Creating Christmas traditions

Turkey is, hands down, the centerpiece of most traditional Christmas dinners here in North America. Served with sides of stuffing, buttered rolls, mashed potatoes (with or without the lumps), gravy, cranberry sauce and veggies, plus a generous helping of eggnog, it's a meal that most look forward to all year. And while I certainly enjoy this annual spread when shared with a crowd of my family and friends, I'm not actually all that crazy about turkey, especially when I'm only making dinner for a few.

Frankly, it's a pain in the ass to prepare. You have to shop around ahead of time to get a good one and if it happens to be frozen, make sure it's defrosted, which can take days, then spend an entire day essentially chained to the stove basting and cooking it properly so it doesn't dry out.

Nope, this year I've decided to skip going elbow-deep in turkey guts and shake things up a bit. I haven't quiet decided what I want to make for my eclectic Christmas feast, but a recent industry event at La Rúa got me thinking about some delicious alternatives to turkey meat. (Though the companies who attended weren't using that marketing tactic, that's just where my mind happened to wander.) After sampling some impressive high-quality farmed heritage Angus beef, bison and pork, I decided that life is just too short to spend the holidays preparing and eating meat that I don't truly enjoy.

And people in other countries take a different approach to their holiday dinner, so why can't we make our own traditions without it being considered social blasphemy? In Australia, where it's often hotter than the hinges of hell on Christmas, people tend to favour holding a barbecue rather than using their ovens, while in other countries, roast game like reindeer, lamb, duck and pheasant are served instead of the turkey. (Okay, cooking Rudolph is a tad gruesome for Christmas dinner, but you get my point.)

Many of the Whistler orphans who aren't able to make the trip home this year, wherever home may be -Australia, Quebec, or in my case, Nova Scotia - will decide to band together and do traditional turkey dinner, potluck-style. It's a great idea, really, because it not only shares the burden of prep time and cost, but it offers people the chance to share their cultural twists on Christmas traditions with friends from around the world. Plus, it's a chance to party with friends and fill your belly - 'tis the season!

The Czechs can bring the fried carp and potato salad, the French Canadian friends can bring the tourtiere and the Aussies can provide the pavlova. Maybe gently suggest that the friend from Iceland should leave the reindeer behind and stick to the smoked lamb, instead, and ask the Brit for a Christmas pudding, mince pie or Yule log.

Whatever your culinary inclinations, in my eyes, a Christmas dinner should be about making something special for you and your loved ones, a decadent dish that you wouldn't normally take the time to make.

So, what will be impressive enough to measure up to the almighty turkey this year? A quick visit to my good friend Google yielded seemingly endless possibilities on the topic of alternatives to the big bird: an incredible pot roast or succulent pork roast, or how about roasted pheasant or quail? Nope, doesn't seem quite right.

A seafood feast, however, would be perfect (I am from the Maritimes, after all). A nice, light main course, like roasted salmon, which won't take all day to prepare, balanced out with heavier root veggies and a fresh winter salad. Hell, I might even take the new Araxi cookbook for a spin and make Chef James Walt's herb-crusted halibut with pea purée and coriander vinaigrette. Makes turkey sound a bit boring, huh?

Of course, I'll have to make some of my mom's famous lobster dip to start, which will really make me feel like I'm at home, maybe a shrimp ring to nibble on while I cook, and for dessert, a rum cake.

Last Christmas, the Turkey Farmers of Canada reported that Canadians consumed 4.1 million whole turkeys, so in the spirit of the holidays, Mr. Turkey, I'll be eating fish, instead. Merry Christmas!



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