Decadent holiday feast

The holidays are made of rich memories–and matched with rich food. Three writers share stories on both
Margo True

This December 25th, let loose. Indulge in the trinity of decadence: beef, chocolate, potatoes. Add cream, butter, cheese. Exercise? Later. Guilt? Never.

An embarrassment of richness

by Diana Abu-Jaber

My cousin Odile was a stringent dieter. She ate so little that to her, everything tasted magnificent. This dieting may have come about because my family clung to a tradition of heaping food on visitors’ plates, forcing them to beg for mercy.

Christmas night, she arrived in Eugene, Oregon, with a young man named Jervy, whom, she announced, she was going to marry.

Jervy was 6 feet and maybe 140 pounds. Asked what he did for a living, he replied, “Oh, this and that.”

Odile assured us that he had “many talents.”

My mother made a sumptuous roast and velvety gravy enriched with pan drippings, and Dad constructed a gratin that bubbled under a golden crust. While we brought food to the table, Odile sat in a half-swoon from the scent of roast beef and discoursed on food like one enchanted: memorable dinners past, favorite restaurants, and so forth. I knew better than to try the family tradition on Odile.

When the food was set out, Jervy finally displayed a talent: eating. He ate with gusto and abandon. While my cousin fiddled with a slice of beef and a disk of gratin, he proceeded to tuck away food like a starving man.

Very quickly, Odile proclaimed she was “stuffed to the gills.” But Jervy kept going, draping slice after slice of beef in gravy. Dad tired of heaping the young man’s plate: Jervy inhaled everything, robbing them of the pleasure of too-much hospitality.

He remained at the table while everyone stood, dishes were washed, and the thought of cold roast-beef sandwiches faded.

Odile called a week later, announcing the engagement was off. It was his appetite, she said. “A wild beast.”

She resided too far at the other extreme, but it was a good lesson of indulgence in my family: a reminder of how enjoyment resides best within boundaries, and how all great pleasures depend on getting just the right balance. —Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of, most recently, Origin; her new novel, Birds of Paradise, is due out next fall. She teaches writing at Portland State University.

Recipe: Spice-crusted Prime Rib

It’s a meaty feast, but Cousin Ann’s a vegan ...

We like vegans. Really, we do. But this meal wasn’t created with them in mind. So what do you do if you’ve got special eaters coming? Here are a few suggestions to round out the table fast.

  • Mixed greens with bottled vinaigrette
  • Microwaved cubed squash, served with nuts
  • Sautéed spinach with chopped lemon and currants
  • Cannellini beans tossed with olive oil and chopped rosemary
  • Fresh lemon sorbet with citrus segments and thyme leaves

Or choose a recipe from our collection of 30 hearty vegetarian dishes.

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