My journey from Rennes to San Diego was rather long and terrible. I laughed, I cried, I cursed, but mostly I wondered how they haven’t created a faster/easier/better way to travel. How does it take 24 hours to get from Europe to the West Coast of the United States? But I can’t complain too much, because I made it out of Paris just in the nick of time: there were a lot of other unfortunate souls stuck there due to weather. The one thing I will complain about is that the stupid customs officials at Houston Airport stole my 20 euro worth of saucisson sec (dried sausage) that my family was avidly (almost rabidly) awaiting. Now I know – don’t declare meat! Luckily, the cheese and honey and caramel and all the other goodies made it through customs unscathed.
I knew that the hassle of traveling was worth it when I saw my parents happy, shiny faces, and I knew it even more so when I walked into our home and there was the most gigantic Christmas tree waiting there for me, welcoming me home like a giant ambassador for holiday joy. I couldn’t fit one of those into my tiny attic apartment in France, that’s for sure. And in anticipation of the whole family being home for Christmas for the first time in two years, the house was all decked-out as it hasn’t been in years.
As I write this, it’s the eve of my departure back to France (well, it was when I started this very long entry anyways). I’ve been home in San Diego for 2 weeks. Here I sit, at the desk in my room in my home where I grew up, tying to stay awake. It is New Year’s Day, which means of course that I‘ve been hung over all day and would love nothing more than to sleep. But I refuse to sleep. If I sleep now, I won’t sleep on my flight tomorrow. And If I don’t sleep on my flight tomorrow, that means it will be a jet-lagged Caely showing up for work this week. I’ve never done it before, but I imagine teaching a bunch of elementary school kids is not so fun when jet-lagged.
So here I am, finally writing the entry I should have written ages ago, but to be honest, time just moves differently here in sunny San Diego, and I have just been too busy enjoying the holidays to do any sort of work other than lifting yet another tortilla chip up to my Mexican-food deprived mouth. And let me tell you, it is hard work to plow through all the amazing food I’ve eaten here! Here are some of the culinary highlights from my time in California:
I got home a few days before the holidays, and my diet up until Christmas was all Mexican-food, all the time. Bean tostadas, shrimp and fish tacos, and endless tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. And avocado. Avocado on everything. This California girl can never get enough of it (I snuck 3 of them back into France, and have been enjoying these last little morsels of delight lovingly and appreciatively).
However, the Mexican-food extravaganza cannot last forever: I finally broke my pattern and ate non-Mexican food on Christmas Eve. Our meal this year consisted of a roasted wild goose, stuffed with cabbage, chestnuts and juniper. My brother-in-law Peter is the bird master, so he took the reigns on that one. If you’ve never had goose, I highly recommend it: it has the texture of venison but doesn’t taste quite so gamey. To accompany the goose, we had fingerling potatoes (fried in goose fat, yum yum) and brussels sprouts as well as the cabbage that was roasted in the goose cavity. All in all a beautiful, traditional and deeply satisfying Christmas Eve meal!
Christmas Day meal was even more of a production. Our Christmas tradition has always been to honor our Italian roots by eating ravioli. However, decent ravioli had become scarcer and scarcer in San Diego, so the last few years we started making it ourselves. It is a lot of work, but so worth it.
I cannot imagine a better way to spend Christmas Day than making ravioli with my family. Like cogs in some weird machine, we all do our little bit to contribute to the meal. Between making the dough, rolling it out, making the fillings and the sauces, and then finally cutting and stuffing the ravioli, it is a lot of work! This year, we had a bit of help in the form of friends who showed up to lend a hand and share their homemade pomegranate liqueur…and all the champagne certainly makes the job easier! But mostly, what makes it all fun and easy, is knowing that we are creating something from nothing, and that we are doing it together. I’m convinced that there is no better moment than that in which you sit down with your family to a meal that you all coaxed into fruition.
So, for the ravioli itself: first, we make the dough. Through trial and error, we finally settled on this recipe:
McCarterini Ravioli Dough
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
Once the dough was made, we set about to rolling it out with the help of our pasta roller, onto which my dad clamped a McGyvered motor. We tried the hand pumping method the first year we made ravioli and it wasn’t fun, let me tell you.
We rolled out countless sheets of dough that were so long it took several of us to transport them to the filling station.
Next, we filled the ravioli. For our stuffings, we used wild mushroom, butternut squash and goat cheese.
Voici, the menu:
Butternut squash ravioli with sage and garlic infused olive oil
Goat cheese ravioli with walnut cream sauce and shaved truffle
Wild mushroom ravioli with mushroom arrabiatta sauce
Mixed greens salad with radish and radish sprouts and balsamic vinaigrette
Selection of cheese from France
Eggnog crème brulée
And then in between New Year’s and Christmas, there was Mexican food. And Mexican food. And then some more Mexican food. And only because I was in danger of becoming a corn tortilla chip myself, did I concede to eat something different on New Year’s. No one can refuse my brother-in-law’s seafood gumbo. He was born and bred in the South, and you can taste the authenticity in every bite. The pictures and recipe for Peter’s Seafood Gumbo will be coming soon in a later post.
But it wasn’t the food that drew me home. It was this:
My parents and siblings and my best friends who are more like sisters, and my little “nephew” who just turned 7 months old. It is a strange feeling, because Rennes has become a true home to me in the last few months. I have a job, an apartment, a great group of new friends, and a brilliant boyfriend. But this fits too, and so did San Francisco where I went to school, and Hawaii where I spent so much of my childhood, and Brooklyn where my sister and brother-in-law live. As I have gotten older, I have learned to call many places home, less because of the amount of time that I have spent there, and more because of the experiences I had there and the people I shared those experiences with. So I am not sad to leave, because I am going to a new home that through me will become a home to so many others who visit me there and fall in love with it as much as I have. So, let’s raise yet another glass of champagne (there has been no shortage of them for us McCarters this holiday season).
Here’s to home, and friends, and damn good food, and above all is else, here is to a beautiful and happy New Year to all of you, the people I call home.
And just for good measure, here are some southern California sunsets and beach scenes for your enjoyment…