder-shaped like most champagne glasses now. They have a petite stature that smacks of a different time, unlike the supersizing of everything today. Perhaps as a result of their shape and scale, they’re prone to tipping over. For this reason, it’s not a celebration in my house unless champagne has been spilled.

Also found on the table are two tiny pewter dishes that hold salt, sometimes referred to as salt cellars. They are of a past era, a period before salt shakers, handed down from my grandfather. Like the champagne glasses, they are attractive but present practical challenges. They come with a teeny tiny spoon for sprinkling the salt. Using the spoon, as an adult, feels a bit like using a Barbie doll’s spoon. Not only is it awkward, but you can’t figure out exactly how much salt to spoon out. While the grown-ups approach the salt with caution, the kids are excited by the novelty and have to be restrained from using spoonful after spoonful.

The red, blue, and gold plates with a Chinese design are probably the most unexpected items on the table. They’re elegant plates decorated with heavily jointed tree branches bearing blossoms that bring to mind traditional Chinese painting. The plates are a part of my past not because my Caucasian family has any Chinese roots, but because my quixotic father brought them home during a period when he was experimenting with Chinese cooking. My father gave them to me as a gift when I owned my first home. The plates suit a holiday table because they look festive and, more importantly, they offer the element of surprise, just as my father did when he was alive.

At the holidays, it doesn’t really matter to me if the turkey is dry or the potatoes are cold. What’s important is how the table looks, because when all the familiar things are there, it’s a feast for the eyes.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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