A. emailed me a few days ago. Come to lunch, she wrote. I didn't think I would be able to drive to D.'s house, my usual Christmas destination, so I was more than happy to say yes. Christmas morning I woke to a white landscape, more snow falling, even though the main roads were clear. A white Christmas. I hum a little to myself as I head to work for a few hours. Then it's time for lunch, and I walk the long, slippery blocks downtown through empty streets piled with slushy snow. Once I am downtown the sidewalks are clear, and I arrive, slightly out of breath, with my hair every which way beneath my hat and my boots dripping with melted snow, the first to arrive. Everyone is delayed by the snow.
I have in my backpack chocolate-chunk cookies, thin and crispy around the edges, carefully stacked in plastic containers, which A. accepts graciously. It is bringing coals to Newcastle, but my upbringing makes it impossible to show up empty-handed. A.'s daughter and her husband arrive, with their daughter, who at sixteen months is at the stage where she takes off at a run as soon as her feet touch the floor. (Later I take many pictures of her, and in several she is actually running straight at the camera, running into me mere seconds after the shutter clicks). A. (jr.) hands me a bag of cookies, explaining that she only made two kinds this year, because she was too busy to do more. I try not to respond that for me, making even one kind of cookie is an effort, usually one that results in an explosion of flour and sugar and chocolate all over the countertops and floors. (Later, I look in the bag that A. (sr.) handed me, and find five different kinds of cookies. Sheesh).
The last guests arrive, and lunch begins with bread and butter and some cream cheese, smoked scallops and mussels and salmon, cold peppers, bowls of sliced cucumbers and radishes, all arranged casually on the buffet table. This is just the beginning. Next comes some white fish - Petrale sole, I think - served with what is essentially a mirepoix. Then there is braised lamb with tomatoes, a brothy sauce that goes well with the pappardelle, simply tossed with finely sliced red onions and freshly chopped herbs. There are roast poussins (or perhaps they are Cornish game hens) and some concoction involving mashed potatoes and turnips made thick with cream cheese. Afterwards there are cookies and cheeses and crackers, more sliced baguettes, soft, slurpy pears, sweet mandarin oranges in their baggy peels. We nibble away and watch the snow fall.