The holidays. A time for families to unite and connect and disconnect from everything else. The chance to create new traditions and cement old ones. For a few short days it brings loved ones together to celebrate the season and share in the special moments, the kind that live on long after the occasion passes. Everything else is set aside as we come together like it was as a family many years before.
Growing up we had our own set of traditions that we started and built on year after year. We ordered in food on Christmas eve and played board games and watched old holiday classics. Usually that was White Christmas, my mother’s favourite holiday movie. We stayed up spending quality time as a family until they decided it was time I get rested for Santa’s impending arrival. So off to bed I went. Restless and excited and ready.
The next morning came quickly. It always did, just like my parents promised. I would wake up earlier than any other day of the year and wake my parents up shortly thereafter. They would make me wait until they were at least robed and half awake and then they would anxiously follow me to the living room. I would first make count of the presents and then check to see if Santa had indeed eaten the homemade cookies my mom said he would. He did.
My dad was always an organized man so he would make sure he had pen and paper in hand to write down the names of those generous enough to give us gifts. That way we couldn’t overlook anybody when we sent hand written thank you notes. Only after the pad was prepared and a coffee was in his hand could we sit around the tree and attack the stockings. Still probably my favourite morning ritual.
Some of my favourite and most vivid memories come from being around the tree. It had less to do with the gifts than it was the fact we all sat there together with no place else dragging us away. For at least one day of the year this was the place everyone wanted to be. The three of us would position ourselves on the nearest sofa to the tree and open gifts one at a time. Slowly and deliberately. Each person held the attention of everyone else.
After the last gift was opened we’d stock them in a pile while my dad went into the kitchen. That was another tradition. My mom was the cook growing up but on Christmas day my dad grabbed his rightful spot behind the griddle making us a big breakfast. Something to hold us over until dinner than night and another chance to gather around together.
Those early days the breakfast was pretty standard fare. A standard American breakfast, usually bacon and eggs and home fries. Fresh juice and tea and coffee. And me and my parents. The perfect ending to a morning and just enough time to rest before the annual commute.
When I was particularly young it was easy. We spent the night at my grandparents and awoke to open gifts and spend the day there. Slowly that morphed into spending the night at our own home and driving to visit the next day. As time has elapsed that commute has grown wider too. It’s great visiting loved ones but the entire day feels rushed. Wake, open gifts, change and go…and before you know it the day is over and Christmas is done for another year.
Now that I’m married we’ve seen both of our respective traditions change and form new ones, together. We now alternate the eve of Christmas at our parents and then travel to the other house on Christmas day. Split right down the middle, we share equal time with everybody. And I love it. But that too will come to pass and change one day.
If we’re blessed someday to have a family of our own I hope we start things off as it was when I was a child. Just us at home and people coming to us to visit on Christmas day. And after we open gifts I’ll make my way into the kitchen and make us a wonderful breakfast before we start in on the big dinner. If I have my way I’ll make these Croque Monsieurs. Easy, delicious and proper for the day. The perfect breakfast for such an important day.
The countdown that’s been on for a few weeks is now down to a few short days. Everything else in our lives will pause for family and the joy that comes from spending time with them. The pace of life will soften and we’ll take comfort in the traditions of the holidays and familiar faces. We’ll be connected by love, food and memories.
There is no place I’d rather be. And nobody I’d rather be spending it with. My wife, our parents and our families. Just like it was always meant to be.
From my family to yours,
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1/4 cup AP flour
- 2 cups milk, heated
- 1 tbsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- pinch of kosher salt & cracked pepper
- 2 cups aged Mozzarella, grated
- 3/4 cup Parmesan, grated
- 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 8 slices Brioche bread
- 6 ounces ham, thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 425F degrees.
- In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat and add in the flour, whisking continuously for two minutes. While you’re doing that, heat up the milk in another saucepan. Once heated, add to flour mixture, whisking constantly to prevent lumps and until sauce is thickened, about three minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Season the sauce and add the grated nutmeg. Add half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan and return to medium heat. Stir until combined and melted, two minutes. Set aside.
- Place your bread slices on your work surface. Spread Dijon over half of the slices, top with a couple slices of ham and some of the remaining mozzarella. Top with other slices of bread.
- Using a saute pan over medium high heat, add some butter and the sandwiches and cook for a few minutes per side, until golden brown. Top sandwiches with remaining cheese and the cheese sauce and place in the oven for five minutes. Increase heat to broiler and broil for five minutes, or until the cheese bubbles and is lightly browned. Serve it right away, while hot.
- Serves 4.