When I was growing up, my parents typically hosted pot-luck family gatherings at our family home in Orange County, California; where the extended clan and assorted friends who lived in our area of Southern California would gather at our house. My parents would usually provide the turkey and ham main courses, rolls, one or two side dishes, tea, coffee, and soda; while everyone else would bring an appetizer and a side dish or dessert to share. Kids would be running around noisily everywhere, chasing and playing games, while the grownups would gather into two groups- the men in the living room gathered around the tv watching football; the women alternately busily fussing in the kitchen or drinking coffee around the kitchen table as dishes baked in the oven.
As my parents aged and my siblings and I grew up and married, starting families of our own, these holiday gatherings gradually shifted from my parents' home to one of the adult children's homes. And so this pattern continued within our own families, as it has for many others. Today our society is so mobile that families are scattered far and wide, from coast to coast, as ours is now. These large clan gatherings just aren't as feasible anymore. Everyone is busy with their own lives in different states; working, going to school, pursuing outside interests, juggling different schedules; as in mine and my husband's extended families, and we rarely all can gather together anymore in one location even at holiday time.
Since we are now empty-nester retirees, my husband and I often choose to take a vacation over the holidays and enjoy a non-traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas, free from all the hustle and bustle. We may visit with relatives before or after the holiday, but often just enjoy "escaping" for the actual event. Sometimes we got to a beach resort in Mexico, other times we may go to Las Vegas or Laughlin, or take a cruise. We still have family in California, mostly on my husband's side now, and sometimes go there for the holidays. Sometimes we just stay home to avoid inclement weather and travel hassles of holiday-traffic snarls and jammed airports. I usually say, every year, that I am not going to bother putting up a tree or any lights or decorations this year. I say that every year, and yet I always end up doing the tree and decorations anyway, and I do still enjoy it.
Whether we are eating out for the holidays, or on a non-traditional vacation somewhere, or at a relative's home, or just staying home; it is a time of year that I do still enjoy cooking a few traditional dishes myself, even for just the two of us; decorating the house a little, and getting into the festive spirit of the season. I do not and never have enjoyed hosting big gatherings or company for dinners myself at our home, and all of the work involved, so I rarely do that and prefer the "let's eat out" option if it involves entertaining guests. I leave the big feast holiday cooking and fussing to others who do enjoy doing it, and the younger generations who have the energy for it. My ideal Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner these days is on a cruise ship, traveling to someplace warm with tropical breezes, and with fruity-tooty froo-froo drinks on the side with little umbrellas in them. Holiday joy!
Still, I like to have the traditional foods for us at home also during the holiday season. Aside from the traditional ham and turkey, there are side dishes that have always found their way into our holiday meals, year after year since I was a kid. These are probably the same dishes that many others look forward to, and there is comfort in this tradition of familiar foods: Deviled eggs, green bean casserole, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, fresh-baked rolls. One dish that never failed to grace the holiday table when I was growing up was that of home-made scalloped potatoes. I must admit, I am not one for a lot of cooking-from-scratch these days. There are good quality frozen prepared versions that suffice, with a lot less work involved, they just need to be popped into the oven or microwave. But, if the mood strikes...I have been known to peel some potatoes and do a baking dish full of the homemade version. Here is a link to a good recipe, from the website "Taste of Home", for scalloped potatoes either plain or incorporating leftover ham from the holiday meal. This is very much like the traditional family recipe version I grew up with. Double or triple this recipe for a larger gathering.
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups 2% milk
- 6 cups thinly sliced peeled potatoes
1-1/2 cups chopped fully cooked Boneless Carving Ham
- 1 small onion, grated
- In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Stir in flour, parsley, salt, thyme and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.
- Combine potatoes, ham and onion; place half in a greased 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. Top with half of the sauce; repeat layers.
- Cover and bake at 375° for 65-75 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender. Dot with remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, 15-20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Yield: 4 servings.