My family is normally one that sticks to its holiday traditions. Every year we’re known to watch ‘Scrooge’, the British musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic; eat navel oranges and tangelos (that my mother always bought from some friend of the family’s highschool band fundraising student) along with port wine cheese and crackers and wash it all down with my mom’s zesty spiced Russian tea; end a night together decorating the house and tree with our storage-room-load of ornaments and festivities while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas CD to ring in the season; throw an assortment of (usually 3) themed Christmas parties, and; attend our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service.
For a few years now, my family has cruised down to the Outer Banks the week between Christmas and New Year’s with another family and an assortment of friends and cousins to spend a holiday week at the beach. Well this year, with my younger sister being off at college and me living on the complete opposite side of the country, as well as my dad’s long-planned, leap-of-faith called retirement from his career of 26 years, my family felt zero binds on the normal Christmas plans and decided to spend Christmas at the beach. So my sister and I arrived home within a few hours of each other, arrangements were made to have extended family get-togethers a week early, we threw one, smaller Christmas party and packed our bags and the dog the next day for the 10-hour drive to Ocracoke Island (with a close friend of mine in tow who was also in tradition-breaking mode and decided to spend Christmas with our family.)
One locally-crafted ‘crab pot Christmas tree,’ 3 tins of cookies and one Liberian handmade nativity scene later, and we’re at Christmas Eve on the island. No Nat King Cole, no tangelos and no church service. How did we make festive use of the eve of Christ’s celebrated birth? Local fish and squash soup at the family supper table – oh, and 2 candy-cane Christmas candles, to set the mood.
On the way to the island my parents had stopped at a local fishery and picked up an assortment of scallops, shrimp and some big filets of mahi-mahi. I had a delicata squash from some friends who own a farm just east of Asheville and some collards I had picked up at the market the day before we left. The mahi we smoked until flaky and just pink, it was sauteed with an onion (from South Carolina – so at least regional) and the baked squash flesh was scraped from the skin and stirred in with some Celtic sea salt (packaged by a local company in Asheville), adding water to reach the desired thickness. This made for a fantastic-smelling kitchen and a dash of nutmeg did just the trick of tying together the salty and earthy sweet of the rest of the ingredients.
Meanwhile, in the oven I had flash-roasted some collard leaves and the reserved seeds of the squash and once dry and crisp I crumbled them up in a small food processor along with a pinch of Celtic sea salt. A nice, crunchy and colorful sprinkling for the soup.
How’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? I’ll wager a lot more if you could have tasted this SOLE-ful soup!