Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

J.L. Sousa, Register

What’s a proper Christmas meal?

Charles Dickens favored a Christmas goose. I’ve never considered anything so exotic.

When I was growing up, my mom’s Christmas day feast was a recapitulation of Thanksgiving — a baked turkey with all the fixings.

As someone who is crazy about stuffing, I didn’t mind the reprise. I could have eaten a full-on turkey meal 52 weeks a year.

So why didn’t we? I assumed turkeys were a specialty product not sold in supermarkets the year around. When I learned otherwise in adulthood, I felt cheated.

When I married Cheryl, any expectation I had for a Christmas turkey ran up against her tradition of Cornish game hens (cuter than turkeys and everyone gets their own bird).

Rather than pick one bird over another, we decided to throw tradition to the wind and become eclectic. This has meant fish one year, Indian cuisine another.

Cheryl is always under menu pressure. Our big meal on Christmas Eve is the one time of the year when my out-of-town children join with her out-of-town children and break bread together.

So many taste buds to please!

Last year Cheryl created a taco buffet. It was a hit, in a free-form California sort of way. No one said it wasn’t Christmasy enough.

When asked for suggestions for this year’s menu, I shrugged. Your enthusiasm is my enthusiasm, I said.

Cheryl did not find this response particularly helpful. She resumed flipping through magazines for ideas.

Meanwhile, my food imagination shot off in another direction. I love eggnog. I swoon over fruitcake. I can’t imagine Christmas without them.

As a kid, I was sick a lot. Sore throats, earaches, fevers. It was nothing exceptional for me to miss an entire week of school.

I probably would have succumbed but for my mother’s homemade eggnog. Racked with fever, unable to eat, I would be roused by Mom’s hand on my hot brow and the offer of just-blended nog.

The combo of milk, vanilla, egg yolks and sugar was heavenly. The smell deeply penetrated my developing brain and resides there today. When the eggnog scent wafts my way, I’m reminded of a mother’s love.

I’ve been working my way through a half gallon of commercial eggnog in recent days. With each sip from a wine glass, I feel like royalty.

As for my fondness for fruitcake, I do not apologize. I know this preference is not mainstream, but, seriously people, you’re missing out. And if you have a favorite fruitcake joke, I don’t want to hear it.

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I order my annual Christmas treat online. When it arrives, I don’t even attempt to temp others. I don’t even waste my breath.

Fruitcake, like eggnog, is another holiday preference acquired from my Mississippi-born mother. She would buy a Claxton fruitcake at Christmas. She and I had nightly fruitcake parties.

As an adult, I have kept up the tradition. In recent years I’ve switched from Claxtons from Georgia to Collin Street Bakery fruitcakes from Texas.

I got fancy this year, ordering an apricot pecan instead of the Regular DeLuxe. It cost more, but it was worth it.

The folks in Corsicana are masters of seduction. Their brochure describes using only “the finest whole apricots from the sun-drenched groves of the ‘land down under’” combined with the “finest Texas native pecans” in a “rich sweet clover honey batter.”

Have you ever heard anything more delicious?

I wish everyone good luck with their holiday feasting. Enjoy your turkeys and hams, grilled fish and taco buffets. If wine is your preference, enjoy that too.

And if you’re bold, consider saving room for eggnog and a slice or two of fruitcake.

Happy Yule, y’all.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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