Santa Claus Is Coming to Town & Fish Stew Provençal

Susie_Brenda_SantaStarting the day after Thanksgiving, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas are jam-packed with holiday traditions. From putting up the tree to cruising the neighborhood to ooh and ahh at the lights, we are busy, busy, busy. But never too busy for everyone’s favorite tradition, a visit with Santa.

Growing up in the suburbs there were lots of opportunities to spend time with the big guy. First, there were the department stores. A visit with Santa Claus could be a bit hit or miss at our local Filenes but, if we timed it right, we could find him downstairs in the children’s department. I’m sure he was more nine to five at the downtown Boston store and at Jordon Marsh out at Shoppers’ World. He brought his reindeer with him to Jordon Marsh. Unfortunately, Donner and Blitzen did not take to the sky and fly up and down the length of Route 9. Instead, they hung out in the big, open courtyard in the center of the mall.

My mother always brought my sister Brenda and me to see Santa at Filenes or Jordon Marsh. Sometimes we managed to talk her into both. Wanting to keep all of our bases covered, we usually convinced my grandparents to take us down to Chestnut Hill to see the Santa at RH Sterns. Never empty-handed, we always brought along a long list of any and everything we might dare to hope to find under our tree on Christmas morning.

Whether it was shopping for presents or the Christmas tree, more often than not, we bumped into another Santa, or three. Make that six or seven. There he’d be in front the supermarket, again at the post office and on the corner in front of Dad’s favorite haberdashery.

As I got a little older, the proliferation of Santas became quite a concern. December was his busiest time of the year. How could he take time away from toy making to ring bells and collect change in a big red kettle? Even more confusing, how could he be in front of the post office when we stopped to mail our cards and in the children’s department at Filenes just a few minutes later? Why, he even came by our house around dinnertime on Christmas Eve. Yes, Santa dropped in to give us each a present and warn us to go to bed early so he’d have plenty of time to make his rounds.

Luckily, Mom had an answer. Mothers usually do, don’t they? She explained that all these jolly fellows were actually Santa’s helpers. The real Santa was up at the North Pole hammering, sawing and painting smiles on baby dolls. Equating Santa’s helpers with elves, I couldn’t understand how they could be so big. Mom carefully explained that the elves were with Santa busily making toys. These helpers were special recruits for the Christmas season. Come the 25th, they’d turn in their suits and get back to their regular lives.

Twenty or so questions later, I was more or less satisfied that all was right with the world … and that a new Ginny doll was on the way.

Enjoy the holidays and bon appétit!

Fish Stew Provençal
Fish is traditional for Christmas Eve dinner. You can take some of the last minute stress out the evening by making the base of this lovely fish stew a day or two in advance. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
2-3 shallots, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon or to taste crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 cups each fish and chicken stock
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
Grated zest of 1 orange
Generous pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
3 pounds skinless fish fillets (cod, halibut or salmon) cut into 2-inch chunks
Baguette slices
Rouille (recipe follows)

Lightly coat a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the shallots, celery, carrots, leek and fennel, season with the herbs, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until the shallot is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the stock, crushed tomatoes, wine, zest, saffron and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Best if made ahead to this point. Cool, cover and refrigerate for several hours or up to 2-3 days. Bring to a simmer and continue with the recipe.

While the sauce simmers, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and, turning once, bake at 375 degrees until golden, about 8 minutes.

Increase the heat under the stew to medium, add the fish and simmer until opaque and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Spread a dollop of rouille on each toast, ladle the stew into bowls, top each bowl with a toast and serve.

1 cup mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste

Put the mayonnaise and garlic in a bowl, season with paprika, cayenne and salt and whisk to combine. Cover and chill for 2-3 hours or overnight.

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One Year Ago – Twice-Baked Potatoes
Two Years Ago – Oh my gosh, my golly – we were too busy celebrating to post last year!
Three Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Four Year Ago – Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Five  Years Ago – Potato, Leek & Kale Soup
Six Years Ago – Salmon & Lentils
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a favorite Santa story? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

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